Monsieur le Sénateur,
Monsieur le Président Général de la Société nationale des Fils de la Révolution américaine,
Mesdames et Messieurs, dans vos fonctions et qualités respectives…
C’est un honneur pour moi d’être ici aux côtés des Fils de la Révolution Américaine pour rendre hommage aux milliers d’américains qui ont servi dans la Légion Etrangère française pendant la Grande Guerre. Ces hommes courageux ont contribué au renforcement de nos liens historiques. Si vous êtes d’accord, pour nos amis américains qui se trouvent parmi nous, je me permettrai de continuer en anglais.
It is an honor to be here tonight with the Sons of the American Revolution. There are Sons with us tonight who traveled from the United States, to participate in this week’s events honoring the roughly 3600 Americans who served in the French Foreign Legion during World War I. For more than a century, the Sons of the American Revolution have exemplified American patriotism. Welcome to Paris – a city beloved by Americans since Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson lived here in the fledgling days of our Republic.
The Foreign Legion! The fighting force whose name commands admiration and respect around the world. It is a uniquely French institution whose soldiers hail from many lands. The subject of books, movies, and songs, the Legion’s esprit de corps is legendary.
In the early days of World War I, many young American men were eager to fight alongside the Allies. The problem was that taking an oath of allegiance to a foreign nation would forfeit their U.S. citizenship. What to do? U.S. Ambassador Myron Herrick– the only U.S. Ambassador to have a street named after him in Paris — offered a clever solution: By joining the Legion, they pledged fidelity not to France, but to the Legion itself!
And what about those young men? No doubt, they had different motivations for leaving their homes to fight for France. For some it was the call of adventure. For others it was an eagerness to defend democratic values. Whatever their reasons, their heroism was beyond question.
I am particularly inspired by the story of Eugene Bullard, who overcame huge obstacles to become the first black military pilot in history and the only African-American pilot in World War I. He was born in Georgia in 1894, but left home at 11 to travel the world. He ended up in France, as a prize fighter. When war broke out he was eager to help France, so he joined the Foreign Legion, where he rose to the rank of corporal. For his bravery in combat, Bullard received the Croix de Guerre and other decorations. Bullard was seriously wounded in the battle of Verdun. Later, he joined the French Air Force, flying with 200 other Americans in the Lafayette Flying Corps. “The Black Swallow of Death” was his nom de guerre. He piloted many combat missions, and is officially credited with downing at least one German plane.
When the United States entered the war in 1917, Bullard attempted to join the U.S. Air Service, but he was denied admission because of racial prejudice. Bullard lived a life full of adventure and service, including in World War II. After his death in 1961, he was buried with full military honors in his legionnaire’s uniform in the cemetery of the Federation of French War Veterans in Flushing, New York. In 1994, the secretary of the Air Force posthumously appointed him a second lieutenant in the U.S. Air Force.
The legacy of Eugene Bullard and his comrades lives on in a French-U.S. alliance that is stronger than it has ever been. A century after the beginning of la Grande Guerre, we inhabit a world that in many ways is as fraught with peril and as full of challenges as it was in the summer and fall of 1914.
Today is the 13th anniversary of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. We need no other reminder of the grave challenges we face. As you know well, the U.S. and France continue to strengthen our partnership in many areas, particularly in the security realm, where we have worked closely together in Afghanistan, Libya, and as we speak, Iraq.
The United States and France seek solutions together, united by our shared history, and committed to building a world that is safe, free, and provides greater opportunity to all.
Thank you again for the opportunity to be with you tonight to honor the courage of the Americans who fought in the French Foreign Legion in World War I.
Let us raise our glasses in honor of these brave young men who risked their lives for freedom and for France. Levons nos verres en l’honneur de ces jeunes hommes courageux qui ont risqué leur vie pendant la Grande Guerre pour la liberté et pour la France. Vive la France! Vive les Etats-Unis!