This is a set of photographs and essay about Celebrating Memorial Day with French WWII Soldiers. There is no “sale” or special offer. This is simply a reflective bit of writing….
I’d like to write and say that our thoughts are with and humbly honoring the men and women who have bravely served our country in the Armed Forces. Thank you for your service and thanks also to all of your loved ones who were also sacrificing and missing you while you were away.
Most importantly, may those brave soldiers who lost their lives defending our country be remembered and Rest in Peace.
Today I’d like to share my personal experience celebrating and commemorating Memorial Day last year, 2019.
I had the privilege to be invited to place wreaths at the cemeteries in Northern France, near Mont Saint Michel, and meet French soldiers who bravely fought alongside our brethren. One of my friends from Loyola University, Tim, has lived in Paris for years and celebrates Memorial Day in France every year.
One kind of curious thing happened when we were staying at the Chateau before the day we would be visiting the War Monuments. It was a beautiful place in Northern France, and I was walking around and admiring the surroundings.
There were a bunch of very unusual ducks walking about and I went over to get a better view. A lady was also on the grounds and we were talking about the ducks – maybe they were geese – I don’t know but they were stunning to see!
The lady was Chrysti and she was the type of person, whom, after a few moments, you feel as though you have known her your entire life. She was visiting Northern France with her family from Chicago, her husband, David and their two young children.
I mentioned to Chrysti that we were going to participate in the memorial services for the fallen soldiers and lie wreaths in various towns the next day. She said she served in the Army and that her husband was a former Marine! He worked long hours in Chicago and the family was enjoying free time together, close to the summer months.
My partner, Rick, arrived and we chatted with Chrysti about the beautiful grounds and these crazy looking ducks. Rick and I were going to a dinner at the Chateau and we let Chrysti know her husband could join us tomorrow.
A while later Chrysti and her husband came by the dining room and we made tentative arrangements for the following day.
Our friend Tim Ramier is from Lafayette, Louisiana, and is a lawyer who practices in Paris. Rick and I have known Tim for decades and this was the first year we were celebrating Memorial Day in France, though we had been invited many times before.
We all got up very early to travel and present the wreaths. As we were driving, David was talking about his experience in the military as a Marine while he was a teenager and spoke about meeting Chrysti, who also served in the military. David had such a distinctive voice and I found myself detecting a Chicago accent.
At the first event in Saint Georges de Reintembault, we met some of the French soldiers. They had fought in World War II. It was all so very formal and somber, of course, because we were honoring the dead who fought for our country and paid the ultimate price; they died in battle. It was very moving.
After the ceremony, there was going to be a short get together to have coffee with the soldiers. But before we went to get coffee and beignets, Tim came up to us and he was very serious.
He told David and I that we needed to go thank each and every one of the soldiers who were there in the early morning hours commemorating America’s Memorial Day in France. And so, we did as we were told, especially because Tim was so seriously adamant.
And then we walked around the monument and began thanking the soldiers. Neither of us spoke much French so we were basically saying “Merci Beaucoup” and “Thank you for your service.”
The perceived language barrier evaporated as we said thanks to the soldiers. At first, it was seemed as though they were just some old men who were out to be a part of this routine Memorial Day function.
And then it happened. We looked into the eyes of these French World War II soldiers and those eyes looked back at us so tenderly and told the stories. The war, the fighting, the deaths, those losses, the respect and camaraderie for the fallen American Soldiers.
Their eyes were wet and full and deep, with windows to their souls of soldiers from a distant era. Their "Cor Cordium," their hearts of their hearts, their inner souls, pain, and anguish, all on honest and full display.
We got to enjoy a cup of coffee with these men and then continued on with our task, leaving wreaths on the monuments and cemeteries honoring the soldiers.
At some point on the way back to our Chateau we learned we were with the actor, David Eigenberg, (“Sex and the City,” “Chicago Fire”) who was vacationing with Chrysti and children in Northern France while “Chicago Fire” was on Hiatus for the summer months. We traded e-mail addresses and invited the family to visit New Orleans. Our city houses the greatest World War II Museum in the world.
Last year’s Memorial Day was the one I truly celebrated near Mont Michel. You may have noticed I haven’t mentioned saints in this post. It seems impossible to pick a saint to weave into this story.
The saints I like best are Saint Joan of Arc, especially because we paint her holding a flag of France, that may serve both countries generally, since its colors are red, white and blue. The patron saint for America I like most is Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton, whom we have also begun painting in red white and blue. But …. since she is the first America born saint, we are saving her for celebrating on the 4th of July, our Independence Day.
I wish you all a truly Celebrated Memorial Day. I pay deep respect to my family members who have served in the Army (my brothers Kevin and Peter), the Army Air Force (my Dad) and the Marines. Only my brother, Peter, the Army Veteran, and my nephew Ray, a former Marine who endured two dispatches to Iraq, are here to say “thank you” to in person. Thank you both, and thanks to all the other faithful soldiers, the men and women who serve our country so valiantly.