Four questions for Commissioner Monique Seefried
"Involve the young generations to perpetuate the French-American legacy"
By Chris Isleib
Director of Public Affairs, United States World War One Centennial Commission
Earlier this month, the city of Versailles France rededicated a pair of major memorial statues in their city -- one to WWI American General John Pershing, and the other to American Revolutionary War hero, the Marquis de La Fayette. These statues were conceived and started after the close of World War I, as a thank-you and remembrance of the fraternity between the U.S. and France. However, the peace after World War I was imperfect, and the permanent statues were not completed -- until this month. Our Commissioner Monique Seefried attended the re-dedication ceremony at Versailles, and she talked to us from France about the event, the statues, and what they mean.
Thank you for representing us at the ceremony! Tell us about these statues. They have a very interesting history.
In February 1937, a committee is created in France to erect a memorial symbolizing the participation of the Americans in France during the Great War and the participation of the French in the American Revolution.
Among the members of the council of administration of the committee are the president of the Republic Albert Lebrun, Premier (president du conseil des ministres) Leon Blum and Marechal Petain.
The architect Carlu (did the Trocadero) is chosen for the base and the sculptor Joachim Costa for the equestrian statue of Pershing and the one of Lafayette is the work of Paul Wayland Bartlett (did Michel Angelo in the Library of Congress and on façade of NY Public Library). He did the Lafayette now on the Cours la Reine in Paris.
The project has to be realized with great urgency in order to have General Pershing present in France in October attend the inauguration. This takes place on October 6, 1937.
Situated to the Butte de Picardie, at the entrance of the Avenue de Versailles, flanking both sides of the road, the pedestals are 15 m high and list respectively all the major battles fought by the Americans in France in 1918 and those fought by the French during the American Revolution. The pedestals are erected in 36 days and plasters of the two statues are placed atop the columns.
By 1941, the plaster statues are removed, as they are getting damaged, exposed to the elements. The bronze are not made due to the war.
In 1951, President Herriot tries to raise funds for the two bronze statues, but the project, over a 10 years period, doesn’t come to fruition.
By 2002, a local association raised the funds to restore the pedestals who had gotten damaged and they are inscribed in the National Register of Historical Monuments.
A second inauguration took place in 2011 for the two restored pedestals and a campaign is launched to have the bronze statues erected. It was led by the Pershing Lafayette association in Versailles, the Cincinnati, the DAR, the SAR. See http://www.pershing-lafayette-versailles.org/
This is finally done and the beautiful statues in patinated resina were inaugurated on October 6, 2017, 80 years after the first inauguration.
The re-dedication ceremony was exceptional. Tell us about your experience attending the event, representing the US WWI Centennial Commission.
The tribunes were under the statue of Lafayette, facing the statue of General Pershing.
French and American color guards attended, military bands and several choirs of school children including the young ladies of the Legion of Honor (boarding school for daughters of Legion of Honor recipients).
Speeches by French politicians and the US chargé d’affaires retelling the story of the statues, as well as retracing the historical bonds between France and the United States.
Various personalities attended and I am attaching the list but you have to add, which was a rare honor, Gerard Larcher, President of the French Senate.
The presence of so many young people, the poems they read, the presentations they made of the life of both Pershing and Lafayette, were a strong symbol of how France wants to involve young generations to perpetuate the French-American legacy and continue to build on the bonds of friendship, learning the lessons of the past, and preparing the future.
Much time has passed since the war ended, and these statues were created. What do these statues represent to people of France today?
The role of the Americans in WWI is very well known in France and Lafayette and the French troops participating in the American Revolution is well known in the US, but much, much less in France. Hence this is an important theme, a long view of history and a strong bond for the values that came out of the American and French revolutions, and declaration of the rights of man….
-You have been very active in the Centennial Commission creating other new partnerships snd joint programs with the people of France. Tell us about what you have been working on, and what is ahead events.
Yes! I am swamped and on-the-go 16 hours a day since I am here in France, working towards the commemorations in France for May 26 and 27 (Cantigny and Chateau-Thierry. First American Offensive), July 28 (Second Battle of the Marne) August 8 (Amiens) September 21, 22, 23 (St Mihiel and Meuse Argonne). These ceremonies will take place in France. We also have exchange programs between French and American schools, planting of Liberty trees, research and collaboration on line between those schools. Look for more information on the Centennial Commission's social media, as the days get closer.