Holyoke Man Saw Service in Lafayette Escadrille

by Laurel | August 21st, 2014

23 August 1936

Lieut Alfred Paganini

Lieut Alfred Paganini

Lieut. Alfred Paganini, Now Chauffeur for William Skinner,
Was Enrolled by Quentin Roosevelt — Was Racing Auto Driver

Holyoke, Aug 27 — Echoes of the American Legion convention in nearby Springfield man arouse memories, some clear cut, some vague of the great World conflict in the heart and mind of Alfred Paganini who now as chauffeur for William Skinner leads a quiet life compared with 20 years ago when as a member of the famous Lafayette Escadrille he had plenty of exciting experiences.

Sitting in the Skinner garage the other day, ruddy of face, hair slightly tinges with gray, modest and quiet in demeanor he spoke quietly of some of his exploits. Like other men who have been down into the valley of death overseas, he takes no pleasure in recalling the old days; rather he hesitates about telling of them unless pressed. Outside of the annual dinner meetings of the 1st Aero Squadron to which he belongs he seldom speaks of his adventures, either as a racing driver for several years or as an aviator in the war.

“If I come across a group of men and they begin to talk of the World War, I walk away,” he said.

Lieut. Paganini — to give him his military title in the war when he was aviator — he just missed receiving a commission as captain by three days before he was to have received it — was born in Paris and of course speaks French fluently. That was one reason why after the war when the late Miss Belle Skinner was looking for a chauffeur she chose him, his fine record and quiet efficiency also county, no doubt.

Was Racing Auto Driver

When 14 years old he left Paris for England and as he worked around garages and shops where places were made he must have developed no little mechanical ingenuity as well as shown ability in handling motor engines. He doesn’t say anything about it; in fact only by questioning can he be induced to say anything. At any rate, the Panhard people took him on, and we find him driving their racing cars; so well did he perform that in 1904 he won the James Gordon Bennett cup in an auto race. He kept right on racing however; and the Panhard people thought so much of him that they sent him to Australia to demonstrate the Panhards there three years later. He helped establish agencies in Sydney and Melbourne; and after he returned he was taken on by Alfred Vanderbilt as his own driver and mechanic — a position he retained for eight years.

Then came the war; and to Mr. Paganini from his experiences in handling motor engines it was but a step to handing airplane engines. It was at the Mineola field in long Island that he got his training and subsequently joined the 1st United States Aero Squadron and with it went to France.

Enrolled by Quentin

Of general interest is his being enrolled in the Lafayette Escadrille by Quentin Roosevelt, son of President Theodore Roosevelt, who later was shot down in action in the war. He was a companion of Quentin for eight months and loved him. He himself did not see Quentin fall to his death.

Asked if he brought down any German places and he he admitted to three. He did not want to talk much about that either.

Injured at Verdun

“Were you ever injured in action?” he was asked.

“Yes, I had a shoulder crushed at Verdun,” he said. “February 4, 1918, the 18 planes of the Escadrille started at 4 in the morning for a flight over the German lines. We had not proceeded far before we met a flock of German Fokkers. There was then a fight in midair. Three of the German planes went down in smoking, flaming ruin and four of our planes. After the dog fight was over I started back. I suddenly found that the German Fokkers were hot on my trail. I was then over French territory. I side-slipped and crashed in a forest where I remained 38 hours with a smashed shoulder before I was found by some of the French fighters. I was laid up for 10 weeks in the Chateau Rou hospital.”

Following this experience he was detailed after recovery as instructor in the Eonspudon flying field for six months and then sent to Chateau Thierry. after the war ended they wished him to continue; but as he would not be placed five years on the reserves. After this he gave up flying and was engaged by the Skinners as their chauffeur; a position he has held since. He married a Holyoke girl, Edna (noted in city directories as Odna) Moreau, last year.

Adapted from The Springfield Republican.

[Editorial Note: Alfred Paganini is a mystery if for no reason because of the lack of available information about him. An unusual name, there are few records that connect him to what is discussed in this article — winning the 1904 James Gordon Bennett Cup, for example, which was actually won by Léon Théry. At the same time there are elements of truth about it. I believe he was definitely in the military, as represented by the image copied below.   A mystery for someone inclined to research. I would not want to say Paganini’s story is a complete fabrication, but at the same time it needs some serious verification. It seems Pagnini died around 1950, though verification of this, too, is elusive.]

Record of Alfred Paganini

Record of Alfred Paganini

Source of above record: New York (State). Adjutant General’s Office. Abstracts of World War I Military Service, 1917–1919. Series B0808. New York State Archives, Albany, New York.

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