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America's Unsung Hero

Discussion in 'World war one' started by John A Silkstone, Dec 31, 2015.


  1. John A Silkstone United Kingdom

    John A Silkstone Mi General MI.Net Member

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    America’s Unsung Hero

    Eugene Jacques Bullard (9 October 1895 – 12 October 1961), was the first African-American military pilot. His life has been surrounded by many legends. Bullard was one of the few black combat pilots in World War I.

    He was born in Columbus, Georgia, one of ten children born to Josephine Thomas and William O. Bullard, nicknamed "Big Chief Ox", who was a Creek Indian. His father's ancestors were slaves in Haiti to French refugees who fled during the Haitian Revolution. He was a student at the Twenty-eighth Street School from 1901-1906, where he learned to read and write. As a teenager, Eugene Bullard stowed away on a ship bound for Scotland, seeking to escape racial discrimination (he later claimed to have witnessed his father's narrow escape from lynching). Bullard arrived at Aberdeen before making his way south to Glasgow. He became a boxer in Paris and also worked in a music hall.Bullard was an expat living in France, and when World War 1 broke out he joined the French Infantry. He was seriously wounded, and France awarded him the Croix de Guerre and Medaille Militaire. In 1916 he joined the French air service and he first trained as a gunner but later he trained as a pilot. When American pilots volunteered to help France and formed the famous Lafayette Escadrille, he asked to join but by the time he became a qualified pilot they were no longer accepting new recruits, so he joined the Lafayette Flying Corps instead. He served with French flying units and he completed 20 combat missions.

    When the United States finally joined the war, Bullard was the only member of the Escadrille or the French Flying Corps who was NOT invited to join the US Air Service. The reason? At that time the Air Service only accepted white men.

    es, and that is a National tragedy. His name is Eugene Jacques Bullard, and he is the first African-American fighter pilot in history. But he is also much more then that: He’s also a national hero, and his story is so incredible that I bet if you wrote a movie script based on it Hollywood would reject it as being too far-fetched.

    On a visit to Paris, Bullard decided to settle in France. At the outbreak of World War I, according to his personnel file at the French Ministry of Defense, he enlisted on October 19, 1914, and was integrated to the 3rd marching regiment of the 1st Foreign Regiment of the Foreign Legion (1er Régiment étranger) since volunteers from overseas in 1914 were allowed to serve only in the French colonial troops.

    Ground combat

    In 1915, Bullard was a machine gunner and was in combat on the Somme front in Picardy: in May and June 1915 he was at Artois, and in the fall of the same year he took part in a second Champagne offensive (25 September – 6 November 1915) along the Meuse river. The 1st and 2nd Foreign Legion regiments were fighting as part of the 1st Moroccan Brigade (1re Brigade Marocaine) of the 1st Moroccan Division (la Division Marocaine). Formed by Hubert Lyautey, a Resident-General of Morocco, at the outbreak of World War I, it was a mix of the Metropolitan and Colonial French troops, including Legionnaires. Towards the end of the war, the 1st Moroccan Division became one of the most decorated units in the French Army.

    The Foreign Legion suffered high casualties in 1915. It started the year with 21,887 soldiers, NCOs and officers, and ended with 10,683. As a result, the Foreign Legion units fighting on the Western front were put in reserve for reinforcement and reorganization. On November 11, 1915, 3,316 survivors from the 1st and the 2nd Etranger were merged into one unit – the Marching Regiment of Foreign Legion (Le régiment de marche de la légion étrangère), which in 1920 became the 3rd Regiment (3e régiment étranger d'infanterie) of the French Foreign Legion.

    As for Americans and other volunteers, they were allowed to transfer to the Metropolitan French Army units, including the 170th Line Infantry Regiment. 170th had a reputation of crack troops and was nicknamed Les Hirondelles de la Mort, or The Swallows of Death. Bullard opted to serve in the 170th Infantry Regiment and the 170 military insignia is displayed on his uniform collar. In the beginning of 1916, the 170th Infantry along with the 48th Infantry Division (48e division d'infanterie) to which it belonged, was sent to Verdun.

    Family request

    After hearing about the horrors of the trench war in France, Bullard's father wrote to the U.S. Secretary of State pleading for help in order to bring his son back home. He said that Eugene was born in October 1895, not 1894, and simply added himself a year when he enlisted. However, the French government officials decided that Bullard was old enough to enlist.

    Aviation

    As a part of the 170th Infantry, Bullard fought and was seriously wounded in March 1916 during the Battle of Verdun. After recovering from his wounds, Bullard volunteered on October 2, 1916 to join the French Air Service (Aéronautique Militaire) as an air gunner, and went through training at the Aerial Gunnery School in Cazaux, Gironde. Later, he went through initial flight training at Châteauroux and Avord and received his pilot's license number 6950 from the Aéro-Club de France on May 5, 1917. Like many other American aviators, Bullard wanted to join the famous aero squadron Escadrille Americaine N.124, the Lafayette Escadrille, but after enrolling 38 American pilots in spring and summer of 1916, it stopped accepting new flyers. Therefore, after receiving more training at Avord, Bullard on November 15, 1916, joined 269 American aviators at the Lafayette Flying Corps of the French Air Service, which was a designation rather than a unit. American volunteers flew with French pilots in different pursuit and bomber/reconnaissance aero squadrons on the Western Front. Edmund L. Gros, who facilitated the incorporation of American pilots in the French Air Service, listed in the October 1917 issue of Flying, an official publication of the Aero Club of America, Bullard's name is in the member roster of the Lafayette Flying Corps.

    On June 28, 1917 Bullard was promoted to the rank of corporal. On August 27, 1917 he was assigned to the Escadrille N.93 based at Beauzée-sur-Aire south of Verdun, where he stayed till September 13. The squadron was equipped with Nieuport and Spad aircraft that bore a flying duck as its squadron insignia. Bullard's service record also includes the aero squadron N.85 (Escadrille SPA 85), September 13, 1917 – November 11, 1917, which had a bull insignia. He took part in about twenty combat missions, and is sometimes credited with shooting down one or two German aircraft (sources differ). However, the French authorities did not confirm Bullard's victories.

    When the United States entered the war, the United States Army Air Service convened a medical board to recruit Americans serving in the Lafayette Flying Corps to the Air Service of the American Expeditionary Forces. Bullard went through the medical examination, but was not called in since only white pilots were allowed to serve. Some time later, while on a short break from duty in Paris, Bullard allegedly got into a fight with a French officer and was punished by being transferred to the service battalion of the 170th in January 1918. As a noncombatant, he served past the Armistice being finally discharged on October 24, 1919.

    After the war

    For his World War I service Bullard was awarded the Croix de guerre, Médaille militaire, Croix du combattant volontaire 1914–1918, and Médaille de Verdun, among others. Following his discharge, Bullard returned to Paris.

    In Paris

    In Paris, Bullard found employment as a drummer and a nightclub manager at "Le Grand Duc" and eventually became the owner of his own nightclub, "L'Escadrille". He married Marcelle Straumann from a wealthy family in 1923, but the marriage ended in divorce in 1935, with Bullard gaining custody of their two surviving children, daughters Jacqueline and Lolita. As a popular jazz venue, "Le Grand Duc" gained him many famous friends, including Josephine Baker, Louis Armstrong, Langston Hughes and French flying ace Charles Nungesser. When World War II began in September 1939, Bullard, who spoke German, agreed to a request from the French government to spy on Germans frequenting his nightclub.

    After the German invasion of France in May 1940, Bullard fled from Paris with his daughters. He volunteered with the 51st Infantry defending Orléans when he met an officer whom he knew from fighting at Verdun. He was wounded in the fighting but was able to escape to neutral Spain, and in July 1940 he returned to the United States.

    In New York City

    Bullard spent some time in a New York hospital and never fully recovered from his wound. Moreover, he found the fame he enjoyed in France had not followed him to the United States. He worked as a perfume salesman, a security guard, and as an interpreter for Louis Armstrong, but his back injury severely restricted him. He attempted to regain his nightclub in Paris, but his property had been destroyed during the war. He received a financial settlement from the French government, which he used to buy an apartment in Harlem, New York City.

    Peekskill Riots

    In 1949, a concert held by Black entertainer and activist Paul Robeson in Peekskill, New York to benefit the Civil Rights Congress resulted in the Peekskill Riots. These were caused in part by members of the local Veterans of Foreign Wars and American Legion chapters, who considered Robeson a communist sympathizer. The concert was scheduled to take place on August 27 in Lakeland Acres, north of Peekskill. Before Robeson arrived, however, a mob attacked the concert-goers with baseball bats and stones. Thirteen people were seriously injured before police put an end to it. The concert was then postponed until September 4. The re-scheduled concert took place without incident, but as concert-goers drove away, they passed through long lines of hostile locals, who threw rocks through their windshields.

    Eugene Bullard was among those attacked after the concert. He was knocked to the ground and beaten by an angry mob, which included members of the state and local law enforcement. The attack was captured on film and can be seen in the 1970s documentary The Tallest Tree in Our Forest and the Oscar winning documentary narrated by Sidney Poitier, Paul Robeson: Tribute to an Artist. None of the assailants was ever prosecuted. Graphic pictures of Eugene Bullard being beaten by two policeman, a state trooper and a concert goer were published in Susan Robeson's biography of her grandfather, The Whole World in His Hands: a Pictorial Biography of Paul Robeson.[28]

    Later life

    Bullard in his later years, wearing the croix de guerre fourragère on his shoulder, 170th regiment distinction, and the cap of the French War Veterans

    In the 1950s, Bullard was a relative stranger in his own homeland. His daughters had married, and he lived alone in his apartment, which was decorated with pictures of his famous friends and a framed case containing his fifteen French war medals. His final job was as an elevator operator at the Rockefeller Center, where his fame as the "Black Swallow of Death" was unknown.

    In 1954, the French government invited Bullard to Paris to help rekindle the everlasting flame at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier under the Arc de Triomphe. In 1959 he was made a chevalier (knight) of the Légion d'honneur. While this gained him some recognition, his last years were spent in relative obscurity and poverty in New York City.

    In 1960, the President of France, Charles DeGaulle,paid a state visit to the United States and when he arrived he said that one of the first things he wanted to do was to meet Bullard. That sent the White House staff scramling as they had never heard of him. They finally found him in New York where he was working as an elevator operator and DeGaulle traveled there to meet him in person.

    He was interviewed on NBC's Today Show by Dave Garroway and received hundreds of letters from viewers. Bullard wore his elevator operator uniform during the interview.

    Eugene Bullard died in New York City of stomach cancer on October 12, 1961 at age 66. He was buried with military honors in the French War Veterans' section of Flushing Cemetery in the New York City borough of Queens.

    Legacy

    Eugene Bullard received fifteen decorations from the government of France. He was made a knight of the Legion of Honor, which is France's most coveted award. He was also awarded the Médaille militaire, another high military distinction in France.

    In 1972, Bullard's exploits as a pilot were retold in a biography, The Black Swallow of Death. Bullard is also the subject of the nonfiction young adult memoir Eugene Bullard: World's First Black Fighter Pilot by Larry Greenly.

    On August 23, 1994, thirty-three years after his death, and seventy-seven years to the day after the physical that should have allowed him to fly for his own country, Eugene Bullard was posthumously commissioned a Second Lieutenant in the United States Air Force.

    The 2006 movie Flyboys loosely portrayed Bullard and his comrades in World War I.

    In 2012–2014 the French writer Claude Ribbe wrote a book on Eugene Bullard and made a TV 52' documentary.

    Decorations and medals

    upload_2015-12-31_13-22-20.png upload_2015-12-31_13-22-20.png upload_2015-12-31_13-22-20.png upload_2015-12-31_13-22-20.png upload_2015-12-31_13-22-20.png upload_2015-12-31_13-22-20.png upload_2015-12-31_13-22-20.png upload_2015-12-31_13-22-20.png

    Eugene Bullard's awards


    Bullard's medals at the National Museum of the United States Air Force, Dayton, Ohio

    Legion of Honor

    Médaille militaire

    Croix de guerre with bronze star

    Volunteer combatant's cross 1914–1918

    Combatant's Cross

    Insignia for the Military Wounded

    Victory Medal

    Verdun Medal

    Somme Medal

    World War I Commemorative Medal

    Commemorative medal for voluntary service in Free France

    World War II Commemorative Medal

    Other awards -

    • Voluntary Enlistment Medal (World War I)
    • American Volunteers with the French Army Medal (private award)
    Note – Bullard was posthumously eligible for the World War I Victory Medal (United States) as he was posthumously commissioned an officer in the United States Army with a date of rank which fell during the eligibility period of the medal.



    In 1960, the President of France, Charles DeGaulle, paid a state visit to the United States and when he arrived he said that one of the first things he wanted to do was to meet Bullard. That sent the White House staff scrambling because most of them, of course, had never even heard of him. They finally located him in New York City, and DeGaulle traveled there to meet him personally. At the time, Eugene Bullard was working as … An elevator operator.Bullard was an expat living in France, and when World War 1 broke out he joined the French Infantry. He was seriously wounded, and France awarded him the Croix de Guerre and Medaille Militaire. In 1916 he joined the French air service and he first trained as a gunner but later he trained as a pilot. When American pilots volunteered to help France and formed the famous Lafayette Escadrille, he asked to join but by the time he became a qualified pilot they were no longer accepting new recruits, so he joined the Lafayette Flying Corps instead. He served with French flying units and he completed 20 combat missions.

    When the United States finally joined the war, Bullard was the only member of the Escadrille or the French Flying Corps who was NOT invited to join the US Air Service. The reason? At that time the Air Service only accepted white men.

    Now here is the part that almost sounds like a sequel to ‘Casablanca’: After WWI Bullard became a jazz musician in Paris and he eventually owned a nightclub called ‘L’Escadrille’. When the Germans invaded France and conquered it in WW2, his Club, and Bullard, became hugely popular with German officers, but what they DIDN’T know was that Bullard, who spoke fluent German, was actually working for the Free French as a spy. He eventually joined a French infantry unit, but he was badly wounded and had to leave the service.

    By the end of the war, Bullard had become a national hero in France, but he later moved back to the U.S. where he was of course completely unknown. Practically no one in the United States was aware of it when, in 1959, the French government named him a national Chevalier, or Knight.

    In 1960, the President of France, Charles DeGaulle, paid a state visit to the United States and when he arrived he said that one of the first things he wanted to do was to meet Bullard. That sent the White House staff scrambling because most of them, of course, had never even heard of him. They finally located him in New York City, and DeGaulle traveled there to meet him personally. At the time, Eugene Bullard was working as … An elevator operator.

    Not long after Eugene Bullard met with the President of France, he passed away, and today very, very few Americans, and especially African-Americans, even know who he is. But, now YOU do, don’t you? And I hope you’ll be able to find opportunities to tell other people about this great American hero that probably only 1 American in 1 Million has ever heard of.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Dec 31, 2015
    saiga and Bombardier like this.
  2. Bombardier

    Bombardier Admin & Arbiter Staff Member Site Admin

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    Nice post Silky
    Moved the medal ribbons to the area where his decorations are discussed.
     

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