AshevilleHendersonvilleNews Stories

Kiffin Rockwell: Asheville’s Celebrated WWI Fighter Pilot


Kiffin Rockwell, 1916

By Dasha Morgan- History Professor Marc McClure (Walters State Community College) will present the story of Kiffin Rockwell of Asheville who joined the French Army immediately upon the outbreak of WWI. The program will be held on Saturday, October 1, 2016, at 2:00 pm at the Reuter Center on the campus of UNC-Asheville. This presentation is hosted by the Western North Carolina Historical Association.

After a year of battle in the trenches and recovering from wounds, Kiffin gained admittance into the French Air Corps and became a founding member of the famed American Lafayette Escadrille fighter squadron. During the spring and summer of 1916, Rockwell became a legend among the French people for his remarkable courage against German aviators. Highly decorated by the French Military for his flying exploits, Rockwell met his own death in aerial combat in the fall of 1916 and was buried in France with full military honors.

Along with his insights into Kiffin’s extraordinary life, Dr. McClure will show portions of his documentary film, Valor, which highlights Rockwell’s beginnings in Asheville using family memories and personal letters along with letters and photographs from the French National Archives. This is the story of young boy’s journey from Western North Carolina to the battlefields of WWI, where he is decorated and honored by the French Nation for his heroic courage and devotion to duty. He was awarded posthumously the Cross of the Legion of Honor and is to be honored in France this year as well.


Rockwell was born to James Chester and Loula Ayres Rockwell in Newport, Tennessee, on September 20, 1892. His family, with the exception of his father who had died when he was one year old, moved to Asheville when Kiffin was fourteen. After spending summers with his grandfather, a Civil War veteran, he developed a strong interest in the army and in 1908 enrolled at the Virginia Military Institute. The next year Rockwell received an appointment to the U.S. Naval Academy, but declined it because he believed he would not see wartime service serving in the Navy. Rockwell transferred to Washington and Lee University where graduated with a degree in journalism. After graduation he spent some time traveling out west and settled in Atlanta, where he got a job with an advertising agency. He was there in August 1914 when Germany declared war on France.


Photo of the Lafayette Escadrille squadron, 1916

There is a marker commemorating Rockwell on the corner of Merrimon Avenue and Hillside Street which was erected in 1954 Some of Rockwell’s relatives currently live in this area.

The presentation by McClure is following a film screening and short talk at the North Carolina Museum of History in Raleigh on Friday, September 23, of the movie “Valor,” as a precusor to their North Carolina and World War 1 Exhibit. This interactive multimedia exhibit, which opens in April 2017, will commemorate the centennial of the US entry into World War 1 and will focus on North Carolina’s role in the War to End All Wars on the western front in France and Belgium. Visitors will experience a re-created trench warfare environment to discover what life was like for Tar Heel soldiers.

For more information on the McClure lecture call 828-253-9231 and, or visit the for their information.  Several photos are courtesy of Virginia Military Academy Archives.

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