About 60 people gathered at Wharton Brook State Park in Wallingford on Saturday, Oct. 22, to honor the memory of Maj. Gervais Raoul Lufbery, ace World War I fighter pilot, as the sign renaming the road connecting I-91 and Route 5 in Wallingford (Exit 13 off of I-91) was officially unveiled.
Several members of the Lufbery family attended the ceremony, as well as many area veterans and other interested onlookers.
Despite the fact that a street, a municipal park, and VFW Post 591 bear Lufbery’s name in Wallingford, the in the Great War are largely unknown to the vast majority of Connecticut’s residents. However, thanks to the lobbying efforts of Post 591 Commander Robertson "Doc" Sheehy, veteran Bob Maloney of Middlefield, and Lufbery family members, state Rep. Mary Mushinsky of Wallingford sponsored legislation that will help raise public awareness of Lufbery’s achievements.
In recounting Raoul Lufbery's personal history at the ceremony, Rep. Mushinsky noted that he was the son of Wallingford native Edward Lufbery and a French woman. Born in France in 1885, Raoul Lufbery spent much of his early life there with his maternal grandmother. However, at the age of 19, he arrived in Wallingford, where he spent about two years working in a silver factory before joining the United States Army, thereby gaining his American citizenship. A chance encounter in the Philippines with barnstorming French aviator Mark Pourpe, however, was to change his life forever.
Lufbery became Pourpe’s mechanic and learned about flying under his tutelage. When World War I broke out in August of 1914, Pourpe and Lufbery joined the French aviation corps. Vowing revenge upon the Germans after Pourpe’s untimely death in 1914, Lufbery became a fighter pilot. He was officially credited with shooting down 17 German aircraft, though many believe he actually shot down as many as 42. America’s best-known aviator in the Great War, Captain Eddie Rickenbacker, said of Lufbery: "Everything I learned, I learned from Lufbery."
Maj. Lufbery died 93 years ago last May when his plane was shot down by a German Albatross gunner near the French village of Maron. With his plane ablaze, Lufbery fell or jumped from it, falling several hundred feet and impaling himself on a farmer’s picket fence. His body is interred in Paris near the Lafayette Escadrille Memorial in Paris — a place of great honor.
Rep. Mushinsky spearheaded the legislative effort to have State Road 702 — the connector between Route 5 and I-91 in Wallingford — designated the "Major Gervais Raoul Lufbery Highway." The successful passage of Public Act 11-256 last summer by the legislature brought the honor to fruition. In addition, Rep. Mushinsky noted that last July the state of Connecticut bestowed the Connecticut Veteran’s War Service Medal to Lufbery’s family — 93 years after the war ended. Furthermore, she noted that the United States military had belatedly awarded Lufbery the Purple Heart in 2005.
Speaking on behalf of the Lufbery family, Bob Stickle of Avon, CT, voiced thanks for the "collective dedication" of many individuals who worked with Rep. Mushinsky to insure that Maj. Lufbery was properly honored. He also noted that the U.S. Air Force Academy annually bestows the Major Raoul Lufbery Award to the top foreign-language student in its graduating class. In addition, he noted that Lufbery is a member of the United States Aviation Hall of Fame. After introducing several members of the Lufbery family, he acknowledged his 103-year-old mother-in-law, Marie Germain Lufbery, the oldest living relative of the great aviator. She is Maj. Lufbery’s niece.
Following the ceremony at Wharton Brook, VFW Post 591 in Wallingford — the "Major Raoul Lufbery Post" — hosted a reception in honor of the major. The Wallingford Historical Society generously displayed a wide variety of Lufbery memorabilia, including a piece of his airplane and a thick scrapbook donated to the society in 1919 by Edward Lufbery, father of the fallen hero.
Though it took many years to accomplish, Connecticut and the federal government eventually have come to acknowledge what the French people have known for many decades: that Maj. Raoul Lufbery was a significant hero during World War I. Many Connecticut drivers will now be reminded of this fact.
Editor's Note: Philip Devlin receives recognition from Lufbery family and state Rep. Mary Muchinsky here.