by Mark M. Trapp
Chicago: System D Publishing, 2019. Pp. xx, 716.
Illus., notes. $30.00 paper. ISBN: 1733171223
Americans Flying for France
Scion of a middle class family with deep roots in the South, in 1914 Kiffin Rockwell (1892–1916) and his solder brother Paul (1889-1985) were among the first – by some accounts the first -- Americans to volunteer to fight for France in 1914. They enlisted in the Foreign Legion. Paul was invalided out of the service in 1915 for wounds. Kiffin was also wounded in action, and after some six weeks in recuperation, became a fighter pilot. He served with other Americans in the Lafayette Escadrille, and was the first American to shoot down an enemy airplane. Later wounded again, he soon resumed flying, and was killed by ground fire during the Battle of Verdun. For his service, Kiffin was awarded the Médaille militaire and the Croix de guerre
Trapp opens this impressive biography with a look at an American family across more than a century and through several wars. He then follows the Rockwell brothers into the ranks, covering in considerable detail their decision to fight, their journey to France, enlistment, training, time on leave and in the line, serving alongside other Americans seeking to repay the nation’s debt to Lafayette. Trapp takes Kiffin through flight training (so brief as to make one marvel at the daring of those young pilots), into the air against the Germans, and through to his death.
The book is full of little profiles of many men and some women, anecdotes and comments on soldiering and flying in the period, and a lot of observations about ordinary life in peace and war. Well-illustrated and profusely documented (notes take up more than a tenth the volume), the principal flaw in this work is the need for some maps and an index.
A Destiny of Undying Greatness is a good read for anyone interested in the Great War in the air, or young men at war, or American life and society from the Gilded Age through the arrival of the Doughboys at the Front in France.
Note: A Destiny of Undying Greatness is also available in several e-editions, and additional material may be found online at undyinggreatness.com.
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