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Some history: Escadrille Lafayette

"The American Squadron N124" was officially formed on 18 April 1916 on Luxeuil aerodrome, two years after the idea of an American volunteers squadron was contemplated. It started with 6 Nieuport 11s under the command of Captain Thenault and Lt Alfred de Laarge de Meux as second in command. Pilots were W. Thain, E. Cowdin, K Rockwell, N. Prince, C. Johnson, B. Hall, C. Baisley, V. Chapman, L. Rumsey and J. McConnell.

The first war sortie took place on 13 May and was uneventful. N124's score started with K. Rockwell when he downed an LVG two-seater near Mulhouse in the morning of 18 May 1916. When he learned of his brother's feat Paul Rockwell sent a bottle of aged Kentucky Bourbon whiskey to the squadron. The pilots then decided that the only person allowed to take a sip in the future would be a pilot after a victory. Later, Raoul Lufbery took almost half the bottle! A big dogfight took place on 24 May without loss although Thaw was injured after an emergency landing within allied territory. On this day Lufbery, a quiet and modest American, born in France, reported to the unit. Lufbery had been the mechanic for M. Pourpe prewar and he had been shot down and killed in 1914. To avenge his memory, Luberry enlisted and became a pilot.

The first loss was Victor Chapman, a very brave man, who was shot down and killed on 23 June in an uneven fight against five Fokkers that he had attacked to get revenge for his friend Balsley, shot down and seriously wounded on 19th. It is during this time that Charles Nungesser paid a friendly visit to the Lafayette and added one victory to his score. On 31 July, Lufbery scored on victory over a German, three more followed making him an ace.

N124 'Lafayette' had then shown the world what they were worth with 146 fights and 13 official victories for the loss of one man. Taking advantage of leave in Paris, they managed to acquire a baby lion before returning to Luxeuil. They named it Whiskey and it became a playmate for Captain Thenault's German Shepherd dog Fram. The unit was then issued with the new Nieuport 17 equipped with a synchronised machine gun and 110hp engines but soon after, on 23 September, K Rockwell was lost and on 12 October N. Prince was seriously wounded while on an escort mission. On October 2 and 3, the new SPAD VII began to arrive and for a while these were used alongside the Nieuports.

During the winter, one of the mechanics, Suchet, painted a Sioux head that was soon to become the unit emblem and Harold Willis joined the unit in February 1917 and redesigned the emblem, giving it its final touches. For diplomatic and political reasons, the name was briefly changed by the French government and instead of 'Escadrille Americaine', it became 'Escadrille des Volontaires', fortunately the name was changed soon after to become Escadrille Lafayette as of 6 December 1916. La Fayette, Sioux, SPADs, and a group of brave and fiery pilots were enough to initiate a legend.

Lufbery shot down another enemy aircraft on 27 December but had to wait until 24 January to paint another red bar as a sign of victory on his machine. He was among the first, of not the first, to start a custom that was to become the norm in future. On 26 January 1917, pilots and mechanics moved to St Just en Chaumee in time for a tactical move. On 16 March 1917, Thaw had to travel to Paris and fly back with a new SPAD. He also took time to find a girlfriend for Whisky, a young lioness called Soda. By the end of May the Lafayette moved to Ham, a city closer to the lines. They soon learned of the declaration of war by the United States of America on 6 April. Nevertheless a sad period was to plague the unit when Genet and Hoskier were shot down and Lt de Laake de Meux was killed in a take off accident. A. C. Campbell joined the unit only to be involved in an extraordinary accident. He lost the left lower wing of his Nieuport while doing some aerobatics but managed to bring his aeroplane safely to the ground without any other damage.

Soon, seven new pilots joined, among them Charles (Carl) Henry Dolan who turned out to be a good pilot and a good electrician.

On 1 January 1918, the Lafayette officially became the 103rd Aero Squadron, and the first fighter squadron of the infant American air force with Thaw as Commanding Officer while Lufbery was appointed Commanding Officer of another group. He was later to perish when he jumped from a blazing aeroplane near Toul. SPA 12 kept going with new French pilots as of February and took the name SPA 124 Jeanne d'Arc and disbanded after the armistice in November 1918.

The Lafayette was credited with 199 official victories with 17 being credited to Lufbery.