|L'Arc de Triomphe, Paris|
Vive la belle France!
To celebrate our relationship with our nation's oldest ally I present the complete France chapter of America Invades. For much more on America's impact around the world please visit www.americainvades.com.
This was written long before the appalling terrorist attack in Nice which claimed the lives of at least 80 innocent victims. Our prayers and condolences go out to the French people. Today we Americans stand with you more than ever. "Dieu protege la France!"
"Ah, the beautiful land of france, la belle France.
France is our oldest ally and the site of the most famous American invasion of all time. More American military cemeteries (eleven) are located in France than in any other foreign country in the world.
|George Washington & the Duc de Grasse, Yorktown, VA|
When the American Revolution broke out, Louis XVI saw aid to the thirteen colonies as a means of avenging England’s defeat of France in the Seven Years War, but he was reluctant to commit to the American cause until gentleman Johnny Burgoyne surrendered his force after the Battle of Saratoga in October 1777. The Marquis de Lafayette arrived in American that same year serving as a major-general in the Continental Army where he grew very close to General George Washington, who thought of him as a son. The great inventor, author, and statesman Benjamin Franklin helped to negotiate a treaty of alliance with France in 1778. The direct intervention of the French began with Rochambeau landing a force of about six thousand French soldiers in Providence, Rhode Island. These forces and, critically, the French Navy led by the Comte de Grasse helped secure the surrender of Lord Cornwallis’s army at Yorktown.
|John Paul Jones Tomb, Annapolis, MD, USNA|
John Paul Jones led his 1778 raid on Whitehaven (see “United Kingdom”) from the French port of Brest. His frigate that defeated the British Serapis in 1779, the Bonhomme Richard (during which he uttered his famous “I have not yet begun to fight”) was a converted French merchant ship, the Duc de Duras.
|Thomas Jefferson, Paris, France|
France and the United States also very nearly came to blows over the French invasion of Mexico, which was launched by Napoleon III during the US Civil War. The United States supplied Mexico with arms and support to drive the French out of North America.
In 1886, the people of France sent us an iconic gift—the Statue of Liberty that would welcome immigrants to our shores (“La Liberté éclairant le monde,” “Liberty enlightening the world”).
|Americans in the Legion|
Even before America’s entry into the Great War, Americans were fighting and dying in France. For instance, young American pilots volunteered to serve in the French air force forming the Lafayette Escadrille hoping to repay America’s debt to France. Ten out of the “Valiant 38” American men who served in the Lafayette Escadrille were killed in action.
Americans had also volunteered for the French Foreign Legion, and it’s worth mentioning here some of the better-known names that have been
linked to the legion over the decades:
1. John F. “Jack” Hasey, CIA
2. Peter Julien Ortiz , one of the most decorated US marines of WWII, OSS, actor in John Ford’s Rio Grande
3. William Wellman, director of the legion epic, Beau Geste, and many more
4. Alan Seeger, poet
5. Arthur Bluethenthal, member of College Football All-American Team from Princeton, pilot killed in WWI
6. Eugene Bullard, first African American military pilot
7. Norman Kerry, actor
8. Cole Porter told many of his friends that he had joined the French Foreign Legion, though conclusive evidence is lacking. The lyrics for “War Song,” written for the London stage during World War I have been attributed to Cole Porter ...
And when they ask us, how dangerous it was,
Oh, we’ll never tell them, no, we’ll never tell them.
We spent our pay in some cafe,
And fought wild women night and day.
’Twas the cushiest job we ever had.
And when they ask us, and they’re certainly going to ask us, The reason why we didn’t win the Croix de Guerre,
Oh, we’ll never tell them, oh, we’ll never tell them,
There was a front, but damned if we know where.
(Source: A Fine Romance, Jewish Songwriters, American Songs, David Leahman, 2009)
|American Doughboys, Central Park, NY|
|Eddie Rickenbacker's Spad S.XIII, IWM, Duxford, UK|
In late May and June, the Germans tried to push forward in the Chemin des Dames along the Aisne River. Aisne bridges were captured, Soissons fell, and the Germans reached Château-Thierry on the Marne with Paris less than forty miles distant. American troops battled fiercely to prevent the Germans from crossing the Marne and then, on June 6, a date that would later become famous for other reasons, successfully counterattacked at Belleau Wood, where the US marines earned the nickname “teufel hunden,” or “devil dogs.” Further German attacks on the Marne followed and were fought off by American troops, earning the 38th Infantry of the 3rd Division its name “Rock of the Marne.” The Germans were now exhausted, and it was the turn of the Allies to attack. American troops played a key role in July in helping destroy the German-held Marne salient. From then on, American units assisted major campaigns by the British and the French, but Pershing had also gotten his wish for an independent American operation, and in September, about half a million Americans of the US First Army went into action against the German-held St. Mihiel salient. The operation was a significant success. Finally, from September to November 1918, First Army ground through the Meuse- Argonne offensive. The fighting was bitter, and casualties were at times heavy, but major progress was made, and by the Armistice, First Army had dealt a huge blow to the German divisions facing it.
The American Expeditionary Forces had played a vital role in liberating France and in winning the war against Germany, but it had come at a high cost in American blood. The beautiful Aisne-Marne American Cemetery, for instance, next to Belleau Wood and just six and a half miles from Château-Thierry, contains almost twenty-three hundred war dead, most of whom fought in the area and in the Marne valley in summer 1918. After the guns fell silent ending the “war to end all wars” on November 11, 1918, President Wilson came to Versailles with his Fourteen Points. A
bitter peace was settled that helped sow the seeds of the next war. Between the wars, Paris was subjected to an “invasion” of Lost Generation American writers, such as Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Gertrude Stein, and others. Hemingway said Paris was the city he loved best in the world. Wealthy American philanthropists, such as John D. Rockefeller and J. P. Morgan, helped to restore the Reims Cathedral that had been shelled by the Kaiser’s artillery in the Great War.
In 1942, shortly after the Pearl Harbor attack and America’s entry into World War II, the United States invaded French colonies in North Africa that were under the control of the Vichy government (see “Algeria,” “Morocco,” and “Tunisia”). After about three days of fighting, the French switched sides and joined with the Allies to drive the Axis out of
|Ike, Grosvenor Square, London, UK|
the invasion of Corsica in the fall of 1943. Joseph Heller, the author of Catch 22, served as a bombardier on a B-25 based on Corsica. The USAAF dropped its share of the six hundred thousand tons of bombs on occupied France. The French national railway system was smashed to prevent the Germans from making a strategic redeployment against the Normandy landings.
D-Day, June 6, 1944, marked the start of the most famous American invasion in all history. With a terse, “OK, let’s go,” Eisenhower had resolved all doubts in the Allied deliberations over weather conditions prior to the invasion. The time had finally arrived. Ike later wrote comparing the invasion force to a coiled spring ready to “vault the English Channel.”
|Private John Steele, St. Mere Eglise, France|
The vaulting began on the night of June 5 when private John Steele, a paratrooper with the 82nd Airborne, got his chute caught on the tower of the church at Ste.-Mère-Église. He survived the conflagration and firefight that shook the sleepy Norman town that night by playing dead. A visitor to Ste.-Mère-Église today will find a stained-glass window in the church has the Virgin Mary surrounded by American paratroopers. The American paratroopers of the 82nd and 101st Divisions would secure the western flank of the Normandy invasion.
On Utah Beach, fifty-six-year-old Brigadier General Theodore Roosevelt Jr. (oldest son of President TR) was landed about a mile away from his intended target and, when asked whether to re-embark the 4th Infantry Division, said simply, “We’ll start the war from right here!” Bloody Omaha had received an abbreviated naval bombardment from ships such as the battleship Texas lasting only thirty-five minutes. Its bare beaches offered no cover for the American invaders as German machine guns from fortified gun emplacements swept the beaches. The US Rangers, who had trained earlier on the cliffs of Dorset, scaled the sheer cliffs of Pointe Du Hoc while being shot at by German soldiers; their mission was to destroy artillery pieces that threatened to sweep the landing zones. Their commander that day was Lieutenant Colonel James Rudder. Unknown to Rudder’s Rangers, most of the artillery had already been moved by the Germans. They held the position for two days in the face of fierce counterattacks by the 916th Grenadiers. At the Ranger memorial at Pointe du Hoc, one can still see massive craters created by Allied naval bombardment on D-Day.
|General Patton, USMA, West Point, NY|
As commander of the US Third Army after D-Day, Patton, led an army that advanced farther and faster than just about any army in military history, crossing twenty-four major rivers and capturing 81,500 square miles of territory, including more than twelve thousand cities and towns. Patton loved to quote Danton who said, “De l’audace, et encore de l’audace, toujours de l’audace!” (“Audacity, more audacity, always audacity”).
In August of 1944, American troops participated in a much less widely known invasion, Operation Dragoon that landed in the south of France. Everyone knows about June 6, 1944, but how many know about August 15, 1944? Yet the parachute drop by the 1st Airborne Task Force, landings by American troops, primarily the 3rd, 36th, and 45th Infantry Divisions, and a French armored division were highly successful. Allied casualties were light, and German resistance mainly crumbled fairly fast. By mid- September, they had pushed their way up the Rhone Valley near the German border. Some of the invasion targets, like the beach of St. Tropez, famous for film stars in the post-war era, are now more readily associated with pleasure than with war, which may be one reason Dragoon is less familiar to Americans.
|General Charles DeGaulle|
La Musee de L'Armee, Paris
Meanwhile to the north, on August 25, 1944, the French 2nd Armored Division, led by General Leclerc, was allowed the honor of being the first Allied force to liberate Paris. Ernest Hemingway personally led a group of irregulars that liberated the Ritz Hotel drinking seventy-three martinis that night in its bar. General de Gaulle spoke from a balcony at the Hotel de Ville, “Paris outraged! Paris broken! Paris martyred! But Paris liberated! Liberated by itself, liberated by its people, with the help of the whole of France!” De Gaulle seems to have temporarily ignored the contribution of the Americans, British, Polish, Canadian, and other Allied troops that fought so hard to liberate France.
And there was still much fighting remaining before all France was liberated. It wasn’t until November 22, 1944, after American troops had captured the vital, strategic pass at Saverne, that French troops liberated Strasbourg, the most easterly major city in France. And at about the same time, after bitter fighting, to the northwest, the US Third Army was finally taking Metz, a heavily fortified French city, close to the border with Germany.
The liberation of France would claim 134,000 American casualties. Thousands of Americans would be buried in French cemeteries, such as the beautiful one that overlooks Omaha Beach.
France became a founding member of NATO in 1949. France, though strained by its Indochina and African commitments, contributed an infantry battalion that served alongside Americans in the Korean War. My (Chris Kelly’s) father, Robert E. Kelly, served as a clerk typist in the US Army based in Verdun, France, during the Korean War. He liked to say that he “kept the North Koreans out of France.”
Fifty-six French troops would be killed alongside American marines in the Beirut bombing in October 1983. French forces would also serve in the Gulf War of 1991 that liberated Kuwait. And French forces have served alongside Americans in Afghanistan.
France still has assorted territories around the world, which used to be part of its empire. So we need to deal with American military involvement there in this chapter.
For instance, our navy built an advance base on Nuku Hiva Island in the Marquesas Islands, now part of French Polynesia, in 1813. Captain Porter briefly claimed Nukuhiva for the United States and named it Madison Island and the fort built there Madison’s Ville, and the water next to it, Massachusetts Bay. Yep.
It’s also worth mentioning Nouméa, in the French territory of New Caledonia, which is situated east of Australia. This became an important US base during World War II. In fact, it became, the US headquarters for the whole of the South Pacific with tens of thousands of US personnel stationed there.
The most fun of the French territories from the point of American invasions is Clipperton Island. Few people have heard of it, and even fewer know how we invaded it. It doesn’t sound very French (unless you call it Île de Clipperton or its other name, Île de la Passion, when it does sound a lot more French).
It’s an uninhabited coral atoll lying in the Pacific Ocean west of Costa Rica and northwest of the Galapagos Islands. The French were the first Europeans to find it, and it’s French today, and, even though it’s not the most attractive bit of real estate in the world, it’s been invaded by others over the years, including, yes, Americans.
The Guano Islands Act of 1856 was supposed to promote American use of islands that had plenty of guano on them, and this being one of the few things Clipperton did have on it, the American Guano Mining Company claimed it. Guano mining caused a minor diplomatic incident in 1897 when the French found that three American guano miners had raised the Stars and Stripes. The State Department eventually gave in to the French. However, during World War II, we returned because FDR thought the place might be useful as a flying base. In December 1944, we occupied the island and raised the American flag again, not admittedly against much, or indeed any, resistance, sending in a meteorological team protected by troops. However, the mission didn’t last long and was eventually withdrawn, leaving Clipperton and its seabirds to the French."
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