Lafayette Escadrille honored at centennial event

PARIS – Four U.S. Air Force F-22 Raptor fifth generation fighters fly over the Lafayette Escadrille Memorial in Marnes-la-Coquette, France, April 20, 2016, during a ceremony honoring the 268 Americans who joined the French Air Force before the U.S. officially engaged in World War I. In addition to the F-22s, a USAF B-52 Stratofortress bomber, three FAF Mirage 2000Ns, one FAF Rafale and a World War I-era Stearman PT-17 biplane performed flyovers during the ceremony commemorating the 100th anniversary of the Layfette Escadrille’s formation. Men of the Lafayette Escadrille and Lafayette Flying Crops were critical to the formation of the U.S. Air Force. (U.S. Air Force Photo by Tech. Sgt. Joshua DeMotts/Released)

PARIS – Four U.S. Air Force F-22 Raptor fifth generation fighters fly over the Lafayette Escadrille Memorial in Marnes-la-Coquette, France, April 20, 2016, during a ceremony honoring the 268 Americans who joined the French Air Force before the U.S. officially engaged in World War I. In addition to the F-22s, a USAF B-52 Stratofortress bomber, three FAF Mirage 2000Ns, one FAF Rafale and a World War I-era Stearman PT-17 biplane performed flyovers during the ceremony commemorating the 100th anniversary of the Layfette Escadrille’s formation. Men of the Lafayette Escadrille and Lafayette Flying Crops were critical to the formation of the U.S. Air Force. (U.S. Air Force Photo by Tech. Sgt. Joshua DeMotts/Released)

PARIS – A U.S. Air Force B-52 Stratofortress bomber flies over the Lafayette Escadrille Memorial in Marnes-la-Coquette, France, April 20, 2016, during a ceremony honoring the 268 Americans who joined the French Air Force before the U.S. officially engaged in World War I. In addition to the B-52, four USAF fifth generation F-22 Raptor fighters, three FAF Mirage 2000Ns, one FAF Rafale and a World War I-era Stearman PT-17 biplane performed flyovers during the ceremony commemorating the 100th anniversary of the Layfette Escadrille’s formation. Men of the Lafayette Escadrille and Lafayette Flying Crops were critical to the formation of the USAF. (U.S. Air Force Photo by Tech. Sgt. Joshua DeMotts/Released)

PARIS – A U.S. Air Force B-52 Stratofortress bomber flies over the Lafayette Escadrille Memorial in Marnes-la-Coquette, France, April 20, 2016, during a ceremony honoring the 268 Americans who joined the French Air Force before the U.S. officially engaged in World War I. In addition to the B-52, four USAF fifth generation F-22 Raptor fighters, three FAF Mirage 2000Ns, one FAF Rafale and a World War I-era Stearman PT-17 biplane performed flyovers during the ceremony commemorating the 100th anniversary of the Layfette Escadrille’s formation. Men of the Lafayette Escadrille and Lafayette Flying Crops were critical to the formation of the USAF. (U.S. Air Force Photo by Tech. Sgt. Joshua DeMotts/Released)

PARIS – A World War I-era Stearman PT-17 biplane flies over the Lafayette Escadrille Memorial in Marnes-la-Coquette, France, April 20, 2016, during a ceremony honoring the 268 Americans who joined the French Air Force before the U.S. officially engaged in World War I. In addition to the Stearman, four U.S. Air Force fifth generation F-22 Raptor fighters, a B-52 Stratofortress bomber, three FAF Mirage 2000Ns and one FAF Rafale performed flyovers during the ceremony commemorating the 100th anniversary of the Layfette Escadrille’s formation. Men of the Lafayette Escadrille and Lafayette Flying Crops were critical to the formation of the USAF. (U.S. Air Force Photo by Tech. Sgt. Joshua DeMotts/Released)

PARIS – A World War I-era Stearman PT-17 biplane flies over the Lafayette Escadrille Memorial in Marnes-la-Coquette, France, April 20, 2016, during a ceremony honoring the 268 Americans who joined the French Air Force before the U.S. officially engaged in World War I. In addition to the Stearman, four U.S. Air Force fifth generation F-22 Raptor fighters, a B-52 Stratofortress bomber, three FAF Mirage 2000Ns and one FAF Rafale performed flyovers during the ceremony commemorating the 100th anniversary of the Layfette Escadrille’s formation. Men of the Lafayette Escadrille and Lafayette Flying Crops were critical to the formation of the USAF. (U.S. Air Force Photo by Tech. Sgt. Joshua DeMotts/Released)

PARIS – John Yellow Bird Steele, representing the Sioux Nation, offers a traditional Native American incantation during the Lafayette Escadrille Memorial 100th anniversary ceremony in Marnes-la-Coquette, France, April 20, 2016. More than 200 Americans flew with France in the Lafayette Flying Corps prior to U.S. entry into World War I. Airmen from the U.S. Air Force and their French counterparts, along with civilians from both countries attended the ceremony to honor the men who served and the sacrifices of the 68 American airmen who died fighting with the French in World War I. The memorial highlights the 238-year alliance between the U.S. and France with their long history of shared values and sacrifice. (U.S. Air Force Photo by Tech. Sgt. Joshua DeMotts/Released)

PARIS – John Yellow Bird Steele, representing the Sioux Nation, offers a traditional Native American incantation during the Lafayette Escadrille Memorial 100th anniversary ceremony in Marnes-la-Coquette, France, April 20, 2016. More than 200 Americans flew with France in the Lafayette Flying Corps prior to U.S. entry into World War I. Airmen from the U.S. Air Force and their French counterparts, along with civilians from both countries attended the ceremony to honor the men who served and the sacrifices of the 68 American airmen who died fighting with the French in World War I. The memorial highlights the 238-year alliance between the U.S. and France with their long history of shared values and sacrifice. (U.S. Air Force Photo by Tech. Sgt. Joshua DeMotts/Released)

PARIS -- Secretary of the Air Force, Deborah Lee James, speaks with a group of Air Force civic leaders, unpaid advisors, key communicators and advocates for the Air Force, after the Lafayette Escadrille Memorial 100th anniversary ceremony in Marnes-la-Coquette, France, April 20, 2016. (U.S. Air Force Photo by Tech. Sgt. Joshua DeMotts/Released)

PARIS -- Secretary of the Air Force, Deborah Lee James, speaks with a group of Air Force civic leaders, unpaid advisors, key communicators and advocates for the Air Force, after the Lafayette Escadrille Memorial 100th anniversary ceremony in Marnes-la-Coquette, France, April 20, 2016. (U.S. Air Force Photo by Tech. Sgt. Joshua DeMotts/Released)

PARIS – French and American military and civilian representatives attend the Lafayette Escadrille Memorial 100th anniversary ceremony in Marnes-la-Coquette, France, April 20, 2016, during a ceremony honoring the 268 Americans who joined the French Air Force before the U.S. officially engaged in World War I. Airmen from the U.S. Air Force and their French counterparts, along with civilians from both countries, paid tribute to the men who served and the sacrifices of the 68 American airmen who died fighting with the French in World War I. The memorial highlights the 238-year alliance between the U.S. and France with their long history of shared values and sacrifice. (U.S. Air Force Photo by Tech. Sgt. Joshua DeMotts/Released)

PARIS – French and American military and civilian representatives attend the Lafayette Escadrille Memorial 100th anniversary ceremony in Marnes-la-Coquette, France, April 20, 2016, during a ceremony honoring the 268 Americans who joined the French Air Force before the U.S. officially engaged in World War I. Airmen from the U.S. Air Force and their French counterparts, along with civilians from both countries, paid tribute to the men who served and the sacrifices of the 68 American airmen who died fighting with the French in World War I. The memorial highlights the 238-year alliance between the U.S. and France with their long history of shared values and sacrifice. (U.S. Air Force Photo by Tech. Sgt. Joshua DeMotts/Released)

PARIS – Three French Air Force Mirage 2000Ns and one FAF Rafale fly over the Lafayette Escadrille Memorial in Marnes-la-Coquette, France, April 20, 2016, during a ceremony honoring the 268 Americans who joined the FAF during WWI. In addition to the Mirages and Rafale, four U.S. Air Force F-22 Raptor fifth generation fighters, a USAF B-52 Stratofortress bomber, and a World War I-era Stearman PT-17 biplane performed flyovers during the ceremony commemorating the 100th anniversary of the Layfette Escadrille’s formation. Men of the Lafayette Escadrille and Lafayette Flying Crops were critical to the formation of the U.S. Air Force. (U.S. Air Force Photo by Tech. Sgt. Joshua DeMotts/Released)

PARIS – Three French Air Force Mirage 2000Ns and one FAF Rafale fly over the Lafayette Escadrille Memorial in Marnes-la-Coquette, France, April 20, 2016, during a ceremony honoring the 268 Americans who joined the FAF during WWI. In addition to the Mirages and Rafale, four U.S. Air Force F-22 Raptor fifth generation fighters, a USAF B-52 Stratofortress bomber, and a World War I-era Stearman PT-17 biplane performed flyovers during the ceremony commemorating the 100th anniversary of the Layfette Escadrille’s formation. Men of the Lafayette Escadrille and Lafayette Flying Crops were critical to the formation of the U.S. Air Force. (U.S. Air Force Photo by Tech. Sgt. Joshua DeMotts/Released)

PARIS - A U.S. Air Force Honor Guard fire team from Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany, awaits the command to perform a 21-gun salute during the Lafayette Escadrille Memorial 100th anniversary ceremony in Marnes-la-Coquette, France, April 20, 2016. More than 200 Americans flew with France in the Lafayette Flying Corps prior to U.S. entry into World War I. Airmen from the USAF and their French counterparts, along with civilians from both countries, paid tribute to the men who served and the sacrifices of the 68 American airmen who died fighting with the French in World War I. The memorial highlights the 238-year alliance between the U.S. and France with their long history of shared values and sacrifice. (U.S. Air Force Photo by Tech. Sgt. Joshua DeMotts/Released)

PARIS - A U.S. Air Force Honor Guard fire team from Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany, awaits the command to perform a 21-gun salute during the Lafayette Escadrille Memorial 100th anniversary ceremony in Marnes-la-Coquette, France, April 20, 2016. More than 200 Americans flew with France in the Lafayette Flying Corps prior to U.S. entry into World War I. Airmen from the USAF and their French counterparts, along with civilians from both countries, paid tribute to the men who served and the sacrifices of the 68 American airmen who died fighting with the French in World War I. The memorial highlights the 238-year alliance between the U.S. and France with their long history of shared values and sacrifice. (U.S. Air Force Photo by Tech. Sgt. Joshua DeMotts/Released)

PARIS – French veterans bear the colors during the Lafayette Escadrille Memorial 100th anniversary ceremony in Marnes-la-Coquette, France, April 20, 2016. The ceremony honored the more than 200 Americans who fought with France in the Lafayette Flying Corps prior to the U.S. entry into World War I. The ceremony also paid tribute to the 68 American Airmen who died while serving with the unit while highlighting the 238-year alliance between the U.S. and France with their long history of shared values and sacrifice. (U.S. Air Force Photo by Tech. Sgt. Joshua DeMotts/Released)

PARIS – French veterans bear the colors during the Lafayette Escadrille Memorial 100th anniversary ceremony in Marnes-la-Coquette, France, April 20, 2016. The ceremony honored the more than 200 Americans who fought with France in the Lafayette Flying Corps prior to the U.S. entry into World War I. The ceremony also paid tribute to the 68 American Airmen who died while serving with the unit while highlighting the 238-year alliance between the U.S. and France with their long history of shared values and sacrifice. (U.S. Air Force Photo by Tech. Sgt. Joshua DeMotts/Released)

PARIS -- U.S. and French military and civic leaders attended the Lafayette Escadrille Memorial event in Marnes-la-Couquette, France, today, to commemorate the centennial of the flying squadron's formation.

The Lafayette Escadrille was formed on April 20, 1916, by 38 U.S. volunteer pilots who flew under French command a year before the U.S. entered into World War I.

The memorial celebrates not only the 38 original pilots of the Lafayette Escadrille, but all 269 American pilots who flew with the French Air Force as part of the larger Lafayette Flying Corps, 68 of whom were killed during the war and are interred at the memorial crypt.

Secretary of the Air Force, Deborah Lee James, remarked that, "We also honor all French and American citizens who have devoted their life to protecting our shared ideals. These valiant Airmen laid the foundation for an American Air Force that will forever stand with France."

During the ceremony, U.S. Ambassador to France, Jane Hartley, along with French Minister of State for Veterans and Remembrance, Mr. Jean-Marc Todeschini, addressed those gathered for the memorial event.

Both Hartley and Todeschini emphasized the sacrifice that the men of the Lafayette Escadrille made 100 years ago to fight for their country's shared values and to defend their freedoms just as the men and women of the U.S. and French militaries continue to do today.

The ambassador acknowledged two individuals in particular that were in attendance at the event. "We salute the courage and sacrifice of all the Tuskegee Airmen, and especially the two here with us today, Mr. Eugene Richardson and Mr. Theodore Lumpkin," said Hartley.

The Tuskegee Airmen were in attendance in honor of the world's first black aviator, Eugen Bullard, or as he was better known, the Black Swallow of Death, who flew with the Lafayette Escadrille and ultimately earned France's highest military decoration, the Legion of Honor.

In speaking of the significance of the Lafayette Escadrille's formation, Lt. Gen. Timothy Ray, 3rd Air Force Commander, commented, "I'm reminded, of course, of the great relationship between the French and the American people. We had a tremendous alliance. They were a huge part of our nation and its birth, and we were a huge contribution to helping them in the First World War."

The relationship that Ray refers to is the 238-year alliance that exists between the U.S. and France with a long history of shared values and sacrifice. The centennial of the Lafayette Escadrille exemplifies this relationship.

Throughout the ceremony there were a total of three flyovers in honor of the men of the Lafayette Escadrille. In addition to paying respects to the fallen pilots, these flyovers served as a demonstration of the evolution of airpower from WWI to modern day.

Participating in the flyovers were four USAF F-22 Raptors, a B-52 Stratofortress, three FAF Mirage 2000Ns, a FAF Rafale and a World War I-era Stearman PT-17 biplane.

The F-22 can trace its lineage back to the Lafayette Escadrille through the 94th Fighter Squadron, Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Va., to the 103rd Aero Squadron, which was the successor to the Lafayette Escadrille when the Air Service, American Expeditionary Force, arrived in France in 1917.

The four F-22s that participated in the flyover were from the 325th Fighter Wing, Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida, while two of the participating pilots were from the 94th legacy squadron.

Several bomb squadrons can also trace their legacy back to WWI, including the 93rd Bomb Squadron whose lineage goes back to the 93rd Aero Squadron and the distinction of having taken part in 157 combat missions during WWI between the Lorraine, St. Mihiel, and Argonne-Meuse.

The B-52 that flew in representation of the 93rd Bomb Squadron during the memorial event was from the 5th Bomb Wing, Minot Air Force Base, North Dakoka.

Also in attendance at the event were descendants of the Lafayette Escadrille pilots who came to pay their respects to their relatives and the legacy that they created 100 years ago.

Lt. Col. Nick Rutgers is the great-grandson of one of the original Lafayette Escadrille pilots, Capt. James Norman Hall. Rutgers carries on the fighter pilot legacy of his great-grandfather as an F-15C pilot with the Oregon Air National Guard and was in attendance at the centennial.

"I really look at [the pilots] as the founding fathers of the Air Force," said Rutgers. "They were jumping into a completely new realm of combat just a little more than 10 years since the inception of aviation. What they did, who they were, and what they represent is pretty incredible and the monument is a testament to that."

The ceremony came to a close with a performance of the Star Spangled Banner and La Marseillaise.