Kiffin Rockwell of the Lafayette Escadrille

Members of the Lafayette Escadrille, 1916. Image from the N.C. Museum of HistoryOn August 7, 1914, Kiffin Rockwell of Asheville set sail for France.  He had volunteered for the French army after war had broken out and President Woodrow Wilson issued a neutrality proclamation for the United States.

As members of the French Foreign Legion, he and his brother were severely wounded. After recovering from the thigh injury that ended his infantry service, Rockwell became one of the first Americans to join the newly formed Lafayette Escadrille, an American volunteer aerial combat squadron. In May 1916, Rockwell became the first American to shoot down an enemy plane. He was one of only four North Carolinians who flew for France in World War I. For the next four months he participated in every mission his squadron was assigned.

On September 23, 1916, during his first mission after returning from leave, Rockwell engaged in a dogfight with a German plane. He was shot in the chest, making him the second-ever American killed in aerial combat. Rockwell was memorialized and honored in France and the United States. He was posthumously awarded the Cross of the Legion of Honor.

Other related resources:

For more about North Carolina’s history, arts and culture, visit Cultural Resources online. To receive these updates automatically each day subscribe by email using the box on the right and follow us on FacebookTwitter and Pinterest.