by Steven A. Ruffin
Casemate Publishers, 2016, Paperback, 2020
Michael Hanlon, Reviewer
Kiffin Rockwell, KIA
|At Bahonne Aerodrome During the Battle of Verdun
|Founding Member Norman Prince
During its 22-month operational period, the 38 Americans who eventually flew with the squadron downed a total of 33 enemy aircraft, 16 of which were credited to the squadron's lone ace, Raoul Lufbery. Eight Americans from the squadron died in combat, including founding members Victor Chapman, Kiffin Rockwell, Norman Prince, and James McConnell. An additional three—Lufbery, Paul Pavelka, and James Doolittle—were killed soon after leaving the squadron. Yet, in spite of this more or less average combat record, the Lafayette Escadrille has continued to live in history as an aviation legend. Why? Author Steve Ruffin offers these thoughts.
These highly principled young Americans were much more than simply mercenaries. They volunteered for what they believed – almost to a man – to be a greater cause: that of France and of freedom. It was almost entirely for these ideals that they put their lives on the line. In so doing, they forged a seemingly unbreakable bond with this country's oldest ally and are today rightfully remembered as the men who comprised America's first fighter squadron.
Also to be commended are the three concluding chapters that cover the phase-in of the pilots to the American Air Service, biographic sketches of postwar lives of the survivors, and the legacy of their service, especially the magnificent Memorial de l'Escadrille Lafayette outside of Paris. Right up to the end, the author fills us in with rich details I've not seen in other sources like the sad deaths of lion mascots Whiskey and Soda shortly after the Armistice and the 4,000 false claimants to having served in the Lafayette Escadrille.
Highly recommended without qualification.