Eugene Jacques Bullard (9 October 1894 – 12 October 1961) was one of the only two black military pilots in World War I and warded the Croix de Guerre and the Legion of Honor. Born in Columbus, Georgia, he traveled to Paris and decided to stay at the outbreak of the war in 1914, enlisting for service with the French Foreign Legion. It was at Verdun in 1916 that he was wounded while flying with the Lafayette Flying Corps and awarded the Croix de Guerre for his service. When the US entered the war, it convened a medical board to enlist Americans serving with the Lafayette. Though Bullard passed his medical examination, he was denied enlistment because blacks were barred from flying US planes.
Bullard was discharged from the French Air Force for fighting with an officer, but continued to fight in the French infantry until the Armistice. After the end of the war, Bullard remained in Paris working at nightclubs, and eventually opened his own, befriending many American celebrities that congregated in Paris, such as Josephine Baker, Langston Hughes and Louis Armstrong. During WWII, Bullard, fluent in German, served the French by spying on Germans who frequented his club. However, after the invasion of France, Bullard fled with his family first to the south of France, where he fought with the Resistance on Orléans and was seriously wounded in the spine, then Spain and eventually returned to the US in 1940.
Bullard never fully recovered from his injury, and what’s more, in the US he was faced with the fact that the fame and respect he enjoyed in France was not to follow him back to his homeland. He earned a living through various odd jobs - as a perfume salesman, a security guard and an interpreter for Louis Armstrong - but his health problems serious restricted his activities. In 1949, Bullard participated and was beaten in the Peekskill Riots at a benefit concert for the Civil Rights Congress. By the 1950s, few people knew anything of who Bullard was in his own home country despite the famous friendships he had once enjoyed and his 15 French medals. He was made a chevaliér of the Legion of Honor in 1959, but died in poverty and obscurity in New York in 1961 of stomach cancer. He was buried with military honors by French officers in the French War Veterans’ section of Flushing Cemetery in the Queens, NY.