Marnes-la-Coquette, 20 April 2016
After its recent renovation the Lafayette Escadrille Memorial is being rededicated today in the presence of many dignitaries. This squadron of the French aviation was largely composed of American volunteer pilots, several of them had first served as volunteer ambulance drivers. One of those pioneers was James Rogers McConnell, he joined the Escadrille exactly one hundred years ago today.
A supporter of the Allies, James McConnell wrote to A. Piatt Andrew about his decision to leave his position as an ambulance driver with the American Field Service to become a pilot with the Lafayette Escadrille on November 28, 1915:
“I feel as strongly about the war as the French themselves. I believe it is to be a war of freedom and civilization against despotic dictation and hideous ideals, and having this attitude I want to give up my capacity as a neutral… and go into the fighting end.”
McConnell’s plane was shot down on March 19, 1917, during aerial combat with two German planes. McConnell was killed just weeks before his own country joined the Allies as a combatant nation. He was the first University of Virginia alumni to die in WWI.
The monument also stands for other volunteers pilots who served in various French squadrons and are known as the Lafayette Flying Corps.
Also read Patrick Gregory's post Centenary Tribute to America's WWI pilots in France.