Welcome to the DA France Veteran & Military Families Caucus blog. We have created this space to share news, events, and ideas within the community of our members in France. We advocate on issues important to the veterans and their families within the United States of America and those living abroad.
Our mission is to support, educate and enlighten our community with social, political and cultural events. In particular, we organize participation in Memorial Day and Veterans Day ceremonies at U.S. landmarks abroad such as military cemeteries, battle sites, and places of historical U.S. military significance. We hope to engage, empower and motivate our members and the larger community of Americans in France to exercise their right to vote from abroad.
We encourage you to reach out to us to provide content and ideas for this blog in order to keep it as interactive as possible. You can contact the DAFrance Veterans & Military Families Caucus co-Chairs - Anna Marie Mattson and Marie Louise Ferguson at [email protected].
We invite you to visit our Global Veterans & Military Families webpage in order to learn more about our global initiatives and to join the caucus (if you haven't already done so). We also have an active Global Veterans & Military Families Caucus Facebook page as well as a DAFrance group. Please visit us!
December 7, 2021
Dear Senators and Representatives of the 117th Congress,
For 77 years, America’s veterans have been able to use GI Bill education benefits to further their education after leaving the Armed Forces. Veterans have used this vital benefit to learn how to open and run businesses, to become doctors and lawyers, to learn important trade skills, and much more. For the entire history of this benefit, veterans have been able to freely use their benefits at whatever legitimate institution of higher learning they wanted—until now.
Recently, the Dept. of Veterans Affairs has made changes to the program approval process for universities to be able to participate in the GI Bill program. Some of these changes were required by law, but others were the result of overzealous interpretations of the law or the VA’s aging technical infrastructure. Regardless of the causes, these changes have hit overseas veteran students the hardest. Records show that between 1,500 and 3,000 veterans1 typically utilize their GI Bill benefits at overseas universities each year, but those students’ ability to utilize their earned benefits is now in danger. These new rules imposed on universities create three giant hurdles for student veterans to cross.
First, overseas veterans have reported problems with communication between the VA, their university, and the veteran. Schools are required to submit an application for approval prior to a student veteran being cleared to use their GI Bill benefits, and the VA’s response time is unacceptably slow. In one case, it took the VA several months to respond to the university. That veteran was stuck between his university claiming that it has sent multiple follow-up requests to the VA and the VA claiming that it had responded in a timely fashion to the university—but that veteran has no way of verifying either claim, nor do they have a way to make this process move along faster. That veteran has been fighting for at least six months just to get basic information about where his school's application is in the approvals process. This problem was exacerbated by the closure of VA’s Foreign Schools Approval Office.
Then the VA sends a list of about 40 additional, onerous requirements that were not previously required.2 Among these requirements are whether or not universities are complying with various local laws that the VA cannot reasonably verify, a copy of the university’s entire academic catalog translated into English, personal information about the university’s staff and faculty, and much more. Another requirement, created by the January 2021 Isakson-Roe bill,3 cited by multiple overseas universities as a primary problem is a new reporting requirement about enrollment at the university. Universities located in the United Kingdom, Australia, the European Union, and other countries with similar privacy laws cannot legally furnish personal information about students, faculty, or staff, so they are not legally able to comply with the VA’s new requirements.
If a veteran and their university can get past the first two hurdles, there is still another issue they must face. In order for a university to receive tuition payments from the VA, the university must open a bank account with a U.S. financial institution and apply for a U.S. Employer Identification Number through the IRS. This extra burden on overseas universities is unnecessary, and after questioning the VA admitted that the requirement is solely due to their legacy electronic payment system that cannot process payments to foreign financial institutions. We maintain that this is an unacceptable reason to deny veterans their earned education benefits.
The 117th Congress must fix this problem. Veterans earned their education benefits by sacrificing years of their lives, and oftentimes their health, to serve in the United States Armed Forces. We cannot abide by veterans losing access to their earned benefits simply because of where they reside or where they would like to receive an education. Many overseas veterans have been unable to utilize their benefits because of these changes, and some have seen their GI Bill benefits expire while they have waited for the VA to approve their academic programs. Congress and the VA must address this issue by, at a minimum, accomplishing the following:
Re-establishing the Foreign Schools Approval Office to improve communication between overseas universities and the VA;
Providing a legislative carve-out of reporting requirements for overseas universities that violate privacy laws;
Updating the VA’s legacy electronic payment system to be able to process payments to foreign financial institutions;
Requiring that, when the VA reports to Congress about its education benefits, the VA have specific reporting requirements about veterans utilizing their benefits overseas; and
Extending the education benefits eligibility window of veterans adversely affected by these changes who are not covered by the “Forever GI Bill” by two years at a minimum.
Democrats Abroad International Chair
Democrats Abroad Global Veterans and Military Families Caucus Chair
Office of the International Chair of Democrats Abroad
1. According to VA statistics released in Annual Benefits Reports. Data was taken from fiscal years 2014-2020. Historical reports are available here.↩
"We view the Centennial not only as a celebration to remember the burial of the World War I Unknown Soldier, but an opportunity to reflect on what the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier means to America and her allies."
— Gavin McIlvenna, President & Centennial Committee Chairman
We are honored to share with you the opportunity to participate in a series of very special commemorative events in France. The Arlington Sentinels (also known as the Tomb Guards) are here this month to celebrate the Centennial Anniversary of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, 1921-2021. The unknown soldier from World War I buried in Arlington National Cemetery died in France, and their body was repatriated to the U.S. in 1921. Click here for the story.
There are several commemorative events open to the public, Oct 24-26:
CHÂLONS-EN-CHAMPAGNE - Sunday, October 24, 10am: 100th Anniversary Commemoration Ceremony and Military Parade retracing the route taken by the Unknown Soldier in 1921 beginning at the Hôtel de Ville of Châlons-en-Champagne and ending at the war memorial. No RSVP required. Contact [email protected] for details.
LE HAVRE - Monday, October 25, 3-4:30pm: Commemoration Ceremony at Quai Roger Meunier for the 100th Anniversary of the Departure of the WWI Unknown Soldier from Le Havre to the United States in 1921, and the USS Olympia’s mission to bring the Unknown Soldier home. It is here in Le Havre that André Maginot presented, on behalf of France, the Knight's Cross of the Legion of Honor to the Unknown Soldier. No RSVP required. Contact [email protected] for details.
PARIS - Tuesday, October 26, 5:30pm: Rekindling of the Eternal Flame under the Arc de Triomphe, Paris, France. Honor and pay tribute to the French Unknown Soldier, standing alongside French and American veterans. RSVP at [email protected].
- PARIS - Tuesday, October 26, 7pm: The Unknown Soldier Centennial Gala Dinner will be held at the prestigious and historical French Ècole Militaire with the Arlington Sentinels, American Gold Star Mothers, the Daughters of the American Revolution, and US veterans. Live Jazz band, Champagne Kir Apéro, and 3-course dinner. RSVP required - Register Here. Deadline to register is midnight October 23rd. Once you have registered, if you would also like to be seated at a DA France table, please notify Anna Marie at [email protected]
We sincerely hope you can join us to remember and honor all who have served, the Arlington Sentinels, and Gold Star Mothers.
DA France Veterans and Military Families Caucus
DA France VMF
WhatsApp group: Join here
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Donations: Give here
LOOKING FOR PILOT "FRANKIE" WILSON
“No Man Left Behind”
Too severely injured by German anti-aircraft fire to save himself, B17 pilot 1st Lieutenant George F. (Frankie) Wilson Jr. of the 601st Bomber Squadron, 398th Bomber Group Heavy, managed to keep his burning plane flying high long enough for his 8-man crew to bail out while on a mission to destroy a German liquid oxygen factory and a rocket launch site in a gigantic bunker in Siracourt, Pas-de-Calais, in northern France. He died as his bomber exploded in a farmer’s field in Monchy-Cayeux, Vallée Blanche. Declared missing in action: an Army Air Corps pilot from Utah. The date was July 8, 1944. He was 23 years old.
Wilson’s plane was one of the 12 B17s in Bomber Group 601. Photo of the formation.
Decades passed until July 2018, when Wilson’s great niece Sonni Bornemeier and her husband, Air Force Sergeant Erik Bornemeier, were on a humanitarian mission. Having been influenced by the TV series Band of Brothers, they decided to look for the legendary great-uncle ‘Frankie’ and contacted Pierre Vion, a journalist running an online newspaper near the crash site area.
Sonni had heard very little about her grandmother’s brother, just that he was a pilot who died during WWII. Erik, who had newly declassified military records and maps showing crew names, destination, objective and location, left home in Utah and went to Monchy-Cayeux to start exploring the crash site of the great-uncle’s B-17 bomber. Erik was a natural for the job, as he himself was head of a search and rescue team in Davis County, Utah.
The journalist Pierre Vion had written a series of articles about the crash in his newspaper, Le Gobelin de Ternois and called for witnesses on social media. The response was strong and immediate. There were also reports from the crew members. The first one to bail out was Sergeant Ferguson, the only crew member not captured. He was found by a French lieutenant, Arthur Festive, who arranged for him to be taken out of France by the British on September 8, 1944. The other crew members were captured by the Germans upon landing and held as POWs until the end of the war, when all returned home to the US.
Honoring the Fallen: Laying Wreaths… LEST WE FORGET
Monday, May 31st was Memorial Day. An Action Hour co-sponsored by DAF Grenoble, Marseilles, Brittany, the DAF Veterans and Military Families (VMF) Caucus and DA France gave US veterans and military family members of DA France and DA Germany an opportunity to tell their stories and say who they would like to honor and remember on this day. Another Action Hour item was calling Senators and Representatives to ask them to urge the VA to provide vaccinations for veterans living abroad.
Sunday, May 30th. Laying wreaths for Memorial Day was different this year. There were no public gatherings at the ABMC cemeteries in France except at Suresnes (photo left) and the Lafayette Monument (photo right) but DA France was still able to honor the men and women who lost their lives during WWl and WWll.
Wreaths were sent for the limited-attendance ceremonies around France performed by the cemetery staff at: the Belleau Wood, Oise-Aisne, Meuse-Argonne, St. James, Epinal and Colleville-sur-Mer. The Toulouse Chapter laid wreaths to honor two OSS Commandos downed during WWII in the Tarn.
Rebecca White, Treasurer DAF Toulouse, Tarn
To further mark Memorial Day, DAF VMF Caucus members joined the American Legion Paris Post 1 at the Mausoleum in Neuilly-sur-Seine and attended the dedication ceremony to celebrate the recent reopening of Pershing Hall.
Pershing Hall Dedication Ceremony American Legion Mausoleum, Neuilly-sur-Seine
After the ceremonies, wreaths were placed on graves of the African American, Asian American, Native American and Jewish communities. At Belleau Wood and Oise-Aisne cemeteries, two very learned guide-staffers gave the DAF VMF caucus representatives a lively, instructive, historical tour. Wreaths were laid on the grave of an African-American soldier from the Pioneer Infantry at Belleau Wood and a Native American at Oise-Aisne. At Suresnes, Tilly Gaillard placed the wreath on the grave of a Polish Jew who had joined the American Red Cross during WW1.Read more
Memorial Day Action Hour
Monday, May 31st 18:30-20:30: Join us in a Memorial Day Action Hour so special that we need TWO hours. You'll hear US veterans tell their stories and about who they would like to honor and remember on this day. We’ll also do an action item together to help our military and veterans. Co-sponsored by DAF Grenoble, Marseilles, Brittany, Veterans and Military Families Caucus and DA France.
RSVP here for Zoom link: https://www.democratsabroad.org/gretcheningrenoble/memorial_day_action_hour
Honoring the Fallen: Laying Wreaths…
LEST WE EVER FORGET
Memorial Day will again be different this year. There will no public gatherings at the ABMC cemeteries in France, but DA France will still be honoring the men and women who lost their lives during WWl and WWll.
Wreaths will be sent for the private ceremonies around France to be performed by the cemetery staff at: the Lafayette Esquadrille Monument and in Suresnes, Belleau Wood, Oise-Aisne, Meuse-Argonne, St. James, St. Mihiel, St. Avold, Draguignan, the American Legion Mausoleum, Epinal, La Somme. The Toulouse Chapter will be honoring the two OSS Commandos downed during WWII in the Tarn. The Normandy Chapter will be sending a wreath on June 6th. We would appreciate any contribution for the wreaths: Donate link.
After the ceremonies, the wreaths will then be placed on the graves of women and those from the African American, Asian American, Native American and Hispanic American communities. At the Belleau Wood and Oise-Aisne cemeteries, there will be a guided tour on May 31st and June 1st. If anyone is interested, please let us know.
THE ROSE OF NO MAN'S LAND
There's a rose that grows in no-man's land
And it's wonderful to see
Though its sprayed with tears, it will live for years
In my garden of memory
It's the one red rose the soldier knows
It's the work of the Master's hand
'Neath the War's great curse stands a Red Cross nurse
She's the rose of no-man's land
By Jack Caddigan / James A. Brennan
Democrats Abroad France Veterans & Military Families Caucus
[email protected], Cell: 0614161516
Whatsapp group: Click here
DA France Veterans and Military Families Caucus Remembers Americans Deported to Concentration Camps during WW II, April 25th, National Deportation Remembrance Day
In France, the last Sunday of April is National Deportation Remembrance Day. The Democrats Abroad France Veterans and Military Families Caucus has chosen to talk about four remarkable deportees: Dr. Sumner Jackson, his wife Charlotte and son Phillip, and a certain wondrous Virginia d’Albert-Lake.
Dr. Sumner Jackson, his wife Charlotte and son Phillip
Dr. Sumner Waldon Jackson (1884-1945) joined the British Army as a field surgeon in 1916, then transferred to the US Army in 1917, where he met and married the French Red Cross nurse, Charlotte Sylvie Barrelet de Ricout, nicknamed Toquette. After WW l they returned to Sumner’s native state, Maine, but finding life there too conservative, moved back to France in 1921. In order to practice medicine, the French required that he first pass the baccalaureat. He flunked philosophy so moved to Algeria where the baccalaureat was easier, then returned to France and graduated from the Ecole de Médecine. Sumner and Toquette had one child, Phillip, nicknamed Pete (1928-2016) who was proud to be both American and French.
Dr. Sumner Jackson with son Phillip
Charlotte Jackson, known as Toquette
Dr. Jackson was the Staff Surgeon then Chief Surgeon at the American Hospital in Paris from 1925 to 1943. During WWII, one of the Allied Forces soldiers he treated was an American ambulance driver who had gotten into trouble so Dr. Jackson hid him in the hospital basement. That was the beginning of the Jacksons French Resistance clandestine activities with the Goélette Network. During the Nazi occupation, his family home served as a resistance hub for the exchange of money, information and sometimes even people who were dropped off and picked up by a network of underground resistance fighters … but never arms. Messages heard on London radio about allied bombings or German positions were sewn into “stinky” cheese and sent to Vichy! Since he was a medical doctor, it was normal to see people come and go in his apartment.
At the American Hospital, Dr. Jackson openly treated French and German soldiers but secretly took in wounded British, US and French airmen, Jews and servicemen, listed them as dead in the hospital records, provided false ID papers and helped smuggle them to Spain, on their way to the UK.
In May 1944 his son Phillip, (16 years old), was already a resistance spy when Germans came to arrest him, his father and his mother. They were sent to the Compiegne prison camp. Toquette was shuffled to several camps and finally rescued by the Swedish Red Cross in Ravenbrück and taken to Malmö, Sweden on April 28, 1945. She had no idea what had happened to her husband and son.
Dr. Jackson and his son survived beatings, starvation, and forced labor in Gestapo and SS prisons in France and Germany. They finally wound up near Hamburg at the Neuengamme Concentration Camp for political prisoners where the working hours were long and strenuous. When Dr. Jackson’s finger became seriously infected, he had another prisoner amputate it and kept on working.
Dr. Jackson spoke little, never explaining why he had been arrested because he was determined that nothing he might say would endanger those for whom he had quietly risked his life. He endured it all with stoicism and dignity that seemed to emanate from his sheer force of character.
In April 1945 the British Army was closing in on Neuengamme. Phillip and his father had spent a year in that camp which had 9000 prisoners. 3000 were shot. Dr. Jackson and Phillip were among the 6000 put in freight cars and then on ships to northern Germany.
On May 3rd 1945, as the POW ships were leaving the Lübeck harbor, the British ordered them to turn back. They didn’t. Unaware that these German ships were full of prisoners, British aircraft dropped bombs and rockets on them. Dr. Jackson’s body was never found. 10,000 people were killed, mostly prisoners. Phillip Jackson, then 17, despite the temperature of the Baltic Sea, swam to shore near Lübeck. Only 600 people survived. They were lined up against a wall to be shot but were saved by British tanks that rolled in just in time. The next day, dressed in a blanket, Phillip approached a British captain and said, “I have escaped and I am alone now”. He enlisted in the British Army and returned to Paris in September 1945 where he was reunited with his mother at the Arch of Triumph-Etoile. Their apartment on Avenue Foch was just as they had left it. After the War Phillip spent years encouraging improvement of Franco-German relations.
In 2013, The Board of Governors of the American Hospital of Paris created the Jackson Award to commemorate the extraordinary devotion of Sumner and Charlotte Jackson in serving the hospital before and during World War II. The first recipients of the Jackson Medal were Sumner and Charlotte, posthumously. Their son Phillip accepted the award for them and personally received the French Legion of Honor.
Phillip, his father and his mother, Toquette, are the subjects of the bestselling book Avenue of Spies by Alex Kershaw.
Virginia d’Albert Lake
Virginia d'Albert-Lake (1910-1997) was a schoolteacher from Florida who was awarded the French Legion of Honor, the Order of the British Empire, Croix de Guerre, U.S. Medal of Freedom and Maltese Cross for helping 67 British and American airmen evade German capture during World War II. Many airmen came with family to visit her after the War.
In 1936 Virginia travelled to France, where she fell in love with and married Philippe d’Albert-Lake, the son of an English mother and a French father. Life was peaches and cream. The family had means, apartments, even a château. But in 1940 France had surrendered and Philippe, who had been in the French Army since the beginning of the War, was demobilized and came to Paris.
One day in the little town of Nesles where they tried to live inconspicuously by staying out of the Germans’ way, the village baker asked them to come to his shop. He was hiding and helping downed American pilots.
When they looked at the young pilots, Virginia and Philippe knew they had no choice. Soon they were working with the Comet Escape Line, the French Resistance network in charge of returning Allied pilots to England via Spain.
Until Spring 1944, the routine was to receive the airmen at Paris train stations, hide them in their apartment and then guide them out of Paris to a camp in southern France from where they left for the UK.
Many Germans who had been to US, Canadian or British schools pretended they were American pilots. Virginia quizzed them all with cultural questions such as “Who is Babe Ruth” and turned the “fake ones” over to the French resistance fighters.
On June 12, 1944, fearful of imminent arrest, Virginia, Philippe and 11 airmen left Paris and headed south. As they were bicycling near Châteaudun, a German car stopped Virginia who was slightly ahead of the group. She was ordered to empty her pocketbook. Out fell a list of French resistance fighters. In her haste, she had forgotten to memorize and destroy it.
At German headquarters she admitted to swallowing the list and was told she would be shot in the morning. Instead, she was on one of the last deportation trains to leave France. Virginia was sent to Ravensbrück and other devastating concentration camps until finally being freed by the French Army on April 21, 1945. She left the last camp weighing a mere 76 pounds. Willpower had kept her alive.
After the War, Philippe and Virginia moved to Brittany where she dabbled in the sale of antique dolls to the U.S. market. She died in 1997, Philippe 3 years later. They are buried in a section reserved for Anglo-American citizens in a cemetery in Dinard.
According to her son Patrick, “After her release, I think she thought she’d been given a second life. She loved life. She had a fantastic sense of humor. It was very sharp, very American.”
Written by Karen Kenny and Tilly Gaillard
Dorothea and Gladys Cromwell, twin sisters, were born in Brooklyn in 1885. They were descendants of Oliver Cromwell and inherited a fortune from their father.
During WWI the twins volunteered to work in France, near the front at Chalons-sur-Marne and Verdun, for the Red Cross in a canteen and as nurses. Harriet Rogers, assistant head of the canteen, described the twins as follows: “They are angels who not only do first-class work on day or night service, but also find time to visit the soldiers in the French hospitals and to befriend the little French refugee children.”
For eight months they worked under fire on long day and night shifts; they slept in “caves” or under trees in a field; suffered from the exhaustion that is so acute to those who have never known physical labor; yet no one suspected until the end came that for many months they believed their work a failure, and their efforts futile. . . . overwhelming strain and fatigue had made them more weary than they realized, and the horrors of conditions near the Front broke their already overtaxed endurance.
They wanted to continue working in France even after the Nov. 11, 1918 armistice ended the combat. But their only brother, Seymour persuaded them to come home. They boarded the SS La Lorraine on Jan. 19, 1919, for the trip back to New York.
United States Army Private Jack Pemberton was on duty on the upper deck of the La Lorraine the night it started for America. As he huddled against the wind and a cold mist, he saw two women, each wearing a black cape, walking arm-in-arm, talking. One of the women climbed atop the ship’s rail, then disappeared. The second woman followed, also climbing the rail and disappearing into the blackness. Pemberton heard two faint splashes below. He alerted the bridge, and the alarm was sounded. But it took 15 minutes, before the ship could be slowed. By that time the river channel was too narrow for the ship to turn around and search for bodies.
In New York, their brother, Seymour, who served as the president of the New York Stock Exchange, was unconvinced of their deaths and the possibility that they had committed suicide. He had received “a cheerful letter” from them a week before they were to sail. Two days after the La Lorraine sailed, he had received a cable from the sisters stating that they had missed that ship and would be sailing soon on another ship. In response to his inquiry to the shipping line, the captain of the La Lorraine had cryptically cabled back that the sister’s baggage was in their state room, but they were not on board. A note had been found in their stateroom, addressed to the head of their Red Cross unit, stating that they intended to “end it all.” According to a report in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, four people on the Lorraine saw the sisters jumped to their death. On January 26, The New York Times reported that the police commissioner of Bordeaux had confirmed that their deaths were by suicide.
It appears that the Cromwell twins, subjected to the horrors of war, ranging from shelling to dealing with the carnage of the injured and dead, had been the victims of shell shock, a term that emerged with the horror of World War I. Today we would call it Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
The bodies of Gladys and Dorothea Cromwell were recovered on March 20th. Both Cromwell sisters were awarded France’s Croix de Guerre and interred at Suresnes American Cemetery, on a hill overlooking Paris, with full military honors. It is the final resting place of 1541 Americans who died during World War I and a place of remembrance for 974 Americans who were lost at sea as well as for 24 American soldiers who are “known but to God.”