Kiffin Rockwell
Kiffin Yates Rockwell was an early aviator whose major claim to fame is as the first American to shoot down an enemy aircraft in World War I. (See also Stephen W. Thompson
Stephen W. Thompson
Stephen W. Thompson was an American aviator of World War I, and the first person in the U.S. Military to shoot down an enemy aircraft .-Early life:...


On May 18, 1916, Rockwell attacked and shot down a German aircraft over the Alsace
Alsace is the fifth-smallest of the 27 regions of France in land area , and the smallest in metropolitan France. It is also the seventh-most densely populated region in France and third most densely populated region in metropolitan France, with ca. 220 inhabitants per km²...

 battlefield. For this action he was awarded the Medaille Militaire
Médaille militaire
The Médaille militaire is a decoration of the French Republic which was first instituted in 1852.-History:The creator of the médaille was the emperor Napoléon III, who may have taken his inspiration in a medal issued by his father, Louis Bonaparte, King of Holland...

 and the Croix de Guerre
Croix de guerre
The Croix de guerre is a military decoration of France. It was first created in 1915 and consists of a square-cross medal on two crossed swords, hanging from a ribbon with various degree pins. The decoration was awarded during World War I, again in World War II, and in other conflicts...



Rockwell was born in Newport, Tennessee
Newport, Tennessee
Newport is a city in Cocke County, Tennessee, United States. The population was 7,242 at the 2000 census. It is the county seat of Cocke County.-Geography:...

 in 1892, the son of Baptist minister James Rockwell and wife Loula Ayres. After James Rockwell's death, the family moved several times, eventually settling in Asheville, North Carolina
Asheville, North Carolina
Asheville is a city in and the county seat of Buncombe County, North Carolina, United States. It is the largest city in Western North Carolina, and the 11th largest city in North Carolina. The City is home to the United States National Climatic Data Center , which is the world's largest active...

. Rockwell briefly attended Washington and Lee University
Washington and Lee University
Washington and Lee University is a private liberal arts college in Lexington, Virginia, United States.The classical school from which Washington and Lee descended was established in 1749 as Augusta Academy, about north of its present location. In 1776 it was renamed Liberty Hall in a burst of...

 at Lexington, Virginia
Lexington, Virginia
Lexington is an independent city within the confines of Rockbridge County in the Commonwealth of Virginia. The population was 7,042 in 2010. Lexington is about 55 minutes east of the West Virginia border and is about 50 miles north of Roanoke, Virginia. It was first settled in 1777.It is home to...

 (where there is a plaque in Lee Chapel in his memory) and the Virginia Military Institute
Virginia Military Institute
The Virginia Military Institute , located in Lexington, Virginia, is the oldest state-supported military college and one of six senior military colleges in the United States. Unlike any other military college in the United States—and in keeping with its founding principles—all VMI students are...


At the outbreak of World War I, Kiffin Rockwell and his brother, Paul, offered their services to France by letter to the French Consul-General in New Orleans. Without waiting for a reply, they boarded the 'St Paul', and on 7 August 1914 sailed for Europe.

Kiffin Rockwell was shot through the leg on 9 May 1915 when his regiment charged La Targette, north of Arras
Arras is the capital of the Pas-de-Calais department in northern France. The historic centre of the Artois region, its local speech is characterized as a Picard dialect...

. He spent six weeks in the hospital
and when he left for Paris on convalescent leave, his leg was completely healed. He spent time with his brother, Paul, who was a war correspondent with the Chicago Daily News.

On 26 May 1916, during the defense
Battle of Verdun
The Battle of Verdun was one of the major battles during the First World War on the Western Front. It was fought between the German and French armies, from 21 February – 18 December 1916, on hilly terrain north of the city of Verdun-sur-Meuse in north-eastern France...

 of Verdun
Verdun is a city in the Meuse department in Lorraine in north-eastern France. It is a sub-prefecture of the department.Verdun is the biggest city in Meuse, although the capital of the department is the slightly smaller city of Bar-le-Duc.- History :...

, Rockwell was wounded in the face, during combat with an enemy airplane. He had become a pilot in the recently formed Lafayette Escadrille
Lafayette Escadrille
The Lafayette Escadrille , was an escadrille of the French Air Service, the Aéronautique militaire, during World War I composed largely of American volunteer pilots flying fighters.-History:Dr. Edmund L...


On 23 September 1916, during a battle high in the air with a German two-manned plane, Rockwell was shot through the chest by an explosive bullet and killed instantly. His plane crashed between the first and second line French trenches, close to the point where his first kill, some 4 months earlier had also come to earth. Rockwell was only the second American airman to die in combat.

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