By Jean-Marc Tanguy
03/22/2011 – The La Fayette Memorial in Marne-la-Coquette (Hauts de Seine) has come upon difficult times. It’s there, in the lush greenery, that some of the 68 pilots of the legendary American squadron that was created during World War II rest. As of 1915, 16 American pilots flew under French roundels, even as officially, the United States had not entered the war.
Today, the foundation that maintains the memorial has no money. It had been created by the American William Nelson Cromwell in 1930, two years after the construction of the building which cost a million French francs at the time. Cromwell replenished the account in 1945 with $500,000 dollars. The DRAC—Regional Directorate of Cultural Affairs—and the American Congress had already together planned for the renovation of the premises, at the beginning of the decade. Congress had spent two million dollars.
The building dates to 1928: the crypt, where the aviators rest—and their two French officers, Brocard and Thénault—is subject to reoccurring water leaks, while the memorial requires regular renovations. Without funds, the maintenance of landscaping is no longer provided for as of January 1st, and the moles have gone into attack mode. The employee who works there is from here on out only working part-time
A letter sent to the French Defense Minister four months ago received no response. Sent likewise to the French President, it received no response save a terse one: the letter had been forwarded… to the Defense Minister. Time has passed, and the situation has become critical.
The La Fayette squadron is, in fact, the birthplace of the current U.S. Air Force. Major Raoul Lufbery, the first American ace (17 official victories) was a pilot in the squadron, before perishing May 19th, 1918. Eugène Jacques Bullard, the first Black pilot, also flew in the La Fayette Flying Corps, subsequently created to include all the pilotes.
The adventure of the pilots of the squadron was immortalized in the Hollywood movie Fly Boys, a film of Tony Hill, with James Franco and Martin Henderson, with Frenchmen Jean Reno and Augustin Legrand playing the roles of the French officers.
For the past two years, an old cukoo coming from la Ferté Alais passes above Marne-la-Coquette for Memorial Day at the end of May, with the four Mirage 2000N of the French squadron 2.4, “La Fayette,” and American fighter pilots, F-15s coming from Great Britain or F-16s coming from Germany.
In the summer, the French squadron La Fayette had to leave its camp in Luxeuil—where the squadron was based during World War I—for Istres. This squadron, equipped by Mirage 2000N, is currently involved in deterrence.