Eugene Bullard was born on October 9, 1895 in Columbus, Georgia. As a teenager, seeking to escape racial discrimination in the United States, he stowed away on a ship bound for Scotland. He eventually made his way to Paris, where he was living when World War I broke out.
He enlisted in the French Foreign Legion as a machine gunner, and saw combat on the
Somme front. In March 1916, he was wounded during the Battle of Verdun. After recovering from his injuries, Bullard volunteered to join the French Air Service (Aéronautique Militaire) as an air gunner. It quickly became clear to his instructors that Bullard had the skills and aptitude to be far more than a gunner. He went through initial flight training at Châteauroux and Avord, and received pilot’s license #6950 from the Aéro-Club de France on May 5, 1917.
He was transferred to the Lafayette Flying Corps, and assigned to the 93rd Spad Squadron. He flew approximately twenty combat missions, and was credited with shooting down two German aircraft. The French military awarded him the Croix de Guerre.
When the United States entered the war, the U.S. Army Air Service convened a medical board to recruit American pilots serving in the Lafayette Flying Corps to fly for the American Expeditionary Forces. Bullard submitted himself for the medical examination, but he was not selected, because only white pilots were allowed to serve.
Eugene Bullard was never permitted to fly in the service of his own country, but he will always be remembered as the first African American combat pilot in history.