L’Escadrille Lafayette : 

Unité Volontaire de Combat Oubliée de l’Amérique

 

 

Chapter Six

Dissension in the Ranks

 

Every unit has its personalities, quirks, competition, politics, and issues; the Lafayette Escadrille would be no different.  The original band of thirty-eight volunteers came from all walks of life: they were college students, the scions of famous American families, jacks of all trades, former military men, and taxi drivers.  The mix of personalities added to the unit’s glamour and all-American spirit, and it endeared the men to the adoring public even more.  But as the pressures and stress of combat fatigued the men, the mix of forceful personalities started to create divisive problems.  Rivalries developed, some of which became open and nasty.  Some of the men were accused of being shirkers and cowardly.  A general lack of unit discipline on the ground and in the air would cause problems with the law and, in some cases, cost pilots their lives.  Drinking became an issue for some of the men and would ruin their lives.  As competition increased for glory and acclaim, men questioned each other’s intentions and alleged hidden agendas.  Many of the men got along with each other or kept to themselves; but the ones who clashed caused schisms and internecine squabbling that would taint the Lafayette Escadrille’s legacy.

* * *

The mark of great units is their teamwork and selflessness.  The Lafayette Escadrille suffered from a rash of discipline problems and, more importantly, from dissension that would cause the unit great pain and unravel its cohesion.  Some of these problems would fester and spill over into the squadron's post-war lives – some transgressions and rivalries were never put to rest, and were eventually taken to the grave.  Even though the unit would survive this turmoil, this dissension and discord could not help but taint the squadron’s legacy.

Lack of Discipline in the Ranks 

Captain Thenault described his charges’ cocky attitude in the following sentence, in which he mimicked their attitude, “We are here, we are daredevils, and we don’t need French discipline!” 1 These men had the best of worlds as far as the military was concerned.  They were able to fly airplanes; they were able to wear any uniforms they wanted (and some of them were quite colorful); they were paid handsomely in comparison with their French comrades by an independent, outside source; they were volunteers, so they knew they did not have to be there; and they were led by French officers who lacked the will power and the means to discipline them except in the most extreme circumstances.  

Although Captain Thenault could be a harsh disciplinarian when forced, he viewed his “task as easy”: I had simply to treat everyone fairly and without favor.” 2 However, the men looked to two others as their real commanding officers, Lieutenant Alfred de Laage de Meux, the French second-in-command of the Lafayette Escadrille, and Lieutenant William “Bill” Thaw, who was considered the leader of the Americans.  In fact, the latter that would command the unit for one month in combat while Thenault took a month of sick leave.  De Laage spoke perfect English, which helped immensely, and he took a great personal interest in the men, especially the new arrivals.  As he told Edwin Parsons upon his arrival to the unit,

“I only ask that you fly well, that you fight hard and that you act as a man.  I demand that you obey, explicitly and without hesitation, any orders I give when I am leading combat patrols…and I expect that you share the responsibility for the upholding the good name of the squadron, and we shall get along quite well.”³  

As for Thaw, the welfare of his pilots was always first and foremost in his mind, whether he was acting as a go-between or as the commanding officer of the unit.  He was only twenty-one years old when he joined the unit, but the men took to him immediately.  He was one of the original, founding members of the Escadrille, and he flew often and hard; they respected him immensely. 4

This was not to say that the men of the Lafayette escadrille necessarily listened to these three men.  Discipline problems on the ground and in the air seemed to have occurred quite regularly.  According to a letter by a surprised, and rather annoyed, pilot named James Rogers McConnell on July 2, 1916, “the Escadrille has a rotten reputation in Paris for drinking.” 5   Arrests, desertions, absences without leave, and other transgressions of the law took place and occurred more than should have been expected from an “elite unit.”  Listening to authority was an issue for most of these men, who knew they were the toast of the town and untouchable.  As one Canadian pilot who had partied with the Lafayette Escadrille at its aerodrome noted,

“From the point of view of discipline, the situation was practically impossible for the French.  Imagine a body of financially well-off Americans – basking in the knowledge that they were volunteers from a neutral country – who habitually played no-limit poker, who imported unlimited booze and food and who comprised a body of men far superior educationally and possessing a far greater experience of the world than their French companions in arms – a French commander would have experienced great difficulty controlling such a body of men if they had been French citizens and fully subject to French Army regulations.  Although the early members of the Escadrille comprised pilots of high potential in every way…their French commander seemed hapless to cope with such independent, high-spirited men.  Moreover, the French Army authorities, not unnaturally, were very anxious to sustain sympathetic responses in the United States.  The General result was that the American pilots enjoyed a wide measure of freedom of action.” 6

And although the men listened or pretended to listen to Captain Thenault, and although they respected Lieutenant deLaage, they could be very severe to anyone they did not like.  Lieutenant de Maison Rouge, the man who replaced deLaage after the latter crashed a plane on takeoff and killed himself, never enjoyed the respect from any of the men. He was a disciplined, much more formal man than deLaage, something the Lafayette Escadrille men did not wish to bother themselves with.  They were quite brutal to him. 7

* * *

The transgressions in discipline varied greatly -- from disobeying direct orders in the air, which could lead to deadly results, to serious problems with the civil authorities on the ground. 

A continual source of frustration to the flight commanders of the Lafayette Escadrille was the direct disobedience of orders to remain tightly grouped while in formation and not to break formation to pursue individual combat unless the flight commander so directed.  Leaving on one’s own could prove very dangerous because it set the pilot up, especially a new one, for airborne ruses and traps laid by the Germans.  Indeed, a few of the pilots’ deaths in the Lafayette escadrille were directly attributable to this penchant for breaking ranks in order to pursue combat versus one or multiple aircraft.  Victor Chapman, for one, perished in this manner. 8 Captain Thenault remembers one such incident after he had specifically told his men to remain tightly grouped while in the air, and to wait for his command to attack.

“Soudain, tres loin dans l’est, vers Etain, j’apercus une douzaine de biplaces allemands, survolant leurs propres lignes, et a si faible altitude qu’ils avaient l’air de moutons puissant les prairies vertes, au-deal de la zone ravage par les canons.

Ils etaient trop bas, trop nombreux et trop loin pour que nous risquions une attaque, surtout au cours d’une premiere sortie, d’autant plus qu’ils se tenaient au dessus des positions allemandes.  Mes pilotes n’avaient pas encore pu se familiariser suffisament avec un ennemi qui n’etait certain point meprisable.  Lorsqu’on survole, a basse altitude, en monoplace, en territorie ennemi, il faut toujours craindre l’attaque qui peut venir d’en haut, contre laquelle on est a peu pres sans defense, et qui peut nous oblige a atterir.

Telles etaient mes pensees, lorqu’un pilote, j’ignore encore lequel, piques comme un bolide dans la direction desboches.  Etait-ce de Laage? Etait-ce unautre? Je n’ai jamais pu le asavoir.” 9

According to Thenault, the flight went onto fight the Germans in order to save their comrade.  It quickly became every man for himself, since the Germans were too numerous and had indeed set up a trap from above.  The results were not fatal in this instance, but too often they were.  It is also inexcusable that Captain Thenault did not discipline the man that went astray.  It is certain that he knew who it was because a post-flight debrief would have revealed the culprit.  Captain Thenault was very diplomatic in his memoir and went to length to protect men’s names; but as the squadron commander, he was the one responsible for setting the tone of discipline. 

Breakdowns of discipline on the ground were just as bad, and suggested that the unit was out of control.  Lufbery was arrested in Chartres after severely beating a station attendant.  The attendant had been trying to do his job and asked Lufbery for his identity papers and his ticket, since he was on the train’s first class platform.  He touched Lufbery, who took this as an insult. Lufbery punched him, knocking out six teeth. 10 From jail, Lufbery sent a telegram, “Suis retenu dans un local disciplinaire place de Chartres.” 11 Only Thenault’s intervention saved Lufbery.    

Bert Hall was almost charged as a deserter by Captain Thenault for being gone too long on permission.12 Some of the men would illegally hunt in the woods outside of the aerodrome which was forbidden at the front.  The hunters, chased by the gendarmes, would hide in the squadron bar or in their beds, having others vouch for their innocence. 13

Similar stories abounded about the Lafayette Flying Corps as well.  One man named Eugene Bullard badly beat a superior French officer in the street; although it was questionable as to who started the fight, Bullard was later cleared. 14 Another pilot, Arthur Atten, would be charged as impersonating a French officer. 15 And pilot William Frey was charged as a deserter and never returned to his unit. 16

     Sometimes the less severe breaches of discipline would approach the comical.  One aviator named Harold Willis was shot down and taken prisoner in his green-striped pajamas; in a hurry to launch, he had not felt like putting his uniform on that day.  With no rank and no uniform, he impersonated being an officer; he got away with it until the Germans found out who he really was.  His Escadrille buddies had even helped him by flying over a German aerodrome, dropping a bundle with a uniform with fake officer insignia sown on to it with a note explaining that it was to be forwarded to their embarrassed, hapless comrade.  They had assumed that he would use such a ruse. 17

* * *

One sure sign of an elite unit is that their breaches of discipline are not taken lightly.  There is nothing more frustrating for a unit than to lose personnel and equipment due to poor discipline or recklessness.

Andrew Courtney Campbell was respected by his fellow Lafayette pilots as a skillful and courageous fighter, but his recklessness in the air was also well known and he gave more than one pilot in the Escadrille problems.  When the Lafayette Escadrille was stationed at Senard aerodrome, approximately 60 aircraft based at the field had to share the single long runway for take off and landing operations.  Orders had been given to taxi all the way down to the end of the runway instead of turning off the runway early since that action would not allow for sufficient separation between aircraft landing and taking off.  One day, however, when Campbell brought his aircraft down after a mission and elected to turnoff early in order to return directly to the unit’s parking spaces and ramp.  Knowingly disobeying a standing safety order, Campbell slowed his aircraft just enough to swing his Spad around to taxi off.  A pilot of a large Sopwith landing behind him had no chance to slow his aircraft down in time and plowed it into the side of Campbell’s.  The propeller of the Sopwith chopped into Campbell’s Spad, eating up the fabric and turning the wing into splinters, eventually stopping just a foot from Campbell’s head.  The aircraft bowled over and shattered into a thousand, unrecognizable pieces, fouling the runway.  Campbell exited from the aircraft and surveyed the damage, then lit a cigarette and proceeded to walk away nonchalantly from the aircraft as if nothing had happened.  Captain Thenault who had witnessed the whole thing was beside himself with anger. He could barely contain his rage as he confronted Campbell on his way to the bar. Whatever Campbell said to Thenault apparently calmed him down, for Campbell would go undisciplined for the transgression. 18

Campbell also had a reputation for being a nuisance in the air, especially during patrols when he would maddeningly get as close as he could to others in formation until he had to be waved off.  Even then, he would come right back, annoying some so much that they could not concentrate on flying.  No amount of pre-flight counseling or threatening could deter him, and he would do it every flight.  Eventually, Campbell took it too far one day and almost caused a serious incident.  He was on patrol with Lieutenant Maison Rouge and decided to top his usual antics.  He proceed to fly directly over Maison Rouge’s aircraft, bringing the wheels and fixed landing gear dangerously close to Maison Rouge’s upper wing, in an apparent attempt to bounce up and down on the latter’s aircraft.  To Maison Rouge’s bewilderment, and to Campbell’s surprise, he went too far and managed to get his wheels firmly stuck into the fabric of Maison Rouge’s upper wing.  The unfunny antic became much worse as both realized they were stuck fast together; all attempts to pull away from either aircraft failed to work.  Since the pilots could not see each other they could not communicate and there was no recourse available to them since aviators at this time did not carry parachutes.  Finally, in a desperate attempt, Campbell pulled his aircraft up with brute force and ripped away from Maison Rouge’s plane, tearing apart his upper wing.  Maison Rouge, the second-in-command, was livid; he was able to land his plane but it would have to be junked.  Campbell smiled as if nothing had happened, and for some unknown reason, he again went unpunished. 19

When Captain Thenault was driven to punish a man he could do so, but sometimes his choice of punishment was questionable.  One pilot who had a known case of the nerves crashed an aircraft on landing into a ditch that had been briefed as a known obstacle to avoid by the men.  Captain Thenault was so enraged by this that he bewilderingly punished the man by ordering him to return to another base and to ferry back another airplane; why the man was not grounded as punishment is a mystery.  The shaken man did as ordered, and upon return to the airfield crashed the second plane into the exact same ditch, just a few meters away from the scene of the other crash.  Captain Thenault was incredulous, and finally grounded the man.  He was asked to leave the unit shortly afterwards. 20

It was not only the Americans that were causing problems and acting reckless.  Lieutenant DeLaage was killed performing a stunt on take off in a brand new Spad.  The plane’s motor stalled 200 feet above the airfield, after he had taken off too steeply, and he spun into the ground and died instantly in front of his squadron mates. 21 

* * *

Some of the pilots dangerously pushed the limits of alcohol and flying.  “They were a pretty hard drinking kind, some of them,” Parsons noted. 22 And pilot Edmund Genet wrote the following in his diary entry of February 25, 1917,

It was a mighty difficult and quite improbable proposition to keep entirely away from drink with the Escadrille.  If one goes into town any day with one of the fellows it’s impossible from going in and drinking without absolutely being discourteous and incompatible.” 23    

Some pilots took drinking to the extreme.  Lawrence Rumsey was a heavy drinker and it caused him problems.  He was often drunk and unable to fly, spending many of his days hung over.  He repeatedly pushed the limit between drinking and flying, but the final straw happened when he was supposed take part in a squadron mass movement and transfer of aircraft from Luxeuil to Cachy.  The squadron was to take off early in the morning and rendezvous as a whole overhead the aerodrome before proceeding in formation to Cachy.  Rumsey had noticeably taken too much to drink the night before and his fellow squadron mates discouraged him from flying the next morning.  He climbed into his aircraft anyway.  The squadron reunited over the field and noticed Rumsey was missing; they decided he had taken caution and not flown, so they pushed off, proceeding in formation to Cachy.  Later on, after no sign of Rumsey, the unit started to worry.  That evening, Captain Thenault received a phone call from the personnel at Delonge airfield, not too distant from their present location.  Captain Thenault was asked if he had a pilot named Rumsey, which he responded to in the affirmative.  Although Rumsey was alive, they said, there was an apparent “incident.” It turned out that Rumsey had actually taken off with the others in the morning, but had drunkenly missed the rendezvous and so had proceeded on his own.  He had gotten lost and landed at an unknown airfield (Delonge), which was directly opposite the field at Cachy but yet still far behind friendly lines.  Rumsey was convinced he had landed at a German airfield, and as he had been taught to do in such a situation, set his aircraft on fire in order not to compromise the plane.  The French airfield authorities had watched with amazement as the American plane burned for no apparent reason.  This was even too much for Captain Thenault.  Rumsey was asked to leave the unit immediately; he was separated from the military service and returned to the United States. 24

There was a much sadder alcohol-related event that occurred in the Escadrille.  Douglas MacMonagle and Carl Dolan had been in Paris on liberty on September 23, 1917.  Very drunk after a bout of day-long drinking, Dolan escorted MacMonagle back to the train in order to return to Senard.  Dolan had a hard time managing MacMonagle who was trying to escape at each stop on the long train ride home.  Upon their return to base, after a nightlong train ride, MacMonagle escaped from Dolan and went to wake Captain Thenault out of bed.  Thenault, enraged that MacMonagle was drunk, and that he had thrown him out of bed, ordered him out on the first patrol of the morning, less than an hour away.  Thenault in his rage was violating his own standing order that no man should fly the day he returned from liberty in order to avoid such drunken flying incidents.  The men were supposed to get one day of repos before resuming flight operations.  Despite Dolan’s entreaties, MacMonagle suited up for the first flight as ordered.  He took off on patrol at first light.  He was shot down shortly afterwards, receiving a bullet in the back of the head.  To add to the severity of the situation, MacMonagle’s mother was due to arrive to the Front that very day to visit her boy.  She was met at the train station, told what had happened, and attended his funeral with his grief-stricken squadron mates shortly thereafter. 25

* * *

When the Lafayette men transitioned to the USAS, they would be forced to follow the strict discipline that they once had so flouted with the French.  They would no longer be the Prima Donnas, but ordinary pilots like all the others, subject to the same rules and court martial discipline.  The special treatment would end.      

These examples of breaches of discipline do not necessarily condemn all of the men of the Escadrille, but they demonstrate that there were problems with the unit.  Discipline is, of course, key to all military organizations.  The lack of discipline of the members of the Lafayette Escadrille, suggest that there were other problems existing within the unit.  

Distrust in the Ranks 

When the guns of August erupted in 1914, many believed that the war would end quickly.  But the war neglected the general’s timetables and dragged on for years.  For the pilots in the air services, the stress of flying day after day with no end in sight would prove very strenuous, and many suffered from combat fatigue.  Besides the strain of being pioneers in a new dimension, the men of the Lafayette Escadrille were constantly at the Front in combat, with no break or with little respite.  The men were allowed to occasionally return to Paris for some rest and relaxation, but they always had to return to the grind of day after day flying. Sometimes these men flew three or four times a day in search of the enemy.  Some dealt with this stress better than others.  Some had serious problems with the stress, and though some could hide the fear and fatigue, others were not as successful. Unfortunately, the latter overtly exhibited their fear, and began to become imaginative in their efforts to not fly or fight.  This caused serious problems within the Lafayette Escadrille, and some of the men were kicked out of the unit, creating animosity that would never mend.

* * *

Fear can have a serious detrimental effect on the dynamics of a unit.  No one wants to fly with someone who will duck out of a fight, and every pilot needs to know that his wingman will be there no matter what happens.  In the heat of combat, the load needs to be shared as well; if men are not flying due to fear, others are forced to carry their burden, adding to the stress of all. There were five or six men of the original 38, nearly one sixth of the unit, who had such problems.  These men were ill regarded by the Lafayette Escadrille; they did not like to think that their unit was weak, and they especially hated having these men as representatives of the United States acting cowardly in front of the French and other Allies.  These men were notorious and readily identifiable.  Bert Weston Hall and Elliot Cowdin were two of the original members who fit this bill.  Chouteau Johnson was another early member of the Escadrille, and Hewitt, Rumsey, and Drexel rounded out the rest. 

Bert Weston Hall was considered by far the most notorious member of the Escadrille, a man who was “regarded with suspicion” from the start and who was known as an outright liar. 26 He had a mysterious career before the war as a jack-of-all-trades; his origins were murky since he constantly changed his story.  When the war broke out in Europe, he had left his job in Paris as a taxi driver in order to join the French Foreign Legion, and by all accounts performed well.  He befriended William Thaw and Kiffin Rockwell in the Legion, and when they went off to join the French Air Service, he managed to go as well, claiming that he had had prior flying time.  Upon his arrival to flight school he kept up the charade, until his instructors insisted he demonstrate his flying skills.  He climbed into a training aircraft and proceeded to roll down the runway until he crashed into the side of a barn, ruining the plane.  Flabbergasted, the French instructors accused him of never having flown before, and Hall confessed.  They were so enamored with his bravery, however, that they allowed him to keep flying.  There was still enough suspicion surrounding his persona that the French assigned two counterintelligence men to pose as pilots in order to follow him through training.  The two undercover agents even bunked next to him.  27

Bert Hall was picked as one of the seven original members of the Lafayette Escadrille and helped initiate the unit.  He flew his share of flights, even allegedly getting the squadron’s second kill.  But, as Paul Ayres Rockwell, Kiffin Rockwell’s brother recounts,

“He didn’t fly for very long.  The first months he did a good deal of flying.  But after Victor Chapman was killed, he was often very ill.  He couldn’t go out on patrol.  I remember he had one of his teeth pulled out, one after another, so he could get off flying for a day or two.  He had his teeth pulled out! When he found out it was a serious game, he lost his heart for it.” 28

 

Amongst the aviators of the Escadrille, Bert Hall was a constant source of irritation.  His basic problem was that he had an abrasive, almost repulsive personality that made him something of a misfit amongst his mostly cultured colleagues. 29 To add to his personality problems, Hall became a shirker and a coward unable to pull his weight.  This really bothered the men of the Lafayette Escadrille and it brought down their collective morale.  

James Rogers McConnell reported that he “predicted that Hall follow in the footsteps of Cowdin (another shirker) and take “the cure” (a euphemism for a recuperative prolonged leave or release from service) but it’s hard to say. As we all know he’s an awful liar and hot air artist, and every time he sees a fire on the ground he comes racing back to report bringing down a Boche.” 31 McConnell also reports how “Hall was so long overdue (from a permission) that Captain Thenault insisted on reporting him as a deserter. He’s back now, with a yarn about chasing a spy for four days.” 32

Finally the men of the Layette Escadrille could take it no more; Bert Hall was “asked to leave.” This was a fairly rare event and one that must have been embarrassing for the unit to have to endure, but by all accounts it was necessary.  As Bert Hall left he shook his fist at the men of the Lafayette escadrille, “You’ll hear from me yet!” Hall went on to join another Escadrille where he allegedly shot down another plane, but he must have had enough of war because he was released from service.  Ostensibly, this was so he could pursue other adventures.  He would go off around the world fighting for the Russians and the Chinese, become a hero many times over and receive decorations from all of the countries he fought for -- or so he said.  The two books that he wrote, En l’Air and One Man’s War, are tall tales full of fabrications.  They are generally regarded as unreliable.  He went onto Hollywood to be an advisor for aviation movies; he wrote a bunch of fanciful articles regarding his exploits that the Lafayette men later had to debunk; and he involved himself in various scams and schemes, all of which brought great discredit to the Lafayette Escadrille.  He eventually was caught in one of his embezzlement scams and had to serve two and a half years in prison for making off with substantial amount money from a Chinese general, an event that almost caused an international scene.  All of this caused untold damage to the reputation of the Lafayette Escadrille.  To top it off, three women claiming to be Bart Hall’s wife showed up on the day of the dedication of the Lafayette Escadrille Memorial. 

Elliot Cowdin was another poor representative of the Lafayette Escadrille.  Cowdin had served with another French escadrille before joining the Lafayette Escadrille.  While thrice cited as “excellent, brave, (and) devoted,” he was no such thing.  His squadron mates were not of the same accord. 33 Paul Rockwell, the eventual official historian of the Lafayette Escadrille, stated that “some of his fellow pilots that I have spoken to said he always played up to his commanding officers and obtained citation for work he had not done and medals he had not gained, by buying champagne for his captains.  They told me that most of his flying was done in bars.” 34 He had penchant for taking long and not always authorized leaves, most of them were due to his “nerves” which were frayed from combat patrols.  On June 21, 1916, just over two months after the Lafayette Escadrille had been founded, McConnell wrote to Paul Rockwell a letter stating that “Cowdin’s trying for a month’s leave.  Strain too great for his delicate nerves.” 35 Even more shocking, but demonstrating the vitriol that Cowdin produced in his squadron mates, McConnell wrote another letter to Paul Rockwell, dated June 25, 1916, commenting on pilot Chapman’s death, “If it only could have been someone else – Cowdin, for instance, or any like him.” 36 These are rather hateful thoughts for anyone to discuss, and doubly so when wished upon a squadron mate. 

One of those prolonged, unauthorized absences by Cowdin brought about his expulsion from the unit.  Captain Thenault wanted to charge him as a deserter, but did not want the bad publicity, so he ordered him “released due to ill health.”  In Lafayette pilots James Norman Hall’s and Charles Nordhoff's The Lafayette Flying Corps, which is regarded as the most authoritative first person histories of the men that flew for France, the euphemism “released due to ill health” was explained as a catchall phrase used to protect the reputation of the designee.  It was a polite way for undesirable men to be kicked out of the unit, while allowing them a measure of honor.  This is what McConnell’s letter alluded when he predicted, “Hall would follow the same cure taken by Cowdin.” 37 Cowdin quit the French Air Service in October of 1916 after initially spending some time in Paris “recuperating.” He briefly served in the RFC, ferrying and delivering planes to the French.  He returned to the United States towards the end of the war and was accepted as a major in the USAS, put in charge of inspecting airfields.  He was finally discharged for good in 1919. 38

Thomas Hewitt was another Lafayette Escadrille member that proved to be less than courageous.  He was no shirker however; it was just deemed that he lacked the qualities that make men fighter pilots.  Surprisingly he had done very well in the French fighter schools and everyone expected great things of him.  He was aggressive in flying and tactics and excelled in all the stages of training.  He was picked for the Lafayette Escadrille with great enthusiasm. 39

He proved to be a huge disappointment.  After the first flight with the Escadrille over enemy lines he became so unnerved by antiaircraft artillery that he landed ten miles short of the airfield and did not know where he was.  Hewitt’s lack of courageousness and inability to confront the enemy was soon noted and frowned upon by his squadron mates who expected everyone to shoulder their fare share of the burden.  He soon became known as “Horrible Hewitt” and he shrank further and further from his combat responsibilities.  He was so unnerved that he started experiencing problems even on non-combat flights.  Hewitt was the pilot that had twice crashed his plane in the ditch.  Thenault subsequently grounded him and he was never put back on the flight schedule.  On September 17, 1917, Captain Thenault removed Hewitt from the squadron roster and he was assigned to bombers.  He washed out of that program and was released from the service due to “ill health.”  He died alone, an alcoholic, unclaimed in a Washington, D.C. morgue. 40

Chouteau Johnson was a different type of case; he fought and flew with Lafayette Escadrille for fourteen months and held an average record.  A letter from McConnell to Paul Rockwell on June 15, 1916, noted that, “Johnson and Rumsey frankly dislike the game.” 41 Edmond Genet noted in his diary on numerous occasions that Johnson was a shirker and always looking to get out of his flying missions.  Genet called him “decidedly lazy” 42 and in a longer entry spared no disgust in his description of him,

“Am mighty well disgusted with one of the fellows here of whom I have mentioned before.  (Johnson) is not an enthusiastic fighter and takes every possible chance to shirk, while we break our necks and risk our lives to keep up the good name of the Escadrille.  (Johnson) I’m certain will see the finish of the war, return to America, and pose as the hero of the Escadrille and be received by everyone – who will know the difference?”43

 

Genet’s prediction would come to pass.  Genet died shortly thereafter, killed in combat while Chouteau Johnson would survive the war.  He was not hated like Bert Hall, and many of the Escadrille men liked him, although they considered him somewhat of a shirker.  He died from throat cancer in 1939.

There were a few other men in the Lafayette Escadrille who had problems with courage.  Lawrence Rumsey, a problem drinker, chose to hide his fear behind alcohol.  He was asked to leave the unit after burning his plane.  Clyde Balsley was wounded almost immediately after joining the Escadrille, and his wounds would cause him to be invalided for the length of the war.  He was nevertheless known for his lack of courage and was described “as needing a new pair of shorts every time that he goes out.” 44 Another fellow named John Drexel lasted only 36 days in the Lafayette Escadrille before he used his wealthy father’s influence to be reassigned to a liaison office.  According to Edwin Parsons, “John Drexel made no patrols over the lines.” He was effeminate, different, very aloof, an immediate oddball in the Escadrille, but more importantly he lacked the mettle for combat.  When he discovered that the war was for real, he chose to get out of it.  45

Another account is frankly startling; however, it shows the extent to which the reputation of the unit was at stake and demonstrates how despised shirkers and cowards really were.  Pilot Charles Dolan, in an USAF Oral History Program interview on August 15, 1968, related the following incredible story, 

“There was one incident where this fellow would be in a patrol, and he’d fly until they crossed the (enemy) line, and then he’d drop out with engine trouble or something and come home.  The next day he’d drop out because the sun had blinded him or something.  At any rate he would fly along the lines, and when the squadron had come back over the lines, he’d drop in place.  This got so bad that at the end of about a month the fellows shot him down – his own man shot him down. (!) They did not want any French men to think that they had these kinds of Americans.  So he’s among the missing, and his record is unnamed in the history of the Escadrille.”  46 

Dolan never named the pilot in question who was shot down, but if true, the story is incredible.  A murder was committed to save the reputation of the Lafayette Escadrille, and to punish a coward.  This action speaks powerfully of the distrust these shirkers caused in the ranks.       

Dissension in the Ranks

To add to the poor discipline and distrust, there were serious dissension problems in the Lafayette Escadrille.  There was a fundamental split in the unit that separated the majority of the men into two groups.  This split did not involve everybody, for some never chose sides, but it was palpable enough that a pilot from a Canadian unit noted that, “The pilots give the impression of being very war-like, even amongst themselves…there was tendency to resolve themselves into cliques, wherein individuals of similar tendencies grouped and lambasted the others.  Consequently teamwork suffered.” 47 One historian thinks that the cliques centered around northern and southern American origins, a very real possibility considering that the major protagonists in the unit came from wealthy, well-to-do northern families or rich, southern traditionalist families with roots dating back to the American Civil War. 48 

The Lafayette Escadrille contained many colorful characters who enjoyed their spot in the limelight.  When the Escadrille was first organized, its inception was met with great fanfare.  The men were the darlings of the world, and enjoyed special attention in Paris.  In the early days of the Escadrille, Parisians could not get enough of them; countless articles were written about them and a film crew even did a brief documentary of the Escadrille pilots.  They were admired by all and envied by many.

It was natural that the young men would let some of this attention get to them.  Some of them craved the attention like an addiction and wanted more.  To add to the attention and competition for glory, “there was an established system of rewards for citations and decorations” as well. 48 (Gros, p. 6) This hopelessly tainted the innocence of the men’s intentions.  The sums rewarded were not small for a pilot who earned “nine sous a day” and an additional “franc a day” as recorded by the “Carnets de comptabilite de campagne.”49 (The men did receive an additional 100 francs a month, later increased to 200 francs a month, from the Franco-American Flying Corps run by Dr. Gros and associates, as their mess fund.) The prizes were distributed as follows, 

Legion d’Honneur –1,500 francs (or $300.00)

Medaille Militraire – 1,000 francs (or $200.00)

Croix de Guerre -- 500 francs (or $100.00)

Citation -- 250 francs (or $50.00)

Downing an enemy aircraft – 1,000 francs (or $200.00) 50

One can see how lucrative a victory, medal, or a citation could be.  No wonder men were accused of buttering up their superiors in order to obtain confirmations or award recommendations.  To add to the glory, the man who downed a plane in the Escadrille would usually have a special byline and picture of him in the front page of the world’s newspapers, or at least certainly on the front page of the Paris-based New York Herald, the America daily newspaper and predecessor to the International Herald Tribune.  This extra, free publicity would make the man the toast of the town the next time he came to Paris on leave or liberty.  This type of coverage was especially popular in the beginning the war when the aviation service was still considered the new bright spot in the war and the chivalrous replacement to the cavalry. 51                                                                                   

* * *

The center of the competition and dissension in the unit revolved around two of the Lafayette Escadrille’s most dashing, young men, and who were both in the Escadrille from the start: Norman Prince and Kiffin Yates Rockwell.  Educated at the best schools, from well-to-do families with rich traditions, these young men had given up everything, including their safe lives back home in order to volunteer in war effort. 

Norman Prince had spent much of his time growing up with his father in the south of France at Pau.  The father owned significant property in that region, and would eventually donate the tract of land that would one day field the Pau Aerodrome.  Kiffin Rockwell had come from a family of fighters, and could trace his military ancestors back to the American Revolution.  He had enlisted in the French Foreign Legion before transferring to the French Air Service.

As similar as they were in background, the two seemed at odds with each other and the cliques would revolve around these two young protagonists.  Unfortunately, for the unit, the dissension they created would carry long past both of their deaths.    

Kiffin Rockwell scored the Escadrille’s first victory on May 13, 1916, a feat that would land him in the record books of the unit.  Prince’s first kill took a while longer to achieve.  He claimed as his first victory, on August 25, 1916, to have single handedly brought down a German Aviatik two-seater during a battle that took place six miles inside German lines, and that he forced another plane to land behind enemy lines. 52 When he flew back, several of the pilots did not believe his story, but Captain Thenault allowed his victory and recommended him for the Medaille Militaire. 53 It was this claim that spurred hostility between Rockwell and Prince.  Rockwell thought for sure that Prince had curried favor with Captain Thenault and was unjustly cited, while his own recent efforts had been overlooked.  In a letter to his brother he stated as much, saying that “no one thinks that Prince got a German…I am going to have to call him out when he gets back (from Paris) as he talked awfully big about us behind my back when I was away.  We have all agreed to try to get him kicked out of the Escadrille.” 54

Although it is not clear who “we all” is, it is very clear that Rockwell was not happy that Prince was grabbing his share of the glory.  No one was questioning Lufbery’s kills, which already numbered four at this point.  Rockwell was unreasonably steamed about Prince’s claims and subsequent recognition, for he started blaming everyone and everything for his lack of recent success.  He even blamed Captain Thenault for his problems.  Kiffin, in a letter to this brother, Paul Rockwell, said,

“My citation has not gone through, so can’t send you a copy yet.  Don’t think there is much doubt of the medaille, but don’t expect two citations.  There is no reason why I shouldn’t have them, except we are very unlucky in having a captain who is a nice fellow and brave, but doesn’t know how to look after his men, and doesn’t try to.  I have been fighting with him ever since being back (from an injury), mainly about the fact that I have no machine, and he gave my old one to Prince (of all insults!) and is not in a hurry to get me a new one.  I think that in a few weeks I will be plenty sick of this outfit.” 55

He had already been promoted to sergeant and awarded the Medaille Militaire and the Croix de Guerre for actions completed, but his anger and his suspicions seemed to have clouded his head for on August 31, 1916, he wrote to his brother, Paul,

“I want to be changed to a French Escadrille unless certain conditions change here… I want a legion d’honneur and a sous-lieutenant’s grade.  I don’t give a d___ how conceited it may appear, but I think that I have well earned the two… Everyone here is unhappy and discontented and I am about the worst of any.” 56 

Rockwell questioned Prince’s sincerity and believed that his motive for helping found and serving with the Escadrille was for his own personal glory.  Rockwell had fought 40 official air duels without a kill in August of 1916 when he wrote the above letters, and it is possible that the stress of not getting a victory was getting to him. 57  

Prince was described as being “in it for the sport,” rather than for fierce idealistic reasons, but so were others, and one could argue that at least he was there. 58 He was a brave young man full of vigor and pride, but so then were many others in the Escadrille.  The only criticism the author found of Prince came from a relative, who said that he was myopic, but vain enough that he refused to wear corrective lenses -- Norman Prince exclaiming, “No ace wears glasses!” 59  

Whatever the cause of the discord, the two men did not get along.  This is not surprising by itself, but when testimony from outside sources note that the unit appears to be split into feuding cliques centered on distinct personalities, then the unit has a problem.  This animosity detracted from the unit and served to undermine its potential greatness.  As the friction between the two men was coming to a head, they each had less than two months to live.  Rockwell would die first, shot down by a German.  Prince would die soon after, after hitting a wire upon approach to the airfield.  Ironically, the man who refused to wear glasses did not see the wire in the dimming light.  His plane flipped over and he was mortally injured, dying days later. HHuge funerals were held for both men, and many turned out to honor the young heroes.  In death they would find peace from their differences.  Little did anyone know that the Rockwell and Prince names would surface again as protagonists in a bitter dispute after the war. 

The Dissension and Discord Carry on after the War 

The dissension and discord in the Escadrille would spill over into the years after the war, especially during a very memorable time for the unit, the erection and dedication of the Lafayette Escadrille Memorial.  This time the discord centered on two main issues; the first concerned the Prince name and the erection of the Memorial.  The second also involved the Memorial, but this time the differences were between the Lafayette Escadrille and the Lafayette Flying Corps.

The Rockwell-Prince Saga Continues 

When Kiffin Rockwell and Norman Prince died, the country of France mourned for them as if they had lost their own sons.  And the Lafayette Escadrille was the less due to the loss of two of its famous members.  Many hoped that the rivalry that had split the two apart would finally be laid to rest.  Unknown to the Lafayette Escadrille at the time, another Prince would carry on the fight of the family name.          

Frederick Henry Prince, Norman’s father, was a very wealthy man.  Despite his vast holdings and interests in France, he had violently disagreed with his son’s departure to France to fight; in fact, he tried to use his influence, unbeknownst to Norman, to have him transferred to a rearward position.  Norman Prince had been Frederick Prince’s favorite son, and he had hoped that one day Norman would take over the family business.  Norman’s rebellious move to run off and join the war effort upset his father’s plans for him. 

Upon Norman’s death, Mr. Prince embraced his fallen son and sought to glorify his son’s deeds.  Norman’s death became an obsession for the old man (despite having another older son and namesake, Frederick Prince, Jr., in the Lafayette Escadrille who he inexplicably shunned).  The father was an obsessive, complicated, petty man who bullied people to have his way.  His efforts to glorify his son at the expense of others drove the Escadrille members mad with rage. 

Mr. Prince’s efforts started almost immediately after Norman’s death.  His primary intent was to make sure that history accorded his son Norman as the sole person responsible for the founding of the Lafayette Escadrille.  He would also seek to embellish and enlarge his son’s record, to the detriment of the others.  First, Mr. Prince he financed and published a book in 1917 entitled, Norman Prince, a Volunteer who Died for the Cause he Loved which he financed and published himself in 1917.  The book is full of praise for his dead son, but it also, unfortunately, contained a lot of misleading statements and claims.  The surviving members of the Escadrille, understandably, took exception to the errors.  The most egregious misstatement was that Norman was the sole founder of the Lafayette Escadrille.  The men of the Lafayette Escadrille were understandably upset since Mr. Prince was beating everyone to the punch by publishing these claims while they were still fighting in the war.  The American public back home, eager to hear stories from the Front, readily gobbled up these claims. 60

Mr. Prince’s efforts continued after the war.  In 1921, Captain Georges Thenault unwittingly turned over his memoir L’Escadrille Lafayette, to Mr. Prince to have it translated and published in the United States.  A letter from Paul Rockwell, Kiffin’s older brother who also served in France and who always maintained very close ties with the Escadrille, captures the anger and frustration that the men of the Lafayette Escadrille expressed at the doctored translation,

     “I mailed you yesterday my copies of the two editions of Georges Thenault’s story of the Lafayette Escadrille; the authentic Paris edition, and the edition altered by the Prince family and published in Boston.  I am enclosing these with some articles covering the affair.  I have many others but these will give an idea of how the father and the uncle of Norman Prince attempted to glorify him by suppressing Thenault’s account of good work done by William Thaw and other pilots of the Lafayette Escadrille. 

     “When you read Chapter One of Thenault’s book as he wrote it, you will note that he considered Thaw the originator of the plan for the Escadrille of Americans volunteers in the service of France.  I agree entirely with Thenault, and I knew Thaw intimately from August 1914, until his death.  I must admit for a number of years following World War I, I like many others, was very sentimental about the fellows who had been killed during the War, and I often gave Norman Prince credit for founding the Lafayette Escadrille, although I knew Bill Thaw had the idea long before Prince ever came to France and volunteered.

     “I had a long talk with Thaw sometime before the end of World War I, regarding the efforts of the Prince family to glorify Norman Prince and the extravagant claims made for him.  Thaw’s comment was, “Let Norman have all the credit they wish to give him.  He was dead, I am alive, and I enjoy living.” But after I learned that the Prince’s were not only making unjustified claims for Norman (“sole founder of the Lafayette Escadrille,”etc.); but were deliberately suppressing credit given William Thaw and others pilots for work well done, my attitude changed.  It was not Thaw’s fault that he survived the war, he faced death as often and as bravely as did Norman Prince and my brother Kiffin and the others that were killed.” 61  

Thaw, a known even hand and important member of the Escadrille who never succumbed to joining the cliques in the unit, had even at the end of the war tried to remain neutral, but his neutrality did not last for long. 

Meanwhile, Mr. Prince had stepped up his efforts to glorify his son’s role in the Lafayette Escadrille.  In May of 1923, the “L’Association du Memorial de L’Escadrille Lafayette” was founded to commemorate the efforts of the Lafayette Escadrille and the Lafayette Flying Corps.  A large fund raising drive featuring many circulars was conducted in order to raise money.  Prominent men of France and the Unites States backed the memorial and raised and donated funds themselves.  Mr. Prince became a member of the association’s board due to his financial clout and influence, and by donating a huge sum of money.  But from the very start, a war broke out between the formerly neutral William Thaw and Paul Rockwell and Mr. Prince, which endured through the duration of the construction of the Memorial, due to be unveiled and dedicated July 4, 1928.  This was a five-year test of words and wills that unfortunately sullied the memory of the Memorial and the men it was dedicated to, and likewise caused animosity for years afterwards.   

Mr. Prince bullied the members of the Association with his financial clout and unveiled threats, which included former members of the Lafayette Escadrille and Lafayette Flying Corps, among them Austin Crehore, and associates such as Paul Rockwell and Dr. Gros.  Mr. Prince, as a primary provider of the Memorial, wanted the monument to be erected in the memory of his son, Norman.  In his idea for the memorial, Norman Prince would be featured as the main attraction, a tomb with Norman’s remains would be the centerpiece.  The rest of the men would be honored too, but they would be ancillary to Norman, their tombs or names featured as a backdrop or as part of the scenery.  The men were dumbfounded; although they had no problem with Norman Prince, they certainly did not hold him in higher esteem than any of the other members of the Lafayette Escadrille.  Above all, the Memorial was meant to honor all those who had fought and served. 62

Thaw and Rockwell led the charge against Prince’s efforts.  They rallied the support of the other men involved in the memorial’s construction and proved to be an effective counter-force against Prince’s power and influence.  As the construction of the monument proceeded, they managed to override Mr. Prince’s demands, but he stayed on as a member of the Association, attempting to influence the monument in his son’s favor.  A review of the Association’s minutes of meetings and the correspondence sent between members of the Association’s Board reveal an embattled Mr. Prince vainly fighting for his son’s cause.  Finally, in a series of letters dated May 4, May 25, and June 6, 1928, on the very eve of the Memorial’s dedication, Mr. Prince quit the Association and attempted to blame his resignation on another of the Board members, although it was evident that he was unhappy with the monument’s final form.  Too late to withdraw his funding, he made sure everyone knew he felt slighted.  In letters to certain Board members, he described how he had been “insulted by (Austen Crehore) and offended by him, as he offends everyone else,” and how “purely personal the affront was,” and that he was giving the board his letter of resignation. 63 He subsequently pulled out the remainder of his funding, and left to search for another site to memorialize his son. 

The surviving members of the Lafayette Escadrille were happier for his departure.  As Paul Rockwell put it, “We have weathered successfully many storms, such as the attempt of the Prince family to take away from us the Memorial at Garches to all of our dead, and turn it into a memorial for one pilot only.” 64 However, the fight that had broken out over the Lafayette Escadrille soured the beauty of the monument’s purpose, and others found that the fight was still not over with the Prince family. 

William Thaw, in response to an article written by Mr. Prince in the Pittsburgh Post Gazette, wrote the following letter to the editor published on May 11, 1929.  Thaw had taken exception to the excessive claims laid out in the Prince article and sought to rectify the record,

     “I am taking the liberty to writing you relative to your editorial of Thursday, April 25th, on the subject of the service of Norman Prince with the Lafayette Escadrille…without wanting to in any way detract from the good work done by Prince while with the Lafayette Escadrille, I do wish to correct your figures.  You wrote that he “fought 122 engagements and was credited with five enemy planes, and with four others not officially rewarded.” 

“I was with the Lafayette Escadrille as second in command under Captain  Thenault, now French Air Attaché at Washington, during the period of Prince’s sojourn therewith, and during that time (I have before me the official records) the entire squadron had 156 aerial combats, and destroyed officially 17 enemy planes, for three of which Prince was given credit….

“It is illogical to assume that any one pilot actively participated in 80% of the squadron’s combats and over 53% of its victories….” 65

  In some ways the fight against the Prince’s was less direct.  Paul Rockwell once stated in a letter dated November 8, 1959, that “I always felt I could not write an important history of the unit, some of the fellows (not many) I did not like and I might not be fair to them.” 66 He was right.  In his book American Fighters in the Foreign Legion, 1914 -1918, Paul Rockwell mentions Norman Prince only once in his whole book (in a copy of a citation), while his brother Kiffin, is mentioned over 50 times. 67            

These, and other efforts and letters, are some of the examples of how Lafayette Escadrille members would have to defend the true history of their unit.  The main effort would be directed against Mr. Prince who continued to champion his son until his death.  It was with great irony that neither Norman Prince, Kiffin Yates Rockwell, nor William Thaw would be buried at the Lafayette Escadrille Memorial.  Kiffin Rockwell was left in his original burial spot, in the town of Luxeuil.  Thaw was buried in his hometown of Pittsburgh.  And Prince would eventually get his own memorial.

Mr. Prince, after being rebuked by the Association, pushed hard for a $500,000 memorial dedicated entirely to his son at Ft. Meyer in Washington, D. C., but he was rebuffed by base officials.  He finally used his influence to have his son’s remains buried in the Washington National Cathedral, in Washington, D. C.   Norman Prince’s remains lay in a prominent chapel inside the cathedral, where a statue of him and his crypt glisten in white stone.  Prince is in august surroundings, of which heads of state like Woodrow Wilson are buried.  The chapel was dedicated in 1937; Norman Prince’s remains were transferred from France and entombed there.  Mr. Prince strove until the end to promote his son's role in the Escadrille; indeed, for all visitors who come to this site and see the tomb, engraved on the side are the following words:

NORMAN PRINCE

Founder of the Lafayette Escadrille

Among the first to lead where the nation followed in the World War 68

  The Lafayette Escadrille versus the Lafayette Flying Corps 

On the eve of the dedication of the Lafayette Escadrille Memorial, a gathering was held for the survivors of the Lafayette Escadrille and the Lafayette Flying Corps.  They met at the Hotel Chatham, a favorite gathering place for the Lafayette men during the war.  They gathered to fete the unveiling of the monument that would honor their fallen brethren in perpetuity.  Although they had had no official recognition in the United States, they knew this memorial would help the memory of their feats endure.                   

However, the gathering was not as festive as the members would have liked it to be.  An argument broke out between the pilots.  One of the Lafayette Escadrille pilots had accused the Lafayette Flying Corps members of trying “to steal the thunder” of the Lafayette Escadrille;  other Lafayette Escadrille pilots seconded the opinion.  The Flying Corp pilots took exception to this.  Additionally, some pilots believed that no one still alive should be on the monument, and that it should just be a memorial to those who died in combat.  Some were upset because some of their comrades had not made the monument’s list of names to be etched on the Memorial; others were mad at some of the names that were to be included.  Finally Austen Crehore, a member of the Lafayette Flying Corps, and a board member of the Association of the Lafayette Escadrille Memorial, took the floor and made a calming speech, “We have brought you our dead, don’t exclude them.  We all fought for the same cause.” But the controversy would not subside, and a great deal of bickering would haunt the Lafayette Escadrille and Flying Corps members for years to come. 69    

* * *

Many of the 10,000 attendees, to include French notables such as Marshal’s Foch and Petain, at the next day’s dedication ceremony of the Lafayette Escadrille Memorial, had no idea of the controversy overshadowing the Memorial they were about to unveil.  The names of the Lafayette Escadrille and the Lafayette Flying Corps members were yet to be added to the Memorial at this point; no one was quite sure how to appropriately address this issue.  Some of the Lafayette Escadrille members thought that only the original 38 members of the unit plus the French officers that commanded them, should be included on the Memorial.  The members of the Lafayette Flying Corps rightly thought they had a reason to be on the monument as well.  They fought the same air battles at the same time for the same ally.  But what really constituted inclusion into the Lafayette Flying Corps? Was it only the 180 who had only served in combat at the Front? Or was it all of the 269 estimated men that had gone through French training, even the ones who never reached the front? Why not include those who had died during training in accidents; had they not too paid the ultimate sacrifice? Was it to consist of pilots who had volunteered in good faith, but who were then dropped from the roles of fight school due to inaptitude, sickness, or injuries due to training? The decision was difficult and no one had the perfect solution.

The case of Eugene Bullard is one such case in point and exemplifies the dissension over the Memorial.  Bullard was America’s first black pilot, and the only black pilot in the Lafayette Flying Corps.  Bullard had been a professional boxer before the war and had gone to France to find a better life amongst the more racially unbiased French.  He enlisted in the French Foreign Legion when the war started.  He was wounded on March 5, 1916, by shrapnel and he subsequently received a citation and a Croix de Guerre with a bronze star.  He applied for aviation since his wound gave him trouble marching and he was accepted.  By all accounts he performed well in flight school, which he had started September 3, 1916.  He served with SPA-93 from August 27, 1917 to September 13, 1917, and with SPA-85 from September 13, 1917 to November 11, 1917. 70

Bullard was well liked and had friends in the Escadrille.  A letter from Edmond Genet on March 26, 1917, who befriended Bullard in the French Foreign Legion, expressed his fondness for Bullard, and applauded him in “coming on so well with the flying” and that he hears he is “so near to being brevete.” 71                   

Unfortunately for Bullard, an event happened that would haunt his reputation with the Lafayette for the remainder of his life.  Bullard was in Montmatre on permission with a black friend and two ladies when they got into an argument with a French officer and a British officer.  The French Officer and Bullard escalated the argument and they came to blows.  Bullard being a professional boxer easily thrashed the French Officer; however the troubles were just beginning.  Bullard was arrested and charged with striking a French officer, with wearing a fourragere from the French Foreign Legion illegally, and using brass knuckles in his fight.  He was threatened with imprisonment, but eventually released on all counts. 72

The incident was unfortunately brought to the attention of Lafayette Flying Corps officials.  The condemnation from Dr. Gros, who had a particular dislike for Bullard, was swift. 73 In a letter from Dr. Gros to Captain W. W. Hoffman, Headquarters, AEF, on November 16, 1917, Gros showed his lack of support for Bullard,

My Dear Captain Hoffman,

     The Bullard dilemma has ended with a very graceful solution.  Bullard who is a former prizefighter, knocked out a French adjutant for which he was given ten days prison.  He was assigned two more for allegedly wearing the Fourragere to which he was only entitled to as a member of the Foreign Legion. 

 This leads to his total radiation from the Aviation Section of the French Army and to his transfer to the ranks of the French infantry.

Under these conditions you will consider of course that he is morally unfit to form a part of the United States Army and you can reject him on these     grounds.

At least one dark cloud is dispersed from our horizon. 7   

               In another letter from Dr. Gros to Bullard, he wrote,

               I received your letter announcing your very unfortunate experience in getting into fisticuffs.  There is no excuse for such a lack of dignity, and this,                  unfortunately will be strongly placed against you. 

   I can do nothing to attenuate the predicament which you have very rightly   incurred from the French Military Authorities.” 75

Bullard was kicked out of the Lafayette Flying Corps due to this incident and due to Dr. Gros’ failure to defend him.  He finished the war in the French infantry.  This incident later led to Dr. Gros demand that Bullard be excluded from the Lafayette Escadrille Memorial.  Yet the great Lufbery himself spent ten days in jail -- this was a well-known incident.  In fact, the telegram he originally sent from Chartres is still taped to the interior of the Journal des operations et marches at the Smithsonian Institution.  Perhaps this was due to Lufbery’s exceptional record.  However, this would not explain Dr. Gros’ subsequent support for Bert Hall to be included in the ranks of the named.  In a letter to Austen Crehore, Dr. Gros wrote,   

“….One name in question, that of Bert Hall, has lead to many discussions.  My own feeling is that, though Bert Hall may not have ended with all possible glory, he began bravely and was part of the first Escadrille and eventually did something to win fame for this famous body….” 76 

Dr. Gros had no way of knowing that Bert Hall would go on to become a felon and perpetual ne’er-do-well.  However, the reputation of Bert Hall as an unsavory character who lied on numerous occasions and who was asked to leave the Escadrille based solely on character was well documented, and does not explain Gros’ objections to Bullard, who was cleared of all charges against him. 

In the same letter mentioned above from Dr. Gros to Crehore, on May 17, 1929, Gros explained that,

“We feel that those who were killed or seriously injured in training schools and as a result of these accidents were unable to receive the brevet should figure on the list (of the Memorial).  On the contrary, those who, though inaptitude, indiscipline, or even due to health reasons, were unable to obtain their wings, should be left out.” 77   

That men who never flew in combat should be included on the monument to the Lafayette Escadrille (to include Dr. Gros’ name), while men who had served honorably were eschewed is maddening.  Bullard apparently felt so and let those in charge know that he felt slighted.  In a letter from Bullard to Austen Crehore, dated December 17, 1928, he wrote,

     “I am sending you my declaration in which you ask for hoping that there will be no more stumbling blocks which is very very injust (sic) concerning my military record, as I was good enough to fly side by side with and risk my life with a lot of the pilots and soldiers, who lost their life where I might have lost mine.  I feel that it is the most pitefull (sic) thing I have ever heard and I know pilots of my time who well agree with me.” 7 

Bullard’s fight for his right to be included on the Escadrille Memorial included letters from his former commanding officer, and old chief in the Legion, one-armed Colonel Girod, who cited Bullard’s “conduite, sa discipline, (et) son courage.” 79 Bullard also subsequently brought charges of 40, 000 francs against the Chicago Tribune which published an article wrongly depicting the events that transgressed on that fateful day.  In May 1923, the Chicago Tribune settled out of court in favor of Bullard, and ran a front-page apology to Bullard and a correct version of the events. 80

In a letter from Lewis D. Crenshaw of the L’Association du Memorial de L’Escadrille Lafayette to Austen Crehore, dated 19 September 1928, Crenshaw defended Bullard, and saw that “there is nothing in his record from October 1914, to the armistice which should keep him from the honor roll.” He also explained that Bullard never served any jail time for his fisticuffs or fourragere affair, and that the event was remarkably overplayed.  Crenshaw also said that Dr. Gros was the sole reason why Bullard’s name was not on the list. 81

Dr. Gros won in the end.  Bullard’s name was not included.  Bullard died, a member of the Legion D’Honneur, and winner of the Croix de Guerre, a man who had served France for four full years in the Legion, in the air, and on the ground, alone and poor – serving as a forgotten hotel elevator operator in Chicago in his last years. 

In the end, it was decided that of the 269 possible candidates, only 209 would be listed.  There were 60 names omitted, including Bullard’s and Bert Hall’s.  Most of these were of men that had not served at the Front or had never completed flight training.    

The men are all dead now and the argument is mute in hindsight, but that there was dissension to begin with over what names were to be included, and that the argument became public, did nothing to serve the memory of these valiant men.  The bickering could only bring dishonor to the cause they served. 

Summary

Hold any famous unit up for close inspection, and one is bound to find faults.  The Lafayette Escadrille was no different than any other unit; it was composed of mortal men.  Yet, for the observer and historian, it is a sad memory betrothed to their memory. 

The dissension, discord, distrust, and indiscipline found in the Lafayette Escadrille are part of the unit’s history.  And unfortunately it was highlighted when the very men of the Escadrille made their petty rivalries and arguments public.  Perhaps now, it does not seem like a big to do, but at the time, especially when the Lafayette Memorial was to be dedicated to their memory, all of these detractors lessened the legacy of the Lafayette aviators.        

 

 

  1. Flying for France, Modom Productions—France 3, 1999.  Citation du fils de Georges Thenault.
  2. Gordon, Pilot Biographies, p. 230.
  3. Parsons, I Flew, p. 125. 
  4. Gordon, Pilot Biographies, p. 59.
  5. Lettre, date 2 juillet 1916, James R. McConnell à Marcelle Guerin.  James R. McConnell (JRM) Collection, University of Virginia.
  6. Mason, Lafayette Escadrille, p. 128.
  7. Gordon, Pilot Biographies, p. 249.
  8. Parson, I Flew, p. 216.
  9. Thenault, L’Escadrille Lafayette, p. 43.
  10. Ibid., p. 52.
  11. Journal: Escadrille N° 124.
  12. Lettre, date 19 juillet 1916, James R. McConnell to Paul A. Rockwell. JRM Collection.
  13. Parsons, I Flew, p. 148.
  14. Chicago Tribune, 5 mai 1923.
  15. Gordon, The Lafayette Flying Corps, p. 38.
  16. Ibid., p. 121.
  17. Parsons, I Flew, p. 290.
  18. Ibid., p. 270.
  19. Ibid., p. 275.
  20. Ibid., p. 265.
  21. Ibid., p. 250.
  22. Parsons, I Flew, p. 220.
  23. Genet, An American for Lafayette, entrée de journal personnel, daté le 25 février 1917.
  24. Parsons, I Flew, p. 290.
  25. Gordon, Pilot Biographies, p. 226.
  26. Rockwell, Paul A., American Fighters in the Foreign Legion (NY, Hougton, Mifflin, Co., 1930), p. 187. 
  27. Gordon, Lafayette Flying Corps, p. 69.
  28. Rockwell, Paul A., Interview #550: Colonel Paul A. Rockwell (“Cross and Cockade Society”, 1962), p. 7.
  29. Kennett, The First Air War, p. 143.
  30. Lettre, date 1 juillet 1916, James R. McConnell à Paul A. Rockwell.  JRM Collection.
  31. Lettre, date 19 juillet 1916, James R. McConnell à Paul A. Rockwell. JRM Collection.
  32. Gordon, Lafayette Flying Corps.
  33. Gordon, Pilot Biographies, p. 68.
  34. Ibid.
  35. Lettre, date 21 juin 1916, James R. McConnell à Paul A. Rockwell.  JRM Collection.
  36. Lettre, date 25 juin 1916, James R. McConnell à Paul A. Rockwell. JRM Collection.
  37. Lettre, date 1 juillet 1916, James R. McConnell à Paul A. Rockwell. JRM Collection.
  38. Gordon, Pilot Biographies, p. 68. 
  39. Ibid., p. 84.
  40. Ibid., p.191.
  41. Lettre, date 16 juin 1916, James R. McConnell à Paul A. Rockwell.  JRM Collection.
  42. Genet, An American for Lafayette, p. 146.
  43. Lettre, date 15 juin 1916, James R. McConnell à Paul A. Rockwell. JRM Collection.
  44. Dolan, Oral Interview, p. 10. 
  45. Mason, Lafayette Escadrille, p. 128. 
  46. Flammer, The Vivid Air.
  47. Gros, A Brief History, p. 6.
  48. Les Carnets de Comptabilité en Campagne, Esc N° 124.  SHAA.
  49. Gordon, The Lafayette Flying Corps, p. 20.
  50. New York Herald.
  51. Bailey, The French Air Service War Chronology, p. 68.
  52. Gordon, Pilot Biographies, p. 45.
  53. Ibid., p. 45.
  54. Gordon, The Lafayette Flying Corps, p. 52.
  55. Ibid.
  56. Ibid., p. 53.
  57. Lettre, date 15 juin 1916, James R. McConnell à Paul A. Rockwell.  JRM Collection.
  58. Flying for France, vidéo, citation du neveu de Norman Prince.
  59. Gordon, Lafayette Flying Corps, p. 129.
  60. Lettre, date 12 juin 1960, Paul A. Rockwell à Phillip Hopkins.  NASMA.
  61. « L’Escadrille La Fayette, Tome II. » Icare, N° 160, P. 190.
  62. Tous les lettres écrit par M. Prince mentionné sont à Blérancourt.
  63. Gordon, Lafayette Flying Corps, p. 140.
  64. Lettre, date 8 mai 1929, William Thaw à Pittsburgh Post Gazette.  NASMA.
  65. Lettre, date 8 novembre 1959, Paul A. Rockwell à Charles Dolan.  Charles Dolan Collection, USAF Academy.
  66. Rockwell, American Fighters .
  67. Visite d’auteur.
  68. Gordon, Lafayette Flying Corps, p. 140, et Austen Crehore Collection, USAF Academy.
  69. Dossier Officiel d’Eugene Bullard, Blérancourt.
  70. Lettre, date 26 mars 1917, Edmond Genet à Eugene Bullard.  Blérancourt.
  71. Chicago Times et autres sources divers.
  72. Gordon, Lafayette Flying Corps, p. 7.
  73. Lettre, date 16 novembre 1917, Dr. Edmund Gros à Capitaine Hoffman.  Blérancourt.
  74. Lettre, date 4 novembre 1917, Dr. Edmund Gros à Eugene Bullard. Blérancourt.
  75. Lettre, date 17 mai 1929, Dr. Edmund Gros à Austen Crehore.  Blérancourt.
  76. Ibid.
  77. Lettre, date 27 décembre 1928, Eugene Bullard à Austen Crehore.  Blérancourt.
  78. Recommandation de Colonel Jan Girod, date janvier 1923.  Blérancourt.
  79. Chicago Times 23 mai 1923 et lettre de Lewis D. Crenshaw à Austen Crehore.  Austen Crehore Collection.
  80. Lettre, de Lewis D. Crenshaw à Austen Crehore.  Austen Crehore Collection.

 

 

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