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Honoring the Prince of the Escadrille

By Michael Stahler
Staff Writer

Before the millions of Americans of the American Expeditionary Force (AEF) were arriving in France, a handful were soaring through the skies. This group of volunteers became known as the Lafayette Escadrille, named after the French founding father. Their group was composed of adventurers, stunt pilots, and the heirs of billionaires.

Norman Prince Ceremony at the Grand HotelNorman Prince Ceremony at the Grand Hotelprince01aNorman PrinceInitially, this volunteer corps was composed of 7 Americans of different backgrounds. One such volunteer fighter was Norman Prince, a Harvard-educated lawyer, a founder of the Lafayette Escadrille, and first casualty of the squadron. It is this Norman Prince that was recently honored at a dedication ceremony July 5th in Gerardmer, France.

The ceremony took place at the Hôtel de la Poste, a military hospital during the war. The warm summer breeze proudly waved the French flag, the Stars and Stripes, and the La Fayette Memorial Foundation Flag, a Sioux Indian illustrated on it.

In attendance were Amy Westling, French Consul General, Stessy Speissman, Mayor of Gerardmer, and retired French Lt. General Daniel Bastien, who delivered an address at the event when Brig. General Yvon Goutx was unable to attend. Aside from these notable appearances, the crowd gathered was populated by local historians, specialists in the Great War, military aviation researchers, and members of Legion of Honor associates and Medaille Militaire, both medals Prince had been awarded.

Bastien’s speech made mention of Prince’s foundational role in the Lafayette Escadrille, which he stressed be a separate corps instead of Americans scattered across French ranks. He also made mention of how 10 pilots of the 38 members would sacrifice themselves for their beliefs, before their own country would join the fray. Norman Prince would be one of these casualties.

The speech also addressed Prince’s last mission, 3 days after which he passed from injuries sustained from a crash that threw him from his plane. While unconscious, he was awarded the French Legion of Honor. In that town of Gerardmer he was taken to an emergency surgery room, and there he was promoted to Second Lieutenant. After his passage, a squadron flew overhead showering flowers.

accb1cf834Norman PrinceBastien closed his address as such:

“I shall conclude by saying how proud we are to have been able to honor Norman Prince’s memory today. As you Americans never forget the help the Marquis de La Fayette brought to your ancestors for the creation of your young nation, we, French people, will never forget the precious help your country has brought to our country.”

A frame was presented in memory of Prince and the Lafayette Escadrille. Afterwards, a 7 year old boy named Aaron joined to unveil a commemorative bronze plaque. Aaron, whose mother is French and whose father is American, every Sunday visits the Epinal American Cemetery to help the Superintendent lower and fold the flag, and his parentage signified him as a symbol of Franco-American relations, as Bastien noted.

As the dedication ceremony came to a close, the attendants were able to examine pieces of the sort of outfit Prince and the other members of his squadron would wear, as well as a mannequin dressed in a military nurse uniform from the Great War, a model of a Nieuport 17 that Prince would have flown, and pictures of Prince, the war, and the town at the time.

Prince now is buried in the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. 21 years after his death in 1916, General John Pershing, commander of the American Expeditionary Forces spoke in honor of this brave American who, accompanied by his fellow pilots, were so moved by the plight of another nation that they gave their lives to save them. This is what Gerardmer, France celebrates with their ceremony, and what the capital of the United States venerates in its National Cathedral.

Michael Stahler is a 2017 Summer Intern at the U.S. World War One Centennial Commission

 Display at Norman Prince CeremonyDisplayfor Norman Prince Ceremony at the Grand Hotel.

 21982vMembers of teh Lafayette Escadrille in France during WWI; Norman Prince third from left.

 StJohnChapel 269x300Norman Prince crypt in St. John Chapel of Washington National Cathedral.amfas princeNorman Prince next to his aircraft in the Lafayette Escadrille during WWI.Sous Lieutenant Norman Prince summer1916Sous Lieutenant Norman Prince in the summer of 1916.




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