During his two months in combat, Donaldson became a highly skilled fighter pilot and one of America’s top ten aces of World War I, shooting down nine aircraft and two balloons before he was forced down behind enemy lines on September 1.
Aviator. Donaldson was born on May 14, 1898, in Fort Yates, North Dakota, where his father, Thomas Quinton Donaldson, served as an army officer. Most of Donaldson’s youth was spent in Greenville, his father’s hometown. After attending local schools, Donaldson attended Furman College before transferring to Cornell University in New York. Before completing his studies, he joined the Canadian Air Service before the United States entered World War I in 1917. He completed his training overseas at the English School for Air Fighting. His first combat mission occurred in July 1918 north of Amiens, France, with the Number 32 Squadron of the Royal Air Force. During his two months in combat, Donaldson became a highly skilled fighter pilot and one of America’s top ten aces of World War I, shooting down nine aircraft and two balloons before he was forced down behind enemy lines on September 1.
After two escape attempts, Donaldson and three other airmen successfully crossed into neutral Holland before the end of the war. For his service, Donaldson was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross by the Prince of Wales, the Belgian Croix de Guerre, and many other citations. Following the Armistice, Donaldson continued his interest in aviation. He took first place in the army’s transcontinental air race in October 1919 and competed in many other aviation competitions after resigning his commission in 1920. Two years later he married Harriet McCullough of Atlanta. They had no children. In 1926 Donaldson became president of Newark (N.J.) Air Service, Inc. On September 7, 1930, during a stunt-flying performance at an air show in Philadelphia, Donaldson was killed when his plane crashed. In 1951 Greenville Air Base was renamed Donaldson Air Base in his honor.
Hudson, James J. “Lieutenant John O. Donaldson: World War I Air Ace and Escape Artist.” Air University Review 37 (January–February 1986): 88–92.