Now he’s being remembered for his life, patriotic deeds and the manner of his passing.
Prince is credited with creating the famed Lafayette Escadrille, a group of American volunteer flyers who were part of of the French Air Service during World War I before the U.S. joined the war in 1917.
These are centennial years of World War I, the War to End All Wars, 1914-1918, the war that scarred generations in Europe on both sides. The ramifications shattered the elite governments and countries that ruled before. It remade the Middle East; it created lasting grudges, and it gave aviation a boost in the way for air combat.
Prince was an American aristocrat, a graduate of the elite Groton School and Harvard. He was a lawyer with a passion for aviation that led him to learn to fly when few people would take the risks of early aircraft. His family had an estate in France, and he spoke the language.
In 1915, the second year of the Great War when the U.S. was still neutral, Prince sailed to France and convinced the military and government that he, and other flyers, could aid them against the Germans.
The French agreed. American volunteers flew French Nieuport 11 bi-planes and took heavy casualties, but more volunteers arrived to take their place. In December 1916, they became known as the Lafayette Escadrille.
However two months earlier, Prince had become a casualty. He was returning to his aerodrome after doing escort duty, during which he shot down an enemy plane, another kill. Night had fallen, and as he glided down in the dark, his wheels caught on a wire. The Nieuport flipped, crashed.
Bailey injured, he died two days later.
Prince could have been just another flyer lost in history except for his afterlife. His body was returned to the U.S. and buried in the National Cathedral in Washington D.C. in an elaborate tomb with a near life-size statue, and testaments from two Marshals of France.
Carved on one side of the tomb is “In 1915 Norman Prince and his 267 aviators flew to the help of the Liberty of the world – Foch Marshal of France,” while on the other is “(Norman Prince) has distinguished himself by a bravery and a devotion beyond compare – Joffre – Marshal of France.”
On October 14, 2016 the Washington National Cathedral held a commemoration of his death a century ago. Descendents of his family attended as did the U.S. Air Force Honor Guard, members of the World War I Centennial Commission and Rear Admiral Margaret Grun Kibben, Chief of Chaplains, United States Navy. The tomb was flanked by American and French flags.
Several casual onlookers sat in the nave.
Kibben said that Prince was “America’s son, rough and rowdy,” one of the 16,710 who died in that war among whom are Ernest Hemingway who wrote “A Farewell To Arms” and poet Alan Seeger whose poem “I have a Rendezvous with Death” was invoked at the commemoration. (Seeger was the uncle of noted folk singer Pete Seeger.)
After the main ceremony, the family went into the alcove where the tomb stands to lay a wreath, and prayer given.
“…We humbly beseech thee, O Lord of Hosts, to accept our thanksgiving for all who have fought a good fight and won the crown of victory, especially for your servant Norman Prince…”
The roll call of names of the flyers from the Escadrille was called. Family answered until l Norman Prince’s name rang out.
Silence. A second call. Silence. A third time. Then, the bugler played Taps, filling the cathedral with sorrow.
It was over. The Honor Guard left. The family filed out. The casual watchers left. Prince was left in peace.
In her homily, Kibben said that Norman Prince was one of a generation “committed to the God of their parents.”
His parents are buried in the National Cathedral’s crypt a floor below… almost exactly beneath their son.
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