Everyday several thousand cars traveling north and south on Ossining’s Rt. 9 pass a white frame two-story building that is the home of American Legion Post 506 that also bears the name, Edmond C.C. Genet.
It’s a safe bet to say that most of the drivers and even the pedestrians who pass the building ever give a second thought to this modest structure. Even fewer know of the wartime exploits of Edmund Charles Clinton Genet and his ancestors, whose service to the United States goes back for five generations.
Genet was the great great grandson of Edmond-Charles Genet, also known as Citizen Genet, the French Ambassador to the United States shortly before the French Revolution. He is historically remembered for being the cause of an international incident known as the Citizen Genet Affair.
When the First World War broke out in Europe, Edmond C.C. Genet was one of a number of Americans with French ancestral roots who strongly felt that France needed them in the fight to save her from German occupation. Some perhaps went because they wanted to repay America’s debt to the nation that had given so much blood and treasure to America’s independence. Since enlistment in a regular French military unit was not permitted, men like Genet joined the one French military unit that welcomed them, no questions asked, – the “Legion Etrangere” aka, the Foreign Legion.
Edmond Charles Clinton Genet was born in Ossining, New York, on the 9th of November, 1896 and lived at 164 Spring Street. He was educated in local public schools and at Mount Pleasant Military Academy. When he was sixteen his father his father died any young Edmund went to work at the nearby “Chilmark Dairy,” owned by V. Everit Macy, to help support his family. Macy was so impressed with his work ethic that he helped secure the necessary congressional recommendation to the Naval Academy at Annapolis.
Unfortunately, Genet failed the math portion of the exam and enlisted instead in the Navy at the Brooklyn Naval Shipyard, in order to get another chance at the exam as an enlisted man with a year of service. He then served in a contingent of armed sailors who participated in a landing party at Vera Cruz, Mexico on April 14, 1914. Subsequently, in mid-August, his ship was ordered to Haiti to support a U.S. Marine landing on that island and he spent several fairly uneventful weeks in Port-Au-Prince.
When his ship returned to the U.S. in late October however, the War in Europe was heating up and he was determined to abandon the Navy and join the French Legion. In early February, 1915, he enlisted and, after a brief training period, was sent to the Champagne sector of the front where the Legionnaires suffered high numbers of casualties.
Genet survived, and was praised for his heroism by the French officers who commanded the Legion. Then in October he applied for a transfer to the French Aviation Service, passed a physical examination, and was accepted for flight training in May, 1916, in France’s “Escadrille Américaine.” The name was later changed to “Escadrille Lafayette” (America was still officially neutral).
New York was well-represented in the Escadrille Lafayette, and of these, three (including Genet) were from Westchester County. One of these was Dudley Hill a resident of Peekskill and a graduate of Peekskill Military Academy. He joined the Lafayette Escadrille in June, 1916 and when the Escadrille was absorbed into the U.S. Air Service, Hill became the commanding officer of the 5th Pursuit Group. He died in 1951 at his home in Peekskill. The other was Thomas Hewitt, who listed his address only as Westchester, New York.
During his service with the Escadrille, Caporal Pilote-aviateur Genet flew numerous combat patrols into German territory but as far as is known, he did not down any enemy aircraft. It has been said he earned the admiration and respect of his fellow airman for his flying skills and daring.
His death came on the afternoon of April 16, 1917 while on patrol with Raoul Lufbery, the Escadrille’s ace from Wallingford, CT.
Lufbery watched as German antiaircraft fire bracketed Genet’s plane. Edmond Genet banked the craft as if headed for home. Lufbery then lost sight of him in the clouds and discovered that Genet had never made it home on his return to his airfield.
French infantrymen who saw that Genet’s plane had gone down said it went into a tailspin with the engine at full throttle. In the downward plunge, a wing tore off and the plane buried itself in the road within French lines. Apparently, Genet had been wounded by shrapnel from the antiaircraft shells and had lost consciousness at the controls.
A fellow pilot, Ted Parsons later wrote, “He had dug a hole five feet deep in the hard-packed road. The tank was a flat piece of metal, the wheels were ribbons, and there wasn’t a piece of wing or framework bigger than a match. Every bone in his body was broken and his features were completely gone.” It’s said that when his remains were prepared for interment, the mortician found that Genet had wrapped an American flag around his body and it served as his burial shroud.
Edmond Charles Clinton Genet’s remains are entombed in a crypt in a monument located in the Paris suburbs at I Villeneuve l’Etang. It was dedicated on July 4, 1928 to honor the dead American fliers who served in the French Aviation Service in the First World War. He is believed to be the first American aviator killed in action after the entry of the U.S. into the war.
Photos from above: Genet as a Legionnaire; Gun-carriage bearing the body of Genet; and Genet’s funeral, from the book The War Letters of Edmund Genet.