US and French leaders gathered just outside Paris on Wednesday to honor the formation of the Lafayette Escadrille—38 US volunteer pilots who flew under French Command before the United States entered World War I. The centennial event was held at the Lafayette Escadrille Memorial, which also honors Americans of the follow-on Lafayette Flying Corps, in Marnes-la-Couquette, France. A total of 269 American pilots flew with the French Air Force during the war; 68 were killed and some are interred at the memorial crypt, according to an April 20 US Air Forces in Europe-Air Forces Africa release. “These valiant airmen laid the foundation for an American Air Force that will forever stand with France,” said USAF Secretary Deborah Lee James. Two surviving members of the famed Tuskegee Airmen also attended to honor Eugene Bullard, the US military’s first black aviator, who was known as the “Black Swallow of Death.” Bullard flew with the Lafayette Flying Corps and earned the Legion of Honor, France’s highest military decoration. Four F-22 Raptors, a B-52 Stratofortress, three French Air Force Mirage 2000Ns, and one FAF Rafale conducted flyovers of the ceremony. Two of the F-22 pilots were from the 94th Fighter Squadron, which traces its lineage to the Lafayette Escadrille, states the release. The B-52, from the 5th Bomb Wing at Minot AFB, N.D., represented WWI bombers that participated in 157 combat missions during the war. (See also: Saving the Legacy of the Lafayette Escadrille from the August 2014 issue of Air Force Magazine.)
The U.S. supports “a stronger and more capable” European defense, Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III said during an Oct. 22 press conference in Brussels—but that defense should not duplicate the functions and capabilities of the NATO alliance.