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World War I fighter ace from Baltimore to be honored

Francis Warrington Gillet, World War I ace from Baltimore.
Francis Warrington Gillet, World War I ace from Baltimore. (Handout / HANDOUT)

A military history group plans to honor on Thursday a pilot fighter ace from Baltimore who joined the British armed forces in 1917 and became one of the greatest American aces of World War I.

Francis Warrington Gillet joined the Royal Air Force's Squadron No. 79, and within a few months was credited with shooting down some 20 German planes and balloons. That put him second among Americans, behind Capt. Eddie Rickenbacker.

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The Western Front Association plans to unveil a painting of Gillet at the War Memorial in Baltimore on Thursday evening. Retired Col. Robert J. Dalessandro, chairman of the United States World War I Centennial Commission, is scheduled to speak.

The painting, "Maryland Over Flanders" by Michael O'Neal, depicts Gillet's Sopwith Dolphin fighter plane on a mission on Nov. 10, 1918, the day before the armistice that ended the war.

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The Western Front Association says the event will mark the beginning of Maryland's 100th anniversary ceremonies marking the American entrance into the Great War.

Paul Cora, the chairman of the association's East Coast branch, said Gillet's role in the war has been largely forgotten.

Gillet grew up in a well-to-do family in Baltimore and studied at the University of Virginia before joining the Army Signal Corps. Reportedly told that he was too young to receive a commission as an officer, he headed for Canada, a part of the British Empire.

The Baltimore Sun reported in September 1918 that Gillet's relatives back home had learned that he had earned the designation "ace," meaning he was credited with five or more victories in the air.

"He has been abroad for the last six months only, his work showing unusual skill in downing Hun planes for so short a period of training," The Sun reported.

Gillet was awarded the British Distinguished Flying Cross and the Belgian Croix de Guerre for his service.

Home on leave in 1918, Gillet was reluctant to talk about his exploits, The Sun reported. He kept his medals hidden beneath an oil-stained coat.

After the war, Gillet returned to Baltimore and worked as a real estate developer, banker and liquor importer. The Warrington Apartments that his firm built still stand on Charles Street in North Baltimore.

Gillet died in 1969 at age 74.

Baltimore Sun researcher Paul McCardell contributed to this article.

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