At the eve of the century Anniversary of the Great War I, 1914 – 1918

Memorial Day

The Lafayette Escadrille Memorial

By Philippe Martial, Directeur Honoraire du Senat, translation : Cynthia Lasserre de Vezeronce

There was historic French participation in the American War of Independance, most famously by Lafayette, and it is undeniable that Americans reciprocated most generously with their decisive aide to the French army in 1918. Many accounts honor their courage.
We should quote our friend Nicole Willk-Brocard about ” that glorious adventure,symbol of Franco-American friendship”. She emphasizes the “enthusiastic surge of solidarity which inspired these young American pilots” who came to fight on French soil, grouped together in what would become the well-named Escadrille Lafayette. Nicole has firsthand knowledge; her father, General Brocard, was its commanding officer and he was so imbued with the reigning spirit of solidarity that he requested to be buried with his companions of arms
These pilots were so heroic that it became imperative to perpetuate the memory of their achievements with a Memorial.

A former pilot, Edgar Guerard Hamilton, coordinated the initiatives and under his impetus, the Memorial of the Escadrille Lafayette was built in March 1923. Having collected 1,600,000 French francs of the time, the Association’s Executive Committee confided the realization of the project to an “Architecte en Chef des Monuments Historiques”, member of the Institut, Alexandre de Marcel. A specialist in commemorative works of art, so talented, having received commissions from the Belgian Kings Leopold II and Albert Ier.

A monument was erected between 1926 and 1928 on the outskirts of Marnes la Coquette, in the domain of Saint Cloud. today a land marked classified historic monument.
The artist chose to use the art-deco style by combining the traditional use of stone for the facade, but more modern concrete for the structure. The Memorial is composed of a central triumphal arch, reminiscent of the Arc de Triomphe at the Etoile in Paris, flanked by two covered porticos, each terminated by a lateral pavilion.
Under the arch is a mosaic of the Escadrille’s emblem, a magnificent head of a Sioux. The names of the 68 pilots are engraved on the lateral walls, along with the names of the towns and regions where they fought. On both sides, stairways lead to a crypt whose two chapels have niches containing the sarcophagi of the 49 pilots who lost their lives. Remarkable 13 stained glass windows of the sanctuary depict the major battles in which they fought. The crypt opens with this verse from the Bible. (II. Samuel 1.23)

“They were not separated in death
They were lighter than eagles
Stronger than lions”

Unfortunately this imposing monument has suffered from age and serious problems caused by a swampy sub-soil and atmospheric pollution. Pierre Antoine Gatier, “Architecte en Chef des Monuments Historiques”, 1991 RMH Fellow, is in charge of the Memorial’s restoration. He made the choice to return to the original aspect. First step, assure proper drainage of the swamp water. The crypt is suffering of the condensation of water between the concrete blocks of the vaulted ceiling. Second step: treat the severely rusted reinforced concrete before replacing the stone decoration and marble pavement. Much remains to be done. Let us hope that some private funds permit to pursue the works.

Every year, on Memorial Day in the presence of the American Ambassador, the fighter squadron “2/4 Lafayette” flies over a moving ceremony presided over byVan Kirk Reeves, Escadrille Lafayette Memorial Foundation President Ranking officers of the French and American Air forces, as well as numerous civilian and religious notables also attend.

France is not alone in preserving the memory of those American soldiers who died for its country. Recently, in the same spirit, a private Foundation collected funds to perpetuate the memory of those heroes of the Great War. In Washington DC, WWWI a World War I Memorial Foundation restored the Memorial erected in 1931 with the reminder of “the force of Justice and Law”.
We wish to particularly thank the Vice-President of the Foundation, Edith Elizabeth Brewster. She provided us with her notes on the restoration of this monument. The famous architect Calvin C Wyeth designed a classic dome supported by marble ionic columns, inspired by the antique temple of Vesta at Tivoli and the Renaissance tiempetto by Bramante.

The triumph of democracy and liberty carry a heavy price.


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