Nicknames, they have been around forever and everyone has one. For my entire life I've been referred to a Mick, my brother Sean as Lumpy and my fiancée used to called Hueso (literal Spanish translation is bone) by her parents when he was younger. The point is most nicknames will stick with a person for life, whether they like them or not. All of our American President from Washington to Obama have a nickname, as do most other famous Americans that make up our history. But one man stands alone as the holder of the greatest nickname ever. He may be unknown to most of you but the man was a true blue hero through and through. His name Eugene Bullard.
Now I know what your thinking, what nickname could a guy name Eugene have? Well let me tell you,it is awesome. Born Eugene Jacques Bullard on November 9, 1895 in Columbus, Ohio, he was one of the ten children between William O. Bullard (whose nickname was Big Chief Ox) and Josephine Thomas. Growing up in Columbus was not an ideal place for a child of African and Native American mix to grow up. His father at one time was even a victim of an attempted lynching. So it didn't take him that long to decide to leave. He stowed away on a ship heading for Scotland where he sought to start a new life, free from racial segregation. Once in Scotland he made his way to Glasgow and started a career as a boxer and during that day worked as a stage hand. His life in Scotland wasn't so bad, he was working, not at risk of being lynched, getting a pay check, life was good. But for Bullard and everyone else living during the late 1910s, everything was about to change.
Bullard was visiting Paris when the Great War broke out. At the time I am willing to bet he was the toughest guy in all of France, so being the toughest guy in the country Bullard joined the French Foreign Legion. he was fearless in battle, almost unstoppable as he charged across No Man's Land. In 1916, at the Battle of Verdun he was wounded and instead of being like the rest of his French comrades, Bullard picked up he rifle and kept firing at the enemy. For his bravery he was awarded the Croix de Guerre. After sticking it to the Germans on the ground Bullard was transferred to the Lafayette Flying Corps this way he could reign terror down from above. In August of 1917 he was assigned to the 93rd Spad Squadron, and becomes the first African American fighter pilot ever to take to the sky. Once in the sky he was a nightmare for the Germans. Everytime they thought they had him he'd somehow escape. He seemed to hit everything that moved too. He flew 20 different combat missions and is credited with taking down 2 German planes. It was because of his bravery in on ground, his skill in the cockpit and his imposing persona that he was nicknamed the Black Swallow of Death. I know it is the most awesomest nickname ever. A guy named Eugene is the Black Swallow of Death.
By the fall of 1917 the U.S. had entered the war. The U.S. Army Air Service was plucking the best pilots from the British & French ranks. Bullard was the best and he passed the medical exam which should have cleared him to fly and continue blasting Red Baron wanna bes out of the sky. Unfortunately, that smug known as racism that is dotted across American History reared its ugly head. Bullard was "overlooked" or in other words, not allowed because he wasn't a Caucasian. But that didn't deter Bullard, he the Black Swallow of Death, you think racism scared him? He kept fight for the French and racked up more street cred as being the toughest guy flying over the trenches. However, in January of 1918, Bullard was involved in an altercation with a French officer. Naturally, Bullard beat the croissants out of him but because of the fight he was transferred back to the infantry, never to fly again. He stayed in the war until Armistice Day and was always held in the highest of regards amongst his fellow soldiers.
After the war the Black Swallow stayed in Paris and did what any average retired fighter pilot would do, he opened a night club. While living in Paris and rubbing elbows with the likes of Louie Armstrong, Josephine Baker, Langston Hughes and fellow pilot Charles Nungesser, Bullard found love. He married the daughter of a French Countess and they had two beautiful daughters. The club, Le Grand Duc, was one of the hottest spots in Paris. At the out break of WWII, Bullard spied on Germans who visited his club. However, once the Germans invaded France, Bullard picked up his family and made a run for Spain. But don't think he didn't stick it to the Germans one more time. He joined a group of French soldiers that were defending Orléans. Unfortunately, Bullard was hit and suffered a spinal injury. He returned home to the states in July of 1940 and recovered from his injuries in New York.
Bullard never found the fame he had in Paris in New York. The Black Swallow of Death was unknown outside of France which is a shame, since he was a true American hero. Bullard worked odd jobs to support his family, from a perfume sales rep to an interpreter for his old friend Louie Armstrong. Once the dust settled from World War II, Bullard wanted to go back to his nightclub in Paris. The club had been leveled during the war, probably because the Germans were terrified of his return. He did receive a settlement from the French government, as because they to were afraid of him, and he used that money t buy a home in Harlem. Bullard's life from here on out was that of most African Americans, a time of uncertainty. For example, Bullard was attacked during the Peekskill Riots, a riot started ironically by the Veterans of Foreign Wars & the American Legion. The reason, Paul Robeson was performing to benefit the Civil Rights Congress, but Robeson was considered a pinko commie, so obviously the right thing for them to do was to attack innocent concert goers. By the 1950s, the Black Swallow was not even a memory, practically an unknown hero in his own country, even in his own neighborhood.
In 1954, Bullard was invited back to France to light the Tomb of the Unknown Solider. Because of this The Black Swallow's exploits during the war were made aware to those in the states. He was paraded around France and under the Arc de Triomphe. Later in 1959, he was made a Chevalier, in the Legion d'honneur. Bullard would die of stomach cancer in October of 1961. He received a full military funeral and is buried in the French War Veterans' section of Flushing Cemetery in Queens. Bullard was one of the greatest heroes of WWI. He never shied away from a fight, never afraid during a battle or while flying through the sky. A man who was practically indestructible, bullets, grenades, bombs, nothing seemed to be able to stop him. His actions during battle were the stuff of legend. he was a successful business man. But more importantly a good husband and father. Bullard is the kind of guy we should still look up to today. The Black Swallow of Death, he once terrorized the skies, would party all night long, and love his family. The word hero is often used incorrectly when referring to some people, but when calling Eugene Bullard a hero is a understateme.