deGaulle honors Forgotten Hero

Despite 15 decorations from France for heroism and battlefield injuries in WWI and WWII, Eugene Bullard was ignored in the USA by his home country.

“He had many reasons to resent his native country,” says biographer Craig Lloyd. But Bullard never “gave up his American idealism.”

Wikipedia ….That briefly changed in 1954

… when the French government invited Bullard to Paris to be one of the three men chosen to rekindle the everlasting flame at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier under the Arc de Triomphe.[10]

In 1959, he was made a Chevalier (Knight) of the Légion d’honneur[10] by General Charles de Gaulle, who called Bullard a “véritable héros français” (“true French hero”). He also was awarded the Médaille militaire, another high military distinction.[32]

Then, in 1960, “President-General Charles de Gaulle of France, while visiting New York City, publically and internationally embraced Eugene Bullard as a true French hero…”


Foreign Legion




[They never knew who they were sharing an elevator with] … an American who had been smack in the middle of the most dramatic twists and turns of the 20th century. Bullard was a boxer, World War I fighter pilot, Paris nightclub owner and World War II resistance fighter. He escaped the Gestapo and was beaten by police at a civil-rights demonstration. But even for many years after his death, his legacy remained that of an unnoticed, forgotten elevator operator.

Excerpt: Wikipedia

WWI, WWII, and US Peekskill riots.

… caused in part by members of the local Veterans of Foreign Warsand American Legion chapters, who considered Robeson a communist sympathizer.[30] The concert was scheduled to take place on August 27 at Lakeland Acres, north of Peekskill. Before Robeson arrived, however, a mob attacked the concert-goers with baseball bats and stones. Thirteen people were seriously injured before police put an end to it. The concert was then postponed until September 4.[31] The rescheduled concert took place without incident, but as concert-goers drove away, they passed through long lines of hostile locals, who threw rocks through their windshields.

Bullard was among those attacked after the concert. He was knocked to the ground and beaten by an angry mob, which included members of the state and local law enforcement. The attack was captured on film and can be seen in the 1970s documentary The Tallest Tree in Our Forest and the Oscar-winning documentary narrated by Sidney Poitier, Paul Robeson: Tribute to an Artist. None of the assailants was ever prosecuted. Graphic pictures of Bullard being beaten by two policemen, a state trooper, and a concert goer were published in Susan Robeson’s biography of her grandfather, The Whole World in His Hands: a Pictorial Biography of Paul Robeson.[30]


After the war Bullard remained in France, where he worked in a nightclub called Zelli’s in the Montmartre district of Paris, owned a nightclub (Le Grand Duc) and an American-style bar (L’Escadrille), operated an athletic club, and married a French woman, Marcelle de Straumann. During this time Bullard rubbed elbows with notables like Langston Hughes, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Josephine Baker.

By the late 1930s, however, the clouds of war began to change Bullard’s life dramatically. Even before World War II officially began in 1939, Bullard became involved in espionage activities against French fifth columnists who supported the Nazis. When war came he enlisted as a machine gunner in the 51st Infantry Regiment, and was severely wounded by an exploding artillery shell. Fearing capture by the Nazis, he made his way to Spain, Portugal, and eventually the United States, settling in the Harlem district of New York City.

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In the epilogue of Eugene Bullard, Black Expatriate in Jazz-Age Paris (Athens: Univ. of Georgia Press, 2000), Craig Lloyd points out …:

The contrast between Eugene Bullard’s unrewarding years of toil and trouble early and late in life in the United States and his quarter-century of much-heralded achievement in France illustrates dramatically … the crippling disabilities imposed on the descendants of Americans of African ancestry … .”

Except from

… During the second World War Eugene Bullard agreed to serve France again as a spy. He was very successful at this endeavor because the Germans didn’t think that African Americans were capable of understanding German and Eugene spoke English, German and French. While serving in this capacity he occasionally worked with the famous French spy Cleopatra Terrier.

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