On a Disappointed Airman

James desperately wanted to fly. Born in 1910 in Gironde, France, he remembered how exciting the early days of aviation were. The First World War propelled aviation innovation exponentially, and, as a young boy, James loved the developments in the flying technology that came out of the war. He, like many boys, made models of the planes that had won the war for the Allies, planes like the Nieuport and the Spad and other French planes (which the American pilots used in that conflict).

At the age of 20, James enrolled in the French Naval Aviation College to begin to fulfill his childhood dream. He excelled at gunnery school as well as being a pilot, so he pursued that path in the school. He graduated as a gunnery officer.

But then, tragedy struck. Coming home from his post one evening, the car he was driving was struck by another car–and James broke both of his arms. The resulting time missed from service and the weakness the breaks caused in his bones and muscles grounded the would-be pilot. James was crushed. He had committed his life to aviation only to have fate cruelly swipe his passion from him.

Still, he had his enlistment to fulfill, and James promised his nation to be the best naval officer he could be. He made a vow to become as passionate about the sea as he had been about the air. He worked with the navy’s new technology department, helping to create one of the first mini-subs for use by the military. And he lived up to his promise to be a good sailor across a 20 year career in the French Navy despite his intense disappointment in not being able to fly.

His acumen and innate intelligence led him into key assignments during that time. He went on information-gathering trips for the navy to many nations in the 1930s in the build up to World War 2, including one trip to the Soviet Union. During the war, James actively worked with the French underground movement and was awarded several medals after the war for his involvement in that fight against Nazism.

When he retired in 1950, James did not give up his love for the sea. In fact, he continued what became a second career that made him internationally known for his work with the oceans. James, of course, is his English name. You know him better as Jacques.

Jacques Cousteau.