Over the course of the 70th anniversary of DDay in Normandy, my sisters and brothers and I were able to participate in many ceremonies honoring the men of D'Day. None left such an impact on us as the unveiling of the Allied Airborne Monument in St. Mere Eglise.
The massive granite monument itself is quite striking. I was nearly moved to tears looking at the sheer number of killed and wounded. But it was the dedication that had the most powerful affect. Given by Monsieur Maurice Renaud, President of the AVA (Friends of American Veterans), it was in its entirety a most comprehensive expression of gratitude as he spoke for all of the people of St. Mere Eglise. Indeed, Monsieur Renaud's words even reckoned back to the speech President Ronald Reagan gave at Pointe du Hoc on the 40th anniversary of DDay, paying special attention to the importance of the soldiers' sacrifice.
Monsieur Renaud said, “We chose to engrave the numbers of their casualties on on this monument because it illustrates the amount of courage and sacrifice of these elite soldiers. This monument is more than a slab of granite etched with military insignias and the numbers of killed and wounded soldiers. It is the reaffirmation of a promise. That promise is simple. NEVER FORGET. Never is a big word. It is infinite. In so being , it is also eternal, like the Airborne spirit.”
Monsieur Renaud's passion and gratitude is better understood in the context of his family. He comes from a legacy of honor and service, demonstrated by and passed on to him by his parents.
His mother, Madame Simone Renaud, is known at the "The Mother of Normandy." She made it her mission to identity and care for the graves of the fallen America soldiers. A documentary film was made about her life, and she is deeply loved by thousands of American mothers, daughters, wives, and sweethearts.
His father, Monsieur Alexandre Renaud was the Mayor of St. Mere Eglise at the time of the invasion. Following the liberation of St. Mere Eglise by the paratroopers, he wrote a letter to General Charles de Gaulle speaking of the bravery of the Americans and asking, “If it would be possible to solicit General de Gaulle, who knows what bravery means, to give to these brave soldiers, who first of all, defeated the Germans on French soil, the Citation which gives them the right to wear on their uniform the French Fourragere. I believe that their sacrifice will feel lighter to them if they get the right to put on their regiment flag this sign of the French gratitude. In their coming battles, these paratroopers will fight with even more bravery with pride to be the airborne troops which France distinguished as: 'Bravest among the Brave.'”
As he concluded his dedication, Monsieur Renaud spoke a few words which perfectly summed up the entire purpose of our family's trip: “A day will soon come when no one who fought in the battle of Normandy will be among us. At some point after that, no one who has even a personal connection to the Liberation will be here to speak as a firsthand witness. Today, we immortalize the bravest of the brave; The Paratroopers, who paid for our freedom, our future, with their lives; seventy years ago. As the monument says: ‘They gave all of their tomorrows so we could have our today.'"
Please click through these links below and read M. Renaud's entire dedication speech as well as the letter his father sent General Charles de Gaulle. They are well worth your time.