This is the time of year where we in America give thanks for what we have been given. According to one Oklahoma family, however, there are other countries thankful for what America has given them.
Dan Green said that he always grew up thinking the French despised Americans but he recently found out that’s not the case at all.
The Green family was contacted one day by Jacky Emery of the Franco-American Association of Ancient Combatants.
Emery invited the family to France for a ceremony honoring the American soldiers who had died during WWII in the French commune of Chaufour Notre-Dame, including Green’s uncle, Alfred.
Dan was skeptical. He had never even heard of this association. Emery had told the family that the association had been trying to find the families of these fallen soldiers for many years.
The family decided to go to France and see what it was all about. Alfred Green was a member of the 357th Infantry Regiment, 20th ANS, 90th Infantry Division, Third U.S. Army.
Alfred Green, along with two other soldiers, Henry Bockhorn and Charlie Richardson, who had arrived with him on D-Day on the beaches of Normandy, died in the small town on August 8, 1944.
The men were hiding behind a hedge and were killed when they tried to jump over. The hedge still stands and the woman who lives at the property still remembers her father finding the men.
Dan, wife Kylie, their two youngest children Kaden and Ellie, Dan’s brother Jim and Sister Sue Smith and her husband Homer Smith set off to France.
Also on the trip, was Dan’s aunt Fay Campbell and her daughter Sharon Wallace. Campbell is Alfred’s sister the last living relative that knew Alfred. She was only about 16 years old when her brother died.
The family was continually surprised by the welcome they received in France. While the association was glad that the family was coming they were elated to find out that Fay would be attending as well.
When the family arrived in France they thought they would be meeting Emery at the city hall for a simple lunch reception to meet him.
Their first surprise came when they ended up eating lunch with over 40 people who wanted to welcome them them. The lunch lasted approximately two hours and consisted of seven courses.
Dan’s wife Kylie said that they then were shown the temporary grave for American soldiers where Alfred was buried for three years.
She described the winding cobble stone roads of the Chaufour Notre-Dame. Kylie said that when asked, the residents could not tell the age of their town. They only knew it was over 1,000 years old.
That night a large tent was set up in front of the local school where the town had dinner. Green said that many of the townspeople had donated time, money and supplies to host the dinner.
One moment Kylie Green said she will always remember is when her children played with the children of the town effortlessly even though they did not speak the same languages.
During the ceremony the following day, the family walked in a parade in the town. Mrs. Green said she estimated about 1,000 people attended the parade.
The parade also featured military jeeps from WWII and French men dressed as WWII American soldiers to honor America.
The cathedral in town also held a special Mass to celebrate and honor the fallen soldiers. The family was provided with a translated version of the mass.
The school children of the town presented pictures they had made to honor the soldiers and a memorial plaque had been placed outside of the town hall.
Dan and Kylie Green both agreed however that the most touching event was when the children of the town sang the American National Anthem in “perfect English” while they released red white and blue balloons into the air.
The family was also shown the hedge which Alfred had been taking cover behind before he and the two others were shot.
The older citizens of the town still remembered World War II and the help America provided, said Dan. He said that it was obvious how much work the town put into teaching the youth about the war and preserving the memories of the soldiers.
One lady in the town despite hardships of her own, took time to sew a quilt for Fay. She said it was all she could do to show her gratitude toward the family.
The woman was not old enough to remember the war personally but had been taught about the war and what the American soldiers had done.
People frequently stopped them and thanked them and when the family offered to donate to the town for the ceremony, the mayor seemed almost offended, said Dan.
The mayor told Dan and his family that the family had already given enough to the town and he refused the donation.
“That’s what was so moving, it was just for us,” said Dan. Dan said the whole experience was amazing. He had never gotten to know his uncle and he said his father simply would not talk about the war or Alfred other than childhood memories.
Dan’s father also served during the war but did not get to fight alongside his older brother. Dan’s father had arrived in France approximately three months after Alfred.
“I wish he could have seen it,” said Dan. Dan said he feels it may have given his father closer to see a whole town paying tribute to his brother.
Dan said it did give his aunt a bit of closure. “She was thrilled to go,” he said. Dan said that his aunt had admitted that she had put it all out of her mind.
He also said she revealed that during the ceremony she felt the closest to Alfred she had felt since he left when she was a teenager.
During the trip, the family also made their way to the Netherlands to honor the father of Sue Smith’s husband. Homer Smith Sr. also died in World War II in Arnhem on Nov. 2, 1944, during the Battle of Arnhem.
While attempting to take a German prisoner, Smith and two other soldiers encountered a German patrol and were killed.
The family was also shown the exact place where Smith was killed. His body, unlike Green’s was not discovered immediately.
Smith’s body was found ten years after he died by workmen digging a trench for a cable. He was identified by the dog tags he wore and his body sent home.
Case Jensen, the historian who showed the family around Holland, told the family he believes Americans are what the rest of the world wants to be, but can’t.
The family was sent home with a message from both the French and Dutch that the family encountered on their trip. The message was simply that the both countries still remember are extremely grateful for the aid America Provided during World War II.
The family was invited back to attend the 70th anniversary of D-Day on June 6, 2014. The family said they do plan to attend the event in which Emery participates in a reenactment.