Before there was an Alderman or Clemons Library, there was the winged statue that stands between them; The Aviator was commissioned by the University as a memorial to the sacrifice of James Rogers McConnell, a UVA student whose Nieuport biplane was shot down by German aircraft over the Somme battlefield 100 years ago on March 19, 1917. He was the last American member of the Lafayette Escadrille to die before the United States entered WWI.There’s a feature in UVA Today about the current exhibition in the First Floor Gallery of the Small Special Collections Library, “The Aviator: Remembering James Rogers McConnell, A Centennial Exhibition,” which follows McConnell’s life from his time as a student, to when he was decorated as a volunteer in the American Ambulance Hospital Field Service in France, to when he became one of 38 founding pilots in the Lafayette Escadrille, through injuries, wounds, and finally, to his death. According to Special Collections curator Molly Schwartzburg, “He was not just an idealistic young man in search of adventure when he joined the flying corps … he expected that he was going to die.”
On Thursday, March 16 at 11:00 a.m., in the auditorium of the Harrison Institute and Small Special Collections Library, University Librarian and Dean John Unsworth will join President Teresa Sullivan, and Edwin Fountain, Vice Chair of the World War One Commission and general counsel of the American Battle Monuments Commission, in offering remarks at an event, “Soaring Like an Eagle into New Heavens of Valor and Devotion.” Members of McConnell’s family will attend, and there will be a wreath-laying ceremony at the statue afterward.
Read more about James McConnell and The Aviator in the article UVA Honors Inspiration for ‘Winged Aviator’ Statue, 100 Years After His Death (UVA Today, 3/14/2017).