Tales from

the Loir

A Weekly Column

August 15, 2001 - Liberation

It was fifty-seven years ago when American jeeps and tanks rolled into Montoire-sur-Loir to liberate the village. There happened to be a reporter from Paris present on that occasion who took a photograph of a young girl handing an American soldier a bouquet of flowers. This old photograph reappears every year on the 11th of August when the village celebrates the day of liberation. My friend Jean Montambaux has been telling me about this celebration for weeks. Jean is seventy years old but was only twelve when he first saw American soldiers. Like most of the seventy-somethings of this region, Americans are remembered fondly. In stark contrast to the German invaders, the Americans brought chewing gum, chocolate and liberation. Everybody has a war story about the arrival of the Americans and a few even have old American Jeeps that are immaculately restored and maintained.

The ceremony starts at the old train station and I am a little surprised to see so many people present. Several hundred people have shown up to listen to speeches and march behind a cavalcade of jeeps and men dressed up in old GI uniforms carrying M-1 rifles. The mayor, the Counsel General of the region and other political figures make speeches and present awards to the U.S. Army captain who is present to assist in the celebration. A young girl is dressed up in a 1940's dress and coiffure presents the Captain with a bouquet of flowers and everyone poses for photographs. There is an older lady standing beside the young girl who is introduced to me as Madame Martineau. Jean tells me that she was the young girl in the fifty-seven-year-old photograph.

There are so many people present that it is hard to get close enough to get a picture of the GIs but I spot one rugged looking individual who looks like his name ought to be Bubba. I ask if I can take his picture. He answers, "oui, bien sur," and I see that he is my neighbor Gaston Cottenceaux from Lavardin. Gaston has one of the old original Jeeps that looks brand new. Jean tells me that it is a Willis, which is the best. The Fords are okay but everybody here prizes the Willis Jeeps. He points out another Jeep that looks exactly like the others to me but Jean tells me that it is a modern knockoff and shakes his head disgust.

Jean and I stay for all of the events including the march to the Mairie where crowds of people are engulfing the Army Captain as if he just liberated the town again. I don't get a chance to talk to the Captain but I am invited celebrate the liberation at the caves of Pierre Capps and Monsieur Jean. At Jean's cave Marcel Rousselet tells me about watching a German soldier on the top of the chateau in Montoire shooting anybody who walked in the streets. He sniped from his perch all day until he ran out of ammunition. Marcel said the Germans came looking for him once and he hid in the hay in a barn until they gave up the search. Others were caught and hauled off to work in labor camps in Germany. Those young men never returned and no one knows what happened to them.

Jean said that the Germans would walk around shooting people as they were retreating. People had to hide from the retreating Germans but the Americans were just a few hours behind the retreating Army. People sometimes mistakenly ran cheering into the streets only to discover the approaching vehicles were Germans. Those who were present tell me the risk was worth the chance to see the Americans and get some chewing gum. World War II is a fading memory in America where only a few veterans remember what those young American boys did in Normandy. But in France there are those who remember. When I thank people here for being so nice to us, I sometimes get the response, "No, no, Thank you for 1944".

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 August 8, 2001 - Le Cyclop
 August 1, 2001 - The Finger
July 25, 2001 - La Resistance
July 18, 2001 - System D
July 11, 2001 - The Accident
July 4, 2001 - Ange Pitou
June 27, 2001 - Feu de Saint Jean
June 20, 2001 - Geoffroy Martel
June 13, 2001 - Saint of the Day
June 6, 2001 - Escapade dans le Berry
May 30, 2001 - Learning French
May 23, 2001 - Pete and Manny
May 16, 2001 - Les Journees des Aubepines
May 8, 2001 - Armistice Day
May 2, 2001 - May Day
April 25, 2001 - Les Manouches
April 18, 2001 - Trôo
April 11, 2001 - Le P'tit Jules
April 4, 2001 - Men and Their Caves 
Archive of Weekly Columns Jan-Apr 2001
Archive of Weekly Columns from 2000
 

       

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