HomeNewsArticle Display

First African-American pilot a war hero during WWI

(Air Force graphic/Sylvia Saab)

(Air Force graphic/Sylvia Saab)

Eugene Bullard served in the French Foreign Legion and became one of the most decorated soldiers during World War I.

Eugene Bullard served in the French Foreign Legion and became one of the most decorated soldiers during World War I.

Eugene Bullard became the first African-American combat pilot, credited with two unofficial kills during World War I as part of the French Flying Corps.

Eugene Bullard became the first African-American combat pilot, credited with two unofficial kills during World War I as part of the French Flying Corps.

Eugene Bullard, known as "Swallow of Death," was both a soldier and later a pilot for France during World War I.

Eugene Bullard, known as "Swallow of Death," was both a soldier and later a pilot for France during World War I.

FORT GEORGE G. MEADE, Md. (AFNS) -- After watching his father narrowly escape a lynching in early 20th century Georgia, Eugene Bullard would escape the confines of racial tensions and a segregated country to become the first African-American combat pilot and one of the first African-American heroes of World War I.

Bullard, who grew up in Columbus, Ga., as one of 10 children of a former slave, left his hometown as a teenager, stowing away on a ship bound for Scotland and moved to London to fulfill his dreams.

Before the war began, Bullard moved to Paris where he made a reputation for himself as a professional boxer. At the start of the war in 1914, Bullard enlisted in the French Foreign Legion where he was assigned to the 170th Infantry Regiment. Nicknamed the "Swallows of Death," he and his unit would see heavy action, and during the battle of Verdun, Bullard was wounded twice. He was then sent to a Parisian hospital to recuperate for the next six months.

Bullard was promoted to the rank of corporal and was awarded the Croix de Guerre, and other war-time medals, for his bravery during combat. While still in the hospital, Bullard accepted a bet that he couldn't get into the flying corps and in October of 1916 arrived at French gunnery school. A month later he talked his way into pilot training and earned his pilot's license to become the first African-American aviator.

He reached the front lines as a pilot in August of 1917 flying more than 20 sorties in a Spad VII fighter biplane, with two unconfirmed kills to his credit. After a disagreement with a French officer he was eventually removed from the French air force and spent the remainder of the war back with his infantry regiment.

After the war, Bullard remained in France, got married, had two daughters, and purchased a bar on the north side of Paris. He was still living in Paris at the outbreak of World War II, and worked with French Resistance forces to spy on German troops who would patronize his bar. Considered too old to join the French army, Bullard found a way to escape from occupied France, and returned to the U.S. aboard a Red Cross ship in 1940.

In 1954, Bullard, along with two other French veterans, were invited by then French President Charles De Gaulle to light the flame of the Unknown Soldier at the Arc de Triomphe in Paris. In 1959, he was honored with the Knight of the Legion of Honor.

When he returned to the U.S., he was never recognized as a war hero, and died in relative obscurity and poverty in Flushing, Queens, New York in 1961. While he never realized his dream of becoming a pilot in the U.S. military, he was finally recognized posthumously as a second lieutenant in the U.S. Air Force in 1994.

Engage

Twitter
Another Air Force week complete, and we've got it in photos! View the rest here: https://t.co/OkjRFKvDjz https://t.co/HXcWkJN35U
Twitter
RT @GenCQBrownJr: On behalf of our #Airmen and families, congrats and welcome to Ms. Jones, our new Under Secretary of the @usairforce. #…
Twitter
Jumping into the weekend Tactical Air Control Party Airmen assigned to the 14th Air Support Operations Squadron pe… https://t.co/VLRxCb90mw
Twitter
RT @HQ_AFMC: Getting ready for the big leap into civilian life? #Airmen preparing to separate from active duty service can take steps towar…
Twitter
RT @SecAFOfficial: Acting Secretary Roth on the confirmation of Gina Ortiz Jones to serve as the Under Secretary of the Air Force. ⬇️ https…
Twitter
RT @SecAFOfficial: Confirmed yesterday by the Senate, Gina Ortiz Jones will be the next Under Secretary of the Air Force! Read more ⬇️ @US
Twitter
The Senate unanimously confirmed Gina Ortiz Jones to be Under Secretary of the Air Force, clearing the way for the… https://t.co/Q8SFw2fq45
Twitter
Hundreds of Airmen participated alongside @USArmy Soldiers in the inaugural Pacific Warriorz 2021 Joint and Total… https://t.co/fAPp4UGjmW
Twitter
RT @US_EUCOM: #JF21-2 is designed to test simulated emergency response procedures, ballistic missile defense & crisis response assistance i…
Twitter
RT @HQ_AFMC: Thanks to the conservation upgrades, Keesler AFB expects an annual savings of 113,840 million British Thermal Units, a 15.8 p…
Twitter
RT @GenCQBrownJr: .@Spangdahlem_AB was the first wing in @HQUSAFEAFAF capable of Agile Combat Employment. Being agile & persistent is a m…
Twitter
After catastrophic flooding in Germany & Belgium, @Spangdahlem_AB volunteers provide relief. “80% of people on Sp… https://t.co/6roLIRoFT0
Twitter
RT @Southcom: Supporting our partners in #Suriname: A @usairforce C-17 from @TeamCharleston delivered a field hospital to Suriname July 1…
Twitter
Congratulatons! 🎓 https://t.co/dzK8o0E9rK
Twitter
RT @AETCommand: On the latest edition of the Air Force Starts Here Podcast, we discuss the modernization of the @usairforce Career Developm…
Twitter
F-16s from the 555th Fighter Squadron fire munitions at the Graf Ignatievo Air Base range during Thracian Star 21 i… https://t.co/aYEY5PoEWD
Twitter
The #AirForce Civil Engineer Center, in partnership with the USAF Installation Contracting Center, has streamlined… https://t.co/8iFGwfrYHR
Twitter
A-10 Thunderbolt II's auxiliary power unit insulation is on the path of modernization as the Ogden Air Logistics Ce… https://t.co/3vWCDmV8Sf
Twitter
.@GenCQBrownJr made his first trip to Europe as CSAF, to visit European counterparts in France, and virtually at th… https://t.co/fnK8dTaHA4
Twitter
RT @AFResearchLab: Have you ever had that lightbulb 💡 moment where a new game changing idea pops into your head? Well the @usairforce, @S
Facebook
The newest Air Force Podcast recently dropped. Listen to a small snippet of CMSAF Kaleth O. Wright talk with Staff Sgt. New about resiliency. Listen to the entire podcast on Youtube: https://go.usa.gov/xpnAD or Subscribe to The Air Force Podcast on iTunes: https://podcasts.apple.com/podcast/the-air-force-podcast/id1264107694?mt=2
Facebook
Our mantra, "Always ready!" It's the spirit we fly by! #B2Tuesday
Facebook
Need some motivation to get your week started off right? Listen as CMSAF Kaleth O. Wright weighs in...
Facebook
The U.S. Air Force Academy gives its cadets some unique opportunities. Ride along one of this opportunities.
Facebook
A United States Air Force KC-135 Stratotanker refuels an F-22 Raptor over northern Iraq, Nov. 6, 2019. U.S. Central Command operations deter adversaries and demonstrate support for allies and partners in the region. (Video by Staff Sgt. Daniel Snider)
Facebook
Although the Silver Star is the third-highest military medal, it's not given often. Today, TSgt Cody Smith was the 49th Special Tactics Airman to receive this medal since Sept. 11th, 2001. Read more of TSgt Smith's amazing story: https://www.airforcespecialtactics.af.mil/News/Article-Display/Article/2024815/special-tactics-airman-battled-through-injuries-awarded-silver-star/fbclid/IwAR2LZWwx1VHdTnQe39rIEBOuJS_0JvMQBBGt7I-E6zsxxn-Lx9387yu43Bc/ Cannon Air Force Base Air Force Special Operations Command United States Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) U.S. Department of Defense (DoD)
Facebook
Tune in as our Air Force musicians along with other military musicians are awarded the National Medal of Arts.
Facebook
Like Us
Twitter
1,354,124
Follow Us