A look back at the past…
In the local “Bar du Centre” or the “Tabac” as we like to call it, Pierre, a local retired music teacher befriended us. The local bar is the place where the whole town goes to socialize and you can procure a quick coffee, smoke, gamble or a beer. Pierre knew that we were American and one day he mentioned, “Disembarkment Day” or “D-Day”
(Journee du desimbarkment). When he was a child, he lived through WWII. He helped organize, in Percy 1994, a 50th Anniversary reunion of allied forces. He had photos he wanted to share with us from that reunion. He asked us to schedule a rendezvous, to meet up again, at the local Tabac and drop off the photos to us.
Bill was completely thrilled to be able to peruse these photos or little slices of history. One of the reasons why we have ended up in Europe is due to my husband’s time spent in the United States Army. He was stationed in Pirmasens,
Germany in 1980. Besides helping him pay for University, this experience gave him a love for travel and also history. I call Bill a hobby historian. From my angle, it was great way to expose Kale and Madison to a valuable history lesson. Also, to see photos, from one of the last Pilgrimages back to Europe for these veterans, many who came from the U.S., United Kingdom, Canada and France, was a tremendous gift. When I had worked for the U.S. Embassy in Luxembourg, I had helped plan USO-type event for veterans commemorating the 60th Anniversary of the Battle of the Bulge, which was the last major German offensive campaign on the Western Front during WWII. It took place in the Ardennes region eastern Belgium, northeast France, and Luxembourg and hence at the U.S. Embassy in Luxembourg, we planned an event. I remember how much it meant to the Veteran’s coming back. I remember the comradery and strong bond these former soldiers had with each other. They told the most amazing stories! Those Veterans/ Soldiers have been called the “Greatest Generation” for their selflessness, bravery and honor shown.
The photos Pierre showed us were touching! We thanked him for his desire to show us and his friendship. He told us that the allied forces, especially the Americans, would be forever in his heart and now he was also forever in ours for the kindness shown.
May 8th is called VE Day or Victory Europe Day in France. It’s a public holiday commemorating 8 May 1945, to mark the formal acceptance by the Allies of World War II, of Nazi Germany’s unconditional surrender of its armed forces. Today, we stumbled upon the celebration, mostly because the Ville was completely shut down. It started at the Mairie (Mayor’s Office) and ended at the Cathedral in Percy. In the Cathedral, there are photos inside that showed the war damage to the church that happened June/July 1944. Today we saw the Mayor, who arguably could pass as President Emmanuel Macron’s brother or twin because he looks just like him, and a whole parade of people, including a small delegation of French Veterans (small because a lot of them are no longer alive). We spoke to one in particular. He was attending with his daughter and he had a medal on his lapel; he was 90 years of age. He had recently fallen but he joked with the kids (in French) that he liked to pretend that his canes were his guns blazing (like those from the war). He had such a quick wit and an infectious smile. I thought to myself that the key to longevity is a sense of humor and purpose. It truly was my favorite part of today, to have spent a small slice of time with this Veteran, who must have fought so bravely at approximately 16 years of age. He sang a French song to the children. He mentioned it was a song he and other soldiers sang to each other while marching. These are the priceless memories made, in such a region so rich with history. As we walked with the children back home, on “Route de la Voie de la Liberte”, or The Route of the Voice of Liberty, I thought of the meaning of today, for the people of Percy, and the people of France. A pang of sadness also resonated with me, as I wondered, when these great men are no longer around, will these ceremonies still happen? Will they be remembered?