There is more than one story about Ernie’s participation in the German Army during World War I. A number of articles about him that appeared years later state that he had been a pilot in the German airforce, and this story was repeated by one of Ernie’s most famous students, C. Alfred “Chief” Anderson. This was also mentioned in the Grand Forks newspaper, March 22, 1921: “Ernest Buehl ... served as an aviator with the German army during the recent war, being stationed for the most part on the eastern front. He came to this country about ten months ago.” However, at a birthday celebration late in his life, Ernie stated that he had been assigned as a cook on the Eastern front, and that he had been awarded the Iron Cross after he was wounded when serving in that position.Was Ernst Bühl (Buehl) a World War I flying ace? The simple answer is “no.” Although he mentioned in several sources as having flown for the German Army, he is not listed among the German flying aces of World War I. His activities in the German Army were mainly, if not exclusively, on the eastern front, and our documentation does not tell us (or we are unable so far to translate it) if his battalion even used airplanes. The following is a list of all World War I flying aces:
List of World War I flying aces by nationality
It is reported in several places that he flew for the German Army, but we do not have clear documentation of this. His military documentation indicates that Ernie entered the Army being listed as an engine fitter (maschinenschlosser). We know that the battalion Ernie was attached to, the II Ersatzbataillon k.b.1 Jäger-Batls. 1. Ersatz-Kompagnie, was active mainly on the eastern front. One story that Ernie told was that he was assigned to be a cook and that one day, while he was affected by diarrhea and had his pants down around his ankles, Russian troops overran their position. He was forced to flee while trying to pull his pants up with one hand and firing his rifle at the advancing troops behind him with the other hand. He was wounded ("shot in the schwanz," he said) so was awarded the Iron Cross “for defending the front.” This medal is in the possession of Ernie’s daughter, Sylvia.
Like many men who have been in intense combat, Ernie did not talk much about his military experience except for the one story about how he earned the Iron Cross. He told that story humorously. However, it did appear that he suffered nightmares and some "re-living" of the experience. Also, certain situations that might remind him of being stuck in a trench made him very uncomfortable.
Although we have located some web-based documentation of the activities of the II Ersatzbataillon, they are incomplete. They were replacements to the various Jäger ("hunter") battalions and there were many groups of them. They were sent to every front, including to Russia. Ernie's specific battalion does not appear to be mentioned in the resources we have been able to locate, although we may be missing it because our German is not very good. We offer Ernie's Militär-Paß documents in the section of this site where we have posted "raw materials." If any reader can help us shed some light on what these contain, we would be grateful if that person would contact us.
All photos this page -- EBC