It’s 2014, and the history buffs among us know this year marks the 100th anniversary of the onset of WWI. It’s also the 70th anniversary year of the D-Day landings on Normandy’s beaches during WWII. There are several interesting historical sites in Ile-de-France (and the surrounding area) that lend themselves well to day trips or weekend getaways related to these two “shared” wars. We’ll consider one of these memorials in Part I of the blog and two others in an upcoming Part II.
Almost every town in France has a small memorial to its “native sons” (and daughters) who died for their country in The Great War: a plaque engraved with their names in the town church; a monument, statue, or sculpture erected to their memory in a central town square. They were literally The Lost Generation, in the saddest sense. But the French generously memorialized the foreigners who died for France, too—the soldiers who served in the French Foreign Legion, other non-French volunteers, and the Allies who fought under their own flags. Let’s look at one memorial built to honor Americans near Paris…and consider visiting, or revisiting, it in this centennial year.
American Cemetery and Memorial on Mont Valérien in Suresnes
Many American travelers have visited the sites near Verdun related to the horrific battles of WWI that transpired in the area. The huge Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery and Memorial, for example, with over 14,000 graves, is the largest American cemetery in Europe. But I’ll wager that fewer readers have been just five miles west of Paris to visit the lovely and peaceful site of the Suresnes American Cemetery and Memorial on Mont Valérien.
Beautiful and moving, the cemetery’s chapel (open to the public) is the focal point for paying homage to over 1500 American servicemen and women who died in the Paris area during WWI, including a pair of brothers, a pair of sisters, and seven nurses. Row upon row of bright white marble grave markers illuminate the sacrifices made to save France. Stop by the office during open hours and the American superintendant will be happy to answer your questions and tell you about the most interesting features and stories. [Personal note: I attended the Veteran’s Day (November 11) wreath-laying ceremony in 2013 with my sons’ old Boy Scouts of America troop (BSA Troop 112, Paris, France). I was touched by the solemnity of the annual event and the brief addresses of honor given by the French and American civil and military officials who were there.]
To reach the site via public transport, take a train from Gare Saint Lazare to the Suresnes-Mont Valérien station (a 15- to 20-minute trip) and then walk ten minutes to the front gate. The site is also served by bus from some Paris neighborhoods, such as Auteuil. There is a panoramic view of Paris from the plateau across the street. Memorials to France’s fallen WWII heroes dot the hillside.
For more details, see the American Battle Monuments Commission Web site. The 5-minute video on the homepage gives an inspiring overview of all of the ABMC sites around the world.
Anna Eklund-Cheong, a resident of France since 2000, gives tours on Franco-American history in Paris; a pair were offered through WICE last fall; two more will be offered through the American Women’s Group this spring. She’s recently started a Web site/blog that gives voice to her creative heart, as well as a Facebook page.
Photographs by Eric Hian-Cheong can be viewed at Eric Hian-Cheong Photography.