Five days after the outbreak of World War I in the summer of 1914, American Kiffin Rockwell was on a ship headed for France. The United States would not join the war for nearly three years, but Rockwell believed it was time to fight. He joined the elite French Foreign Legion and was soon fighting in the trenches of the Western Front. A combat wound in 1915 rendered him unfit to fight on the ground, so Rockwell volunteered to fight in the air, becoming a charter member of the soon-to-be legendary Lafayette Escadrille, a fighter squadron of volunteer American pilots. In May 1916, Rockwell became the first pilot to score a victory for the new unit when he shot down a German plane. He was wounded in the skies over Verdun but refused hospitalization, insisting on remaining in the air. He flew more missions with the Lafayette Escadrille than any other pilot until his death in aerial combat in September 1916.
First to Fight is a high-octane drama of a remarkable soldier and pilot who fought in the trenches and in the skies during World War I. It is the story of one of the first American fighter pilots at the dawn of aerial combat, the era of the Red Baron, with dogfighting biplanes high above the trench lines. But more than a World War I story, more than an aviation story, this is the story of an idealist who volunteered—long before his country drafted its first soldier—to fight, and ultimately die, in defense of civilization.
Steven T. Tom is a retired U.S. Air Force officer who served for more than twenty years during the Cold War. He lives near Atlanta, Georgia.