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IT WAS just about 100 years ago that American pilots transferred their service from the Escadrille Lafayette to the newly formed U.S. Army Air Service. In addition to the 38 American volunteers of the Lafayette Escadrille, there were perhaps another 180 Americans who flew in World War I combat in the French Air Force.
This escadrille was named in honor of the Marquis de Lafayette who joined colonists in the American Revolutionary War.
Dr. Edmund L. Gros, one of the founders of the American Hospital of Paris in 1906, also organized the American Ambulance Field Service in 1914. At the time, the French word ambulance meant a temporary military hospital; its name for the emergency vehicle grew out of wartime use of converted Model T Fords, built in the Levallois-Perret Ford plant near Paris.
American expatriate Norman Prince was already flying for the French Air Service. He and Dr. Gros persuaded the French government to form a squadron, an escadrille, of volunteer American pilots in 1916. (The U.S. was not to enter WWI formally until April 1917.)
The Lafayette Escadrille was authorized by the French Service Aéronautique on March 21, 1916, as the Escadrille de Chasse Nieuport 124 with seven American members; eventually, its full roster would include 38 American pilots.
The squadron’s first combat was in the Battle of Verdun, May 13, 1916. Five days later, Kiffin Rockwell scored the Lafayette Escadrille’s first aerial victory. In June, Victor Chapman was the unit’s first casualty. Nine of the 38 Lafayette Escadrille members died in combat; others perished after the unit’s dissolution and formation of the U.S. Army Air Service.
In 1928, the Lafayette Escadrille Memorial Arch was erected in Marnes-la-Coquette, Hauts-de-Seine, 8 miles west of Paris. The memorial commemorates both members of the Lafayette Escadrille and those of the Lafayette Flying Corps.
Official member or not of the Escadrille Lafayette, these brave pilots could legitimately say, “Lafayette, we are here.” ds
© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2018