Saturday, April 3, 2010

French Families Adopt U.S. Graves in Normandy

Ten years ago, a French couple founded an organization that adopts graves of American servicemen who died during the Normandy invasion of World War II. The volunteer group encourages French families to lay flowers on the graves when the Americans' own families can't do it.

High on a bluff above Omaha Beach, the American cemetery at Colleville-sur-Mer is a place of stunning beauty and tranquillity. Rising from thick, manicured grass, rows of white crosses and Stars of David face westward, toward America.

It's hard to imagine that 64 years ago, war raged here. But there are the 10,000 graves to prove it.

Among them is the uncle of a North Carolinian Jennie Malcolm. Walter Malcolm was killed near here, two month after D-Day. Last summer, while investigating her uncle's death, Jennie Malcolm came across the French volunteer organization Les Fleurs de la Memoire, or Flowers of Memory.

Malcolm said she mustered up her best French and asked if flowers could be placed on her uncle's grave. Two months later she received a photo of his grave in the mail. "It was quite an emotional experience," she says.

Malcolm was particularly touched because her uncle's immediate family are all now dead, and no one had ever visited his grave. MarieTherese La Vieille, who founded the organization ten years ago with her husband, says it's important that each soldier be remembered when his own family can't come anymore.

"When we joined, we promised to visit the grave once a year and to lay flowers on the grave," she says. "Sometimes people take flowers from their own gardens. And they say it is like a son, like a cousin, like a brother. It is a member of the family."

This year dozens of members of Les Fleurs de la Memoire have shown up at Colleville-sur-Mer for the annual Memorial Day ceremony, which begins with a flyover by U.S. fighter jets in the missing-man formation.

A French priest recites the Lord's Prayer, then a rabbi chants the Kaddish. And a French military band plays the "Star-Spangled Banner."

But behind the grand ceremony, a simple tribute unfolds at the back of the cemetery. Jean Michel Miette, 50, kneels in front of the grave of Jennie's uncle, Pvt. 1st Class Walter C. Malcolm. Miette is the one who adopted Malcolm's grave, and he has come from Paris this morning to honor him.

Miette, like Jennie Malcolm, discovered Les Fleurs de la Memoire last summer. He says the organization has enabled him to honor the American soldiers who sacrificed their lives for his country and for liberty.

"With enormous emotion in my heart, I want to say thank you, Walter," Miette says. "I will never forget you or your heroic compatriots."

Since Les Fleurs de la Memoire brought them together, Jean Michel and Jennie Malcolm now speak regularly on the phone. She says she feels her uncle finally has family to visit his grave.

On the Web:

Colleville-sur-Mer on Wikipedia

Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial on Wikipedia


VoteNovember2008 said...

My paternal family is from Germany and I want so much to visit Germany! While I'm there I don't want to see any other part of France other than Normandy! I want to feel the power of the Patriots that freed the French people from the Germans! May all those Patriots RIP. I hear the people of Normandy are like no other Frenchmen. VN8

360 Degrees said...


And while the Allies were made up by many countries and we shouldn't forget their sacrifices, the bulk of the Normandy invasion we made up of Americans. We have many readers in France, so to the people of Normandy and the surrounding towns and villages, we all say - Merci mon ami
, Merci mon amie!

VoteNovember2008 said...

Merci beaucoup! VN8