RENEE MONTAGNE, Host:
On this Memorial Day we go to France to learn about a French volunteer organization that adopts the graves of American soldiers who died during World War II D-Day invasion and are buried on the coast of Normandy. Eleanor Beardsley reports.
ELEANOR BEARDSLEY: High on a bluff above Omaha Beach, the American cemetery at Colleville-sur-Mer is a place of stunning beauty and tranquility. Rising from thick, manicured grass, rows of white crosses and Stars of David face westward, towards 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 Carolina NPR listener, Jennie Malcolm. Walter Malcolm was killed near here, two months 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.
Jennie 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.
JENNIE MALCOLM: It had been prepared for a photograph with sand taken from the beach filling in the letter forms so that you can see the contrast between the letter forms and the white marble and a beautiful bouquet of flowers. And it was quite an emotional experience to receive that.
BEARDSLEY: Jennie Malcolm was particularly touched because her uncle's immediate family are now dead and no one had ever visited his grave. MarieTherese La Vieille, who founded the organization eight years ago with her husband, says it's important that each soldier be remembered when their own families can't come anymore.
MARIETHERESE LA VIEILLE: When we joined, we promised to visit the grave and to lay flowers on the grave. And sometimes the people take flowers from their own gardens.
(SOUNDBITE OF JETS FLYING)
BEARDSLEY: 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.
Unidentified Man (Priest): (French spoken)
BEARDSLEY: A French priest recites the Lord's Prayer, then a rabbi chants the Kadish. And a French military band plays "The Star Spangled Banner."
(SOUNDBITE OF "THE STAR SPANGLED BANNER")
BEARDSLEY: But behind the grand ceremony, a simple tribute unfolds at the back of the cemetery. Fifty-year-old Jean Michel Miette kneels in front of the grave of Jennie's uncle, Private First Class Walter C. Malcolm. Miette is the one who adopted Malcolm's grave and he has come from Paris this morning to honor him. He has brought flowers and written a letter.
JEAN MICHEL MIETTE: I want to read something for (unintelligible). I'm apologizing because I speak in French. Okay? (French spoken)
BEARDSLEY: Jean Michel 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.
MICHEL MIETTE: (French spoken)
BEARDSLEY: With enormous emotion in my heart, I want to say thank you, Walter, says Miette. I will never forget you or your heroic compatriots.
MICHEL MIETTE: (French spoken) God bless America.
BEARDSLEY: Since Les Fleurs de la Memoire brought them together, Jean Michel Miette and Jennie Malcolm now speak regularly on the telephone. Jennie Malcolm says she feels her uncle Walter finally has family to visit his grave.
(SOUNDBITE OF TAPS)
BEARDSLEY: As a lone trumpet plays Taps, Memorial Day at Colleville-sur-Mer draws to a close.
I'm Eleanor Beardsley at the American Cemetery at Colleville-sur-Mer, France.
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