Avignon, something of a disappointment

25 August was a great disappointment for us. We attended the “liberation” ceremony in the great and historic city of Avignon. There was no American flag, and it was not planned to play the US national anthem but we were able to convince the protocol officer to include it in the ceremony. There were no speeches honoring the liberators, just the placing of six wreaths at the city’s war memorial by numerous dignitaries.'A Nos Morts' Monument in Avignon

For several years we have asked the city to honor our WWII Marne Men with a plaque. The city has a plaque from the 1st French Army in the town hall which claims the 1st French Army liberated the city. Other sources claim the FFI liberated the city. Historically, the German 19th Army evacuated the city, and the FFI did take over the town hall the evening the Germans left, but the first allied unit to arrive in Avignon was from the 7th Infantry Regiment.

Flags at AvignonWe were also surprised to see that at the war memorial there was no French flag displayed. There were, however, numerous flags from patriotic organizations present. From all appearances, Avignon was indifferent to the significance of the day. Even some local veterans and local citizens were disappointed with the ceremony. It is a shame the city missed the chance to commemorate appropriately such a significant anniversary.

More 2014 Commemorations, including a Sherman tank

Commemorations continued on 18 August, this time with our group traveling into the 45th Infantry Division sector to dedicate two plaques in honor of the Thunderbirds in the towns of Riez and Valensole. Both ceremonies were very nice, with the townspeople showing great appreciation for Mike Halik. Mike assisted in the unveiling of both plaques as no 45th ID veterans were present. Mayor Gérard Auric of Valensole and Mayor Christophe Bianchi presented us with wonderful gifts of agricultural products made with lavender – these two towns are in the heart of lavender country! This was the first time ever since the war any American veterans or soldiers have visited either town since the end of the war! The events were coordinated by Marc Tastenoy of Var 39-45, a reenactment group which is proud to portray 3rd Infantry Division soldiers.

On 19 August we were in Cadenet for their commemoration. The town dedicated a plaque in 2012 and we were happy to once again join the community for this special anniversary. The mayor, Fernand Perez, presented Mike Halik with the town’s medallion and Var 39-45, with some associated re-enactors, quite realistically portrayed the entry into town of the first US troops and the activities of the Resistance.

The ceremony at Vauvenargues20 August was another wonderful day as we drove to Vauvanargues, in the shadow of St. Victoire and near Picasso’s castle, for a fantastic ceremony at the town’s liberation monument. This time the event was supported by another reenactment group, Forty Four Memories, and associated re-enactors, and included a Sherman tank! Mayor Philippe Charrina of Vauvenargues did a great job coordinating the event. A group of re-enactors made their way from Italy, Quelli Dell’Epoca under the leadership of Luca Masciullo, to participate, and we learned they re-enact 3ID in Italy also! BG Pierre Kerlann, French Air Force, retired, organized both this event as well as the following ceremony in the next town, St. Marc Jaumegarde. These towns are on the route which the 30th Infantry Regiment took to enter Aix en Provence on 20 August 1944. The St. Marc Jaumegarde ceremony took place at the location of the plaque which was dedicated in 2012 on the spot where the 30th Infantry had its command post for the fight for Aix en Provence.

21 August ceremony in Aix en Provence 3The 20th concluded with a ceremony on the outskirts of Aix-en-Provence, at a monument with a plaque marking the location where the first 3rd Infantry Division troops entered the city on 20 August 1944. The Sherman made another appearance, as did the re-enactors portraying the 30th Infantry Regiment. This ceremony was organized and hosted by the city of Aix-en-Provence and run by longtime Society friend Mr. Gerard Deloche. The newly arrived Sous Prefect in Aix en Provence participated in the ceremony.

Mike Halik and the Stoys with the Italian re-enactors in Aix en ProvenceThe 21st of August was another great day as the city of Aix-en-Provence celebrated its liberation with a commemorative ceremony on the Place de Jean d’Arc. Gerard Deloach presented Mike Halik and the Stoys with diplomes d’Honneur, honorary citizenship, on behalf of the city for our annual participation in commemorations to honor our great 3rd ID soldiers. That afternoon there was a military vehicle parade and exhibition in the town’s center.

22 August found the group in Lançon-Provence, famous for a 12th century castle, and for having the most olive tree of any community in France! The town dedicated a plaque to the 3rd three years ago, but in the meantime has replaced the original with a much larger one. We had a wonderful ceremony organized by Mr. Jean Baptiste Falzon and Mayor Michel Mille. There was a very nice exposition of WWII artifacts and pictures in the town’s cultural hall, and we were again hosted for a great lunch with the Mayor, color bearers, town officials, and re-enactors. This was Mike Halik’s last ceremony of the trip, as he, Debbie, and Keith were leaving for Marseilles and then the long flight back to the USA. Everywhere Mike appeared he was showered with affection and respect as the visible representative of all the 3rd ID men who fought in the liberation of Southern France.

Our next ceremony was in Salon-de-Provence, a regular stop each year. Our 3rd ID plaque has been relocated to the city’s main monument honoring the Resistance on the outskirts of the city in the Val de Cuech. The location is where the Germans executed several resistance fighters in June 1944 and is a sacred place to the citizens of Salon. It was a very nice ceremony, with the city’s new mayor, Nicolas Isnard, running a tight ship. The mayor delivered a very good speech at the town hall after the ceremony as he opened the evening’s festivities in the city. It was great to see the US and French flags flying together at the city hall.

On 23 August the town of Le Thor commemorated its liberation with a very nice ceremony attended by the US Consul General in Marseille. The event was wonderful and we were given a very warm reception. Mr. Patrick Choukroune organized a military vehicle parade to kick off the event. Mayor Yves Bayon de Noyer was a wonderful host. His project officer, Florence Andrzejewski, did a marvelous job organizing the event. Monika received an honorary citizenship in Le Thor.

Convoy 23 August through the countryside around Malemort and Blauvac  In the afternoon Tim drove to La Barben for that community’s commemoration. La Barben has been a regular commemoration the past five years, and this year’s event was again very special. Mayor Christophe Amalric hosted a wonderful event. Meanwhile Monika traveled to the village of Malemort-du-Comtat for a wonderful program of events which included a military vehicle convoy through the beautiful countryside near the base of Mont Ventoux. The villages of Malemort-du-Comtat and neighboring Blauvac hosted a very nice ceremony in M23 August ceremony in Malemort du Comtatalemort-du-Comtat and a wonderful evening of swing music. Tim returned from La Barben in time to participate in most of the activities in Malemort-du-Comtat. Mayor Ghislain Roux of Malemort and Mayor Max Raspail of Blauvac intend to dedicate plaques to the 3rd ID next year. Both of us became honorary citizens of Malemort! The event was supported by re-enactors coordinated by Mr. Marco Paoli.

The morning of 24 August we participated in the ceremony at Chateaurenard outside of Avignon. We were disappointed the town failed to mention the role of the 3rd Infantry Division in its liberation and failed to display the American flag or to play the national anthem. However, we were very happy to participate in Cavaillon’s commemoration that afternoon! Deputé-Maire Jean-Claude Bouchet was joined by the Prefect of the Vaucluse from Avignon, the region’s senator, and the Conseil General for a very meaningful ceremony in the town hall which fully honored the 3rd ID’s role in Cavaillon’s liberation. Monika conducted the POW-MIA ceremony to honor those still missing from the war. It was very well received. Festivities included a military vehicle parade and pipe band music. While in Cavaillon we met the Mayor of Malaucène, Dominique Bodon. His village was also liberated by the 3rd ID, and sits right at the base of Mont Ventoux. He is also willing to dedicate a plaque to our veterans of the 3rd Infantry Division. We also met the deputy Mayor of Pertuis, the first major town of the Vaucluse Department liberated by the 3rd ID in August 1944, and the town is very interested in honoring its liberators with a commemorative plaque.

OP International’s first eleven days of commemorations of Operation Dragoon have been full of wonderful and meaningful experiences, greatly enriched by the Halik’s participation. The final six days promise to be every bit as meaningful as the citizens of Provence celebrate the 70th anniversary of their liberation and honor the memory of their liberators.23 August convoy and view of Mont Ventoux