The first Black pilot of World War 1, Mr. Eugene Jacques Bullard, the “Black Swallow of Death,” was a hero in World War I. He left home at the age of 11 in search of the place that his father always talked about – France. Mr. Bullards father was raised by French decedents and his father worked in a warehouse with a number of white men. One of them became angry when he thought that William was forgetting his place. There was a confrontation, and William was knocked down and kicked. He stood up and doubled up his fists. This was something that a black man in the South was never supposed to do. He was a marked man. Eugene never forgot the sounds of the white mob coming to lynch his father. He was only 8 years old.Although his father escaped, years later Eugene’s brother was lynched by a Georgia mob. , In 1912 he stowed away on a ship bound for Scotland. When the crew found him, they allowed him to stay.
Bullard worked odd jobs in Scotland and England before finally arriving in France. He learned to speak French and German. The summer of 1914 changed everything. The world was on the verge of war. The armies of Europe mobilized. His friends began to join the forces to protect France, and some of them were killed. Bullard decided to volunteer to fight, and joined the French Foreign Legion. He trained in Paris at the tough Tourelles Barracks. He was sent to the front and fought bloody battles in the trenches. A close friend, another black man from Texas, was shot in the head by a sniper. The horrors of war took a toll. The battle proved disastrous for the French. The commanders gave Legionnaires two choices – go to Africa or transfer to the 170th Infantry Regiment. Bullard joined the regiment. The 170th were fierce fighters. The Germans called them the “Swallows of Death.” Bullard arrived at the Battle of Verdun on Feb. 22, 1916. He was awarded the Croix de Guerre medal for heroism.
Mr. Bullard began his pilot training at an aviation school in Tours, France. At the French School of Military Aviation in Avord he flew all types of planes. He wanted to fly combat missions, but his dream was put on hold when an influential American major living in France made it hard for him. The major discouraged the French from accepting Bullard as a pilot due to his skin color. After the United States declared war on Germany, the white pilots were given the chance to transfer from the French flying service to the American side and promoted to lieutenant. But Bullard was turned down.
Medals of Lieutenant Eugene Jacques Bullard at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force:
In France, he proved that he could fly. Bullard painted the following words on the side of his plane: “All Blood Runs Red.” He earned 15 medals, including the Legion of Honor, the Victory Medal, the World War Commemorative Medal, an Insignia for the Military Wounded, the Commemorative Medal for Volunteer Service and the Combatant’s Cross.
When he returned to the United States, he was forgotten. But there is now an exhibit in the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force in Dayton, Ohio, in recognition of him. It took 77 years, but on Aug. 23, 1994, the Air Force finally commissioned Eugene Jacques Bullard as a lieutenant.