Eugene Jacques Bullard was born on October 9, 1894, in Georgia, United States of America.
He was the seventh of ten children. His father, William O. Bullard, married to Josephine Thomas, a Creek Indian, was the son of a slave to a cotton farmer.
Despite his rather humble background, Eugene Jacques Bullard received basic education. After witnessing his father almost lynched, he left the family home, with the intention of coming to France, a country where a “man is accepted as a man regardless of the colour of his skin”.
For two years, he wandered about with other travellers and learnt horseback riding. In 1911, he became a stable servant, and subsequently a jockey. The following year, he succeeded to stow away on a German ship bound for Scotland. In Great Britain, he worked at a series of odd jobs, notably as “the great Flamarion” of Music Hall shows in Liverpool. At the same time, he learnt boxing engaged in a series of fights, in London initially, and later on in North Africa.
He took advantage of a fight with Georges Foret, in 1913, to finally enter France.
In 1914, he joined the French foreign legion to fight in World War I. He was send to the third Marching Regiment of the 1st RE, and was immediately send to the warfront. On July 13, 1915, he returned to the second infantry unit of the 1st RE. He fought in the battles of Artois, Champagne and Verdun of 1916 in which he was wounded on March 5, 1916. Wounded twice, awarded the war cross for courageous acts, he was declared unfit for duty in the infantry.
Refusing to give up fighting, Corporal Bullard learnt to fly Caudron G.3 and Caudron G.4 in the Châteauroux, Croton and Avord training schools. He subsequently went fighting again with Escadrille Spad 93, and then Spad 85 within the French Air force as a machine-gunner. While undergoing training, he succeeded to be asked to pilot planes and was assigned the Escadrille SPA 93 on August 27, 1917, which used SPAD S.VII and Nieuport. He carried out about twenty air missions and thus became the first black fighter pilot in history. He flew with his monkey mascot “Jimmy”. This young pilot, who was now known as the “Black Swallow of Death”, succeeded to gun down two enemy aircrafts. On the body of his aircraft was the motto: all blood runs red ("Tout le Sang qui coule est rouge!").
Corporal Eugene Jacques Bullard and his mascot monkey "Jimmy"
He joined the 170th RI in January 1918 and retired from active service on October 24, 1919, before returning to the United States where he died on October 12, 1961, and was buried in his legionnaire uniform, with military honours, by the Federation of French War Officers at Flushing Cemetery in New York, Queens.
In 1972, his exploits as a fighter pilot were published in the book The Black Swallow of Death: The Incredible Story of Eugene Jacques Bullard, The World's First Black Combat Aviator written by P.J. Carisella, James W. Ryan and Edward W. Brooke (Marlborough House, 1972). This book, whose jacket was designed by the famous World War I American illustrator, George Evans, is one of the items on Bullard kept in the National Museum of the United States Air Force near Dayton, Ohio.
On August 23, 1994, thirty three years after his death, and seventy seven years after he was rejected by the U.S. Service in 1917, Eugene Bullard was posthumously promoted to second lieutenant of the United States Air Force.
In 2006, the film Flyboys portrayed Bullard and his battle buddies of the Lafayette Flying Corps.
This famous volunteer serviceman was holder of the following awards:
Knight of the Legion of honour
World War I Cross
World War II Cross
World War I Volunteer Servicemen Cross
World War I Commemorative Medal
World War I Inter-Ally Medal, aka Victory medal
World War II Commemorative Medal
Synthèse PC FNCV - Source infos: Zone Militaire et Wikipedia