A finer, more diplomatic day of international friendship I have never witnessed.
The morning began with a humbling visit to the World War I museum in Verdun, a pivotal city in the Allied march into France after D-Day. The museum, creatively embedded into the citadel that has protected the city for hundreds of years, presented a stark view of conditions in the trenches. As we passed the different scenes and images of life in the citadel, we felt the frigid temperatures that were a daily challenge for soldiers during both summer and winter and smelled the subtle fragrance of incense coming through the vents, offering a little warmth for the visitors.
"On ne passerons pas," read the words on the wall and monuments—"They will not pass." This was the determined mantra of the soldiers holding their ground.
We then toured the forts, churches, and monuments of Verdun and traveled the streets and communities that had been home to so many of the women and men on this trip. As the bus driver maneuvered along the narrow city roadways, our guides pointed out several places familiar to the women—a Red Cross Service Center (closed in 1966) where some of them had worked, the shops and cafes they had frequented (and where Barbara Bruegger, one of our group, had met and dated her husband), and other sites that recalled people and events we had come back to honor and remember.
The most significant event of the day was the reception we received at the Hotel de Ville in Verdun (the City Hall of Verdun), built in 1623. In the gallant "Salons d'Honneur," just floors above the four canons of victory that have again and again been marched through the town, the deputy mayor of Verdun welcomed all of us and recognized the six women in our group who had served with the American Red Cross in World War II. He then presented two sisters, Andrea Wilsie and Marisa Egendoerfer, the Verdun Medal of Honor on behalf of their great-grandfather who had served in WWI—while their grandmother, Ginny Hannum, who served in the American Red Cross in WWII, looked on with loving pride.
The chief of protocol of Verdun gave us a marvelous tour of the "salle des decorations" of the Hotel de Ville and an impressive explanation of how the name of this soldier will be recorded in the Livre D'Or (Book of Gold) along with all the other soldiers who fought to save Verdun and the Allied front. We then presented a copy of the documentary film ARCOA: In the Spirit of Clara Barton to the mayor of Verdun as a gift to the city on behalf of the American Red Cross women and men who served in WWII.
The day ended with a marvelous reception hosted by the Picard family, the hosts for our trip (Michelle Picard was a longtime volunteer with the American Red Cross Service Center in Verdun). Members of La Croix Rouge, the French Red Cross, were present to welcome us and were offered honorary associate membership in ARCOA (American Red Cross Overseas Association).
As the clouds opened up to water the lush green fields with a beautiful spring rain, we headed back to Metz in our tour bus. Our travels during the day had left us humbled by the memorials to war, mindful of the heavy sacrifices of those who served, and grateful for the opportunities that the war presented—a medal of honor, recognition and gratitude for dedicated service, a town rebuilt from the ashes of the worst kind of devastation, and many lifelong friendships. All in all, a grand day.
The American Red Cross helps people prevent, prepare for and respond to emergencies. Last year, almost a million volunteers and 35,000 employees helped victims of almost 75,000 disasters; taught lifesaving skills to millions; and helped U.S. service members separated from their families stay connected. Almost 4 million people gave blood through the Red Cross, the largest supplier of blood and blood products in the United States. The American Red Cross is part of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement. An average of 91 cents of every dollar the Red Cross spends is invested in humanitarian services and programs. The Red Cross is not a government agency; it relies on donations of time, money, and blood to do its work.