McConnell Marker Planned
A highway historic marker recognizing World War I hero James Rogers McConnell will be unveiled during a Memorial Day ceremony in Carthage.
The Carthage Historic Committee's application for the marker beat out almost 150 competitors for six of the markers approved this year by the N.C. Department of Cultural Resources, according to Bert Patrick, committee vice president and chairwoman of the McConnell Day observance.
McConnell was a resident of Carthage in 1915, when he enlisted in the French Army, some two years before the United States entered World War I. He was killed in aerial combat with two German aircraft and is buried in France.
"James McConnell was a great man, and the people of Carthage are proud of him," Patrick said.
Because of McConnell's special place in Moore County history, this year's Memorial Day observance will be moved to Carthage, and all veterans are being encouraged to attend the ceremony. George Hunt, county veterans' service officer, is coordinating this aspect of the arrangements.
Retired Air Force Gen. William Thurman, of Pinehurst, will be the keynote speaker. Carthage Mayor Ronnie Fields will be master of ceremonies. The Union Pines High School Junior ROTC will participate, and Greg Pilson will sing the national anthem.
Roland Gilliam, a pilot and owner of a private airfield named in honor of McConnell, will also speak during the May 25 event.
Patrick said the marker will be erected on McReynolds Street across from the McDonald Building and in front of the former Town Hall building. McConnell memorabilia will be displayed in the old municipal building.
The Carthage Town Board of Commissioners has been asked to adopt a proclamation establishing May 25 as James Rogers McConnell Day. This is on the agenda for the April board meeting.
McConnell was not a Carthage native, but his family later moved to Carthage from New York City, where his father had served as a judge. After dropping out of law school at the University of Virginia, McConnell returned to Carthage and worked as land and industrial agent for the Seaboard Air Line Railway and served as secretary of the Carthage Board of Trade.
After war broke out in Europe, McConnell joined the American Ambulance Corps, then resigned to join the French military. He was a founder of the LaFayette Escadrille, a celebrated squadron of American flyers serving in the French Army.
On March 19, 1917, he was killed in aerial combat with two German planes at the Somme battlefields, near the village of Flavy-le-Martel, Aisne. He is said to be the last American pilot to die under French colors before the United States entered the conflict a month later.
The French government presented the town of Carthage with the obelisk monument that faces west on Courthouse circle. The tall monument says that McConnell "fought for humanity, liberty and democracy, lighted the way for his countrymen and showed all men how to dare nobly and to die gloriously." It shares the courthouse grounds with a monument to President Andrew Johnson, who also once lived in Carthage.
On the campus of the University of Virginia at Charlottesville stands another dramatic monument honoring McConnell. This sculpture, titled "The Aviator," is the work of Gutzon Borglum, the artist of Mount Rushmore fame.
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