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The Lost Pilot

This is too cool not to share:

Do you know who this is a photo of? Chances are you don’t, but don’t feel bad because probably not one American in one million does, 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.

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 few Americans, and especially African-Americans, even know who he is.

I hope you’ll be able to find opportunities to tell other people about this great American hero whom probably only one in one million people has ever heard of.

20 responses to The Lost Pilot

  1. I remembered this story from some of the books I have read as a young boy.
    What a waste of a fine man and hero.

  2. I remembered this story from some of the books I have read as a young man while in the navy.
    What a waste of a fine man and hero.

  3. I’m not surprised by his treatment in the states …what surprises me is that he bothered to come back. The man is a hero on many levels given the odds. Being a Jazz musician in the states for a individual is hard enough and most musicians either play in New Orleans or go over seas to Japan and Europe to get work. What a testimony to the human condition and not allowing others to define you. Any photos of his squadron and the type of plane he flew in WWI Rob?

  4. Great story! Thanks for sharing. Passed it on to a nationally know writer who often writes about “unknown heroes” maybe he’ll address him.

  5. This wouldn´t be part of the story in the film Flyboys? In the film there is an African-American, being boxer in France, later joining Lafayette squadron.

    Doing my homework after starting this post i realize, yes, he is the man I´m thinking of

    • Hollyweird screw with history…I find that hard to believe. Fly Boys (Sounds like a hip hop group) was one of the Ten worst movies of the year when it came out. “The Great Waldo Pepper” was good for seeing WWI aircraft in action and didn’t mess too much with history. At least some neat replicas were made for the films.

      • I do not find it so hard to believe that Fly Boys was one of the ten worst movies of the year when it came out. Personally, I thought the movie sucked rope. Far worse was “Der Rot Baron”, that one really stunk. In my opinion, the best WWI aviation movie ever made was The Blue Max. Rumor has it that Peter Jackson is going to do a remake, but I will believe it when I see it.

        • @ Stephen & Seamus: absolutely agree with you. Don´t understand why film makers need to tamper with a good story. And it was badly done also.

          • When it was announced that Tony Bill, whose talent runs better to running restaurants and working with others to produce movies rather than directing them himself, was doing “Fly Boys” I gave up hope of anything at that moment. My insight was not wrong. And the airplanes were made to “fly like X-wings” because the film makers didn’t think the “kids” would like it otherwise.

        • Robert Coram’s bio of John Boyd (the father of the F-15 and F-16) recalls Boyd going to a movie theater to watch the Blue Max. While the movie was rolling Boyd got so caught up in the action on the screen that he was yelling “Guns,guns,guns guns” at the screen. The movie met with some folks approval.

        • Yeah, I hope Jackson does do this movie …he is into WWI aviation big time . He’d do better than Luca’s who produced and made Red Ink or was it the Red Tails. A CGI aviation horror story. Better yet if Luca’s and Jackson where to team up together and do a movie based on Bullard’s life story with real planes…one can dream.

          • Oh yeah, forgot about “Red Tails” a.k.a. “Pimp my P-51”. Picked it up in a Wal-Mart bargain bin for $5.00. Would have been better off taking that five dollar bill and wiping my arse with it then setting it on fire.

  6. All new info on my end….thanks for taking the time to educate me.

  7. Aw, come on! It was at least as good as “Pearl Harbor”! Or its predessesor, “Lafayette Esquadrille”, with Tab Hunter! Box office gold!

  8. He was apparently a very talented an enterprising man. Learned to fly and spoke three languages. Hat off.

  9. Actually, the comment here that Hollywood wouldn’t do the story if they were presented a script is completely true. My former writing partner, who had the book and did a lot of other research besides, wrote an excellent screenplay “All Blood Runs Red,” which was historically accurate and full of about as much action and derring-do as one could take, just let me know he’s officially given up, after the 20th turn-down. And he has a good agent to present it.

    Another reason I mostly dislike the business I am in.

  10. A resourceful and courageous man – pity he was not recognised for them in the USA during his lifetime.

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