This is France. You are at the Memorial outside Paris, built to honor Americans . . . The Lafayette Escadrille . . . who volunteered to fly and fight and many died for France in World War One.
Near the palace of Versailles on the outskirts of Paris, this quiet and impressive memorial stands in a clearing, an impressive stone arch with the names of the original 38 . . . the Valiant 38 . . . pilots who went into action in April of 1916. This photo shows 5 young Americans and their French commander, Col. Georges Thenault . . . by the end of 1916 he would be the only man in this image left alive.
The air war was just being invented and death in the sky was cold and lonely.
Elliot Cowdin, Kiffin Rockwell, Norman Prince, Victor Chapman,
The unit was named for Lafayette, who came from France and who fought in and for the American Revolution. The squadron insignia is the head of a American Sioux warrior Chief.
By the time the war had reached 1916, hundreds of thousands of French, British and German young men had already died. The advent of modern weapons created a slaughter on the battlefield.
The allure of combat in the sky drew young men to the airplane. It was the most exciting invention of the still new 20th century.
Airplanes which began the war as scouts to see what was over the horizon soon were developed into tactical and strategic weapons with new tactics and maneuvers which are still basic knowledge for any pilot flying the most advanced jets.
James Norman Hall, who survived the war, went on to write the units history as well as the great seafaring novel, Mutiny on the Bounty. His great-grandson, Lt. Col. Nick Rutgers, 100 years later flies an F-15 for the USAF.
The squadron still exists in the French Air Force, the Sioux Chief is on the tail fin of the Mirage 2000 now in operations supporting the American offensive against ISIS in Syria.
Beneath the quiet memorial the remains of many of the original pilots lie in the crypt, lit softly by stained glass windows which illustrate the battles they fought.