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Victor S. Chapman

pilots of the Lafayette Escadrille

Victor Chapman was born in New York on April 27, 1890. His mother Mina Timins died in 1898, when he was eight. He and his father John moved to France soon after. In France, Chapman obtained dual-citizen status as a French and US citizen. Chapman was interested in the arts and in writing. He often found inspiration to write while he was in the middle of battles, and many of the letters he sent to his father were written in these circumstances.

His father re-married when Chapman was a teenager. Chapman returned to the United States in his late teens to complete his education at Harvard University. After graduating, Chapman returned to Europe, spending time in France and in Germany. During this period, he became interested in architecture, becoming an expert in the field.

When World War I broke out, his father and his stepmother moved to London. Chapman decided to stay in France, joining the French Army's Foreign Legion on August 30, 1914. Serving in the 3rd march regiment of the Legion, he was sent to the trenches, where he found little of interest. Even as there were battles all around him, he could not help but feel indifference towards what was going on. He became friendly with four men during his days on the trenches: a Polish fighter who was known only as "Kohl", and Americans Alan Seeger, Henry Fansworth and David King. The trio of Americans watched as Kohl was killed by a bullet while walking with his friends.

After Kohl's death, Chapman and his two other friends, (Norman Prince and Elliot Cowdin), were given an opportunity to fly in a fighter airplane. Chapman was enamored with aviation, and he was transferred to the French Army's aviation service. He attended a flight school for a short period before being certified as a pilot.

Chapman flew many missions for the French Army's 1st aviation group and was commissioned sergeant. On June 17, 1916, he was flying on the Verdun sector of battle when he was attacked by four German airplanes. He suffered a critical head wound, but landed his airplane safely. His injury was not fatal: he was operated upon and was on his way to a full recovery when he found out that Clyde Balsley had been wounded too, in a separate incident. Balsley apparently and unknowingly crossed into German territory, to pick some oranges from a tree when he was injured by enemy fire.

Chapman heard of the story, and he immediately filled a basket with oranges, which he intended to take to Balsley. Flying to the location where Balsley was recuperating from his wounds, Chapman was attacked, on June 24 in north of Douaumont, by pioneering German flying ace Leutnant Kurt Wintgens, who was flying a Halberstadt D.II that day against Chapman's Nieuport 16. Chapman's Nieuport crashed, with Victor losing his life in the crash. Victor Chapman was the first American Aviator to fall.

Chapman was awarded the Croix de Guerre, along with commendations.