“The First Black Military Pilot”
1. Eugene Jacques Bullard was born October 9, 1894 in Columbus, GA as the seventh out of ten total children born to William Octave Bullard and Jospehine “Yokalee” Thomas. Eugene’s father was orginally from Martinique but William arrived in the United States of America as a slave when his owners settled here after fleeing Haiti during the French Revolution. His mother, Josephine, was a Creek Native American.
2. Eugene Bullard is widely recognized as the first Black military pilot. He earned his wings from an Aviation school in Tours, France on May 5, 1917. Bullard served as a pilot for the 93 Spad Squadron of the Lafayette Flying Corps in the French Aéronautique Militaire. The flying license he earned in 1917 is currently on display in Alabama at the Air Force Enlisted Heritage Hall which is located at Maxwell Air Force Base (Gunter Annex). His plane was known for the red bleeding heart pierced by a knife on the fuselage.
3. Prior to becoming a pilot, Eugene Bullard served approximately three to four years in the French Foreign Legion as member of the infantry. One of the units he was a member of included the 170th infantry. This unit was nicknamed “The Swallows of Death” and is where he earned his nickname as the “Black Swallow of Death”. Due to injuries he stustained in his battles that prevented him from continuing his service in the infantry he was afforded the opportunity to join the French Flying Corp.
4. Despite being a military pilot with confirmed kills, having fought in World War I for three years, and earning medals for valor, his application to transfer to the United States Air Force was ignored after he was invited to transfer to the American Air Force with the promise of being promoted. Most speculate that his application was ignored once it was discovered that he was Black.
5. During his lifetime, Eugene Ballard was awarded fifteen French war medals. Including the Knight of the Légion d’honneur, Médaille Militaire, Croix de Guerre, Volunteer’s Cross (Croix du combattant volontaire), Wounded Insignia, World War I Commemorative Medal, World War I Victory Medal, Freedom Medal, and the World War II Commemorative Medal.
6. After being discharged from the Armed Forces Eugene Bullard became part owner of his own nightclub, Le Grand Duc, in France. His club was one of the most popular and famous spots for singers and musicians at the time. Digniataries such as the Prince of Wales, Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Gloria Swanson and England’s Prince of Wales were seen in his establishment. While working the nightclub scene he also became friends with Josephine Baker, Louis Armstrong and Langston Hughes.
7. During the second World War Eugene Bullard agreed to serve France again as a spy. He was very successful at this endeavor because the Germans didn’t think that African Americans were capable of understanding German and Eugene spoke English, German and French. While serving in this capacity he occasionally worked with the famous French spy Cleopatra Terrier.
8. Despite being named a Knight of the Legion of Honor in New York City during a lavish ceremony, being embraced by President-General Charles de Gaulle of France in 1960 when he visited the USA and labeled a “True French Hero”, helping to relight the Eternal Flame of the Tomb of the Unknown French Soldier at the request of France, and being buried with full honors by the Federation of French War Officers, Eugene Bullard was never recognized in the United States for any of his achievements. It wasn’t until 1994 that the United States Air Force recognized him and posthumously commissioned him a Second Lieutenant.
9. Eugene Bullard married a French Countess and had one son (died of double pneumonia) and two daughters. He raised his daughters after his wife passed six years after their seperation. He made his transition on October 12, 1961 after passing from stomach cancer in New York City. He is currently interrred in the French War Veterans’ section of Flushing Cemetery in the New York City borough of Queens.