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Kiffin Yates Rockwell

pilots of the Lafayette Escadrille

Kiffin Rockwell was born September 20, 1892, in Newport, Tennessee, but his parents' strong ties to their home states earned him the Carolina heritage for which he is best known. Rockwell briefly attended Virginia Military Institute and Washington and Lee University in Virginia before leaving to pursue a career in advertising that allowed him the opportunity to travel in the United States and Canada.

Rockwell's father, Baptist minister and poet James Chester Rockwell, hailed from Columbus County, North Carolina, and his mother, Loula Ayres, was the daughter of a Confederate veteran from South Carolina. When Europe erupted into war in the late summer of 1914, Kiffin and Paul Rockwell, offered their services to France by letter to the French Consul-General in New Orleans. Without waiting for a reply, they boarded the 'St Paul', and on the 7th August 1914 sailed for Europe.

Kiffin and his brother Paul upon arriving in France joined the French Foreign Legion on September 30, 1914. Kiffin Rockwell was shot through the leg on 9 May 1915 when his regiment charged La Targette, north of Arras. He spent six weeks in the hospital and when he left for Paris on convalescent leave, his leg was completely healed. He spent time with his brother, Paul, who had been severely wounded earlier in the war and discharged from the French Foreign Legion and then becaming a war correspondent with the Chicago Daily News.

After Kiffin was wounded in 1915, by opportunity secured for him by influential friends, began the study of aviation, he began learning to fly planes, and when he finished this training, he became an original member of the Lafayette Escadrille, an elite band of flyers. He rose from pilot to brevet lieutenant in the space of four months.

On May 18 1916, only twenty-eight days after formation of the escadrille, Rockwell attacked and shot down a German aircraft over the Alsace battlefield. For this action he was awarded the Medaille Militaire and the Croix de Guerre and three palms for additional citations. Kiffin Rockwell as an early aviator whose major claim to fame is the first American to shoot down an enemy aircraft. He quickly earned a reputation as a fearless fighter for his habit of getting within feet of his enemy in the air before firing his machine gun.

Rockwell served at Verdun, on the 26th May 1916 Rockwell was wounded in the face, during combat with an enemy airplane. By September he had succeeded in bringing down four German aeroplanes unassisted which officially were credited to him, and seven more unconfirmed, of which there is no reasonable doubt as to his credit. For this fearlessness he received the Croix de Guerre, from the hands of General Joffre who referred to him as a "bold and courageous pilot." Captain Thenault, his flight commander, said of him: 'Where Rockwell was, the German could not pass, but was forced rapidly to take shelter on the ground.'

On 23 September 1916, during a battle with a German plane, engaged in a desperate duel over the French lines near Verdun. Plunging through a rain of bullets, he attacked a powerful German two-manned observation plane. Rockwell was shot through the chest by an explosive bullet and killed instantly. His plane crashed between the first and second line French trenches, near the point where his first kill, some four months earlier had gone down. Rockwell was the second American airman to die in combat, and the first North Carolinian to give his life in the Great War, the first American volunteer for service in France