By Col. Rob Dooley, USAF Attache, Paris, France
The Lafayette Escadrille Memorial, located just outside Paris in Marnes-la-Coquette, pays tribute to and is a final resting place for America's first combat aviators. The Monument honors the American volunteer pilots who flew with the French military prior to and after the United States' entry into WWI. Many volunteers elected to transfer to the US Army Air Service after America entered the war and served as the core of combat experienced pilots for what became today's the US Air Force.
Roughly 200 American volunteer pilots flew for France before the US entered World War I. Writ-large, these Americans were informally known as the "Lafayette Flying Corps." A small group of these pilots were specifically brought together to create an all-American Squadron in April 1916, which ultimately became known as the "Escadrille Lafayette", or Lafayette Squadron. The intent of an All-American squadron was to highlight the war effort to the American public and generate support for the Allies. The squadron participated in all major campaigns of the war and downed numerous enemy aircraft.
Approximately one year after the Escadrille Lafayette was formed the United States entered the war. As the fledgling US Army Air Service began to stand up operations, a decision was made to allow combat-seasoned Lafayette Corps volunteer pilots to transfer into its ranks. Men such as Raoul Lufberry, Walter Miller, Hugh Terres and David Putnam shared their combat experience with inexperienced US Army pilots, influencing the employment of military airpower in the Great War and shaping its future as an individual combat force in the years to come.
Of the slightly more than 200 American Lafayette Corp volunteers, 68 would die before the war's end, many while wearing the uniform of the US Army Air Service. The Memorial pays tribute to sacrifices of those men, the historic efforts of all Lafayette Corps volunteer pilots, and commemorates the longstanding friendship between France and the United States, where each has come to the others assistance in defending liberty and freedom.
The French Air Force and US Air Force render homage to these men each year on Memorial Day with a joint military ceremony, along with numerous smaller ceremonies throughout the year. The history and tradition of the Escadrille Lafayette also continues to live on in both nations' Air Forces. The squadron still exists in the French Air Force, flying Mirage 2000N fighter aircraft. The USAF unit accorded with historical lineage tied to the Escadrille is the 94th Fighter Squadron, which now flies the F-22 Raptor.
The Memorial was built in 1928 with donations from pilots' families and other private donors. In 1930, William Nelson Cromwell bequeathed funding to form the French-American "Lafayette Escadrille Memorial Foundation" to provide for the monument's long term care and educate future generations on the history of the volunteer pilots.
The Memorial's structure is composed of a central Arc de Triomphe, flanked by two large columned wings which are centered on a large reflecting pool with a fountain. The names of the American pilots who died during the war are engraved in the memorial's stone. Sixty-eight sarcophagi are located in a crypt underneath the monument in honor of the 68 pilots who died during the war. However, only 49 contain remains.
Historical economic crises over the years led to a reduction of financial resources available to care for the structure, which lead to the Memorial falling into a significant level of disrepair as late as 2001. However, in 2003 the US government provided a $2.1M grant to renovate the monument, which is 90% complete as of 2009. The Foundation continues to work towards establishing a secure long-term care program for the Memorial and welcomes offers to assist with their efforts. Further information on the Memorial, the Lafayette Flying Corps and Lafayette Escadrille can be found at the Lafayette Flying Corps Memorial Foundation website.
For related information on this site (www.usaww1.com), please see the Lafayette Escadrille and Raoul Lufbery. Also see the video of the 2010 Lafayette Escadrille commemoration. Here is more information about the Lafayette Escadrille commemoration for 2010.
Related Links: Quentin Roosevelt | Frank Luke | Eddie Rickenbacker | Raoul Lufbery | Eugene Bullard | David Ingalls - 1st Navy Ace | "American Eagles" - 345 page illustrated history of US Combat Aviation in World War I
1st Observation Group,
1st Pursuit Group,
1st Bombardment Group,
2nd Pursuit Group,
3rd Pursuit Group,
4th Pursuit Group,
5th Pursuit Group and
3rd Air Park.
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1st Observation Group - 1st aero squadron, 12th aero squadron, 50th aero squadron
1st Pursuit Group - 27th aero squadron, 94th aero squadron, 95th aero squadron, 147th aero squadron, 185th aero squadron
1st Bombardment Group - 96th aero squadron, 11th aero squadron, 20th aero squadron, 166th aero squadron
2nd Pursuit Group - 13th aero squadron, 22nd aero squadron, 49th aero squadron, 139th aero squadron
3rd Pursuit Group - 28th aero squadron, 93rd aero squadron, 103rd aero squadron, 213th aero squadron
4th Pursuit Group - 17th aero squadron, 25th aero squadron, 148th aero squadron, 141st aero squadron
5th Pursuit Group - 41st Aero Squadron, 138th Aero Squadron, 638th Aero Squadron
3rd Air Park - 255th Aero Squadron