Over a year ago I did a post on the Peekskill Concert Riots in 1949. One of the people involved was Eugene Bullard. I had found a picture of him on Howard Fast's site (famed writer and author of Peekskill USA). It showed Bullard being beaten by State Police for probably no reason other than these: he was a supporter of Paul Robeson and an attendee of the concert and because he was black. I had never heard of him, but the picture mentioned he was a war hero. I looked him up and found that he had flown for the Lafayette Escadrille!
I recently watched the DVD of Flyboys. Despite poor reviews I found the film had redeeming qualities. It seemed that the character of the black pilot Skinner was based on Bullard. Research bore that out. I also found that Bullard lived in Harlem in his later years at 80 East 116th Street. Amazingly, with all the renovation that neighborhood has undergone the building is still there. That's a picture of it above. I would think the building deserves a plaque. Here's more on Eugene from wikipedia:
Eugene Bullard (9 October 1894 – 12 October 1961) was the first African-American military pilot.
He was born Eugene Jacques Bullard in Columbus, Georgia, in the United States. His father was known as "Big Chief Ox" and his mother was a Creek Indian; together, they had ten children. Bullard stowed away on a ship bound for Scotland to escape racial discrimination (he later claimed to have had witnessed his father's narrow escape from lynching as a child).
While in the United Kingdom he worked as a boxer and also worked in a music hall. On a trip to Paris he decided to stay and joined the French Foreign Legion upon the outbreak of World War I in 1914. Wounded in the 1916 battles around Verdun and awarded the Croix de Guerre, Bullard transferred to the Lafayette Flying Corps in the French Aéronautique Militaire and was eventually assigned to 93 Spad Squadron on 27 August 1917, where he flew some 20 missions and is thought to have shot down two enemy aircraft.
With the entry of the United States into the war the US Army Air Service convened a medical board in August 1917 for the purpose of recruiting Americans serving in the Lafayette Flying Corps. Although he passed the medical examination, Bullard was not accepted into American service because blacks were barred from flying in U.S. service at that time. Bullard was discharged from the French Air Force after fighting with another officer while off-duty and was transferred to the 170th (French) Infantry Regiment on January 11, 1918, where he served until the Armistice.
Following the end of the war, Bullard remained in Paris. He began working in nightclubs and eventually owned his own establishment. He married the daughter of a French countess, but the marriage soon ended in divorce, with Bullard taking custody of their two daughters. His work in nightclubs brought him many famous friends, among them Josephine Baker, Louis Armstrong and Langston Hughes. At the outbreak of World War II in 1939, Bullard, who spoke German, readily agreed to a request from the French to spy on German agents frequenting his club in Paris.
After the German invasion of the French Third Republic in 1940, Bullard took his daughters and fled south from Paris. In Orléans he joined a group of soldiers defending the city and suffered a spinal wound in the fighting. He was helped to flee to Spain by a French spy, and in July 1940 he returned to the United States.
Bullard spent some time in a hospital in New York for his spinal injury, but he never fully recovered. During and after World War II, when seeking work in the United States, he found that the fame he enjoyed in France had not followed him to New York. He worked in a variety of occupations, as a perfume salesman, a security guard, and as an interpreter for Louis Armstrong, but his back injury severely restricted his activities. For a time he attempted to regain his nightclub in Paris, but his property had been destroyed during the Nazi occupation, and he received a financial settlement from the French government which allowed him to purchase an apartment in New York’s Harlem district.
In the 1950s, Bullard was a relative stranger in his own homeland. His daughters had married, and he lived alone in his apartment, which was decorated with pictures of the famous people he had known, and with a framed case containing his 15 French war medals. His final job was as an elevator operator at the Rockefeller Center, where his fame as the “Black Swallow of Death” was unknown.