A work in progress by Bill & Sheila Jackson, 7-29-06
My name is Bill Jackson. My wife, Sheila, and I have been working on a biography of Raoul Lufbery since 2003. We have set out to tell his entire life story, not just his war record. We have traveled about the US and to France in the quest for the true facts of his life, a search we continue as we are now writing the book. We have been in touch with various members of the Lufbery family in the US and in France, and they have been very gracious sharing what they know. We will be launching a web site soon "RaoulLufbery.com" that will reveal some of what we have found, and also post questions we are still trying to answer.
Let me address a few facts in response to the short bio on your site, as well as the posts from other visitors.
His birth date, which is often printed incorrectly - was, March 14, 1885,
in France, of a French mother and American father.
He had two older brothers, one who came to America and one that stayed in France. Raoul's mother died when he was an infant and his father, Edward, re-married several years later to another French woman. Edward and his new wife left France for the US and the three brothers from his first marriage stayed in France with relatives of his first wife.
The Lufbery's had family in New Jersey and New York. Edward passed through these places for a while until he settled in Wallingford, CT. He and his second wife had several daughters and a son. Edward, a chemist by training, worked with rubber for a while, then became a stamp dealer.
Eventually Raoul's older brother Charles re-settled in Wallingford. Most of the Lufbery descendants in Wallingford today are from the line of Charles.
Raoul started traveling as a teenager and worked his way around France, North Africa, the Balkans and Germany before coming to the US. He stayed in Wallingford no more than two years, living with his brother Charles and his wife. He worked in one of the silver factories in Wallingford during this time.
Raoul then traveled around the US, ending up in northern California where he joined the US army and shipped out, first to Hawaii, then the Philippines.
When he was discharged from the army, he worked his way around Asia and India until he met the French exhibition flyer, Marc Pourpe. He became Pourpe's mechanic and friend. They traveled around Asia, France and North Africa and had many adventures.
When the war started, Lufbery first joined the French Foreign Legion because, as an American, he was not allowed to join the regular French services. Pourpe joined the French flying service. Lufbery spent several weeks in an aircraft depot repairing aircraft until Pourpe pulled some strings and had Lufbery re-assigned as his mechanic at the front.
Pourpe was killed in a flying accident in December of 1914. Lufbery immediately applied to become a pilot and in the spring of 1915 started flight training. In the fall of 1915 he was assigned as a bomber pilot to the escadrille VB-106, and in early 1916 he started fighter-pilot training.
In late spring 1916 he was assigned as a fighter pilot to the fledgling N-124, soon to be famously known as the Escadrille Lafayette, made of volunteers from the US with French commanders. His first confirmed kills were in July of 1916 and in October he became the first American ace with five confirmed kills.
Lufbery ended up as the leading Ace of the squadron and so was the leading Ace in the American Expeditionary Force, when he was commissioned as a major in November of 1917.
In the winter of 1918 he was assigned as the commander of the American 95th Aero Squadron, which were sent to the front, but then quickly sent back for more training. Lufbery was then re-assigned as a flight instructor at one of the French flying schools where Americans were being trained - essentially a desk job. Shortly there after he was re-assigned to the front as flying instructor in the American 94th Aero Squadron, who's members included Eddie Rickenbacker, Douglas Campbell and other soon-to-be Aces.
Lufbery transferred to these green American fliers what he knew about combat flying and staying alive in a war where the life expectancy of fighter pilots was measured in weeks.
On May 19, 1918, a German observation plane flew over the airfield of the 94th near Toul, France. Several American pilots were in the air and one gave chase, but was unsuccessful at shooting down the German. Lufbery, on the ground, observed this activity and jumped into another pilot's plane as his own was down for repairs. He caught up with the intruder and started his attack, with the gunner of the two-person German aircraft firing at him. Observers on the ground saw Lufbery pull away - possibly to clear a gun jam - the again dive back in to attack. Accounts after this differ, but Lufbery's plane was hit, and he either fell our or jumped from the plane as it caught fire. He plummeted about 2000 feet and was impaled on a garden fence.
He was buried with high honors the next day. Having been the leading American Ace and famous in both France in the US, much was reported about his death, his funeral and his biography in the newspapers - much of it incorrect. As his combat record was eclipsed by others, including Rickenbacker, Lufbery was mostly forgotten into history.
His remains were finally moved to the Lafayette Flying Corps memorial outside Paris in the late 1920s.
He is mostly remembered in the US in Wallingford where a street, a park and the local VFW are named after him.
The US Air Force awarded Lufbery a Purple Heart in 2005 when it was discovered the US Army had never done so at the time of his death.
What I have stated here is a very basic overview of Lufbery's story. He lead a very colorful and adventurous life traveling around the
world prior to the war, and the details of is war experiences are also very interesting, as are the ironies and mysteries surrounding his
death. We are sure many will find the book of interest once it is completed and published.
We are very interested in finding out more about Lufbery's time in Wallingford and background on his family. I note that several visitors to this web site may be related to his father's side of the family. Please contact me if anyone would be willing to share this information, or if you would like to be notified when the book will be available.
We are also currently trying to set up a lecture on our research in Wallingford this fall.