Carthage Votes to Move McConnell Marker
Carthage will move its McConnell Memorial from the grounds of the old Town Hall to a new plot at a local airfield.
A bronze tablet sent from France to honor pioneer fighter pilot James Rogers McConnell graces the stone monument. Many who passed by and saw it in the middle of the grassy lawn on N.C. 24-27 thought it referred to the stone building behind it, a Depression-era youth project dedicated by Eleanor Roosevelt.
In fact, the bronze marker bears an inscription from France paying tribute to McConnell, one of the founders of World War I's Lafayette Escadrille. He was the last American volunteer air combat fighter for France to lose his life before the United States entered what was then known as "The Great War."
Roland Gilliam, who described himself as "a history buff" at Tuesday's Town Board meeting, has long wanted to move that memorial to his airfield. A popular barbecue restaurant - the Pik N Pig - has brought private pilots flocking to land in Carthage for lunch at Gilliam-McConnell "International" Air Field.
Gilliam said he had no financial interest whatsoever in the proposed move and that it would, in fact, cost him a considerable sum. He said his only interest was that more people realize the contribution made by McConnell in sacrificing his own life defending France against invaders.
"If the historical marker by the road had mentioned that monument, I wouldn't have asked to move it," Gilliam told commissioners as they considered the question. "If it had been where people could read it, I wouldn't have asked to move it."
Gilliam told the board on several occasions that he thought far more people would see the monument and understand its significance if it were at the airfield. At earlier meetings, Mary Prevost, a former Carthage resident, had opposed the move. She did not appear at Monday's session.
After some discussion of the terms, the board voted unanimously to let Gilliam move the marker out to the airfield on the following conditions:
n Gilliam deeds over the tract of land on which the marker will be located at the airport, along with a deeded easement to the tract, to the town of Carthage.
n He pay the expenses for the professional moving of the marker and repair of existing land.
n He contributes the amount of the moving expenses to the town's general fund to be used to move the marker from the airport to other town property in the future, if needed. If the marker is moved to another town-owned property, the land will be deeded back to Roland Gilliam.
n The airport location will be reviewed by the town board every seven years starting Sept. 21, 2010.
Gilliam will provide a translation of the text and other historical material to go with the marker at its new site.
McConnell wrote an account of his life as one of the first fighter pilots in history in his book "Flying for France," which was published posthumously. Copies are in the Carthage historical museum, and much of its text is available online.
McConnell first volunteered as an ambulance driver for France. He thought that, as Lafayette had come to the aid of the fledgling United States in the Revolutionary War, some Americans ought to go to help France repel the German invasion.
His bravery going again and again into danger to rescue the wounded brought the award of the Croix Daguerre. Later, he joined with other Americans to fight in the air as the "Escadrille Americaine." When the German embassy objected to this being a violation of official U.S. neutrality, McConnell and the other pilots had a simple solution. They changed their name and became the legendary Lafayette Escadrille.
The first Oscar in history for best picture went to an account of their exploits in the silent movie "Wings."
Contact John Chappell at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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