My friend had an opportunity on Memorial Day to visit the Rhône American Cemetary in Draguignan, France. His visit was to lay a wreath for the Democrats Abroad France to honor the US soldiers buried there.
While Rhône American Cemetary is the smallest American cemetary in France, the Allied invasion of southern France in the late summer of 1944 was very important and it is only natural to pay hommage to the fallen members of this group.
The government of the United States was represented by Mrs. Ann Chiappetta, Consul General in Marseille. The French government was represented by Mr. Laurent Cayrel, Préfet of the Var. On the military side, we had General Walter M. Piatt, commander of the Joint Multinational Training Command for US Army, Europe. The French military was represented by General Hervé Wattecamps.
We had several speakers. New mayor of Draguignan gave his welcoming speech in both French and English (nearly perfect English except confusing 1776 and 1996 …..heck I always confuse dix-sept and dix-neuf when I speak French too). Among other speakers were Mr. Bruce Malone, Superintendent of the Cemetary and Ms. Maura Sullivan, Commissioner of the American Battle Monuments Commission.
The laying of the wreaths was assisted by uniformed firemen-cadets.
French Army uniforms are fantastic. The officers carry swords. They have all kinds of medals and colors.
I really like how all the French mayors and civilian officials wear a Tricolor sash, as a symbol of their office. Most wear their sash from right shoulder to left side. Some, like the Préfet of the Var, wear the sash girding one’s loins.
Noted singer Amy Malone sang the National Anthems of both countries. Beginning with the second verse of La Marseillaise, many of the French, especially the army officers, joined in.
My friend sat in the VIP section. I sat in the outskirts of the crowd. Went up to see him before the ceremony. Didn’t realize his status until I saw his chair: “Lt. Col., US Army Reserve, Retired”.
He also pays his own “personal” hommage to 26 friends that served in his battalion and are recorded on the Viet Nam Memorial in Washington. Also to Newsweek reporter François Sully who was assigned to cover his unit and was lost in a helicopter crash. This year, he has added a fellow officer who survived Viet Nam but recently died.
Lunch was a great outdoor picnic sponsored by Ville de Draguignan.
For transportation from railroad station at Les Arcs to the cemetery, call Christophe at 06 09 57 43 16