We forget today just what an impact World War One had on the lives of its participants and their families. Even before the United States officially entered the war, hundreds of Americans flocked to Europe; mostly volunteering to fight on the Allied side. Those volunteers who signed up with the French ended up in the French Foreign Legion, the American Field Service (Ambulance Corps) and the French Air Service. Those who joined the Aéronautique Militaire were technically in the “Escadrille Lafayette,” a single squadron consisting of American pilots with a French CO, or in the “Lafayette Flying Corps” and were farmed out to various French squadrons.
Photo of the Lafayette Escadrille Memorial courtesy of Stephen Miller.
In total approximately 200 Americans would fly with the French, and 68 would die–including 42 in combat. (Source: Wikipedia.) This group of American volunteers included names that are all-but-forgotten today, such as: Victor Emmanuel Chapman, Gervais Raoul Lufbery, James Rogers McConnell and Kiffin Yates Rockwell.
In 1928 the Lafayette Escadrille Memorial was built in a wooded park in the near-Paris suburb of Marnes-la-Coquette as a tribute to the volunteers in both entities. The Memorial contains sarcophagi for each of the 68 dead pilots; but only 49 contain the remains of their respective pilots.
On Wednesday, April 20, 2016 the Lafayette Escadrille Memorial is being rededicated in what is being described as a “Head-of-State event” with many senior U.S. Air Force officials and officers also participating. Readers who find themselves in the area might want to attend in person; although the webmaster does not know how difficult that will be.
The rededication ceremony will be recorded by the Armed Forces Network Europe, but it will not be live-streamed. Readers wishing to view the ceremony can watch it here: http://www.afneurope.net/Home.aspx.
For Further Information
Readers interested in the lives of these volunteers are encouraged to consult the two books below. They were written by historian Dennis Gordon of Missoula, Montana; who has devoted years to researching these unique airmen.
“Lafayette Escadrille Pilot Biographies.” Doughboy Historical Society, Missoula, Montana, 1991.
“The Lafayette Flying Corps: The American Volunteers in the French Air Service in World War I.” Schiffer Publishing, Shippensburg, PA, 2000.
This website is maintained by Randal Gaulke, a long-time student of WW1 and a frequent Western Front visitor. It focuses primarily on the late-war German-American offensive and secondarily on other events in the Meuse-Argonne Region; with an emphasis on helping visitors explore the region. Those interested are encouraged to sign-up for the blog section of the website. Randal has also started a public Facebook group with the name Meuse-Argonne.com.
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