A member of the French military salutes as he faces the memorial.

Lafayette Escadrille Memorial Cemetery

Overview

The Lafayette Escadrille Memorial Cemetery commemorates the birthplace of American combat aviation, and serves as a symbol of the Franco-American comradeship during World War I. This site honors the American volunteer pilots who flew with French squadrons during the Great War, and is the final resting place for some of America’s first combat aviators and their French Officers.

After the outbreak of World War I, Americans sympathetic to the Allied cause offered their service to France as ambulance drivers and soldiers in the French Foreign Legion. By 1915, many of these volunteers began to lobby the French government to create a squadron composed of American pilots. After careful deliberation the French agreed, and on April 20, 1916 the first unit constituting American flyers was placed on front-line duty. These aviators fought  in the Battle of Verdun and the Somme Offensive, establishing a reputation for daring maneuvers and highly effective skills during these epic conflicts.

More than 200 Americans flew with French squadrons during the course of the war. Men who were considered part of this elite flying group came from diverse backgrounds, including authors of fiction, a professional polo player, All-American football players, an FBI special agent, and a U.S. ambassador, to name a few. Of this number, only 38 were assigned to the Lafayette Escadrille. (The term escadrille means squadron in French.) The rest served in other French flying units. Collectively, all Americans in the French Air Service, known as the Service Aéronautique, were considered to be part of the Lafayette Flying Corps, an unofficial designation. Many of these aviators transferred to American squadrons once the U.S entered the war in April 1917.

After  the Armistice, Lafayette Flying Corps veterans worked with American and French leaders to build a memorial dedicated to those who flew with the Service Aéronautique. The memorial would also serve as a final resting place for many of those who lost their lives during the war.   

Dedicated in 1928, the memorial cemetery consists of an ornate central arch, half the size of the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, with a French inscription on the façade, and an English translation on the rear. The central arch is flanked by wings on either side that include open hallways  terminating in end pavilions. A reflecting pool runs the length of the structure. Behind the memorial is a semi-circular terrace that forms the roof of the crypt below. Stained-glass windows in the crypt depict the major battles of the Western Front.

In the memorial crypt are 68 sarcophagi, one for each of the aviators of the Lafayette Flying Corps who lost their lives during World War I. Forty-nine of these aviators are entombed in the crypt along with two of their French commanding officers. The remainder rest in other locations, or their remains were never recovered. See the full listing of those who are honored at this site.

By the early 21st century, decades of delayed maintenance to the memorial had led to structural damage, water intrusion and corrosion that required large-scale repair. Understanding its significance in the history of American military aviation, ABMC, through an agreement with the Lafayette Escadrille Memorial Foundation and the French government that included financial support, led restoration efforts in 2015 and 2016, in time for the 100th anniversary of the formation of the squadron. In January 2017 ABMC officially assumed ownership and responsibility for the Lafayette Escadrille Memorial Cemetery, making it the 9th commemorative World War I cemetery administered by the agency.

Dedicated
1928
Location
France
Burials
51
Missing in Action
5
Acres
11.11

Visiting Hours

The memorial cemetery is open to the public daily, and is located inside the gates of Domaine National de Sainte-Cloud. Hours of operation are 7:30 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. November through February; 7:30 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. during September, October, March and April; 7:30 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. May through August. On December 24th and 31st, the site closes at 6:00 p.m. Due to staffing, crypt tours are only available Monday through Friday with a required minimum of five people. Contact the cemetery for availability.

Contact Us

Lafayette Escadrille Memorial Cemetery
Marnes-la-Coquette
France
tel Phone: +33 (0)1 46 25 01 70

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