While I fully understand the desire of Americans, among others, to want to visit the beaches, cemeteries and WWII sites of Normandy, I can’t help but note the relative lack of visitors to the war memorials and cemeteries within far easier reach of Paris. For example:
- the American WWI cemeteries and memorials near Chateau-Thierry, including the Aisne-Marne Cemetery and Belleau Wood, 60 miles east of Paris,
- the Suresnes Cemetery, originally a WWI cemetery and now also containing the remains of soldiers from WWII, four miles west of the center of Paris, or
- the Escadrille La Fayette Memorial in Marnes-la-Coquette, six miles west of the center of Paris.
On Saturday May 26 I attended the Memorial Day commemoration at the latter.
The monument honors the flying corps comprised of American pilots who, having volunteered to take part in the First World War under French command (1916-1918), lost their lives in aerial combat. Sixty-eight of them are entombed below in a wide semi-circular crypt.
The monument, constructed 1926-1928, is in the form of a triumphal arch with porticoes to either side. The names of Lafayette and Washington are inscribed on the central portion, emphasizing the monument’s role as a symbol of French-American friendship. Inscriptions of the names of those who are entombed in the crypt join Lafayette and Washington in overlooking the escadrille’s logo.
The memorial is not managed by the American Battle Monuments Commission and so has had to rely on stopgap measures over the past 10 years to ensure its maintenance including funding from the Ministry of Culture, local government and private donations. A letter of intent signed this year between the American Embassy in France and the French Ministry of Defense promises to support continued financing of the moment. The foundation overseeing the monument, created in 1930, is now led by Van Kirk Reeves, an American lawyer living in Paris.
This summer I’ll be writing more about the Escadrille La Fayette, about the memorial, and about the Memorial Day commemoration. In the meantime you can learn more about the memorial and The Lafayette Escadrille Foundation on the foundation’s website.
There’s no need to compare the significance or appeal of this and other cemeteries, monuments and memorials with those in Normandy. It’s simply worth noting that a memorial excursion needn’t involve complicated logistics but are easily reached from Paris.
To reach the Escadrille La Fayette Memorial from the capital, take the suburban train from the Saint-Lazare station to the Garches/Marnes-la-Coquette stop, which takes 20-25 minutes. From the station, turn left and walk for 10 minutes along Boulevard Raymond Poincaré to the entrance to the park, then follow the path several hundred yards to the clearing where the monument stands in the distance.
I leave you with this 5-minute video created by the American Battle Monuments Commission that provides a dramatic overview of the overseas cemeteries, monuments and memorials operated by the ABMC.
© 2012, Gary Lee Kraut