Throughout the week leading up to the 70th Anniversary of the D-Day landing in France, we see one special interview after another. France Daily Photo recently profiled the Friendship Train sent by America to France, Italy and other European countries and today – the remarkable response from the French people.
The idea of responding to America in kind was initiated by a French rail worker and war veteran, Andre Picard, who led efforts to create the Merci Train in gratitude to the American people. The project quickly grew from one box car to a train with 49 box cars – one for each state and the remaining car to be shared by the District of Columbia and the Territory of Hawaii.
In February of 1949, the train arrived in New York Harbor aboard the French merchant ship Magellan. Each car was filled with gifts to the people of the United States from the people of France.
All box cars featured a French flag and a unique symbol evoking memories of the American “Doughboys” of WWI, many of whom are buried in Flanders Field. Interestingly, for more than 60 years veteran volunteers have kept the antique box cars restored and displayed as memorials to all who gave their lives for the freedom of others. North Dakota has the most expansive display, in that many of the gifts they received have been preserved – from French shields from various departments to dolls, ceramics and family keepsakes. Forty-two other French Merci Train box cars also remain and are displayed in various museums throughout America.
Sometimes politics ‘of the day’ cast shadows on the historical friendship that France and the United States have shared. That is precisely when it is important to remember the bond between our countries.
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