EUGENE JACQUES BULLARD
was born in 1894 in Columbus, Ga. He left home at the age of 8 in search of France where, as his father had told him, "Man was judged by his merit, not the color of his skin."
After two years of wandering, Bullard stowed away on a steamer sailing from New York to Scotland. For 10 years he embarked upon various livelihoods, eventually becoming known as a successful welterweight prize fighter.
In October 1914, as World War I began, he joined the French Foreign Legion, engaging in hand-to-hand combat in some of the most hotly contested battles of the war. He was wounded twice.
In October 1916, he was selected for pilot training and on May 7, 1917, he became the world's first black fighter pilot. As an enlisted pilot, Bullard scored two "kills," but only one of them was confirmed. His second kill, early in November 1917, however, was definite.
In post-war France, Bullard, a national hero, became a successful night club owner and popular musician in Paris. He married a countess and became the father of two daughters.
When World War II erupted, he was a member of the underground and an associate of the famed French spy and resistance leader Cleopatra Terrier. He was severely wounded in July 1940 fighting Nazis in Europe and was evacuated to New York City.
In 1954, Bullard was recalled to Paris by the French government to rekindle, along with two white Frenchmen, the everlasting flame at the tomb of the Unknown Soldier under the Arc of Triumph in Paris.
A year later, President Charles De Gaulle internationally embraced him as a French hero. Bullard died on Oct. 12, 1961. He was buried with honors by French war officers in Flushing, N.Y.
Eugene Bullard of Columbus, Georgia, served in the Foreign Legion 1915-16 and transferred to the French Aviation Service on November 30, 1916. He was brevetted and served with Spa-93 from August 27 until November 11, 1917, when he was discharged following a dispute with a superior officer. He was returned to duty with the 170th Regiment of Infantry on January 11, 1918.
~~ Walt Brown, Jr., An American for Lafayette: The Diaries of E.C.C. Genet, Lafayette Escadrille. (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1981), p 100.
The motives that prompted these young men to enter a war under colors not their own are complex and often ill-defined. Once, when a friend asked Eugene Bullard, a black and an ex-boxer who in 1914 was in Paris, hungry and broke, why he enlisted in the Legion, Bullard replied, "Well, I don't rightly know, but it must have been more curiosity than intelligence."
~~ Philip M. Flammer, The Vivid Air: The Lafayette Escadrille. (Athens: The University of Georgia Press, 1981), p 3.