Friday, October 8, 1999
Carlisle Residents Celebrate Revolutionary Re-enactments
The relationship between Antony, France and Lexington, Massachusetts began about 20 years ago as a student exchange program and more recently when they became sister cities. Therefore, it came as no surprise when the Lexington Minutemen received an invitation to accompany some of their town dignitaries to Antony to be present at the renaming of a traffic circle to "le Rond-Point de Lexington" and also honor the revolutionary role of the Lexington Minutemen by dedicating an obelisk to them.
With muskets, fifes and drums already on their way to France, a contingent of 67 Lexington Minutemen, Lexington officials and citizens prepared to depart for Antony on September 3. Lexington's sister city dates back to 829 A.D. and is a suburb of Paris, just a few miles south of Port d'Orléans, with a population of 60,000.
On the afternoon of September 4 the entire group was invited to a cocktail party followed by a sumptuous dinner, which was held at the Pavilion Bourdeau rue Velpeau in the center of town and featured local food, wine and champagne, which flowed freely.
September 5 dawned with a cloudless sky and the temperature was in the mid-80s. The feeling of pride was evident as we marched down the street as applause rang out from start to finish for both the marching unit and the Colonial musicians, who, incidentally, did an excellent job. The ceremonies lasted about 30 minutes and they were very moving.
Following the ceremony we returned to the Pavilion Bourdeau for the exchanging of gifts, another unbelievable cocktail party, which featured hors d'oeuvres I have never seen before and another great meal with a mousse dessert that earned five stars in my book. Immediately after the dinner I was approached by the Captain Commanding, Saul Adamsky, who informed me that there had been a change in plans regarding the ceremonies that were to be held the following day honoring the Marquis de Lafayette. The Captain had been invited to the Israeli Embassy to be present at the swearing in of one of his best friends to an official position. He then appointed me as senior Past Captain to lead a contingent to perform his duties. I was very honored to accept this position, as the Marquis de Lafayette has always been one of the men I have admired the most and probably the best friend America ever had.
Burial site of Marquis de Lafayette
We were staying in the town of Gentilly, which is halfway between Paris and Antony. The burial place of the Marquis de Lafayette, his wife Adrienne, and his son George Washington Lafayette was in the town of Picpus, which is on the other side of Paris. Marquis de Lafayette, French statesman and general, known as "the Hero of the Worlds," served (1771-81) the American cause during the Revolutionary War as a major general in Washington's army. To get there we had to use public transportation. Needless to say the two of us who were dressed in our formal Minutmen uniforms did attract attention. The burial grounds, Cimetiere de Picpus, are located at 35 Rue de Picpus, near Place de la Nation on a property that includes a church and convent. It's inconspicuously set on a very busy street across from a Renault Auto dealer. There are two huge wooden doors with a smaller one cut out as an entrance. Once inside it's like stepping into another world, quiet and peaceful. Ordinarily the cemetery is not open on Mondays but was opened because we were from Lexington. The Curator greeted us upon our arrival and insisted on taking us for a guided tour. There were ten Minutemen and 25 wives and guests. Our first stop was the chapel, which was a few yards inside the gate. Once inside we were informed, through an interpreter, that on the large marble slabs covering the walls on both sides of the altar were etched the names of 1,300 people who were guillotined during the Revolution and whose remains were buried in a mass grave behind the wall of the Marquis de Lafayette's grave. He also told us that a total of 13,000 people had met the same fate during that period. Once outside the chapel we reformed to march back to the gravesite, which was about 300 yards away. It was very fitting for the music to play a subdued dirge on that segment, and I know for myself it was an honor to be there.
When we arrived at our destination I said a few words about how I felt and then called on Compatriot Dan Fenn, former Director of the JFK Library in Boston. I cannot describe the beautiful tribute Dan gave to Lafayette. There wasn't a dry eye in the group. Compatriot Bill Mix then fired a Musket Salute that kicked up a few pigeons. The music, under the direction of Compatriot Carmen Calabrese, was one of the most beautiful hymns I have ever heard.
All through the ceremony the Curator stood with "Old Glory hanging over the grave. "Nothing could have been more fitting than the exit selection of "Yankee Doodle." With the brilliant blue sky and colors waving gently in the breeze I had a feeling that probably will never be repeated. As we started to leave the gravesite I could not resist saying the words made famous by General Pershing or one of his aides on their visit in July 4,1917 "Lafayette, nous voici (we are here)".
Norman Daigle of Westford Street has lived in Carlisle since 1983. Formerly a resident of Lexington for 30 years, he joined the Lexington Minutemen in 1965 and was captain of that group during the bicentennial celebrations.
© 1999 The Carlisle Mosquito