Nov. 12, 2004 While marching bands played downtown on Veterans Day, a three-piece scratch band entertained a small but lively Frenchtown gathering early Thursday evening.
Spilling out in the street in front of the Frenchtown Museum the group more than made up in spirit what it lacked in size as the Friends of French Culture honored the American veterans who defended France especially those from the Virgin Islands and, more particularly, those from Frenchtown.
Ignoring a light rain, the group listened intently as the petite and animated Odile De Lyrot, the territory's honorary French consul, spoke of the day in August 1944, when 15,000 American troops liberated Paris, marched down the Champs-Elysees and brought freedom and justice to France.
De Lyrot topped off her remarks with a picture of that moment. She introduced Neil Weiss, longtime St. Thomas businessman, who presented the French Museum with an original handsomely framed photograph of Gen. Charles de Gaulle leading the troops down the Champs-Elysees. Weiss, a decorated World War II veteran, was shot down in combat and was a prisoner of war.
De Lyrot told the group, "It is my honor and privilege, in the name of the French government and on behalf of all the French people, to express our gratitude and respect to all those to whom we owe a great debt: the ability to live in dignity. The heroism of the American soldiers remains forever etched in our memories, and we will never forget their sacrifices for our freedom and the future of all of humanity."
De Lyrot's words carried a special significance to Clement Aubin.
The 90-year-old Frenchtown World War II veteran, sitting with Julie, his wife of 58 years, listened to de Lyrot, and then he recounted some experiences of his own. Leaning forward in his chair, Aubin recalled the Normandy invasion. "I remember climbing," he said, "scaling those cliffs at Omaha Beach. We had to wait in England first," he said, "and then to Normandy."
Aubin presented the museum with a unique souvenir of his time, something that has no price. Aubin unfolded a map, thin and yellowed with age, of the route his battalion took at the invasion. The map is covered with insignias of the different companies and with signatures, the many signatures of those who made it out alive. "I remember them," Aubin said as he caressed the document.
De Lyrot also presented a plaque from the Friends of French Culture to Henry Richardson for the museum. The plaque commends Richardson's efforts in keeping the French culture alive, de Lyrot said. Richardson is president of Frenchtown Civic Organization, which built the museum. Richardson's family actively contributed to the war efforts. Seven of the 10 Richardson brothers have served in the military, Richardson said.
The evening took on the aspects of an outdoor theater production, as street lights shone down on the crowd, munching from a groaning board filled with French cheeses, pates and wines, and chatting with each other and keeping the beat to music makers Richard Berry, Percy Nurse and Ralph Quetel.
Sen. Lorraine Berry, along with James O 'Bryan standing in for Gov. Charles W. Turnbull, made remarks and later joined the crowd, which was filled with a smattering of politicians, business leaders and, mostly, Frenchtown residents out to celebrate their museum's continuing success. (See "French Museum Opens With Words of Praise and Song").
Clement "Cain" Magras, master of ceremonies, concluded the brief ceremony. He said, "There are four flags that fly on the museum all the time – the American flag, the V.I. flag, the French flag and the flag in support of our troops."
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