This past Bastille Day weekend, I had the great honor to attend a moving ceremony outside the small town of Le Val d’Ajol, nestled high in the Vosges mountains. On July 15, the people of the town dedicated a memorial stele to Lt. Robert Booth, a young American pilot who died on that spot over sixty-eight years ago, on October 27, 1944. On that day, Lt. Booth, a 22 year old from Watertown, Connecticut, was trying to drop much needed supplies to an infantry battalion that had been trapped behind enemy lines. Unfortunately, the weather was not good, and in the thick fog and clouds Lt. Booth crashed his P-47 Thunderbolt fighter plane into the mountain top. Today he lies at rest a few miles away in the U.S. military cemetery at Epinal.
The fact that the people of Le Val d’Ajol still remember the sacrifice made by this young man so many years ago may seem remarkable, but in fact, it is but another example of the strong ties which exist in this region between the United States and France. Despite the driving rain that disrupted the ceremony, the mood was not dampened, and a large crowd turned out to honor the Lieutenant and his sacrifice. The ceremony and the events surrounding it were made all the more special by the presence of U.S. 85th Army Band, based in Arlington Heights, ILL, and by a inter-service color guard provided by the U.S. European Command. The nearly 50 soldiers, marines, and airmen who made up this group spent two days in Le Val d’Ajol. They marched in the town’s Bastille Day parade on Saturday, gave a two hour concert in the town square that night just before the traditional fireworks display, and braved the driving rain to provide music at the ceremony on Sunday. They represented the United States like the true professionals they are, and will take home memories of the warm hospitality accorded them by a small French village, as well as a greater understanding of the shared sacrifices our grandparents made together on behalf of our common values.
A huge thank you to Le Val d’Ajol Mayor Jean Richard, who hosted the ceremony, Mrs. Jocelyne Papelard-Brescia of the Memorial Day Overseas Association who organized the placing of the memorial, and to Mr. Bianchetti, who donated stele which will forever honor the sacrifice made by Lt. Booth. Many thanks as well to Major Mary Clare McKenna of U.S. Army-Europe who represented Commanding General LTG Mark Hertling, and to USAF Gerhardt Scholar 2nd Lieutenant Madeline Goff, who accompanied me on behalf of the Air Force.