Remembering VE Day, May 8, 1945
This past year, I have been privileged to present, with documentary filmmaker, Bonnie Friedman, our historic, related artwork, Mademoiselle Gigi and Operation Sussex. Bonnie and I felt compelled to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the Allied D-Day invasion, June 6, 1944, and the end of World War II, May 8, 1945. It is our intention to honor the men and women whose sacrifice won the war for the Allies. In the past year, we have presented at cultural centers, museums, literary cafés, churches, and libraries from Atlanta to Lafayette. We conclude our yearlong tour at the Alliance Française of New Orleans, Friday, May 8, 2015. World War II ended with the unconditional surrender of the Axis powers on May 8, 1945, which is known as VE day: Victory in Europe.
I open our program with a discussion of my historical novel, Mademoiselle Gigi, based on the true story of Gisèle “Gigi” Carriton. My book recounts Gigi’s early life as a young Jewish girl struggling to survive the Nazi occupation of France. Gigi and her family lived in a lowly garden shed for four years on the edge of Lyon, France. They barely survived the war years on a diet of thin soups and soggy vegetables. At times they were on the run from the Gestapo. After the war, Gigi met and married a Louisiana Cajun soldier in Paris. As part of my presentation I discuss how French-speaking soldiers from Louisiana were employed as translators during the war. Gigi’s husband, Gerald Bertrand, was assigned to the renowned 4th armored division, which spearheaded General George Patton’s army across northern France and ultimately the liberation of Paris. Also, I relate the story of Gigi as a naïve, young war bride arriving in America in the spring of 1946.
Bonnie Friedman follows with a screening of her documentary Operation Sussex, which honors the men and women of an Allied secret spy mission. The documentary was shot on location in France and England with the last remaining participants. The film shows actual footage of what German occupation wrought, and explores how and why a group of deeply patriotic French men and women individually found their way to this volunteer mission. The people and places are seen again for the first time since the operation ended so many years before.
At almost every presentation, we have been approached by people who wanted to share stories of a loved one’s sacrifice towards winning the war. One woman remembered when she was a young girl that her father fought in the war at the Battle of the Bulge. She told us, “Dad never talked about the war for the rest of his life.” A younger brother related. “My brother was a different man when he came home.” The most interesting story came from Nell Calloway, granddaughter of General Chennault and director of the Chennault Military and Aviation Museum on the campus of the University of Louisiana at Monroe. Her grandfather was stationed in China during World War II and founded the famous “Flying Tigers.” The flight missions against the Japanese saved millions of lives and General Chennault is still a hero to the Chinese people today.
World War II was the seminal event of the 20th century. The effects of the war are still affecting people in the 21st century today. Take a moment to reflect upon those who served and died for our freedom.