Those of you that have been following our posts of a fallen U.S. WWII soldier for the past year, ever since his remains were discovered in Alsace, France, will be happy to read the conclusion of this touching story.
As a reminder, we encourage you to have a look at the full account:
PFC Cecil E. Harris, KIA in Dambach, Alsace, France on January 2, 1945, and MIA until September 2013 will be laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery on October 22, 2014 at the presence of his family.
We would like to reiterate our sincerest thanks to the French authorities, to the personnel of the Lorraine American Cemetery, to JPAC and to everyone else involved in the finding, repatriation and identification of PFC Harris’ remains.
Until they all come home — PFC Cecil E Harris has.
Our thoughts and prayers are with PFC Harris’ family.
U.S. Consulate General Strasbourg
I’m afraid the time has come for me to say farewell to Strasbourg, Alsace, Lorraine, and Franche Comte. It seems like only yesterday I was arriving, writing my introductory blog, and starting to explore this marvelous region and getting to know its wonderful people. These three years have passed way too quickly. Everywhere I’ve gone during my time here – from the palaces of the Prefets to the city halls of small villages, from grand ceremonies in big city town squares to simple memorials next to small steles erected in the mountains to fallen American soldiers and airmen, to universities, schools, factories, museums, historical sites, the list goes on and on – I have been warmly welcomed. And I have always been deeply touched by the friendship and respect shown to my country.
The ties that bind France and the United States stretch back to the birth of the United States of America. Today, we live in a complicated, dangerous world, which makes it all the more important for our two great countries to continue to work side by side, in a strong and enduring partnership to protect and advance our common values and interests. I hope I’ve been able to play a small role in helping to strengthen these ties, and I look forward to continuing to do so in my next assignment, in Washington, DC.
To my friends and colleagues at the Council of Europe, thank you for making me feel welcome and valued. The United States is proud of its Observer status and looks forward to continuing to work with you to preserve and promote democracy, human rights, and the rule of law in Europe and beyond. Thank you for all you do to help promote peace and stability in Europe.
I’d also like to thank my fantastic staff here at the Consulate General, who have done outstanding work these past three years. We may be one of America’s smallest diplomatic outposts, but I think we provide first-rate service to our American community here, and represent the United States as well as some of our larger missions elsewhere, thanks to their hard work.
Thanks to everyone who has made my stay here so memorable and enjoyable.
Evan G. Reade
Acting Permanent Observer to the Council of Europe
J’ai bien peur – hélas ! – qu’il soit temps pour moi de dire au revoir à Strasbourg, a l’Alsace, à la Lorraine et à la Franche-Comté. J’ai l’impression que c’était à peine hier que j’arrivais, que j’écrivais les premiers mots du blog, que je découvrais ces régions merveilleuses et que j’apprenais à connaitre leurs habitants exceptionnels…
Ces trois années sont décidemment passées trop vite ! A chaque fois que je me suis déplacé – que ce soit dans les Préfectures ou dans les mairies des petits villages, à des cérémonies majestueuses en plein cœur des grandes villes ou à de simple commémorations près de stèles érigées en l’honneur de soldats ou de pilotes américains, dans les universités, les lycées, les usines, les musées, les sites historiques, et la liste est longue… ! – j’ai toujours été très chaleureusement accueilli. Aussi, j’ai toujours été très, très touché par l’amitié et le respect témoigné envers mon pays.
Les liens qui unissent la France et les Etats-Unis remontent directement à la naissance des Etats-Unis. Aujourd’hui, le monde dans lequel nous vivons est de plus en plus compliqué et dangereux, ce qui rend encore plus important pour nos deux pays de continuer à travailler main dans la main, dans un partenariat fort et pérenne, pour protéger et faire avancer nos valeurs et intérêts communs. J’espère que j’ai réussi à jouer un tant soit peu un rôle dans le renforcement de ces liens, et j’ai hâte de poursuivre cette mission dans mon nouveau poste à Washington, DC.
A mes amis et collègues du Conseil de l’Europe, je leur dit : « merci ! » pour m’avoir très bien accueilli et toujours estimé. Les Etats-Unis sont fiers de leur titre de « membre observateur » au Conseil de l’Europe et espère continuer à travailler avec vous pour préserver et promouvoir la démocratie, les droits de l’homme et l’Etat de droit en Europe… et de plus en plus au-delà ! Merci pour tous ce que vous faites, chaque jour, pour encourager la paix et la stabilité sur le Vieux Continent.
Je tiens aussi à remercier mon équipe fantastique au Consulat Général, qui a fait un travail extraordinaire pendant ces trois dernières années. On est peut être un des postes diplomatique américains les plus petits, mais je pense que les services rendus à notre communauté américaine étaient des plus attentionnés et que nous avons représenté les Etats-Unis aussi bien que n’importe quelle plus grande mission, et cela grâce à notre travail acharné !
Merci à tous ceux qui ont rendu mon séjour ici si mémorable et plaisant.
Three years have passed all too quickly, and it is now time for me to depart Strasbourg and the Council of Europe and move on to my next assignment. It has been an honor and a real pleasure for me to represent the United States of America as its Observer at the Council of Europe.
I have learned a lot during my time in Strasbourg about the extremely valuable, in fact, critical role the Council of Europe plays in promoting, maintaining, and supporting democracy, human rights, and the rule of law here in Europe and, increasingly, beyond. But I have also come to learn that the organization is not well known, understood, or fully appreciated by most people, not only in my country, but even in Europe. So as I return to Washington, I will continue to work to do my best to make others aware of what it is accomplishing.
But how best to describe the Council of Europe? I have heard it said many times that the Council of Europe is the “watchdog” of democracy, human rights, and rule of law in Europe. But I don’t think that’s the best description. Because to be a good watchdog, you must have, first, a loud bark, and second, sharp teeth you are willing to use. The COE has a bark, and it has teeth: it has the remarkable European Court of Human Rights, after all. But what the COE lacks is the temperament of a watchdog. It was not conceived of, bred, or trained to bite or attack. Rather, it was raised with a much more docile and good-natured temperament. I think it was founded to lead, to help, and to guide – not to threaten, frighten or attack.
So, if we stick to canine analogies – and I don’t mean to imply a lack of vision on anyone’s part – I think a much more appropriate description of the Council of Europe would be as the “guide dog” of democracy, human rights, and rule of law in Europe. A guide dog must still, sometimes, bark loudly to sound a warning to prevent its owner from walking over a cliff, or stepping into traffic, or to avoid some other catastrophe. And a guide dog must be firm and confident, nudging its owner back onto the safe path, as the COE does with its statements and decisions, or with the judgments of the Court. But what the guide dog spends most of its time doing is leading the way and helping, as the COE does with its many monitoring mechanisms and support activities.
So when people in Washington ask me what role the Council of Europe plays in the architecture of European institutions, I will tell them it is the guide to human rights, democracy, and the rule of law. I urge the Council of Europe to bark loudly and clearly when it sees trouble, then to firmly guide its members away from danger and back on to the safe path, and to continue to show its members the way forward.
I’d like to say thank you to all my friends, contacts, and counterparts at the Council of Europe who have made my time here so pleasant, easy, enjoyable, and useful.
Evan G. Reade
Acting Permanent Observer to the Council of Europe
LE CONSEIL DE L’EUROPE ; le “guide” de la démocratie, des droits de l’homme et de l’Etat de droit.
Ces trois années passes ici sont passées vraiment trop vite, et il est désormais temps pour moi de partir de Strasbourg, du Conseil de l’Europe et de poursuivre ma route vers mon nouveau poste.
J’ai beaucoup appris pendant mon séjour à Strasbourg sur le rôle extrêmement précieux voire critique du Conseil de l’Europe dans la promotion, le maintien, le soutien de la démocratie, des droits de l’homme, et de l’Etat de droit en Europe, et de plus en plus, au-delà. Mais je me suis aussi rendu compte que la plupart des gens, autant en Europe que dans mon pays, ne connaissent, ne comprennent ni n’apprécient à sa juste valeur cette organisation. Alors au moment où je m’apprête à retourner à Washington, sachez que je continuerai à faire de mon mieux pour faire connaitre à d’autres ce qu’elle accomplit.
Mais comment décrire au mieux le Conseil de l’Europe ? J’ai entendu de nombreuses fois dire que le Conseil de l’Europe était le “chien de garde” de la démocratie, des droits de l’homme et de l’Etat de droit en Europe. Mais je ne pense pas que ce soit la meilleure description possible, car pour être un bon chien de garde il faut, premièrement, savoir aboyer fort et deuxièmement, avoir des dents acérées à utiliser pour toute occasion propice. Le Conseil sait certes aboyer fort, et a des dents acérées : il a la remarquable Cour européenne des Droits de l’Homme. Mais ce qui manque au Conseil de l’Europe, c’est le tempérament d’un chien de garde. Il n’a pas été conçu ni éduqué pour mordre ou attaquer. Il a plutôt été élevé pour avoir un tempérament beaucoup plus docile et facile à vivre. Je suis convaincu qu’il a été fondé pour mener, aider et pour guider, certainement pas pour menace, apeurer ou attaquer.
Ainsi, pour rester dans les analogies canines – et en aucun cas je ne veux insinuer un manqué de discernement de qui que cela soit – je pense qu’une description beaucoup plus appropriée du Conseil de l’Europe serait celle d’un chien guide, d’un chien pour aveugles de la démocratie des droits de l’homme et de l’Etat de droit en Europe. Un chien d’aveugle doit souvent aboyer fortement pour prévenir son maître sur le point de trébucher, de s’avancer sur la route ou pour lui éviter d’autres catastrophes. Un chien guide doit être inflexible et confiant dans ses choix, poussant doucement son maître dans la bonne direction ; c’est ce que fait le Conseil de l’Europe avec ses déclarations et ses décisions, ou avec les jugements de la Cour. La chose que le chien d’aveugle passe le plus clair de son temps à faire, c’est ouvrir la marche et aider, exactement comme le Conseil de l’Europe avec ses nombreux mécanismes de suivi et ses activités de soutien aux pays membres.
Ainsi, quand à Washington on me demandera quel rôle le Conseil de l’Europe joue dans l’architecture des institutions européennes, je répondrai qu’il est le guide de la démocratie, des droits de l’homme et de l’État de droit. J’incite le Conseil à aboyer haut et fort quand des menaces se présenteront a lui pour ensuite mener ses membres hors de danger, sur un chemin plus sûr, puis continuer à indiquer à ses pays membres comment fonctionner dans les meilleures conditions.
Je tiens à remercier tous mes amis, contacts et homologues du Conseil de l’Europe pour avoir rendu mon séjour ici si plaisant, facile, agréable et utile.
Private First Class Cecil E. Harris has finally come home. Last November 10, we published a blog for Veterans Day telling the story of a long lost World War II GI, missing in action since January 2, 1945, whose remains had been found on a hillside above the tiny town of Dambach, in the northern Vosges mountains. We could not tell you his name, because he had not yet been positively identified by the U.S. Department of Defense, nor had his surviving family members been notified. But shortly before Memorial Day, both his wife, Helene, and son, William were told he had been found. According to his granddaughter, Christie, plans are being made to bury him with full military honors at Arlington National Cemetery sometime in the coming weeks.
Once again, we’d like to thank all the local officials and others who located PFC Harris and helped to facilitate his return home.
Evan G. Reade
Acting Permanent Observer to the Council of Europe
For those of us who remember exactly where we were and what we were doing that fateful moment when the news broke that President Kennedy had been assassinated, it is hard to believe half a century has passed. But November 22, 2013 did, indeed, mark the 50th anniversary of that tragic day in American history.
Here in Eastern France, this important date was commemorated on the campus of the Office of National Forests’ training academy in the town of Velaine-en-Haye in Lorraine. And why at the training academy of the equivalent of our own Forest Service? Because in 1963, the campus was a NATO supply base, the Nancy General Depot, staffed by American military personnel and French civilians, and following Kennedy’s assassination a small monument was erected on the base to his memory. Said to be the only monument in France dedicated to President Kennedy and unveiled on November 20, 1964, its exact origin has been lost to history. But most agree it was the French employees of the base, touched by the young President’s death, who took up a collection and erected the monument. The anniversary, which was hosted by the Academy’s director, Alexis Hzlusko, was marked by the placing of wreaths at the monument, speeches given by the Director and the Consul General, and a luncheon hosted by the Academy for local officials, students, staff and faculty.
Back in Strasbourg, the Consulate General hosted a small commemoration just across the street from our building at the John F. Kennedy bridge over the Ill river. Again, the origin of how and when the bridge came to bear the late President’s name has faded with time. But we are grateful to the city of Strasbourg for so naming the bridge in honor of our fallen president. The ceremony was attended by the Deputy Mayor, as well as by representatives of Association Alsace Etats-Unis, Americans in Alsace, and Democrats Abroad. A small bouquet of flowers was placed at the bridge, and a moment of silence was observed. Across the street, the flag in front of the Consulate General flew at half-staff as we recalled the life of a young President tragically cut short and of the hopes that died with him.
Evan G. Reade
When one thinks of servicemen who are Missing in Action (MIA), we normally think of the Vietnam War, or perhaps of the Korean Conflict. But there are over 12,000 soldiers, sailors, and airmen still missing in the European and Mediterranean theatres of action from World War II. Several weeks ago, we had the rare opportunity to help send one of these heroes home. Here’s how it happened:
In January 1945, American troops moved in to secure a small valley near the town of Dambach after the Germans had been pushed out of France along the border stretching from Metz to Strasbourg. Dambach is located in a typical, lovely Alsatian valley about 45 minutes north of Strasbourg, and is dominated by several high ridges, sloping down from the Vosges mountains. One such ridge is marked by three distinctive rock formations that look like large chimneys, towering above the trees. The valley provides an easy route into Germany, only a few kilometers to the north.
Although things seemed quiet, one hundred and fifty miles to the west the Germans had just mounted a major counter-attack – the Battle of the Bulge – which American forces were still beating back. Fifty miles to the south, American and French forces were still trying to clear the Colmar Pocket of German forces in central Alsace. It was one of the coldest, harshest winters on record, and it was at that moment Hitler ordered another counter-attack, Operation Northwind, designed to take back Strasbourg and northern Alsace.
Elements of the 45th Infantry Division were dug in along the mountain ridges above Dambach guarding the valley approaches when the German forces attacked. The fighting for the ridge-top positions must have been fierce, as the slopes were steep and snowy, and many rocky outcroppings provided cover and concealment for the soldiers on both sides. According to local residents, the ridge-top changed hands several times over the course of the battle, during which many soldiers fell. One, a Private First Class, was later reported to be killed in action. But his body was never recovered, and his name was eventually inscribed on the Wall of the Missing at the American Cemetery at Epinal, in the Vosges Mountains.
Fast forward to sixty eight years later, September 2013; hikers resting beneath the middle of the three chimney rock formations spotted what they thought was a human skull protruding from the ground. They notified the superintendent of a nearby German military ceremony who came to the scene to investigate. When he lifted the skull, he found beneath it a perfectly preserved U.S. Army World War II dog tag, bearing the name of the soldier whose name appears on the wall. He carefully replaced the skull and immediately contacted his counterpart at the Lorraine American Memorial and Cemetery, as well as local authorities. The Joint Prisoner of War, Missing in Action Accounting Command (JPAC) was also notified and immediately dispatched a team to the site.
On September 9, 2013, the JPAC team arrived on the distinctive ridge in the Vosges and began to meticulously excavate the site. The skull was recovered, and small bits of human remains began to be found, along with unexpended ammunition, buttons, and uniform insignia, including a corroded but clearly recognizable “U.S.” collar insignia. The JPAC archeologist soon uncovered a femur bone, then a lower leg and foot. It was clear to everyone that this site did, indeed, hold the remains of a long missing, but not forgotten, American soldier. Following two days of work, the JPAC team successfully recovered a nearly complete skeleton, which was carefully removed to a local funeral home, pending it’s repatriation to the JPAC laboratory in Hawaii for positive identification.
As I watched the JPAC team at work, I thought about this lone soldier, lying for so long in a grave marked by a tall, distinctive rock formation. The site was carefully located under a large overhang, with the chimney on top, and I imagined how over the years, hundreds of hikers must have stopped to rest in this protected and dry spot, never guessing they were not really alone. Upon close examination, we located a rudimentary cross scrawled in the rock face above the grave, presumably placed there by the men who buried this soldier in what they thought would be a temporary resting place.
How had he been missed for so long? Why wasn’t he recovered after the war, along with the other fallen American servicemen? It would have been impossible to miss his gravesite, located as it was under such a distinctive landmark. I speculated that perhaps the soldier had fallen in the first desperate struggle for the ridge, that his comrades had seen him fall and die, but had not had time to recover him as they fled the German onslaught. Perhaps the Germans, after taking possession of the ridge, had buried the fallen American soldier. If this was the case, then the temporary grave would never have been known of or recorded by the American army.
We will probably never know how this soldier came to rest where he did, or how he was left there for so many years. But what is certain is that thanks to the great work of JPAC and the commitment of our country to assure that we will leave no fallen warriors behind, this soldier is returning home. I know very little about him, except that he was 20 years old and had a wife and child. I wonder if perhaps they are still alive. If they are, I can’t imagine the emotions they will feel when they are notified that their husband and father has been found.
Many thanks to the personnel of JPAC for their hard and arduous work; thanks to the personnel at the Lorraine American Cemetery who coordinated this recovery operation; and thanks to all the local and law enforcement authorities who so graciously hosted our teams and facilitated the return of our soldier to his country.
Happy Veterans Day.
“Until they all come home….”
Evan G. Reade