The picaresque adventures of a former slave’s son who achieved glory in both world wars and was nearly forgotten by his own country.
Two intrepid authors and researchers—military historian and former Navy aviator Keith (America and the Great War: A 100th Anniversary Commemorative of America in World War I, 2019, etc.), a Purple Heart recipient, and Clavin (Wild Bill: The True Story of the American Frontier’s First Gunfighter, 2019, etc.)—team up in this dogged effort to excavate the facts of the amazing life of Eugene Bullard (1895-1961). In 1959, France recognized the achievements of the American pilot and soldier with its highest honor, the Legion of Honor, which subsequently gained Bullard, then an elevator operator at Rockefeller Center, his 15 minutes of fame on The Today Show. However, there was much that was never revealed in Bullard’s remarkable trajectory from indigent runaway to Jazz Age impresario and many details he fudged or perhaps forgot in an era of turbulent race relations when he later wrote his autobiography. Two traumatic events in his childhood propelled him to strike out on his own at age 11: the death of his Creek Indian mother when he was 6 and a white mob’s threatening to lynch his Haitian-born laborer father after a violent altercation with his foreman. Bullard managed never to look back, and the “French connection” from his roots propelled him to “a land where racial prejudice did not exist”—or so he imagined. The authors diligently pursue his story: learning to box in Scotland and then arriving in France just as World War I broke out; getting wounded at Verdun before embarking on a legendary, if short-lived position as a fighter pilot, probably the first black American to do so; and forging a career as a nightclub and athletic club owner in Paris before his next soldierly stint in World War II. Keith and Clavin constantly keep readers guessing about Bullard’s next move.
Terrific detective work revealing a man determined to forge his own destiny when his country said he couldn’t.