America's First Combat Aviators Memorialized
(May 30, 2009)
|PARIS (5/26/2009 - AFNS) -- In a lush and serene park on the outskirts of Paris, U.S. Air Forces in Europe Commander, Gen. Roger A. Brady joined several hundred American and French citizens beneath an ornately sculpted ceremonial arch to pay homage to aviators, known as the Lafayette Escadrille. The 68 volunteers flew in defense of French democracy against the central powers during World War I.|
After speaking about the tradition of Memorial Day in American culture, General Brady cited the heroic contributions of Gen. Marquis de Lafayette and his French soldiers who aided Gen. George Washington during the American Revolutionary War. The general said Americans have never forgotten how, some 232 years ago, France stood by Americans in their fight for independence and how that historic partnership continues to benefit both countries today.
|A missing-man formation of F-16 Fighting Falcons follow French Mirages and a Naval Air Factory N3N biplane (not shown) in a flyover at the Lafayette Escadrille Memorial ceremony outside of Paris May 23, 2009. French and American citizens here paid homage to some of the United States' first combat aviators known as the Lafayette Escadrille. The all-American squadron of volunteers flew under the French flag during World War I. The F-16's belong to the 52nd Fighter Wing, Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany.|
|"Fortunately for all of us, today's generation of young men and women, French, American -- and many others, fought together and continue to fight together in places like the Balkans and Afghanistan. As comrades in arms, we're tirelessly ensuring security and stability and guaranteeing a safer world for all of us." |
Dineen Angrisani, a native New Yorker who has lived in France for more than 10 years, was attending the ceremony for the third consecutive year with her 11-year-old daughter, Celine.
Angrisani currently serves as the overseas committee chair for nearly 250 American Girls Scouts living overseas in Paris and says it's important for them to maintain ties with their own culture. Last November, more than a dozen of her Girl Scouts participated in a Veteran's Day ceremony at the 81-year-old memorial.
"We encourage the girls to attend and participate in the ceremonies because history becomes reality for them and it's important they realize the sacrifices men and women made and continue to make for our freedom, liberty and security," she said.
The audience for the ceremony, a diverse mix of French and American dignitaries, veterans, locals and tourists, witnessed a low flying biplane and formations of French Mirages and F-16 Fighting Falcons in three separate flyovers.
The sculptured arch, built in 1928, is half the size of central Paris' Arch of Triumph. Upon the structure are inscribed the names of the deceased American pilots of the Escadrille de Lafayette and the Lafayette Flying Corps. Also embedded in the 81-foot edifice are the names of the French towns and provinces where the pilots were engaged in aerial combat with the German air force.
In the basement of the monument, a sanctuary crypt contains 68 sarcophagi - or stone coffins. Some are empty because of the impossibility in locating or removing the pilots' remains.
One of the coffins preserves the remains of Raoul Gervais Lufbery, the third highest scoring American ace during World War I with 17 confirmed victories. He was the first American to reach ace status.
Senior Airman Michael Murphy, one of nearly 15 honor guard members who traveled from Ramstein Air Base, Germany to help officiate the ceremony, said it was his first time visiting the Lafayette Escadrille Memorial.
The heating, ventilation and air conditioning specialist assigned to Ramstein's 735th Civil Engineer Squadron admitted that his only knowledge of the Lafayette Escadrille came from watching the movie "Flyboys."
"It was pretty cool reading the inscription (located in the crypt) saying 'These bodies are commemorated here so that they could lay rest on the soil that they died for,'" he said.
The two-year veteran honor guardsman said visiting a memorial like the Lafayette Escadrille made an impact on him.
"Being in a place like this, there's more appreciation for the event and there's a whole new level of excitement when you're performing. It's an awesome feeling," he said.
Article and photo by USAF Master Sgt. Scott Wagers
Defense Media Activity - Ramstein
Reprinted from Air Force News Service
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