In Part I of this blog, we read about the Suresnes American Cemetery and Memorial on Mont Valérien, which lies only a few minutes by train outside of Paris. Today, we explore the Mémorial de L’Escadrille LaFayette that was built to honor the volunteer American pilots who flew and died for France in WWI, before the U.S. officially entered the war in 1917. It is found at the Parc de Villeneuve-L’Etang in the town of Marnes-la-Coquette, a little farther west than the Suresnes Cemetery.
Before leaving Paris to visit the Escadrille memorial, pack a lunch! You may well want to picnic in the Parc de Villeneuve-L’Etang—there are many species of birds and water fowl living around a small lake there. It’s only a 20- to 25-minute trip on the train from Gare Saint Lazare to the Garches-Marnes-la-Coquette station. From there, it’s a 10-minute walk to the park entrance and the memorial.
At the site, you’ll discover a large and richly decorated, white stone triumphal arch with carved, relief likenesses of George Washington and Lafayette. A colorful mosaic of the squadron’s insignia is under the arch. The pilots’ tombs are beneath the monument. On a sunny day, if you go down the stairs and peek through the doors of the crypt, you’ll be able to glimpse the remarkable stained-glass windows that line the crypt walls, illustrating some of the famous air battles.
The exploits of the pilots of the Lafayette Squadron were featured in a 2006 film Flyboys, starring James Franco (rated PG-13). The New England Air Museum has published some of the content of its exhibit on the squadron here.
Read more about the memorial (in French) here.
Anna Eklund-Cheong, a resident of France since 2000, gives tours on Franco-American history in Paris; a pair were offered through WICE last fall; two more will be offered through the American Women’s Group this spring. She’s recently started a Web site/blog that gives voice to her creative heart, as well as a Facebook page.
Photographs by Eric Hian-Cheong can be viewed at Eric Hian-Cheong Photography.