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Now, on to today’s post!
This remarkable photo from 1917 has a wonderful back story.
On July 4, 1917, General John “Black Jack” Pershing marched 1,000 U.S. soldiers through the streets of Paris. He was leading the troops on a pilgrimage to Cimetiere de Picpus, to pay their respects to the French aristocrat Gilbert du Motier, the Marquis de La Fayette, known in America simply as Lafayette.
In those early days of July, spirits were low in France. The people had suffered. By the time American doughboys marched through the streets, more than 200,000 Frenchmen had perished in the Great War. Pershing intended the march to lift the spirit of their allies and infuse some hope into an exhausted nation, and it worked. The American soldiers grinned and waved as flowers rained down on them from crumbling Baroque balconies.
But who was Lafayette? Born into great wealth in France, Lafayette became intoxicated with the ideals of the American Revolution. At 19, he sailed overseas and enlisted as a military officer. He fought bravely and was wounded. Nevertheless, when he recovered, he returned to the fight. When the war ended, he returned to France and entered politics. He co-wrote the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen with Thomas Jefferson.
During the French Revolution, radicals arrested Lafayette and imprisoned him for five years. Lafayette managed to survive. Though he refused to be a part of Napoleon Bonaparte’s government; Napoleon had him released from prison anyway.
Later, Lafayette returned to politics in France. President Monroe persuaded him to visit the United States again, where he was given a hero’s welcome. When he died in 1834, he was buried in Cimetiere de Picpus in Paris, under soil from Bunker Hill.
Eighty-three years after the death of Lafayette, General Pershing came to a stop in front of his tomb. Despite the large number of people, all was still. Then General Pershing cried out, breaking the silence: “Lafayette, we are here!” The soldiers and the Parisian onlookers erupted into cheers.
And that is the story behind this beautiful snapshot of these American soldiers standing in a Paris cemetery, covered in flowers during the Great War.