American WWI USAS/US Air Force Commemoration - Saints, Touquin, Mauperthuis, France -
Our event date was July 14, 2008, the 90th anniversary to the day of the tragic date on which Quentin Roosevelt fell in combat.
About 100 people come out to remember the United States Air Service - the brave Americans who were pilots or mechanics for the various pursuit and obversation and bombardment groups. Many French villagers, five village mayors - one of whom is a "Deputy" - equivalent to our Congressmen, one French air base commander, the owners of Chateau de Malvoisine, several local historians, a number of French war veterans and the press etc., turned out for our July 14th event.
The Mayors were Mr. Franck Riester (Coulommiers), Mr. Bernard Jacotin (Saints), Madame Marie Agnes Munier (Mauperthuis), Mr. Jean-Claude Fuzier (Touquin) and Mr. Yves Buisson (St. Augustin). Everyone gathered in the village of Saints, meeting at the Hotel de Ville (City Hall). There were American and French flags along the facade of the building. I don't know if American flags have ever flown on the Hotel de Ville before, so that was a real treat.
We then proceeded to the village War Monument where the dignitaries placed a large flower wreath and played taps. From there, it was on to the cemetery of Saints where the Mayor of Saints - Bernard Jacotin - gave a speech about Quentin Roosevelt and the aviators. It was here that the French unveiled a plaque dedicated to Quentin Roosevelt along the wall where 32 French and North African WWI soldiers are buried.
There were two other villages also involved - Touquin and Mauperthuis. Touquin is where Quentin and the other aviators flew out of from June 26-July 9, 1918. We visited the beautiful Chateau de Malvoisine where we were greeted by the owners - Monsieur and Madame Hibert and their granddaughter. It was here at Touquin's Chateau de Malvoisine that Quentin Roosevelt and other pilots were lodged while flying from the aerodrome just outside of Touquin (also bordered by the villages of Pezarches and Rigny and Ormeaux).
And then we also then visited the village of Mauperthuis where he was staying later. Many pilots, including Quentin, were billeted in Mauperthuis when they were flying out of Saints from July 9 to September 1. Roosevelt was billeted with my great great grandmother - Melina Thibault - the last few days of his all too short life. In Mauperthuis, we toasted Quentin Roosevelt and the other aviators and to their ground crews. Mike O'Neal and I - representing the United States - spoke to the French people and we presented the mayors with letters from Georgia Congressman David Scott (13th District) and Bret Luedke - the test pilot of the world's most advanced aircraft, the F-22 Raptor for Lockheed.
The warmth and friendliness and thanks we felt from the people of France in honor of our aviators was almost overwhelming.
Our United States Air Service 90th anniversary event was about three and a half hours in duration and was extremely well received and liked by all who attended. In addition to our main event of July 14th, the village of Mauperthuis had a photo exhibition which was visited by many villagers.
Quentin Roosevelt and the commemoration were also in the local newspapers twice - in Le Pays Briard on July 13 and in Le Parisiene on July 15. Mike O'Neal and I spent several hours at the farm where the Saints Aerodrome was once located and met with the owner of the farm as well. And the two of us also visited Mauperthuis on our own to see the house where Quentin had stayed while he was there.
We also met with the Rotary Club of Coulommiers, various local historians, the mayors of villages of Saints, Coulommiers, Touquin and Mauperthuis and have told them about our idea to build a monument to the American aviators of World War I.
One of the fantastic things we did also was to actually visit the fields that were once the Aerodrome of Saints. Nothing remains since all of the structures that were there were temporary tent hangars, but we took a lot of photos and surveyed the site and met with the owner of the site. Mike O'Neal will be working on a painting of the aviators at the site. We later walked around Mauperthuis and Saints to see where the aviators had been billeted, had probably strolled around and even had dinner when off duty.
Mike also visited the Lafayette Escadrille Monument on the other side of Paris on July 13. Photos coming soon, I hope.
I felt like we were unearthing a treasure, discovering or rediscovering history and doing detective work to put all of the pieces of the story together. From what we have learned so far, the story of the United States Air Service in France is a great human interest story about Quentin Roosevelt, Eddie Rickenbacker, Frank Luke, Joe Werner, Everett Cook and about all of the other aviators of the United States Air Service - what is today the United States Air Force. These brave young aviators accomplished so much in such a short period of time. But this story is also an eternal story of hope, sacrifice and friendship. It is also a great testament to the eternal bond between the United States and France - a bond which has been weakened in recent years. So we hoped that in our little way, we could remind people of both countries of what the American aviators did in France in 1918 and of the friendship that has kept our two countries together since France entered the American Revolution on our side on February 6, 1778 - thus for more than 230 years now.
Narayan Sengupta (with Mike O'Neal, Claude and Claudine Thibault Barriere)