James McConnell historical marker

James McConnell 1887-1917 (K-65)

World War I soldier; aviator. Flew for France in Lafayette Escadrille. Killed in action, March 19, 1917. Lived 1 mi. W.

Location: NC 22/24/27 (McReynolds Street) in Carthage
County: Moore
Original Date Cast: 2008

Four North Carolinians flew for France during World War I. The best known was Kiffin Y. Rockwell of Asheville, who in 1916 became the first American to shoot down a German plane. Along with James R. McConnell of Carthage, Rockwell was a member of the Lafayette Escadrille. James Baugham of Washington (N.C.) and Arthur Bluthenthal of Wilmington were in the Lafayette Flying Corps. The Lafayette Escadrille was the elite squadron of thirty-eight pilots who joined the conflict in 1915 and disbanded in 1918 upon being incorporated into the larger body of American pilots. All 180 Americans who flew for France are considered to have been part of the Flying Corps. The four North Carolinians were among the sixty-five American aviators to die in the war.

James McConnell, born in Chicago in 1887 to a judge and railroad president, was a graduate of a New York prep school and attended the University of Virginia. A free spirit, he entertained family and friends by playing bagpipes, dressed in Scottish regalia. McConnell enlisted on October 1, 1915, one month after Rockwell. He survived his first crash and, while recuperating, wrote Flying for France, an account of his experiences.

McConnell died on March 19, 1917. The U.S. entered the conflict on April 6, 1917. McConnell was awarded posthumously a second Croix de Guerre. In 1919 a statue of McConnell cast by Gutzon Borglum was erected on the Charlottesville campus. At services in Paris and in Carthage, multiple young ladies attended claiming to be his grieving fiancé, two in France and three in North Carolina. A plaque on the grounds of the community building in Carthage was a gift of France.

Misconceptions surround the Lafayette Escadrille. Over the years scores of “ringers” has claimed membership in the elite squadron. Surviving members of the corps were invited to the premiere in of the 1958 William Wellman film by that title but Paul Rockwell of Asheville, brother of Kiffin, organized a boycott and had the film, which he denounced as “low and subversive” for its depiction of the pilots’ after-hours activities, banned in France. A more recent film, Flyboys (2006), includes a character based on Rockwell and McConnell.

James R. McConnell, Flying for France: With the American Aviators in France (1918), digitized at: http://docsouth.unc.edu/wwi/mcconnell/mcconnell.html
Henry E. Mattox, “Chariots of Wrath: North Carolinians who Flew for France in WWI,” North Carolina Historical Review (July 1996): 287-308
Philip M. Flammer, The Vivid Air: The Lafayette Escadrille (1981)

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