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Exhibit Remembers Kiffin Yates Rockwell, Local WWI Aviator and WNC Resident


As part of North Carolina's statewide celebration of the 100th anniversary of the Wright Brothers' flight, Smith-McDowell House Museum will host a special exhibit, "Kiffin Rockwell and the Lafayette Escadrille," from April 17 through August 24, 2003. Developed by the Museum, this exhibit showcases the important role Kiffin Rockwell and the French Foreign Legion's Lafayette Escadrille played in the advancement of the early days of military aviation.

Kiffin Yates Rockwell, born September 20, 1892, in Newport, Tennessee, moved to Asheville with his widowed mother, older brother, and younger sister in 1906. As a young child, he attended the Orange Street School. Always considered handsome, intelligent, and adventurous by those who knew him, he was well educated, attending Virginia Military Institute and Washington and Lee University before leaving his educational career behind, along with his brother Paul, for a career in advertising in Atlanta.

But adventure was calling, and the family's French roots had always intrigued the brothers. So, when France found itself fighting for its very existence in World War I - prior to the United States' entry into the war - both Kiffin and Paul volunteered for the French Foreign Legion (the legendary French Foreign Legion, still active today, accepts foreign nationals in military service for France). Following service in the trenches with the infantry - during which both Paul and Kiffin received gunshot injuries that required extended recovery - Kiffin, along with six other Americans, formed the Escadrille Americaine, an airplane fighter unit that was later expanded to include thirty-one American aces and renamed the Lafayette Escadrille.

Kiffin Rockwell became an overnight international sensation when he became the first American pilot to shoot down a German airplane in a dogfight in the skies over Alsace, France, on May 18, 1916, only five days after the unit flew its first mission. For his actions, Rockwell was awarded the Medaille Militaire and the Croix de Guirre.

Rockwell was dogged in his pursuit of German enemy planes - in spite of being wounded in the face with an explosive bullet from an enemy airplane on May 26, 1916, he refused treatment in a French hospital and continued to fly.

Unfortunately, Rockwell's remaining days of heroism were few. On September 23, 1916, only four short months after his first enemy engagement, Rockwell was shot and killed over France, only two miles from where he had scored his first enemy kill. He was buried in France two days later with full military honors. He was awarded posthumously the Cross of the Legion of Honor. He was only 24 at the time of his death.

Rockwell family home in Asheville was on Hillside Street, off the west side of Merrimon Avenue. A North Carolina historic sign marks the site.

The Smith-McDowell House Museum is located at 283 Victoria Road in Asheville on the campus of AB Tech. The Museum is open Tuesday through Saturday, 10AM-4PM, and on Sunday from 1-4PM. Admission is $5 adults, $4 seniors and students, and $3 for ages 5-18. Children under 5 are admitted free. For more information, please call the Museum at 828-9231 or visit www.wnchistory.org.



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