ATLANTA — A black fighter pilot who fought for the French Foreign Legion during World War I was honored with a statue at Robins Air Force Base in Georgia.
The bronze statue of Eugene Bullard was unveiled on Wednesday at the base near Warner Robins in front of a crowd that included his descendants, U.S. troops and French officials, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported.
Bullard was from Georgia, but went to Europe in the early 20th century after his father was nearly lynched, the newspaper reported. He joined France’s air service after fighting the Germans during World War I.
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The U.S. military was segregated at the time and would not accept him as a pilot because of his race. But Bullard in 1994 was posthumously commissioned second lieutenant in the U.S. Air Force.
“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,” Hillard Pouncy Jr. said. “This guy proved you can.”
Pouncy, 97, was one of the original Tuskegee Airmen and attended Wednesday’s unveiling.
The monument was paid for with private donations. Bullard is shown in his military uniform. Sculptor Gregory Johnson told the Journal-Constitution he used several black and white photos of Bullard to design it.
“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.
Col. Charles McGee — an original Tuskegee Airman, veteran of three wars, and aviation legend — still clearly remembers the day he shot down a German Luftwaffe fighter.
Bullard eventually returned to the U.S., where he worked as a longshoreman and security guard. He died in 1961 after being diagnosed with intestinal cancer. Two years before his death, he was given France’s prestigious Legion of Honour award.
“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 nearly two dozen Bullard family descendants to attend Wednesday’s ceremony. “Words cannot really express my emotions.”