William Augustus Wellman - N.87 escadrille in the Lafayette Flying Corps

Discussion in 'World War 1' started by liverpool annie, May 23, 2009.

  1. liverpool annie

    liverpool annie New Member

    William Augustus Wellman was an American movie director, noted for directing the film which received the first Academy Award for Best Picture, Wings (1927). Throughout his long career, during which Wellman helmed over 80 films, he was a prolific director of crime, adventure and action films, often focusing on aviation themes, a particular passion. He also directed several acclaimed satirical comedies.

    Wellman's father, Arthur Gouverneur Wellman, was a New England Brahmin of English-Welsh-Scottish and Irish descent. William was a great-great-great grandson of Francis Lewis of New York, one of the signatories to the Declaration of Independence. His much beloved mother was an Irish immigrant named Cecilia McCarthy.

    Wellman was kicked out of Newton High School in Newton Highlands, Massachusetts, for dropping a stink bomb on the principal's head. Ironically, his mother was a probation officer who was asked to address Congress on the subject of juvenile delinquency. Wellman worked as a salesman and then at a lumber yard, before ending up playing professional ice hockey, which is where he was first seen by Douglas Fairbanks, who suggested that with Wellman's good looks he could become a film actor.

    During World War I Wellman enlisted in the Norton-Harjes Ambulance Corps as an ambulance driver. While in Paris, Wellman joined the French Foreign Legion and was assigned in 3 December 1917 as a fighter pilot and the first American to join N.87 escadrille in the Lafayette Flying Corps (not the sub-unit Lafayette Escadrille as usually stated), where he earned himself the nickname "Wild Bill" and received the Croix de Guerre with two palms. N.87, les Chats Noir (Black Cat Group) was stationed at Lunéville in the Alsace-Lorraine sector and was equipped with Nieuport 17 and later Nieuport 24 "pursuit" aircraft. Wellman's combat experience culminated in three recorded "kills", along with five probables, although he was ultimately shot down. Wellman survived the crash but he walked with a pronounced limp for the rest of his life.

    After the Armistice, Wellman returned to the United States, wrote a book about his exploits (with the help of a ghostwriter), and joined the United States Army Air Service. Stationed at Rockwell Field, San Diego, he taught combat tactics to new pilots.

    William Wellman died in 1975 of leukemia. He was cremated, and his ashes were scattered at sea.


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