USAFE honors Airmen on Memorial Day

Story and photos by Maj. Beverly Mock
U.S. Air Forces Europe Public Affairs

PARIS ― The U.S. Air Forces in Europe commander thanked the French men and women for everything they have done for the young Americans who fought and died in their country, defending the cause of freedom, during a Memorial Day ceremony May 28 at the Lafayette Escadrille Memorial outside of Paris, France.

Gen. Mark A. Welsh III, USAFE commander, talked about the importance of remembering the special attendees, the 51 American fighter pilots of the Escadrille La Fayette and the Lafayette Flying Corps who died during service to the Allies and who now call the memorial their home.

He said this event is a chance for the U.S. Air Force to remember

their courage and to honor their sacrifice.

“On Memorial Day, Americans gather at events like this one around the world to gratefully remember the courage and sacrifice of more than 1 million Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines and Coastguardsmen who have died defending the cause of freedom,” General Welsh said. “We remember also that they did not die alone, that they fought beside those who spoke different languages, but believed in that same cause.

“And we celebrate them all equally — their courage, their commitment, their sacrifice,” the general continued. “And we join their families and their grateful nations in honoring their memory.”

The ceremony opened with a welcome by Van Kirk Reeves, president of the Lafayette Escadrille Memorial Foundation, followed by a four-ship flyover of Mirage 2000N jets from the 2/4 LaFayette Fighter Squadron from Luxeuil Air Base, France, and a four-ship flyover of A-10 Thunderbolts from the 52nd Fighter Wing from Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany.

Also in attendance were Charles Rivkin, U.S. ambassador to France,  Christiane Barody-Weiss, mayor of Marnes-la-Coquette, and Lt. Gen. Paul Fouilland, commander in chief, of the French Strategic Air Force, among other officials. There were also more than 100 guests gathered at the memorial to pay tribute to those American pilots who died in service to the Allies during World War I.

After the speeches, General Welsh and the other dignitaries placed wreaths on the memorial circling the mosaic of the Lafayette Escadrille squadron insignia.

The USAFE Honor Guard fired three volleys, and a bugler from the USAFE band sounded taps. Ceremonial music throughout the ceremony was performed by the USAFE and French air force bands.

After the ceremony, attendees were encouraged to visit the underground crypt beneath the monument to see the sarcophagi honoring the Lafayette Escadrille Airmen, as well as see the 13 stained glass windows depicting various battles.