For my final Veterans Day post I’ll do another shoutout to the Flying Aces of World War One. The movie Flyboys is a good fictional film about their mystique (but based on the real-life Lafayette Escadrille).
EUGENE BULLARD – This African-American boxer from Columbus, GA served in the French Foreign Legion as early as the Battle of Verdun in 1916 and had already won a Croix de Guerre before joining the legendary Lafayette Escadrille on a bet.(!) He qualified but the prejudiced Frenchman Dr Edmund Le Gros rejected him for service.
Bullard instead flew a Spad 7 with French Escadrille 93. Eugene still had an uphill fight against prejudice and the French supposedly failed to credit him with all of his kills, limiting him to just 2 in the official records but tradition credits Bullard with between 5 and 9. He had what may be the best nickname outside of the Red Baron and was called the Black Swallow of Death. On the side of his plane he painted the words “ALL blood runs red” in reference to the bigotry he had faced.
THE IACCACI BROTHERS – In the 1960s young American men would head to Canada to avoid serving in the Vietnam War. During World War One a number of young American men headed to Canada to serve in British Military Units. Two of those men were Paul T Iaccaci and his younger brother August. The brothers served in the 20th British Squadron flying Bristol F.2 Fighters.
Both brothers were Ivy League men – Paul at Harvard, August at Princeton. Both Iaccaci’s became Aces on the exact same day – May 31st, 1918. Paul ended the war with 17 kills and his brother August … kept the uncanny coincidences going with 17 kills of his own. In late October of 1918 August was wounded in the eye and spent the few remaining days of the war hospitalized in England.
FRANK LUKE – This 21 year old copper miner from Arizona managed 18 kills in 17 days before meeting his own end. In addition to shooting down enemy planes Frank Luke specialized in bringing down the much tougher targets: lighter than air craft. Pilots had to thread their way through relentless anti-aircraft fire AND rockets to accomplish a kill on such craft, making it sort of the fighter pilot equivalent of stealing bases in baseball.
From September 12th to September 29th, 1918 the deadly Luke made himself a legend, earning copious praise even from the aforementioned Eddie Rickenbacker. Frank flew a Spad 13 with the 27th Aero Squadron. On September 29th the Ace was shot down over Murvaux and was alive but severely wounded after his crash landing. Even so he exchanged fire with German ground troops, with tradition holding that he killed at least 3 more of the enemy before their own fire cut him down for good.
DAVID INGALLS – Ingalls was the U.S. Navy’s first-ever Flying Ace and first-ever Top Gun (Eat your heart out, Tom Cruise!) He was the grand-nephew of former U.S. President William Howard Taft (Teddy Roosevelt’s son Quentin also served as a pilot in the war but got shot down and killed on July 14th, 1918).
David was part of the First Yale Unit before serving with the 213th Squadron. He would have been transferred into a Bomber outfit but – ever the hotshot pilot – he couldn’t resist embarrassing the Bomber Squadron’s flight trainer by outdoing him during training flights. Ingalls ended the war with 6 confirmed kills. For another pop culture reference I’ll point out that David Ingalls flew a Sopwith Camel – just like Snoopy in his imaginary adventures as a World War One Flying Ace.
WILLIAM T BADHAM – Lieutenant William Badham was a Yale man before the war. Known here at Balladeer’s Blog as “Badass Badham” this Alabaman began flying with America’s 91st Observation Squadron on May 28th, 1918. Badham flew in Salmson 2A 2-seater planes as a gunner.
In the following months Badham shot down 5 German planes, starting with a Pfalz Scout. This iron man from iron country was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross and lived to a ripe old age, dying of natural causes at 95 on June 6th, 1991.
ARTHUR R.”RAY” BROOKS – Captain Ray Brooks graduated from MIT in 1917 and immediately volunteered to serve in the World War that the U.S. had just entered. Brooks got his first 3 kills with the 139th Squadron and 6 more after transferring to the 22nd Aero Squadron. FOUR of Captain Brooks’ kills came in one dogfight as he tackled a squadron of 8 Fokker planes single-handedly. Seriously.
In addition to those kills Ray Brooks had 4 more probables and went on to win the Distinguished Service Cross. He was nominated for the Congressional Medal of Honor but was not confirmed for it, unfortunately. Brooks flew a Smith IV Spad XIII.
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