Over the course of the Centennial, California WW1 Centennial Task Force Co-Director Courtland Jindra has developed significant liaisons with numerous foreign dignitaries. The relationship with the Belgian Consul General though has been special. Here, as we approach the one hundredth anniversary of the visit of Belgian King Albert I to California and the United States just after the war, Courtland shares the poignant departing of Henri Vantieghem from his post in our state.
July 23, 2019 - Belgian Consul General Recalls His Monarch's Visit and Honors a Century of Friendship
At his departure Consul General Henri Vantieghem shares his gratitude for Americans then and now.
by Courtland Jindra, Co-Director of the California WW1 Centennial Task Force
On July 23rd, 2019 the Belgian Consul General Henri Vantieghem had his farewell party. In less than three weeks he will be returning to his native country after eight years abroad. He served in Turkey before he came to LA - unsure if he had a posting before that. He's been in the States for the last three years and even though based out of Los Angeles, his area representing his nation included about twenty states and territories. He was the top diplomat for the entire western part of the US all the way out to Guam and American Samoa. He only reported to the Belgian Ambassador in Washington DC.
In his farewell remarks Henri spoke at length about his appreciation for the United States, our can do pioneer spirit, and our optimism even after getting knocked down. Europeans don't recover as easily from setbacks in his opinion. He also said that we typically plan better than Europe, that they excel in improvising, and we should learn the benefits of each other. I can't hope to do justice to his words, but they were amusing and quite heartfelt.
He recognized Honorary Consuls under his jurisdiction and then awarded about six or seven individuals from the Film community who had ties toward helping promote Belgian film here in Hollywood. After a few City and County Proclamations were read by Assistants to representatives (it seems as if politicians usually send representatives to these rather than attending themselves) Henri actually called me up to the front and said a few words about how important he felt it was that I had spearheaded WWI commemoration locally and if not for me "there would have been nothing done." He then presented me with the book "King Albert's Heroes" about a Belgian Armored Car Unit in the war and their incredible service. It was a very kind thing to do in front of all the other guests. Frankly putting me at the end felt like I was the most important person he meant to recognize even if others got medals and I got a book! The moment felt like my gift was the more meaningful one to him.
Over the last couple of years we've traded books back and forth at some of the events I have put together, so this was a fitting last exchange. Earlier that night we had given him an album of photos my Mom had tracked down from Bison Archives on when King Albert I of Belgium, his Queen, Elisabeth and their son Leopold (future King Leopold III) came to Southern California in 1919 during his tour of the United States after The Great War to say thank you. The 1919 trip was nearly two months long (September-November) as the Royals criss-crossed the United States visiting places large and small. They arrived in the Los Angeles area on October 17th and officials and diplomats from across the area greeted them. School children lined the streets and the 91stDivision vets, many of whom had served under the King's command near the end of the war, also participated in formal exercises. It was the first time a European Monarch had visited SoCal, so it was a big deal here. I am SURE the LA Times has way more pictures in their archives somewhere, but they didn't contact us back when we reached out to them. Bison Archives has an extensive collection of early Hollywood photographs and one of the things the Belgian party did on their Southland visit was tour the Ince Studio in Culver City (now it is Culver City Studios) because Leopold was fascinated by the Film Industry. It was a nice little collection and Henri very much appreciated.
After dinner and things started to wind down we got a chance to speak again twice. The first time he said he hoped pointing me out in front of others would bring greater attention to everything I tried to do, as he felt local help was lacking for our efforts. The second time as Mom, Melissa, and I left we all talked about how much we'd all miss each other. Henri said if he was staying long enough, he'd attend my wedding - which would definitely have been touching (as well as something to brag about....how many regular citizens get a Consul General to crash their wedding). I will miss Mr. Vantieghem very much, and I plan to look him up whenever I visit the Kingdom of Belgium.