First American Black Pilot Eugene Jacques Bullard – A WW1 Pilot And Hero
In August of 1917 Eugene Jacques Bullard, a black American by birth volunteered for the French foreign legion.
And he later went on to become the first black pilot in history and only one of two black pilots in World War I.
When the United States finally joined the war, Bullard was the only member of the Escadrille or the French Flying Corps who was NOT invited to join the US Air Service.
At that time the Air Service only accepted white men.
Jacques Bullard – The Foreign Legion
Born in Columbus, Ga., on Oct. 9, 1894, Bullard left home at the age of 11 to travel the world, and in 1913 he settled in France and made a living as a prizefighter.
When WWI started in 1914, he enlisted in the French Foreign Legion and rose to the rank of corporal.
For his bravery as an infantryman in combat, Bullard received the Croix de Guerre along with other decorations.
Seriously Wounded In Verdun
During the Battle of Verdun in 1916, France suffered 460,000 casualties and Bullard was seriously wounded.
While recuperating he was offered the opportunity of joining the the French air force as a gunner/observer and he accepted the offer.
But when he reported to the gunnery school, he obtained permission to train as a pilot.
Many Americans Fought In France
After completing flight training, Bullard joined 200 other Americans in the Lafayette Flying Corps, and flew combat missions from Aug. 27 to Nov. 11, 1917.
He distinguished himself in aerial combat, as he had on the ground, completed 20 combat missions, and was officially credited with shooting down one German aircraft.
Removed From The French Air force
He was an enlisted pilot, who got into a disagreement with a French officer, which led to his removal from the French air force.
He returned to his infantry regiment, where he performed non-combatant duties for the remainder of the WW1.
After WW1 he became a jazz musician in Paris and he eventually owned a nightclub called ‘L’Escadrille’.
When the Germans invaded France and conquered it in WW2, his Club, became hugely popular with German officers, but they didn’t know that Bullard was actually working for the Free French as a spy.
WW2 And Seriously Wounded Again
When the Germans invaded France in May 1940, Bullard who was then 46 years old, rejoined the French army.
He was seriously wounded again by an exploding shell and later returned to America.
A Black American Pilot Was A Hero In France But Not In The US
In NY he lived in relative obscurity, but in France he remained a hero and in 1954 he was one of the veterans chosen to light the "Everlasting Flame" at the French Tomb of the Unknown Soldier under the Arc de Triomphe.
And in 1959 the French honored him with the Knight of the Legion of Honor.
In 1960, the then President of France, Charles DeGaulle, paid a state visit to the United States and when he arrived he said that one of the first things he wanted to do was to meet Bullard.
That sent the White House staff scrambling and they finally located him in New York City, and DeGaulle traveled there to meet him personally.
At the time, Eugene Bullard was then working an elevator operator.
Buried With Full Military Honors
Jacques Bullard died on Oct. 13, 1961, and was buried with full military honors in his legionnaire’s uniform in the cemetery of the Federation of French War Veterans in Flushing, New York.