MARNES-LA-COQUETTE, France -- Representatives of the U.S. Air Force and the local French community came together to honor the members of Lafayette Escadrille during a Veterans Day ceremony in Marnes-la-Coquette, France, Nov. 11.
Lafayette Escadrille was a French Aviation Service squadron during World War I, comprised largely of volunteer American fighter pilots who were motivated to fight before the U.S. was officially at war.
During the ceremony's opening remarks the Madam Mayor of Marnes-la-Coquette, Christiane Barody-Weiss, welcomed the city's American friends "to honor and remember all those who gave their lives during the Great War, and among them, those who are resting in this memorial."
These pioneer Airmen were among the first Americans to fight alongside the French since the two nations battled together for American independence 140 years earlier.
According to the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force's fact sheet, "shortly after the Escadrille Americaine went into action in April 1916, its exploits began to attract world-wide attention and other Americans became interested in flying for France."
Before the U.S. officially joined the First World War, more than 200 Americans, inspired to join the fight by Lafayette Escadrille, were trained by and flew for the French, fighting against the Central Powers of Europe in various squadrons.
The importance of the American and French aviators of Lafayette Escadrille was summed up by the Madam Mayor of Marnes-la-Coquette during the ceremony when she said, "peace, unity, freedom only exist at the cost of eternal vigilance. Therefore, we must never forget the tragic events that shook the world 100 years ago."
Several organizations in attendance laid wreaths of flowers at the memorial to remember the fallen members of Lafayette Escadrille during the ceremony.
In closing her remarks, the Madam Mayor said, "let us keep alive the spirit which inspired the member of the Lafayette Escadrille and let us keep in mind Benjamin Franklin's famous words, 'those who give up an essential freedom for temporary safety, deserve neither freedom nor safety.'"