Throckmorton Library hosted local Fort Bragg historian, Maj. Michael Ariano, U.S. Special Operations Command, who spoke about aviation developments during WWI and the story of the Lafayette Escadrille, Sept. 21.
Ariano is no stranger to lecturing on matters of the past, having also spoken over the last year to the Fort Bragg community about causes and effects of WWII and conflict Kosovo, where he served. However, this lecture was the last opportunity to hear Ariano speak for some time.
“I’m about to leave for Afghanistan soon, so I wanted to get one more (lecture) in before I leave,” said Ariano. “I do this stuff for fun, because I am a nerdy guy.”
During the lecture and slide- show, Ariano discussed the beginning of aviation, shared a refresher on the start of WWI, told the story of the Red Baron, talked about air war on the western front and introduced attendees the Lafayette Escadrille.
According to Ariano, the Lafayette Escadrille flew for France, but were an American squadron created during a time when America maintained neutrality in WWI.
Approved by the French government in March 1916, the Lafayette Escadrille flew its first mission in early May, achieved its first victory by mid-May 1916 and suffered its first casualty just over a month later, on June 23.
The men who founded the squadron were wealthy, American and were fluent French speakers.
Beginning with a small number of just seven pilots, the group grew quickly to include 38 Americans and four French pilots. One of the original seven squad members was a man who called nearby Carthage, North Carolina home, James Rogers McConnell.
Ariano shared a book McConnell wrote with the attendees. “Flying for France” was written during a period of convalescence, after McConnell’s plane was shot down, and provides insight into the daily life of a pilot during WWI.
After rejoining the fight, McConnell was shot down again in March of 1917, and was killed.
“It’s primary history directly from the pilot,” explained Ariano.
McConnell’s tie to Carthage was fascinating to Ariano.
“In Carthage, about an hour away ... you’ll see this mural … dedicated to him,” said Ariano. “I thought that was pretty neat.”
Ariano curates his own garage museum and runs a Facebook page through which he shares tidbits of aviation history.