Today’s post comes from Barbara in Robbinsdale.
November 11 has been called Veterans Day since 1954 – before that it was called Armistice Day in honor of the end of the hostilities of World War I. My story grew out of an event from World War II.
You would think they might still be mourning the French people they lost in World War II 70-odd years ago (and I’m sure they are). But in spring of this year, the French villagers of St. Père en Retz, on the western edge of the Loire region of France, wanted to honor the Americans who died there on May 1, 1943. A crew of ten from the US Air Force flew a B17 (the Black Swan) out of Britain, one of 59 bombers on a mission to take out a submarine bunker at coastal St. Nazaire that had been taken over by the Germans. Six lost their lives, including the pilot, who was my mom’s older brother Bobby (Jay Robert Sterling). (Another time I’ll tell more of what we now know of the story.)
The people of this region are still so grateful for every attempt by American and British forces to aid them, that between 2013 and 2015 five different villages along the Retz River have commemorated the soldiers, with several more installations planned in the next few years.
The organizing Committee from St. Père en Retz searched via the internet for crewmen’s family members, then invited us to come to France for the occasion. They were fairly successful – eleven travelers representing four of the crew were able to gather the first weekend of May. (A fifth crewman’s family was able to come later on.) Since my mother wasn’t well enough to make this trip, my sister and I went in her place, along with her son and Husband.
Other family members of the crew had visited St. Père en Retz individually in previous decades, and had each been honored in some way. But this time they wanted as many people as possible as they accomplished several things: installation of a new History Panel (Panneau Historique); upgrading a Monument listing the names of the crew; and commemorating this with a church service, and ceremonies at the crash site, to which the entire village was invited.
Six of us were put up at a country manor house of one of the Committee, five more at nearby B & Bs. The villagers were impressed that we would travel all this way – we were impressed by all the work the Committee undertook to organize this, how they welcomed us, and the turnout of the community for the ceremonies.
So it was a weekend full of receptions, ceremonies, speeches, poems, banquets, unveiling of monuments, viewing of the crash site (the most emotional time of the weekend), and touring related sites like the submarine bunker. There was also consulting my LaRousse at every turn as I tried reviving my college French, attempting to remember all the new French names, and getting used to being full of food and wine all the time… We were exhausted by Monday morning, but I wouldn’t give it up for anything. It was quite something to be celebrated like this.
All over this corner of France, these Panneau Historique are being created and installed, telling the stories they don’t want their people to forget.
Have you ever been moved by a patriotic event?
Is there anyone you want to remember this Veteran’s Day?