Lafayette Escadrille Memorial

Lafayette Escadrille Memorial

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  • James Norman Hall's service record.


  • Project for the Lafayette Escadrille Memorial.


  • Inauguration of a commemorative plaque dedicated to the Lafayette Escadrille.


James Norman Hall's service record.

© Photo RMN-Grand Palais - R. G. Ojeda

Project for the Lafayette Escadrille Memorial.

© Photo RMN-Grand Palais - R. Ojeda

Inauguration of a commemorative plaque dedicated to the Lafayette Escadrille.

© Photo RMN-Grand Palais - R. Ojeda

Publication date: March 2016

Historical context

The La Fayette squadron or the spirit of the Franco-American alliance

The N 124 aeronautical unit or La Fayette squadron was created on April 20, 1916, a year before the United States entered the war alongside the Entente. It ceased to exist in its original form on February 18, 1918, to become No. 103, the first American fighter squadron. For the most part, the members of the squadron received numerous decorations and honors from the French military and political authorities, some becoming very famous like Norman Prince or James Norman Hall.

At the end of the conflict, the staffs and governments, both French and American, wished to perpetuate and maintain the legend of the squadron, symbol of the excellence of the Franco-American alliance (born in 1777 and renewed in 1914 ) that many hope to consolidate on a political level, if not military. Created in 1923, the Memorial de l'Escadrille La Fayette association raises private American and French funds to finance the construction of a monument that would pay tribute to all the pilots of the squadron, especially those who died in combat. It was inaugurated on July 4, 1928 (American National Day).

Image Analysis

For memory

James Norman Hall's Service Record associates a photograph of James Norman Hall with his military career during the First World War. Standing in his uniform (that of the Americans was similar to that of the French) on which he hung decorations, he stares seriously at the goal. On the right are his military background and his various feats of arms: first the English army, then the La Fayette squadron where he became a sergeant and finally the American air force where he ended up captain. Below, his decorations, three of which are French: Legion of Honor, Military Medal, Croix de Guerre.

Project for the La Fayette Escadrille Memorial offers an overview of the monument and its site. A large central arch (triumphal arch the size of which is half that of Paris) dominates the platform, opening onto an elliptical basin. It is flanked by colonnades, each of which ends with a pavilion, each giving access to an underground crypt, which houses the ashes of pilots who died in combat. Four columns surmounted by the American eagle punctuate the tree-lined ellipse in which the Memorial is inscribed. Above the overview, a medallion shows the crypt, and the inscription reads "Project for the Mémorial of Escadrille Lafayette in the Park National de Villeneuve’Etang ».

Inauguration of a commemorative plaque dedicated to the Escadrille La Fayette shows a gathering of American and French civilian and military dignitaries (uniforms). The plaque which has just been inaugurated (the fabrics which covered it are now discarded) evokes "The La Fayette squadron, an aviation corps made up of American volunteers" who served "in the French army". On the right is a flag bearing the squadron's emblem (the head of Sioux, whose feathers can be seen). The American and French flags that recall the alliance celebrated here are visible in different places: together on the wall in the upper background, near the commemorative plaque (left).


Monument (s)

The fame of the La Fayette squadron and its heroes is almost immediate. Even during the conflict, the men were decorated and their exploits celebrated. Almost ten years later, in 1928, the tribute grew larger, heavier. So the Project for the La Fayette Escadrille Memorial shows above all a monument to the dead, both grandiose and a little gloomy. The names of the sixty-eight pilots of the squadron who died in action are engraved on the triumphal arch, and there are sixty-eight sarcophagi in the crypt (some of which are empty for lack of bodies). This place of memory and meditation is also a space for military celebration and the affirmation of a certain power capable of guaranteeing peace. The thirteen stained glass windows in the crypt, signed Mauméjan, mostly refer to the battles fought by the squadron, and the eagles perched on columns express the strength of the United States and the Franco-American alliance. The whole is literally "monumental", imposing and martial, which mixes spiritual and military, national and historical symbols.

Inauguration of a commemorative plaque dedicated to the Escadrille La Fayette does not have the same gravity. We find the references to the dead (the plaque) and the military presence, but this is attenuated, nuanced by that of civilians. If the moment is solemn, it is also warmer, almost rustic (the facade of the building with the slightly sloping windows). It is the friendship of the two countries (flags and uniforms mixed together), past and present, that seems most in the spotlight here.

An alliance that can also be read symbolically on James Norman Hall's Service Record. The main decorations are French for an American pilot. A veritable "monument" to the squadron, Hall, also a novelist, is one of those who have maintained and brought to life the notoriety of the "La Fayettes" by recounting their exploits. Thus avoiding oblivion, he may have played an indirect role in the success of the Memorial project, the private donations of famous and respected figures as well as the aid from the authorities which made this construction possible.

  • aviation
  • Lafayette squadron
  • United States
  • War of 14-18
  • American intervention


Annette BECKER, Monuments to the dead: heritage and memory of the Great War, Paris, Errance, 1988. Jean GISCLON, Hunters in the La Fayette group, 1916-1945, Paris, Nel, 1997. Jean GISCLON, The Aces of the La Fayette Squadron, Paris, Hachette, 1976. Jean GISCLON, The La Fayette Squadron, from the La Fayette Squadron to the La Fayette Squadron, 1916-1945, Paris, France Empire, 1975.

To cite this article

Alexandre SUMPF, “Memorial of the Lafayette Escadrille”

Video: Changing of the American Flag Over Lafayettes Tomb, Paris, July 4 - France Revisited