By Paul Glenshaw and Dan Patterson
Air and Space Magazine (Smithsonian Institution)
Former Air Force Chief of Staff General T. Michael "Buzz" Moseley calls them "the founding fathers of American combat aviation," yet few Americans know their names. The 38 pilots of the Lafayette Escadrille, who flew for France beginning in 1916, before the United States entered World War I, created a culture that influences combat pilots today, Moseley says. They helped shape the U.S. Army Air Service when it was formed in 1918. "All the way up to the Army Air Forces and the U.S. Air Force," says Moseley. "Having thought about this a lot and having lived inside that world for 40 years, I would say [Air Force culture] goes right back to those guys who decided in the spring of '16 that this would be a good idea."
Moseley is helping to lead a fundraising effort to restore the Lafayette Escadrille Memorial outside Paris. Built in 1928 with private donations, the monument commemorates not only the original 38 but the 200 or so who succeeded them as volunteers in various French squadrons, together known as the Lafayette Flying Corps. Forty-nine who died in the war are buried in the memorial crypt.
Today the monument is crumbling from water seeping in. Despite annual Memorial Day ceremonies jointly conducted at the site by the U.S. and French air forces, little has been done to renovate the structure.