First African American fighter pilot gets his own statue

Julia LeDoux
October 14, 2019 - 1:34 pm
Bullard statue

Robins Air Base

Eugene Bullard defied the odds when he became the world’s first African American fighter pilot during World War I.

Now, a statue recently unveiled at Robins Air Base in Georgia, honors the trailblazer’s accomplishments. Bullard went to Europe after his father was nearly lynched in the early 20th Century.

After fighting the Germans as part of the French Foreign Legion, he joined France’s air service, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Eugene Bullard

“You must remember that, years ago, most people were pretty sure that, if you had black skin, you were probably pretty stupid — you probably couldn’t fly a sophisticated machine like an airplane. This guy proved you can,” said Tuskegee Airman Hilliard Pouncy before the ceremony began.

“The Civil Rights Movement really started when the Army started letting black guys fly. They proved to the world they are just as smart or just as dumb as anybody else.”  

The statue is located just outside the Museum of Aviation and depicts Bullard in uniform, with his arms cross and eyes looking skyward. Private donations to fund the monument were raised by Georgia’s World War I Centennial Commission.

“To have the courage at age 19 to join the fabled French Foreign Legion and volunteer to fly at a time when aviation was far more dangerous and unproven, and frankly when pilots had an exceptionally short service life, this is nothing short of heroic,” said Col. Brian Moore, commander of 78th Air Base Wing at Robins Air Force Base.

Bullard received France’s Croix de Guerre for his heroism at the Battle of Verdun. He is also a knight of the Legion of Honor. He eventually returned to America and worked as a longshoreman and security guard. He died of intestinal cancer in 1961.  

Bullard crowds
Robins Air Base

“I’m so proud right now just to be a part of this experience and to witness recognition that is long overdue,” said Terrence Chester, who was among the nearly 24 Bullard family descendants to attend the Oct. 9 ceremony. “Words cannot really express my emotions.”

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