MAXWELL AIR FORCE BASE, Ala. --
On the eve of the air show at Maxwell, leadership from the U.S. Air Force and French Air Force, along with River Region partners, gathered in Montgomery’s Oakwood Cemetery, to pay tribute to their predecessors who made the ultimate sacrifice during World War II, April 7th, 2017.
Every year, British Royal Air Force, French and Canadian officers studying at Air University take the Sunday before Veterans Day to honor their fallen comrades who died in the “Heart of Dixie" during flight training in the 1940’s.
“Yesterday, our pilots flew the red, white and blue colors of our flags over the first World War memorial, celebrating the entry of the United States into the Great War,” said French Air Force Chief of Staff General André Lanata. “This flight is also a sign of continuing friendship, and our deepest gratitude for the Americans fighting by our side. Of those who gave the ultimate sacrifice, 2005 of those came from Alabama. Private Robert Prichard, from Camden, Alabama, was killed on French fronts on the last day of the war. The sacrifice of Private Prichard is a reminder of the intimate bond between France and the United States, France and Alabama, and France and Montgomery.”
Lanata continued, expressing that France has never forgotten that the United States has always swiftly stood by their side in times of need.
From June 1941 to February 1943, over 7,800 young Royal Air Force airmen came to flight schools in Alabama, Georgia and Florida to receive flight training from the U.S. Army Air Forces. By November 1945, over 4,000 Frenchmen followed their British comrades to the U.S. for training. During that time, 63 French military members died in training in the United States. The 20 flight cadets who died in flight training accidents are buried at Oakwood Cemetery.
“We are so grateful for this friendship and this partnership,” said Montgomery’s mayor, Todd Strange. “In 1983, I had the privilege of being on the cliffs of Normandy with my family. We looked in awe as to what the troops had to deal with. That was the beginning of the end. Having this air show is another symbol, much like the Statue of Liberty, representing the significance of this relationship. Today is a great day as we honor those that gave it all in the pursuit of freedom. Let freedom ring.”
Along with officers from the U.S. and French air forces, the Patrouille de France paid their respects to their country’s aviation pioneers. The team will be performing along with the USAF Air Demonstration Squadron, the Thunderbirds, along with many other acts to commemorate the 100-year anniversary of the U.S. entry into WWI and a century of airpower April 8th and 9th at Maxwell Air Force Base.