On June 28, 2009, Issoudun, France held a very special USAS World War I commemoration of the friendship and bonds between the United States and France. The event, envisioned, organized and executed by French historian Bernard Gagnepain, marked the 90th Anniversary of the closing of the United States Air Service's 3rd Aviation Instruction Center at Issoudun.
During World War I, the 3rd Aviation Instruction Center was the largest overseas American air base and spanned approximately 50 square miles spanning multiple airfields and the cemetery. It was the primary location for training all American fighter pilots and also many of the pilots of the other areas of combat aviation. All front line fighter pilots including Eddie Rickenbacker, Frank Luke and Quentin Roosevelt trained here. Issoudun's importance to American combat aviation cannot be underestimated.
By the time of the Armistice, 766 pursuit pilots had completed their training at Issoudun, of whom 139 were retained at Issoudun as testers, staff pilots and instructors. The remaining 627 were sent to the Zone of Advance. The school's first graduate was Eddie Rickenbacker. Hamilton Coolidge, who would go on to shoot down eight German planes was the fifth graduate and Quentin Roosevelt was seventh. 171 Americans died here in training accidents which is similar to the number shot down and killed by the Germans.
The June 28, 2009 date corresponds to the 90th anniversary of the departure of the American Expeditionary Force after the signing of the Treaty of Versailles of 1919. The departure was on June 28, 1919. The hangars were abandoned. The barracks were mostly recycled to help rebuild other buildings damaged by the war. And soon almost nothing was left of the American presence. Eventually the 15 foot concrete monument was raised at the cemetery at Volvault, next to the hamlet of Voeu, itself part of the larger village of Paudy. At its base were bronze plaques with the names of all of the Americans who died in training at Issoudun.
Volvault monument prior to restoration.
French historian Bernard Gagnepain was the head organizer who sought all funding for the new plaque at the Volvault Monument. It is unclear what businesses participated in financing this new addition, but vetrans and history lovers alike praise the generous funding. Now on June 28, 2009, a new plaque was unveiled at the Volvault Monument honoring the American presence at Issoudun reading:
Detail of plaque.
As mentioned previously, the event was organized by French historian Bernard Gagnepain. He is the author of the book "Les Americains a Issoudun" which is a history of the USAS 3rd Aviation Instruction Center (3rd AIC) at Issoudun. In the 1970s, a group of former American USAS personnel visited the site and gave him the last American flag to fly over the base when it was still open. They asked him to keep the flag in storage until a new commemoration could be organized at the monument. He promised them that he would and organized this commemoration in part to honor that promise.
Bernard Gagnepain, his grandson and the granddaughter of the farmers of Volvault pose one of the six flower wreaths at the monument.
Bernard Gagnepain reads the text of the plaque in French.
Nicolas Loverich of the American Legion who is an American living in Issoudun reads the text of the plaque in English. He was once a member of the NATO base at Châteauroux and is married to a French woman.
Issoudun Sous-Prefet Jean-Jacques Narayanswami (back to camera) representing the French government, Andre Laignel - President of the CCPI, Thierry Ledet - mayor of Paudy, and USAF Major William D. Cassida representing the US Ambassador to France, unveil new American and French flags. In the background is the French Air Force band from Bordeaux. The CCPI is Communaute de Communes du Pays d'Issoudun representing Issoudun, Reuilly et Saint-Georges-sur-Arnon, Chârost, Les Bordes, Paudy, Sainte-Lizaigne, Saint-Ambroix, Mareuil, Chezal-Benoît, Segry et Diou et Migny. Andre Laignel is also the former mayor of Issoudun.
Bernard Gagnepain speaks. The blue flag is that of the American legion.
USAF Major Cassida speaks at the podium.
The monument, seen here during the June 28, 2009 ceremony, was restored in 2007.
Bernard Gagnepain at Volvault monument. He holds the flag bequethed to him by the American USAS personnel who last visited the site in the 1970s. He is wearing medals for being a chevalier de la Legion d'Honneur, chevalier de l'Ordre National du Merite, chevalier des Palmes Academiques and an Officier du Merite Agricole. He is the President of the l'Ordre National du Mérite committee of Issoudun.
Many thanks to Monsieur Gagnepain for providing the photos and newspaper clippings on this page as well as a description of the event. All photos on this page are owned by Monsieur Gagnepain and may not be reused without his permission. NOTE: Monsieur Gagnepain is already talking about a ceremony in 2017, so start planning your trip now.
You can buy Mr. Gagnepain's wonderful book "Les Americains a Issoudun" sometimes at www.amazon.com or at www.abebooks.fr.
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Article from Centre France newspaper. Note photo of a small part of 3rd AIC Issoudun from 1918.
Please help us solve the mystery of Issoudun's Madame Berthelot. See Which American aviator was her father?
3rd Aviation Instruction Center
June 28, 2009
Hiram Bingham, Eddie Rickenbacker, Quentin Roosevelt, Frank Luke, Raoul Lufbery, James Meissner, Reed Chambers, Douglas Campbell
Les Americains a Issoudun