Eugene James “Jacques” Ballard

Harmar celebrates Black History.

Throughout February, we’ll be shining a spotlight on pioneers, innovators, difference makers, and history shakers that have shaped our world.

Eugene James Bullard, the first African American combat pilot in history, was born in Georgia in 1895.

The 7th of 10 children, Bullard ran away from home when he was just 11 years old after seeing the near-lynching of his father. It was a culmination of years of abuse he’d seen as a young boy.

After traveling, for a time, with a band of Gypsies in the South, Bullard would stow-away aboard a German merchant ship that landed him in Scotland. Ultimately, Bullard would end up in France.

Eugene Bullard in French Foreign Legion Uniform

Eugene Bullard in his Legionaries uniform

World War I broke out in 1914 when Bullard was only 19. He enlisted himself in the French Foreign Legion to serve and protect his newfound homeland. Injured at the Battle of Verdun in 1916, Bullard was awarded the Croix de Guerre and the Medaille Militaire for his bravery and valor. After his recovery, not yet ready to give up the fight, Bullard would join French Air Service – first to become a gunner, but eventually completing his training and earning his license.

Once he had earned his pilot’s license, he would go on to fly a confirmed 20 combat missions as part of several different flying corps. He had earned the nickname, “The Black Swallow of Death”. Bullards courage was well known and he often led the charge, flying into dangerous situations.

Mr. Bullard would try and join the United States Armed Forces, as a pilot, upon the US entrance into the war. The air corps was still all-white at the time, and beyond just denying Bullard’s application, it is believed the US pressured France into grounding Bullard entirely.

“Jacques” Bullard would go on to own jazz nightclubs in Paris, work as a jazz musician, open fitness clubs, and even train boxers. Though he lived a life of some fame and renown, in France, he was virtually unknown when he came back to live in the United States.

Photo of Eugene Bullard next to bi-plane

Eugene Jacques Bullard. (U.S. Air Force photo)

In 1959, Bullard was named a French national chevalier (knight). In a visit to the United States in 1960, French President Charles DeGaulle made a trip to New York City specifically to meet Mr. Bullard. Posthumously, in 1994, Eugene James “Jaques” Bullard was honored by the Smithsonian’s Air & Space Museum for his groundbreaking achievements.

Harmar salutes Jacques Bullard.

Portrait of Flying Ace Eugene Jacques Bullard

 

Learn more of Jacques Bullard’s Story:

Eugene Bullard Featured at BlackPast.org

Remembering Jacques Bullard – YouTube