could never obtain a pilot's license. But on May 15, 1917 Gene won that bet and the coveted wings of a French fighter pilot.
When World War One was over, he became a drummer in a jazz band at Zelli's night club but he was also their artistic director. On July 17, 1923, Eugene Bullard married a French girl, Marcelle Henirette Straumann. (She was 22 and he was 28). They had two daughters, Jaqueline and Lolita, and one son, Eugene Jr. (He died after six months of double pneumonia.)
Bullard bought a night club called the "Le Grand Duc" and it became very popular. Well known celebrities who patronized his night club were: Sophie Tucker, Charles Chaplin, Edward G. Robinson, and Gloria Swanson. Louis Armstrong and Eugene Bullard were real pals. Even the Prince of Wales, Edward Windsor, who gave up his throne as King of England in 1936 was a popular visitor and also a good jazz drummer.
Gene Bullard had one big flaw, he had a "trigger temper." He was ready to fight at the drop of a hat. This caused him to be shot in the lower abdomen in 1936. The doctors believed his wound was so serious that he would die shortly. But Gene amazed everyone by recovering completely.
In 1939 Hitler was preparing to make his big move. Gene was recruited into the French military counter-intelligence service. (He became a spy for France.) Soon after Germany declared war on France, Gene went back to his old World War One infantry unit. Once again he became a machine gunner, this time at the age of 44. but after just three days of fighting, June 15-18, 1940, Bullard was wounded again.
Concussion from an artillery shell blew him clear across a street. Gene hit a wall so hard he received a split and misaligned vertebra in his spine. The closest French hospital that had not been captured by German troops was far away in Angouleme, France so Gene, in great pain, had to hitch-hike almost 300 miles.
His plans were to flee Europe because he would be executed if captured by the racist Germans. (For he was black, a French hero of World War One, and a French Intelligence Agent.) To escape Gene had to travel through Southern France, all across Spain and onto the seaport city of Lisbon, Portugal. Awaiting there was an American steamship, the SS Manhattan. The skipper, U.S. Navy Commander, G.V. Richardson, was ordered there to pick up 700 American refugees. So ...on July 12, 1940, Gene sailed away, bound for New York City. He was saying good-bye to his beloved Paris forever.
The French considered Bullard a great war hero. He was decorated with fifteen medals, including the highest, the "Chevalier De La Legion." In English this meant Gene had became a French Knight, France's first black Knight. Years later he was invited back to Paris to re-light the eternal flame on the tomb of the unknown soldier. (Which the Germans had extinguished).
One of Gene's last jobs was a humble elevator operator in Rockefeller Center. Eugene Jacques Bullard passed away on October 12, 1961 of cancer. He was a very remarkable person who had to fight racial prejudice all his life. (I believe he succeeded).
Eugene Bullard: Black Expatriate in Jazz-Age Paris by Craig Lloyd
The Greatest War Stories Never Told by Rick Beyer