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Mark C. N. Sullivan is an editor at a Massachusetts university. He is married and the father of three children.

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Irish Elk
Thursday, July 15, 2004  

"I don't know a single one of the boys who didn't have a deep-seated desire to help France." Edwin Parsons, Lafayette Escadrille

The published memoirs of Lafayette Escadrille veteran James McConnell include the image above of the squadron's lion mascot Whiskey and a fine picture of ace Raoul Lufbery in his Indian-head Nieuport.

Here is Kiffin Rockwell, of Asheville, N.C., killed in an air duel over Verdun. "Kiffin was imbued with the spirit of the cause for which he fought. He said: 'I pay my part for Lafayette and Rochambeau.'" A blogger named for him has set up a tribute page.

A page translated from French has more on the American squadron and its celebrated mascot:

The Squadron was named after La Fayette, with the head of a Sioux as its emblem and a baby lion as mascot.

This baby lion, named Whiskey, was purchased from 500 francs from a Brazilian dentist who has recently come from Africa and placed an ad in the New York Herald Tribune to sell this lion. The pilot Thaw took it upon himself to bring the animal to the Squadron. Thaw arrived at Gare de l'Est with "this big dog" on a leash, bought a special ticket for the "dog, " and boarded the train. Up to that time he had no difficulty. But then came the train conductor who looked over this unusual passenger with suspicion. "What is that beast ?" he asked. "It is a dog from Africa," answered Thaw. At this very moment Whiskey as if resenting such a disgraceful introduction roared in fury and showed his claws.

"But this is a lion!" screamed the conductor. Some women having caressed the animal while admiring his sweetness ran out of the compartment screaming.

In order to join the Squadron, Whiskey has to travel in a luggage train. Later a young female lion named Soda joined Whiskey. Their preferred food was a soup made of meat and bread. Soda was always more wild than Whiskey: a mystery of the feminine soul!

(Note: The swastika on the Indian-head logo was commonly used as a good-luck sign in the days before the Nazis adopted the symbol.)

Here are members of the Lafayette Escadrille posed with lion and Alsatian, and squadron survivors in soup and fish at a postwar reunion.

A 1919 book on American voluntarism in the Great War features chapters on the squadron's Harvard-bred founders Victor Chapman and Norman Prince, both killed flying for France.

The webmaster of this site writes of the squadron originally called the Escadrille Americaine: [T]his group is perhaps as well remembered for their actions in the officer's club, as their success in the skies…

The Americans were provided the finest accommodations by the French at Bar-le-Duc. The equipment and aircraft supplied to the LE squadron were the best available. This plus the fact that the squadron was positioned away from the front lines at Verdun, may contribute to the mistaken notion that the base had a country club atmosphere, fueled by countless dice and poker games. Also, the acquisition of two lion cubs named "Whiskey" and "Soda" as squadron mascots added to the unit's celebratory reputation. According to some sources, the early days at Bar-le-Duc field was like a real life re-enactment of an epic adventure movie, in that the war itself was perceived to be little else than a great escapade. Of course, this is a glorified interpretation of early WW1 history. The everyday grind of war was soon to become serious business, and for some... deadly serious.

A common reality shared between all of the WW1 squadrons on both sides of the front was a high casualty rate. The outlook for long term survival as a WW1 fighter pilot was bleak…One can only imagine the courage required to engage in aerial combat with machines that were certainly frail by modern standards.

Also envision that there were no parachutes to cushion one's fall from the sky. Pity the unfortunate pilot who made the reluctant exit from a flaming aircraft made of wood and canvas…

The fate of ace Sgt. Lufbery is a reminder that chivalrous dash came at a price.


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