Friday, May 8, 2009
EDIT: Here is an english transcript of Sarkozy's speech we heard that day. Quite moving.
Irie's piano teacher works for the Mayor of Frejus (who is also a French Senator - they are allowed dual roles here), and she informed us at her last lesson that she had reserved 3 tickets for us to go see President Sarkozy give his VE Day speech in St. Maxime. We were delighted and jumped at the chance! Victory in Europe Day is a national holiday in France as it was the day Germany signed an unconditional surrender ending WWII in Europe. While most Americans are taught in school about the storming of Normandy, France (on June 6, 1944), they are less aware that we also invaded France from the Mediterranean in the south. The Allies invaded on beaches that are in neighboring communities of Frejus, near Dramont/Agay to the east, and St. Maxime and St. Tropez to the west. This invasion, Operation Dragoon which took place on August 15, 1944, helped push the Germans out of France and to eventual defeat.
Today we left our apt. at 7:20 am, as we had to walk to Frejus centreville to catch an 8 am bus full of Frejusians who, like us, had invitations to this event. St. Maxime is less than 30 minutes along the coast, and we were dropped off at 8:30 with a lunch and told we would be picked up by the same bus at 2:30. The event was extremely well organized with various groups being put in various, pre-arranged spaces. The event was taking place directly on Le Nartelle beach where one of the Allied landings took place. There were rows of chairs for special guests, mostly veterans and their families, and behind them, rectangular corrals. We were there so early that we walked right to the front railing of our corral and stayed there for the next 4+ hours. We had a remarkable view as the crowd filled, the band played patriotic songs, the various military outfits marched into place, and volunteers handed out free water, cookies and madelines, and collected our trash. Like most of our experiences in France it was very civilized and orderly...and in this case, gratuit.
Two days ago, while on the beach in Frejus, we had seen large military ships heading west and knew they were moving in for this event.
Today, they could be seen out at sea, standing guard and ready to display France's naval power. Sarkozy entered right on time, reviewed the troops lining the beach, shook hands with vets, and walked directly in front of us on his way to the podium. He gave a short, but poignant speech about war, how it is to be avoided, but sometimes cannot be, and thanked the allies for helping France save their country. Lisa said she got about 95% of it and that it was very Camus-like. After his speech he was helicoptered out to the big aircraft carrier where he, with all of us, watched a display of naval and air force maneuvers. It was a dramatic day, one we felt honored to be a part of, as well as being unofficial representatives of the U.S. A couple different cameramen focused in on Irie standing at the barrier with us, and after the event Lisa was interviewed by a major news source en française. Here's the video of our day. Thanks Elizabet for the tickets!!