WAR OF INDEPENDENCE: THE FRENCH CONNECTION: 'Marquis de Lafayette'
The United States was a nation forged in war as the colonists fought for their independence from Britain in the Revolutionary War or War of Independence between September 1, 1774 to September 3, 1783. It was a war in which the French played a significant part in supporting the American colonies, supplying weapons and also the military expertise of Marie-Joseph Paul Yves Roch Gilbert du Motier, Marquis de Lafayette who served as a major-general in the Continental Army under George Washington.
Wounded during the battle of Brandywine, Lafayette still managed to organize a successful retreat following the British victory. He also served with distinction in the battle of Rhode Island. In the middle of the war he returned to France to negotiate an increase in French support. On his return, he blocked troops led by Conwallis at Yorktown while the armies of Washington and those sent by King Louis XVI under the command of General de Rochambeau, Admiral de Grasse, and Admiral de Latouche de Tréville prepared for battle against the British.
WORLD WAR 1: THE FRENCH CONNECTION: Escadrille Américaine (Escadrille N.124): FRENCH AIR SERVICE: 'Lafayette here we come!'
In 1917 when the United States entered the First World War on the Western Front on the side of the Anglo French Allies the men of the American Expeditionary Force (AEF) landing in France adopted the slogan "Lafayette here we come!" However even before the formal entry into the war, the Escadrille Américaine (Escadrille N.124) of the French Air Service, the Aéronautique Militaire, composed of American volunteer fighter pilots had been formed on 21 March 1916 and deployed on April 20 in Luxeuil-les-Bains in France.
The squadron designation was changed to Escadrille de Lafayette following German objections to the use of the word "American" in the title at a time when the USA was neutral. To many it was known to many simple as the Lafayette Escadrille .
Raoul Lufbery a French-born American citizen, became the squadron's first, and ultimately their highest scoring fighter ace with 16 confirmed victories before the pilots of the squadron were inducted into the United States Army Air Service. Besides being an expert pilot Lufbery was a colourful character who had two pet lions "Whiskey" and "Soda". He was killed in action in 1918 and is buried at the Lafayette Memorial du Parc de Garches in Paris.
Before 1917 Americans were in action in the French Foreign Legion and also working as volunteer ambulance drivers. It was as a Legionnaire that in 1916 the American Alan Seeger wrote the iconic war poem: 'Rendevouz with Death':
"I have a rendezvous with Death
At some disputed barricade,
When Spring comes back with rustling shade And apple-blossoms fill the air — I have a rendezvous with Death When Spring brings back blue days and fair. It may be he shall take my hand
And lead me into his dark land
And close my eyes and quench my breath — It may be I shall pass him still. I have a rendezvous with Death
On some scarred slope of battered hill, When Spring comes round again this year
And the first meadow-flowers appear.
God knows 'twere better to be deep
Pillowed in silk and scented down,
Where love throbs out in blissful sleep,
Pulse nigh to pulse, and breath to breath,
Where hushed awakenings are dear...
But I've a rendezvous with Death
At midnight in some flaming town,
When Spring trips north again this year,
And I to my pledged word am true,
I shall not fail that rendezvous."
Seeger had his rendezvous – he was killed in action at Belloy-en-Santerre on July 4, 1916, after being hit several times by machine gun fire. He died cheering on his fellow Legionnaires in a successful attack.
Seven years after his death on Independence Day 4 July, the President of the French Council of State, Raymond Poincaré, dedicated a monument in the Place des États-Unis to the Americans who had volunteered to fight in World War I in the service of France. On either side of the base of the statue by Jean Boucher – a monument and statue financed by public subscription are the words of Seeger a tribute to his fellow American volunteers killed in action.
"They did not pursue worldly rewards; they wanted nothing more than to live without regret, brothers pledged to the honor implicit in living one's own life and dying one's own death. Hail, brothers! Goodbye to you, the exalted dead! To you, we owe two debts of gratitude forever: the glory of having died for France, and the homage due to you in our memories."