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, Mr Bertrand Lortholary, and by Mr Guy Wildenstein, the President of the American Society of the Legion of Honor.
They were accompanied by the President of the Federation of French War Veterans, Alain Dupuis and the Head of School of the Lycée Français de New York, Sean Lynch.
In a moving ceremony, students from the Lycée Français de New York (French High School of New York) also sang the national anthems and read extracts from historical texts.
Speech by the Consul General, M. Bertrand Lortholary :
Dear Councilor of the Assembly of French Citizens Abroad,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
We are gathered here this afternoon to pay a tribute to the
men who were not only the witnesses, but also the heroes of
one of the most painful periods of our history. For the third
consecutive year, this ceremony is symbolically held at the
Lycée Français de New York, in the presence of both the older
and the younger generations incarnating the French-American
ties. I warmly thank the Head of the School, Mr. Sean Lynch, as
well as his entire staff for hosting us here once again.
I will shortly have the pleasure of bestowing the insignia of
the Legion of Honor on behalf of the French President, to 19
American heroes who, 68 years ago, contributed to liberating
France and Europe. We are also paying tribute today to your
predecessors, two days prior to the commemoration date of
the Armistice of World War I, which took place on November
The 9th graders who are with us today are currently studying
this period in history, learning about the horrors of the Great
War and of its millions of casualties, wounded and crippled
victims. Entire cities, villages and families had to collectively
grieve the loss of their loved ones. It is very difficult today
to fully grasp the reality of the combats, their atrocity, the
physical and moral suffering, the fear, as well as the courage
the fighters had to demonstrate when defending our liberties.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Perhaps with these soldiers’ poignant, distressful words
written to their beloveds as they fought and lived in the
trenches, we may have a glimpse into this dark period of our
history. I would like to read an excerpt of a letter written by a
French soldier in 1916, which was a dreadful year for France.
The letter reminds us of the horror of a merciless war. This is
what Joseph Gilles wrote:
“You will never imagine, my dear, how miserable we are; I’m
not the kind of person who usually complains, yet this time
I must, for it is beyond comprehension, beyond my ability to
describe it. We are some 3,000 reserve men sojourning in this
humid tunnel, due to the water drizzling down the walls, and
that is precisely the spot we must lay upon, on the railway
path. We go out searching for supplies when the night falls,
accompanied all along the way by shellfire, which means we
can only prepare one meal per day, and there’s no soup.
Attaining the front lines is a most painful and dangerous task;
we must cross an entire kilometer, as well as a passageway
nicknamed the valley of death; no one knows how many dead
bodies lay there; but you must go through it, there is no other
These words are a testimony to our soldiers’ courage. We
remember the blood that was shed in the Marne, in Picardie,
Verdun, at the Chemin des Dames, and that of all those who
fought for us, be they French or not.
Today we honor the French-American friendship, a friendship
you have been incarnating ever since you fought for France’s
liberation in 1944, a long-lasting friendship more than 200
years old, which has demonstrated its deep solidarity during
the most crucial moments of our history: from La Fayette’s
intervention in Washington’s favor in 1777, to the United-
States’ engagement in both World Wars on France’s side.
Two million American soldiers fought in France during a war,
which, unfortunately, was not the “der des ders”, the “last of
the last”. Like your predecessors, you too have learned the
true meaning of fear, of death, and also of great courage. You
were indeed rather young when you left 68 years ago to fight
alongside the Allies. You left for a cause and for values our
countries have always shared in common: Democracy, State of
Law, Liberty. 800,000 of you participated in liberating France.
In Normandy, Provence and the Ardennes you became the
heroes of the entire French people. It is thanks to all of you
veterans that France is free and independent, and that Europe
is today reconciled in a long sustainable peace.
In this context, and only a few months away from a different
commemoration, that of the 50th anniversary of the French-
German cooperation treaty, I would like to also mention the
solid friendship that unites our two people ever since.
The French nation wishes to solemnly pay you a tribute for
liberating our country. I hereby join the youngest generations
– who, I hope, would not have to endure as much suffering, – in
order to show you our wholehearted gratitude, and say to you
that we will never forget your courage.
You were chosen by the President of France, Mr. François
Hollande, to receive the insignia of Chevalier in the Order of
the French Legion of Honor. Our country wished to honor you
for your eminent merits rendered to the French Nation, by
bestowing upon you its highest decoration.
I hand the floor over to Guy Wildenstein, President of the
American Society of the French Legion of Honor, who would
like to say a few words before we proceed with the ceremony.