Twinning in Souilly and Expo in Verdun
About the Author: Evan G. Reade is the U.S. Consul General in Strasbourg
For my first trip outside Strasbourg, I had the great pleasure to travel to the small town of Souilly, near Verdun in Lorraine Province. The reason for my journey was to witness the official ceremony marking the twin city relationship between Souilly and Leclede, Missouri. What do Souilly and Leclede have in common, you ask? General of the Armies John J. Pershing!
General Pershing, who commanded the American Expeditionary Force during World War I, was born in Leclede. And after arriving in France, he established his headquarters in the mayor’s office in Souilly in early 1918, from where he directed the actions of the American soldiers who helped turn the tide and win the war.
Souilly Mayor Christine Habert, who was joined for the occasion by Leclede Mayor Gary Brown and his wife, Jamie, planned a wonderful ceremony which recalled the deep and enduring ties that bind the United States and France together in friendship. The people of France have not forgotten the contributions and sacrifices made by American soldiers nearly one hundred years ago, and from the looks of it, they never will. I was deeply touched by the sincere outpouring of friendship from the people of Souilly, both young and old alike.
The twinning of Souilly and Leclede, both of which have fewer than 400 inhabitants, means that there are now almost 90 twin city relationships between France and the United States. And it also shows that not only big cities can become related. Often times it is the smallest towns that give us our greatest leaders and heros.
Following my visit to Souilly, I traveled to nearby Verdun, where I joined with Minister of Defense Gerard Longuet in inaugurating the annual Verdun Expo, which this year was dedicated to friendship with the U.S.A. Again, I was struck by the warm welcome I received. Almost everyone I met offered their condolences on the anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attacks, and reiterated their strong support for and attachment to the United States. Among the exhibits were displays of vintage American military equipment and vehicles from both World War I and World War II, tributes to the ongoing cooperation between the U.S. and French militaries in Afghanistan and other hot spots, and a booth dedicated to the erection of a new memorial, to be unveiled in November near Verdun, in honor of the 42nd U.S. Infantry Division, known by its nickname as the Rainbow Division.
It was clear to me throughout this remarkable day that the values, ties, and common experiences that bind France and the United States are enduring and unbreakable. From World War I, to World War II, to 9/11, our partnership has remained solid, enduring, and resilient. It made me feel proud to be an American, and proud to be serving in France.
Evan G. Reade