A Gracious and Memorable Tribute

by Michael Ketchum

In the summer of 2009, my brother, Curtis, and I headed over to France to participate in a number of ceremonies recognizing the American war effort in Europe and specifically, France. After landing in Paris, we hopped on the train and headed over to Luneville. There I reunited with my friends, Philippe and Gerard.

Thursday, 16 September 2010: Epinal American Cemetery

Curtis and I headed down to Epinal to visit Grandpa's grave and place a card from my mother on his marker. The cemetary was empty and serene. Standing here in front of his grave among more than 5000 others for the second time, continues to move me. Children and grandchildren of World War II vets are asking, sometimes for the first time, what their (grand)parents did in the war. For me, discovering Melvin's past helps keep his memory alive. But like so many memorials that are dedicated each year, the questions often come too late. Of the 16 million veterans of World War II, just one in four are still alive. Every day, 1,100 more pass on.

Because so many of our (grand)parents are now gone or no longer able to guide the way, thousands of us are finding other ways to connect. Emotional memorials like those held here this week for the 314th and 315th Infantry Regiments as well as the recently discovered missing tank crew of the 773rd Tank Destroyer Battalion, is one route. So are battlefield tours and Internet research. Both of my trips and memorials were made possible directly at the hand of Sergeant-Major Philippe Sugg. I will forever be indebted to him and thankful for all the new friends I've made. The French people are incredibly gracious and have not forgotten the foreigners on their soil that fought and sacificed for their freedom.

It is important that we don't forget the contribution of the French people in their own fight for freedom, specifically these battles in the North East of France, especially in Alsace. Liberation of the Belfort area, and then in Alsace, Colmar pocket, liberation of Strasbourg and all the battles during operation Nordwind followed by southern Germany and Austria. In the Vosges/Alsace battles (where about 25% of the allied forces were French) during 1944, French ground forces were the first reaching the Rhine (not crossing it) on 19th November 1944 and then they entered south Germany and Austria : Kehl, Karlsruhe, Neckar, Pforzheim, Tübingen, Stuttgart, Rottweil, Uberlingen, Sigmaringen, Bregenz, Bludenz. They were also the first reaching and taking Berchtesgaden and the "Adler's nest" with the US 3rd ID. A battalion from the US 3rd ID was followed by the French 2nd Armoured Division. The French were the first Allied troops into the Eagle's Nest at the top of Kehlstein mountain, followed by C/506th, and members of the 321st GFA battalion. There was no need for the late-arriving 101st Airborne Easy Company like in some movies. On 8th May 1945 the general de Lattre de Tassigny represented France during the capitulation of Germany.

Friday, 17 September 2010: 66th Anniversary of the Liberation of Lunéville

Unfortunately, I missed these ceremonies as I was back in Paris replacing a stolen passport after our rental car had been broken into. Curtis, however, was able to attend. Lunéville became Seventh Army HQ and a key supply town. We participate with the local French population and military in official anniversary ceremonies commemorating and celebrating the American liberation of Lunéville in September 1944 by 79th Division and 2nd Cavalry Group. (Units locally involved: Inf Divs: 26th, 35th, 44th, 79th. Armored Divs: 4th, 6th, also 2nd Cavalry Group).

Saturday, 18 September 2010: Foret de Parroy, Ancerviller, Frémonville

The Parroy Forest, just east of Lunéville was a key defensive position of the Fifth Panzer Army threatening Third Army's flank. It had to be captured. I was proud to attend a moving ceremony of closure in the forest for the recently discovered remains of an American M-10 tank destroyer and its crew knocked out supporting the 79th Division in the ferocious fighting. View Featured Story

I had the honor of meeting Dan Rabe, Larry Hellums, and Lois Owens, the relatives of those who lost their lives in the destruction of this tank. I was happy to be present for this incredible ceremony and gain new friends in the process!


Following the ceremonies in the Foret de Parroy, we headed over to Ancerviller in a column of WW2 vehicles. This dedication, made possible by Mayor, Christian Saunier and the City Council, was in tribute to the 315th Infantry Regiment, specifically for the memory of Sergeant Arthur Palmer, attended by his nephew, and "Doc" Long, in attendance, who was severely wounded at his side. Here are some speech excerpts from the Consul General:

A la fois honoré et ému d’être parmi vous aujourd’hui, je vous remercie de me donner l’occasion de pouvoir prendre brièvement la parole. Je tiens avant tout à remercier Monsieur le Maire, Christian SAUNIER, et son Conseil Municipal pour l’accueil réservé au groupe de vétérans américains auxquels je me permettrai de dire quelques mots en anglais.

I'm both honored and humbled to be here today, thank you for giving me the opportunity to speak briefly. I would firstly like to thank the Mayor, Christian SAUNIER, and City Council for hosting the group of American veterans that I venture to say a few words in English.

Permettez-moi d’adresser également mes félicitations à tous ceux qui ont contribué à la réalisation de la stèle dédiée à la soixante dix neuvième Division d’Infanterie U.S. que nous inaugurons aujourd’hui.

Let me also send my congratulations to all those who contributed to the achievement of the stele dedicated to the seventy ninth U.S. Infantry Division that we are inaugurating today.

Je m’associe très humblement à l’hommage rendu à ceux qui ont fait le sacrifice de leur vie pour la liberté dont nous jouissons, en particulier au Sergent Arthur PALMER dont nous honorons la mémoire par cette cérémonie, en présence de son neveu. Je salue aussi Monsieur « Doc » LONG qui avait été grièvement blessé aux côté du Sergent PALMER et qui nous fait l’honneur d’être parmi nous.

I humbly join in the tribute to those who sacrificed their lives for the freedom we enjoy, especially Sergeant Arthur PALMER whose memory we honor this ceremony, attended by his nephew.

Je salue aussi Monsieur "Doc" Long qui avait été grièvement blessé aux côté du Sergent PALMER et qui nous fait l'honneur d'être parmi nous.

I also welcome Mr. "Doc" LONG, who was severely wounded in the side of Sergeant Palmer and we are honored to be here.

Je tiens à souligner l’importance du devoir de mémoire, car nous devons continuer à préparer les générations futures à la sauvegarde de la liberté et de la démocratie pour laquelle nos ancêtres se sont tant battus. En tant que fils et petits-fils de soldats américains ayant respectivement participé à la première et à la deuxième guerre mondiale, je comprends profondément la douleur des familles de ceux qui ne sont pas revenus.

I want to stress the importance of the duty of memory, because we must continue to prepare future generations to safeguard freedom and democracy for which our ancestors have fought so hard.

En tant que fils et petits-fils de soldats américains ayant respectivement participé à la première et à la deuxième guerre mondiale, je comprends profondément la douleur des familles de ceux qui ne sont pas revenus.

As the son and grand-son of American soldiers who participated in respectively the first and second world war, I understand deeply the pain of the families of those who have not returned.

Je ne pense pas seulement aux pertes, mais à toutes ces vies qui n’ont jamais existé puisque ceux qui auraient pu devenir pères ne sont jamais retournés au pays. Le prix qu’ils ont volontairement payé nous donne à tous la chance d’être libres:

- libres de poursuivre nos rêves,
- libres de regarder nos enfants grandir,
- et libres de vivre dans une nation en paix.

I do not just losses, but to all those lives that have never existed because those who might become fathers are never returned home. The price they have paid voluntarily give us all a chance to be free:

- Free to pursue our dreams,
- Free to watch our children grow,
- And free to live in a nation at peace.

Enfin, j’aimerais également saisir cette occasion pour rendre hommage aux soldats français qui se sont battus à côté des soldats américains en novembre mille neuf cent quarante quatre, et qui continuent à se battre côte à côte contre le terrorisme en Afghanistan. Leur soutien dans cette lutte est indispensable et nous leur en sommes très reconnaissants.

Finally, I also take this opportunity to pay tribute to French soldiers who fought alongside U.S. soldiers in November, one thousand nine hundred and forty four, and who continue to fight together against terrorism in Afghanistan. Their support in this struggle is essential and we are very grateful.

Before heading to our final destination for the day, we stopped for a celebratory lunch at Chef Emmanuel Roche's place, Auberge du Neuf Moulin. I can't say enough about the food! It was incredible! The taste and presentation were out of this world! Our last stop was Frémonville, where it appeared the entire town and more turned out for the memorial. A large poster of my grandfather was at the podium. The Consul General was in attendance again and gave a heartfelt speech to the 314th Infantry and my grandfather. Here is an excerpt:

En tant que représentant du Gouvernement des Etats-Unis d’Amérique pour la Lorraine, je suis honoré d’être parmi vous et ému de la présence de vétérans américains de la soixante dix neuvième Division d’Infanterie, accompagnés de leurs familles et de leurs amis. Je tiens à remercier Monsieur le Maire, André CAMAILLE, et son Conseil Municipal pour leur accueil.

As a representative of the Government of the United States of America for Lorraine, I am honored to be here and moved by the presence of American veterans of the Seventy Ninth Infantry Division, accompanied by their families and their friends. I want to thank the Mayor, Andre Camaille and the City Council for their hospitality.

Il y a soixante six ans, nos soldats avaient à peine vingt ans. Bien que très jeunes, la liberté dont il pouvait jouir aux Etats-Unis les a poussés à combattre une tyrannie totalitaire en Europe. Malgré le froid, les privations, la menace permanente d’une attaque ennemie, guidés par l’immensité de leur devoir, ils ont fait le nécessaire pour bâtir un monde meilleur. Certains, comme le soldat Melvin W. JOHNSON à qui nous rendons hommage ici aujourd’hui, ne sont toutefois pas revenus au pays.

There are sixty six years, our soldiers had barely twenty years. Although very young, the freedom he could enjoy in the United States urged them to fight a totalitarian tyranny in Europe. Despite the cold, deprivation, the constant threat of enemy attack, guided by the immensity of their duty, they have taken steps to build a better world. Some, like Private Melvin W. Johnson who we honor here today, however, are not returned home.

A travers l’histoire, à plusieurs reprises les Etats-Unis sont entrés en guerre à contrecœur. Depuis le onze septembre deux mille un, nous nous battons contre un ennemi invisible. Mais l’Amérique n’est pas seule dans ce combat. La France et les Etats-Unis font partie d’une grande alliance, engagée dans un combat pour préserver la démocratie, les droits de l’homme et la règle de droit, comme actuellement en Afghanistan. Cet engagement commun dans la bataille pour la liberté constitue un lien qui unira à jamais nos pays.

Throughout history, many times the United States went to war reluctantly. Since September 11th two thousand and one, we fight against an invisible enemy. But America is not alone in this fight. France and the United States are part of a grand alliance, engaged in a struggle to preserve democracy, human rights and the rule of law, as currently in Afghanistan. This common commitment in the battle for freedom is a link that will unite our country forever.

Aucun discours prononcé, aucun monument bâti, aucune gerbe déposée ne peuvent pleinement transmettre notre gratitude pour leur sacrifice ultime de ceux qui ont perdu la vie dans le combat.

No speech, no monument built, no wreath to be laid can fully convey our gratitude for their ultimate sacrifice of those who lost their lives in battle.

De nombreux vétérans américains reviennent en pèlerinage en Europe pour honorer la mémoire de leurs compatriotes tués au champ d’honneur. C’est souvent aussi en coup de cœur qu’ils reviennent, car ils aiment retrouver leurs amis français aux côtés desquels ils ont vécu des moments très forts lorsqu’ils avaient vingt ans, des moments de joie et de partage, mais aussi des moments de peur et de découragement. La grandeur de ce qu’ils ont accompli il y a soixante six ans mérite vraiment toute notre gratitude.

Many American veterans return to Europe on a pilgrimage to honor the memory of their compatriots killed in battle. It is also often a blow to their heart when they come back because they love finding their French friends alongside whom they lived with when they were twenty years old, strong moments of joy and sharing, but also moments of fear and discouragement. The magnitude of what they accomplished sixty six years ago really deserves our gratitude.

Nous sommes tous maintenant les enfants d’une paix durable. Cette paix est telle que nous ne pouvons plus imaginer revenir à la guerre en France et ailleurs en Europe. C’est bien là la véritable mesure de ce qui a été accompli il y a soixante six ans pour défendre la liberté d’un continent tout entier.

We are all now children of a lasting peace. This peace is such that we can not imagine returning to the war in France and elsewhere in Europe. This is indeed the true measure of what has been accomplished sixty six years ago to defend the freedom of an entire continent.

La paix et la liberté ne sont toutefois jamais acquises pour toujours. Il est important de continuer à défendre les valeurs communes pour lesquelles tant de soldats américains et français ont combattu côte à côte. Les liens tissés par le sang versé ont créé une véritable fraternité d’armes. Le devoir de mémoire seul ne suffit cependant pas à les défendre. La solidarité entre les peuples, dans le respect des valeurs de chacun, est indispensable au maintien de la démocratie et des droits de l’homme. Gardons allumée la flamme de l’amitié, en temps de paix comme il y a 66 ans!

Peace and freedom are, however, never gained forever. It is important to continue to defend the common values for which so many American and French soldiers fought side by side. The links forged by the bloodshed has created a true brotherhood of arms. The duty of memory alone is not enough to defend them. Solidarity between peoples, in keeping with the values of each, is essential for the maintenance of democracy and human rights. Keep alight the flame of friendship in times of peace as 66 years ago!