Plaques Honoring French, U.S. War Veterans Have New Home

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At the Church of Notre Dame, in the Morningside Heights section of Manhattan, special marble World War I and II memorial plaques were re-dedicated during a ceremony on Veterans Day.

About 75 people attended the gathering that celebrated the installation of the six memorial plaques that bear the names of French and American soldiers and volunteers, as well as medics of the American Field Service and pilots of the Lafayette Squadron, who died while serving in France during the two World Wars. The names of 463 men appear on the plaques, most from the New York area.

The Church of Notre Dame, located at 40 Morningside Drive, at West 114th Street — a short walk from Columbia University — is a special sanctuary of the French Catholic community in New York.

The ceremony, conducted in French and English, began with welcoming remarks from Notre Dame’s pastor, Msgr. John N. Paddack, the dean of West Manhattan and chaplain of the Federation of French War Veterans. It included the laying of a wreath, and was followed by a reception in the church’s social hall below the sanctuary.

“A heartfelt and warm welcome to our distinguished guests, and to our visitors and parishioners,” Msgr. Paddack said in his opening remarks. He expressed gratitude for the French and American soldiers and volunteers whose names appear on the plaques—and thanked all who assisted in the installation project.

The plaques were moved up from the now-closed former French national Church of St. Vincent de Paul on West 23rd Street in Manhattan. The Francophone parishioners there then moved their worship to Notre Dame Church in January 2013. The veterans wanted their shrine of plaques moved, but they had to raise $34,000 to dismantle, transport and install them at Notre Dame. That was recently completed—and, as Msgr. Paddack noted, what better day than Veterans Day to re-dedicate them.

Msgr. Paddack told CNY, “This is very important because it honors their history—the French history. And it is important in bringing the parish together; we have a lot of West Africans here from the former colonies, then we have the ‘French-French’ as I call them, those from France.”

The ceremony included a dozen cadets from the Military Academy of St. Cyr in Versailles, France, who this semester are serving as interns at West Point. Two of the cadets laid the wreath in front of the plaques.

During the ceremony, words paying homage to the men of honor and bravery also came from Jean Lachaud, president of the American Society of Le Souvenir Francais; Alain Dupuis, president of the Federation of French War Veterans of New York; and Anne-Claire Legendre, general consul of France in New York.

“We thank everyone for your kind attention,” said Ms. Legendre, adding that the installation project honors “a special memory, in the spirit of tribute and eternal recognition.”

Dupuis noted that the project honored men who “fought in the battlefields during the two World Wars.”

Speakers included Marielle de Sarnez, chairwoman of the Foreign Affairs Committee of France’s Assemblée Nationale; Dr. Libby O’Connell, commissioner of the United States World War I Centennial Commission; and Francoise Cestac, a leader in the French community in New York and a member of the parish council.

Ms. O’Connell said her father, U.S. Army Capt. Jack Haight, served in World War II, helping in the liberation of Paris.

“This is a great gathering today, partially because the centennial of World War I is going on right now this year,” Ms. O’Connell said. “And it is so important to preserve these names that unite America and France, our long-term ally, at this church.” Her father, who died in 1997 at age 80, went on to teach French history at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pa.

The ceremony concluded with the laying of the wreath in front of the plaques, which are installed on the right-side wall near the front pews; a minute of silence; and the singing of the national anthems of France and the United States.

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