The First African-American (French) Pilot – World War I

Few Americans have ever heard of Eugene Bullard. Born in 1894 Bullard was the son of a slave. After a few years of elementary education, he left home to work odd jobs. When he was 18, he stowed away on a German ship eventually settling in France and becoming a prizefighter.

When World War I broke out, Mr. Bullard joined the Foreign Legion and saw combat in the Somme. He was wounded at Verdun in 1916, where he earned the Croix de Guerre and the Medaile Militaire. After recovering from his wounds, he joined the French Flying Corps. He was assigned to the Lafayette Escadrille, the flying squadron made up of American flyers. When the U.S. entered the war, the U.S. refused to recognize Mr. Bullard and allow him into their military. He was also eventually transferred out of the French Flying Corps.

Mr. Bullard remained in France until after World War II. During that war, he participated in the French underground and the defense of Orleans. At Orleans he was wounded and evacuated to Spain. After the war, he returned to the United States and found employment as an elevator operator at the Rockefeller Center in New York.

Although two biographies (The Black Swallow of Death and Eugene Bullard: Black Expatriate in Jazz-Age Paris) have been written about Mr. Bullard, he has remained largely unknown in the United States. The French have continued to recognize him. In 1954 they brought him back over to France to take part in the relighting of the eternal flame at the French Tomb of the Unknown at the Arc de Triumph. When Mr. Bullard passed away in 1961, he was buried with military honors provided by the Federation of French War Officers.

Explore posts in the same categories: WWI, WWII

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