FRENCH ALLIANCE COMMEMORATION
French Alliance Day – Celebrated at the Chapel annually on the first Sunday in May
The single most important diplomatic success of the colonists during the American War
for Independence was the critical link they forged with France. Representatives of the
French and American governments signed the Treaty of Alliance and a Treaty of Amity
and Commerce in Paris on February 6, 1778. This alliance was a major factor leading to
the ultimate victory of the American colonies in the American Revolution.
When word of the Alliance and its ratification by the Continental Congress reached
Valley Forge in early May 1778, General George Washington issued the following
“It having pleased the Almighty Ruler of the universe to defend the course of the United
States, and finally raise up a powerful friend among the princes of the earth, to establish
our Liberty and Independence upon a lasting foundation, it becomes us to set apart a
day for gratefully acknowledging the Divine goodness, and celebrating the important
event which we owe to His Divine interposition.
Every year, on the first weekend in May, Washington Memorial Chapel at Valley Forge,
in accordance with Washington’s instructions, commemorates the Treaty of Alliance
French Alliance Day 2012:
French Alliance Day 2013:
Below is the speech from this years French Alliance Service:
What a great day… What a beautiful day… The weather could not be nicer, I am surrounded with new friends, and my Embassy, is asking me to represent France, and her people, and to talk to you about what has been, from the early days of my childhood, an important part of my personal life: The French American alliance and friendship. But more on that later…
You have invited me here today, because of Lafayette, Rochambeau, Duportail, de Grasse, de Ternay, Saint Simon, and countless others…because of, as I was made aware recently, a certain Capitaine du Tertre who commanded a “compagnie de chasseurs de la legion de Lauzun”.
You have invited me because of the tens of thousands of French service men who fought for the US Independence, including the 8,000 well trained and well armed French Soldiers, and the 28,000 Sailors who were key to the final victory at Yorktown.
You invited me to honor the memory of the more than 5,000 of these sons of France who gave their life, throughout the war…To put this figure in perspective, in relation to the size of the French population at the time, compared to the current population size of the US, it is as if close to 80,000 US soldiers would have been killed in a modern conflict today, and represents a significantly larger number than all US casualties in Vietnam. Countless more were injured most of the time “for life”.
You invited me because of the 13 billion (in today’s US dollars) expended then by the French state, which became bankrupt in the process, and for the countless other private donations or contributions, from these French visionaries who often paid all their war expenditures from their own pocket.
So why did the French do that? Why did they invest so much in blood and treasure, to allow your young democracy to blossom, and become a beacon to the world?
Well first, let’s be honest, and recognize that, at the time, it seems that no Frenchman would let a good opportunity to fight the English, go to waste; and on the other side of the channel, the feeling was mutual…
But the core purpose; the driving force motivating the French leaders of this vast undertaking was to make the world a better place. It was the time of the enlightenment, the time of experimenting with new ideas; and French philosophers, from Voltaire to Rousseau were very much at the forefront of this quest. The nascent United States was a perfect laboratory; a sublime opportunity to try out these new ideas, which at the time were shared and commonly developed in Washington, in Valley Forges and in Paris. Benjamin Franklin was a key facilitator; and Louis XVI (certainly the most progressive of all French monarchs in history) and Lafayette (a true visionary and the richest man in France) seized on this opportunity. In fact the French and American Revolutions are two sisters, both born from the same Mother; the same intellectual brew. The same intellectual brew which gave birth to all our modern western democracies today.
Lafayette use to say: “The World needs a strong United States of America…”
“THE WORLD… NEEDS A STRONG UNITED STATES OF AMERICA”
How much more visionary than that can you get?
And this huge investment from France in a strong America would be rewarded several times over…
And this is how I now get to this own personal childhood story, I mentioned at the onset of this speech…
I must have been 5, may be 6 years old, I was with my parents on our farm, deep in the center of France: “Maman… what is U.S.A?”
You see, I was starting to read, and these 3 letters appeared on all these fun things, I was discovering in my young age. They were always preceded by two words: “Made in”.
“They mean “United States of America”; this means that your toy truck was made by the Americans.”
“Maman… who are the Americans?”
“Well, they live in America, on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean, in a very big Country; they are very powerful, and very good; they freed us from the Nazis”.
I did not ask about the Nazis; I already knew from listening to discussions among the grown-ups. I knew that the Nazis were very bad people, who killed and destroyed on a scale unprecedented in history.
At such a young age I already knew of a small village called Oradour sur Glane, laying less than thirteen miles away from my own birthplace. As retaliation against the French resistance which was slowing, if not stopping its progression towards the Allied landing in Normandy, on June 10, 1944 the SS German Division “Das Reich” slaughtered 647 civilians (more than half the population), mostly women and children, by packing them in the church and setting it on fire.
“You mean the Americans, they saved Grandpa?”
My father answered. After all I was asking about his own father.
“Yes, Grandpa was on death row in a jail called Fresnes, near Paris. The Americans freed him just before he was executed”
This is when I learned that my Grand Father had been a leader in the resistance and captured by the Nazis. I also learned of other members of my family who had been imprisoned and tortured, including my father’s own brother who was a prisoner in Germany for 5 years. It was crystal clear: My family was free, thanks to the Americans; the horror had stopped, thanks to the Americans.
But soon my young mind was wandering back to its initial interest:
“You mean your tractor; it was also made by the Americans?”
It was a CASE, one of the first one in our small village, and undeniably a sure source of pride for the little boy I was. My father nodded “Yes”.
The big “Made in USA” in white letters on the red chassis had made his answer predictable. But something bothered me: you see, we were quite poor, the war had had a devastating effect on most of the Country, including on us. We had a very old Citroen and not much of anything else. How could my father afford such a glittering piece of machinery? I had to ask:
“Our new tractor was it very very very expensive”?
“Yes son, it is very expensive”
“But then how did you …?”
He interrupted me…
“Ho no ….I did not have to pay for it, it was a gift; a gift ……. from the Americans…”.
I was blown away:
These Americans…: first they save us, then they make all these wonderful things, and then they GIVE them to us..!
This must be at this very second that around 55 years ago I decided; deep inside, that America would somehow be a part of my life.
And little did I know that it would become such a big part of my life, since today I live in Mountain-Lakes, New Jersey raising our two Franco American children, with Nancy, my American wife.
So…the pain was immense when in 2003, due to a major difference in foreign policy analysis, my native and my home country became at odds with one other.
Some in the American media implied that the French had forgotten and were ungrateful.
I knew that nothing was further from the truth. I wanted to beg my American friends: “Please, do not believe them; The French have not forgotten”.
I would soon discover that I was not alone.
With three friends, we developed the idea to lay a red rose on each of the 60511 graves of US soldiers fallen in France during the First and the Second World War. We decided to do this on “Independence day” July 4, 2003, because it is the most emblematic commemorative date for America, and because France and America were shoulder to shoulder in the struggle for this American Independence: This very alliance, which we are celebrating here today. Our project was naturally an expensive proposition in terms of paying for all these roses and the logistics to eleven different cemeteries. A little wary at first, but determined, we started a grass root campaign to gather the necessary funds and we created an association which we named “The French will Never Forget”.
Soon we were overwhelmed by the very positive response the French people gave to our initiative. It was as if we had tapped into a very large reservoir of French People with an urgent need to tell America: “WE HAVE NOT FORGOTTEN, AND WE LOVE YOU”. We received so many checks that soon funding was not a problem, and on July 4 2003 volunteers showed up by the thousands to lay a red rose, in a gesture of gratitude, friendship and respect on every single US grave in France. In fact we received so many contributions, that we decided to “keep going”, and to continue to celebrate the French-American friendship through various means, and in so doing to continue to honor these American heroes who had captured our freedom back out of the jaws of tyranny.
For example: In 2004 together with other French Groups we helped to fund, for the 60th anniversary, the travel expenses of 100 D Day veterans who flew, all expenses paid, to France where on June 6 they were awarded the French Legion of Honor. In 2005, this time single handedly we flew to Paris, again all expenses paid and in the very best hotels in Paris the veterans of the platoon which liberated the Eiffel Tower. Again two of them were awarded the French Legion of Honor by the French Minister of Defense. In 2006 we helped fund, and participated to several ceremonies honoring WWII veterans having fought in France, this time throughout the USA.
In 2007 planned again for the 4th of July, and meant as a birthday gift to America, we organized a very special event. We assembled 2500 French citizens who with their bodies created a huge human chain spelling out “FRANCE WILL NEVER FORGET” on the very sands of Omaha Beach: 2500 French people who took several hours out of their week-end on a wet and unseasonably cold day to make sure their American friends and allies knew of their gratitude, of their respect, and that “No: The French had not forgotten”. The US Ambassador was in attendance and this was a moving moment and a tribute to America, given on the very beach that saw too many of her sons make the ultimate sacrifice to rid France and the whole World of tyranny. In 2009 in association with Normandie Memoire, we contributed a special gift to the Museum of the Second World War in New Orleans. This gift is a functional and exact reproduction (except for the crack) of America’s famous Liberty Bell located in Philadelphia. This bell cast in France is to sing the song of recaptured freedom in this museum dedicated for a large part to the history of France’s liberation. In 2010 we brought to life the excellent documentary « French Fries & Freedom Toast » from Director /Producer Michael Jordan. Entirely sponsored by « The French Will Never Forget » this documentary is factually dismissing half truths, innuendos or plain lies too often, and still to this day, presented by some in the media; and it clearly establishes the strength of the French American alliance in World affairs and especially when it comes to the military and counter terrorism cooperation.
In 2011, singlehandedly, we organized the largest commemoration of the 10th anniversary of the tragedy of September 11, outside of the USA. In order to once more express our gratitude, and this time also to express our compassion and our shared pain and sorrow with our American friends, we erected a replica of the world trade center (10 stories high) on the Trocadero plaza in the center of Paris. On one tower were the names of all 2977 victims, on the second tower, as many messages of support and friendship from French people. The Eiffel Tower could be seen in perspective right in between the two towers. Thousands of French people attended, in the presence of the US Ambassador and the French Minister of the Interior, amongst many high level dignitaries. The power of the symbol; the quasi spiritual strength of the moment became evident when a full moon set around 10:00pm, just above the Eiffel Tower, right in between the two towers, while the 150 strong Paris Symphonic Orchestra was playing the Requiem from Mozart.
As a conclusion, let me first express my Thanks to Gardiner Pearson and the Rev Roy Almquist for their kind invitation to this special day. This gave me once more the opportunity to salute all these veterans among you, who have contributed to the liberation of France and the defeat of fascism. My profound respect and eternal gratitude go out to you.
And allow me to salute, with equal respect and gratitude all these veterans who won the cold war and helped to protect France and the whole of Western Europe against communism and the promises of the Stalinist gulags.
And finally, and with equal strength, let me salute all these veterans of our current struggle against terrorism. An insidious and frightening conflict, where more than ever, clarity, strength, resolve but above all unity among the nations of the free World will be the tools to victory.
May God bless America, and the French American Friendship
LCL Patrick du Tertre
French Army Reserves
Co-President and Co-Founder
The French Will Never Forget
May 5, 2013