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Forgotten Heroes

By David Robinson George

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THE saga of the Lafayette Escadrille has been told often; the sequel, never. Stories, novels and films about those American volunteers who flew for France before their country entered the World War usually have drawn the curtain at the Armistice. But only ten of the thirty-eight members of the outfit were killed in action. What of those who came back alive? What has been their lot?

As heroes, they've been forgotten by a short-memoried citizenry. But as men, they've had new adventures in civilian life which have demanded the same cool courage and indomitable spirit with which they faced the deadly Richtofen circus.

Some of them are wealthy; some are in dire financial straits. Some are happily married; others have met domestic tragedy. One, an incurable soldier of fortune, has spent months in prison. Several still suffer from war wounds; others, invulnerable to Boche bullets, have been easy targets for peacetime illnesses. Another, who loved life wisely, but not too well, met humiliating death in the gutter. The occupations of the rest represent a cross-section of American life.

In a dingy little antique shop in Freeport, Long Island, for example, the proprietor is distinctly out of place. A well-built man in his fifties, clean shaven and with graying hair, his athletic carriage and polished manner belie his unmatched, unpressed suit. From the moment he removes his pipe, smiles and speaks, you realize he's a gentleman and a soldier.

Ask him, and he'll admit proudly that he's Major Robert Soubiran, veteran member of l'Escadrille Lafayette and the last commanding officer of the unit after its transfer into the American Army in 1919 as the 103d Aero Pursuit Squadron.

In that humble shop, on the wall of which hangs the original drawing of the Yank Spirit—the colorful head of an Indian chief in a war cry used by the Escadrille as its insignia—he'll show you his priceless collection of documents and photographs, and talk.

The Major has fallen upon evil days. With his income cut to practically nothing, this brave man who risked his life to "make the world safe for democracy" even has been barred from the WPA rolls.

Relief officials, of course, know nothing of his brilliant war record. Unlike many American veterans, some of whom never got overseas, he has been too proud to capitalize on his exploits.

Sixty percent of those young chaps who joined the Escadrille were college men; Soubiran was not. Son of middle-class New York parents of French descent, he was twenty-seven and a racing car driver when the war broke out in 1914. Eager for adventure and stirred by the call of his Gallic blood, he went at once to Paris, where he enlisted in the Foreign Legion, most of which was then at the front. Although he was wounded the next year, the Legion failed to provide him with enough action. When he heard that the Escadrille was being organized, he obtained permission to enter the flying school at Pau, and eight months later joined the squadron at the front, an accomplished pilot.

A demon on the dirt tracks, he fought with the same devil-may-care daring. Off duty, he lived the life of an Epicurean. As befitted those who were about to die, the French Government provided them with all possible comf...

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