Mr. Mayor, Mr. Renaud, Ladies and Gentlemen:
On behalf of Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe, United States European Command, and as a proud, honorary member of the Friends of American Veterans in Normandy, I want to convey my gratitude to you and to the people of Sainte Mere Eglise.
Thank you for your hospitality, generosity, and friendship to the United States military, to our Army, and especially to the Soldiers of the 82nd Airborne Division. For 74 years, you have hosted us, housed us, fed us, and have become like family.
As we gather in this ceremony to honor Alexandre Renaud, I want to recognize your work in continuing his legacy. Thank you. Alexandre dedicated his life to this city and to the memory of the Americans who fought to free it from subjugation. As Mayor, he led with unrelenting faith and indomitable optimism. Even from the ditch on the edge of town where he and his family and neighbors had taken refuge while the battle for the city raged, he never lost hope that liberation was at hand. With that faith and optimism, he guided this town’s citizens from the darkness of occupation and oppression into the light of freedom. As a Historian, Alexandre captured the heroic acts of airborne Soldiers and average citizens alike. He described the paratroopers who fought here as “the bravest of the brave” and vowed to never forget the sacrifices they made.
He also recorded the courage of everyday people who, during the War, provided Soldiers with food, water, medicine and shelter, often at the risk of their own safety and security, even as they fought to provide for their own families. He rebuilt this city, not just with brick and stone, but with books and stories that provide a priceless record of this city’s revival.
Alexandre was more than just a Mayor and a Historian – he was also a Father. He taught his children how to conquer fear though they were marked at a young age with images of death and destruction. He taught them the importance of gratitude and honor. Perhaps above all, he taught them the value of public service in its many forms. In the months and years that followed, his wife, Simone Renaud, rendered her service too, lovingly tending to Soldiers graves and provding assurances to American families that their sons were not forgotten. As one family wrote to Simone, “Most gracious lady, you are probably closer to us than any other person in this world because you are so near, physically and spiritually, to our son.” She became known as the Mother of Normandy, and just as Simone promised that her family would never forget the sacrifices of our Soldiers, we promise that her legacy, and that of her family, will live on in our hearts. Alexandre and Simone both shared a deep sense of history.
Alexandre wrote of the church we see behind us, a church begun in the twelfth century by the ancestors of this city. “It took four centuries before the church was finished,” he recounted, and though people knew they might not live to see the finished building, they knew that their children and grandchildren would continue the job, each generation carrying on the task.
To the outstanding paratroopers standing befire us today, this is what history calls us to do- to carry on the task, to continue the work, to carry forward the great and noble undertaking, to serve the cause of freedom.
You prepare for your future by understanding the past. You carry on the All-Americans legacy, a legacy forever bound to Sainte Mere Eglise, a legacy proudly shared with the Mayor of the Liberation, Alexandre Renaud.