The 100th anniversary of America entering World War I in 1917 is soon approaching. But before we entered the war to end all wars many Long Islanders volunteered to fight against the Germans before the U.S. officially joined in the fight. Some men from Nassau County’s North Shore joined up with the Canadians and British. Others formed a group of heroic men that went directly to France and organized the elite flying force known as the Lafayette Escadrille.
The Lafayette Escadrille and Flying Corps have been portrayed in films and books ever since they were established by Americans in France in 1916. The Escadrille was made up of only 38 Americans under French officers and the Flying Corps were those that were assigned to French Flying squadrons. They were the men who flew in the beginnings of aero warfare and braved experiences never felt by men at war. Long Island at this time was a rural paradise with dirt roads and farmers’ fields nestled between the villages scattered along its shores. The Hempstead plains dominated its middle before Levittown, Island Trees and Plainview took over and covered the earth with their houses forty years later. This was the age before the roaring twenties, with no radio or later television broadcasting the news. Only the local newspapers carried the reports from Europe and the atrocities of war that France endured.
The Long Islanders who crossed over the Atlantic Ocean to Europe by ship to fight in those early days of war were inspired by many things, the defense of liberty, a new bold adventure and just doing what was right. From Nassau and Suffolk counties some thirteen men heard the calling for the defense of France. This would soon place them in the skies over Europe. Six of these volunteers were from Nassau’s North Shore and this is their story.
A Hero From Roslyn
By the Roslyn Clock Tower each morning, the traffic backs up and only a few commuters notice a bronze plaque dedicated to William Tailer at the east end of the tower grounds. Tailer was a Roslyn youth who excelled in sports and lived with his family on Shore Road. His father was in the banking industry and wanted his son to be employed there.
But young Tailer had other ideas. In 1916, he enlisted in the New York State National Guard and was stationed on the U.S.-Mexican border. After returning from duty, Tailer took up flying at the nearby aviation field in Mineola. With the war raging in France, Tailer wanted to join the Army Aviation service, but after waiting some months he accepted the help of August Belmont and was accepted by the Lafayette Flying Corps.
Tailer was soon trained by the French in combat aviation and flew in the front with the famous Cigognes (the storks) squadron. It was near Verdun in the winter of 1918 where it was said that young Tailer was shot down by German anti-aircraft fire and died at the age of 23.
The Roslyn community was in shock. William Tailer was the first volunteer from Roslyn to die in the war. A requiem mass afterwards was said for him in St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City. Later that year, this small tight knit village started a fundraiser to include the rich and poor from the area with a donation of 25 cents each to install a bronze plaque near the Clock Tower in his honor.
His body now rests in the Lafayette Memorial near Paris, France, along with other fallen Lafayette flyers. The history room in the Bryant Library contains articles and photographs of him and his Roslyn family and is one of the few traces left of his sacrifice in that war.