November 11th Commemoration at the Lycée Français
On the occasion of the Commemoration Ceremony of November 11th, the Insignias of the Legion of Honor have been bestowed upon 19 American veterans of the Second World War by the Consul General of France, Philippe Lalliot, who was accompanied by the President of the American Society of the Legion of Honor, Guy Wildenstein, the President of the Federation of French War Veterans, Alain Dupuis and the Principal of the Lycée Français de New York, Yves Thézé.
Students from the Lycée Français de New York (French High School of New York) introduced the exemplary life stories of American soldiers who liberated France in the Second World War.
To see all the pictures of the ceremony, please visit the Flickr page of the Consulate.
Speech by the Consul General, Philippe Lalliot :
Monsieur le Député,
Mesdames et Messieurs les Conseillers à l’Assemblée des Français de l’Etranger,
Mesdames et Messieurs les Présidents,
Ladies and Gentlemen, Dear Friends,
We are gathered here this afternoon to pay tribute to two generations of men who faced the two most painful pages of our history. I am particularly pleased that this ceremony is being held at the Lycée Français de New York. I would like to begin by thanking the Head of School, Yves Thézé, and his entire staff for welcoming us today and for having organized with us this ceremony.
In a few minutes, I will have the honor of bestowing the insignia of the Legion of Honor, on behalf of President Sarkozy, upon 18 American heroes who helped liberate France and Europe 66 years ago. But first, gentlemen, allow me to pay tribute to your elders, on this day that commemorates the end of World War I.
I would like to address you in particular, 9th grade students, who are studying this period in the history of France.
It is virtually impossible to find the right words to describe the horror of that war. You can cite the millions of dead and wounded, but it’s still too abstract. Beyond the numbers, it is very hard to express the pain and suffering, the fear and disgust, the courage and sacrifices. Many have tried. Only the most talented have succeeded: Apollinaire, Céline, Giono and Hemingway, to name but a few, or, in other fields, Tardi and Hugo Pratt, Jean Renoir and Stanley Kubrick.
More modestly, I would like to read you a few lines, in French, from a letter written by a soldier who was not much older than you, and who died on the front on April 20, 1917:
“Quand nous sommes arrivés ici, la plaine était magnifique. Aujourd’hui, les rives de l’Aisne ressemblent au pays de la mort. La terre est bouleversée, brûlée. Nous sommes dans les tranchées de première ligne. Nous pataugeons dans la boue. Les tranchées s’écroulent sous les obus et mettent à jour des corps, des ossements et des crânes. L’odeur est pestilentielle.
“Partout des morts ! Les sentiments n’existent plus, la peur, l’amour, plus rien n’a de sens. Il importe juste d’aller de l’avant, de courir, de tirer, et partout les soldats tombent en hurlant de douleur. Le champ de bataille me donne la nausée. J’ai descendu la butte en enjambant les corps désarticulés.”
Ladies and Gentlemen,
We come together here today not to celebrate the victory of one side over another. Now that the very last survivors of the Great War are disappearing one by one, we are here to honor all the dead and pay tribute to all those who fought to the last ounce of their strength. We are here, five generations of us, to remember. For we will never forget the blood spilled on the battlefields of the Marne, the Somme, Verdun, the Chemin des Dames. We will never forget all those, French and foreign, who fought for us.
You too experienced the horror of battle on the beaches of Normandy, during the Provence landing, in the Ardennes and during the Alsace campaign. You too were afraid to die and afraid to kill. You may still be living with wounds hidden away deep inside.
You did not go off to fight on a foreign continent thousands of miles away because the enemy was directly threatening your homes and families. You went off to fight for a cause and for values that transcend the individual: democracy, the rule of law, freedom. France would not be as she is today—free and sovereign—without all the veterans, notably French and American, who fought for her. Nor would Europe be peaceful, prosperous and reconciled with herself, as she is today.
It is this message that I would like to communicate, both solemnly and simply, to the teenagers who are here with us. Our debt to you, Gentlemen, cannot be paid simply by remembering. Your example must also inspire us for the future. Indeed, the best tribute we could pay to you would be by showing that we are worthy of what you accomplished for us.
My words will fade, but you, Gentlemen, will remain in the memory of these young people, and your history will become theirs. It will one day become their responsibility to nurture, with the same selflessness and the same dignity, the friendship between our two countries and between our two peoples. It will be their responsibility to continue your fight, whenever the values and ideals we believe in are threatened.
As Consul-general of France, I want to offer to you the French nation’s solemn tribute. As the grandson of a résistant, I want to express my gratitude for your contributions to the liberation of my country. As a young man who did not experience that war and as a father whose sons attend this school, I want to say quite simply that we will never forget what you did and that we will try to be worthy of your example.
You were nominated by President Nicolas Sarkozy to receive the insignia of Chevalier of the Legion of Honor. As Mr. Wildenstein noted, this distinction rewards outstanding services rendered to France, on the basis of personal merit. The Legion of Honor is our highest distinction. Together with the students of the 9th grade class of the Lycée Français de New York, I will now bestow these insignia upon each of you.
Also read the speeches by Mr Thézé and Mr Wildenstein :
Happy coincidence : Irving Goldstein (on the left) and Andrew Chmiel who were both decorated at the Ceremony had not seen each other since training in 1944. They had both been in the same battalion of infantry.
On November 11, the Consulate took part in the Veterans’ Day Parade on 5th Avenue. M. Olivier-Antoine Reÿnès, Consul Adjoint, joined the Federation of French War Veterans as Flag Bearer.