Sometimes streets are named for people, sometimes for trees, and other times for birds. But the village of Montry, France named their main street for a date…a big date...August 27, 1944, the day the Allies liberated the town from enemy occupation.
And the street name isn't the only way this important date is remembered. Every year on the 27th of August, the people of Montry gather to commemorate their liberation. First, they have a ceremony at the Monument aux Morts, where monuments honor the village's dead from both the First and Second World Wars. Then, together, the townspeople walk several blocks to the Monument to the American Soldier where they lay a wreath.
The wreath they lay is in memory of an American soldier, Stanley Zuber of Buffalo, New York, who on August 27, 1944 gave his life for the liberation of Montry. Zuber was riding a tank chasing the last enemies from the town when a retreating tank's last round found its mark. Zuber, a young married man of 26, died on the spot, and the good people of Montry remember him to this day.
My wife Cheryl and I were honored to attend this ceremony on the 48th anniversary of the liberation, August 27, 1992. We were living in Montry then, helping to open the Euro Disney project. I think we were the only Americans living in the town at the time, so we were invited by the Mayor as special guests to the ceremony.
We learned that every year, the Mayor of Montry invited the U.S. Embassy in Paris to send a representative to the liberation ceremony. But in 47 years of commemoration, no American had ever come. With so many villages celebrating their liberations at that time of year, only the larger ceremonies were attended by Embassy staff.
But this year, the 48th anniversary, was different. As then Mayor Jean-Claude Lavalloir wrote in his letter of invitation, "The United States Embassy is doing us the honor of sending a representative for this ceremony." That representative was U.S. Army Colonel Daniel R. Larned. Col. Larned was fluent in French, having served in Viet Nam and having married a French-speaking Vietnamese wife. He arrived in full dress uniform, projecting the bearing of a decorated career officer, a man any American would be proud to have as a representative.
He walked with the Mayor from the gathered crowd toward the Monument of the American Soldier, and together with the Mayor, laid the wreath at its base. He made a few brief, appropriate remarks in French, and the ceremony reached its solemn conclusion.
As those gathered were talking quietly after the ceremony, a white-haired older villager, whom we recognized as the father of one of Cheryl's friends, hesitantly made his way toward Col. Larned. The man held in his hand a faded pack of Philip Morris cigarettes, the kind that were issued to GI's during the war.
He stood before Colonel Larned and said, "My Colonel, every year on this day, I bring out this pack of cigarettes which was given to me by an American soldier on August 27, 1944 as he came through Montry during the Liberation. Every year on this day, I use this pack of cigarettes to tell my children, and now my grandchildren, the story of the Americans liberating our village."
"I have also told them every year that I would give this pack of cigarettes to the next American soldier I met." With that remark, he extended his hand and offered the pack of cigarettes to Col. Larned. The Colonel, together with all who witnessed this sublime act of gratitude, was speechless.
Google Map of Montry, France clearly shows "Avenue du 27 Août 1944" in celebration of Montry's liberation by American forces. Site of the memorial to Stanley Zuber is marked by the yellow arrow point.