Wednesday, August 17, 2011

France honors foreigners who defended her

The French have long honored such sacrifice as presented by the foreign volunteers for service in the French armed forces discussed in our previous article, with the presentaion of La Croix de Guerre, or The Cross of War. Belgium has a similar tradition.

The decoration was created in 1915 and is presented to individuals or units that display acts of heroism during war. A grand volume appropriately titled La Croix de Guerre is in the collection of rare and unusual books at Lighthouse Books, ABAA.

Col. Jimmy Stewart receives La Croix de Guerre
A previous owner told the sort of tale about the book that always delights bibliophiles. He found it, he said, in a used bookstore on the Left Bank in Paris in 1970. It was being used as a doorstop. The beautiful medal that had graced the cover was missing. In those days, though, such medals were easy to find, and inexpensive, so he replaced it with a World War I era Croix de Guerre.

The book is in French and shares the complete history of the medal during World War I and the first two years of World War II (It was published in 1941). General René Victor Boëlle, a commander during World War I, first proposed the medal as a way to recognize brave soldiers. His photograph appears very prominently in the book, along with a reproduction of a handwritten letter from him explaining the rationale for the medal.

During World War I, numerous Americans received the medal, including William Wellman, who flew with the Lafayette Flying Corps, which included the Lafayette Escadrille squadron. Wellman later became a Hollywood film director and made several movies about World War I and World War II. His last film was Lafayette Escadrille in 1958.

During World War II, even more Americans received the award, including singer/actress Josephine Baker, General Curtis LeMay, General George Patton, most-decorated soldier Audie Murphy, and actor Jimmy Stewart, who was an Army colonel at the time.

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