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Our member in France, Jocelyne Papelard, recently wrote, “Thank you for the beautiful article in the newsletter. I am super busy with ‘the boys’ [our Soldiers buried in Epinal American Cemetery]. We are making a CD of our ceremony on the 13th of December displaying the white candles.
Its title is ‘Christmas Memories 1944.’ I will send you a CD. Thanks for the info on the B-15th Soldier KIA in Holtzwihr.

The 100th Anniversary ceremony of the Escadrille La Fayetter in Marnes la Coquette was magnificant. This hallowed shrine contains in the crypt 67 bodies of American WWI pilots who volunteered to fight for France as early as 1914. The Escadrille La Fayette was created here in Luxeuil les Bains 21 April 1916. The American pilots had fought in the trenches prior to that creation.  To retain their American citizenship they had to enroll in the French Foreign Legion. 

The ceremony started at Air Base 116 in Luxeuil les Bains in the presence of many American VIPS and at the grave of Kiffin Rockwell, the only pilot not buried in the crypt with the other airmen. 

He had told his family, if he was killed, he wanted to be buried on the spot where he fell.

He got his first kill among the other American pilots in summer of 1916; he was the second pilot to be downed by a German plane over the Alsace summits in September of 1916. His body fell almost into German lines and so the French decided to retrieve his body and the next best thing, to his wishes, was to bury him in the Luxeuil les Bains military plot where other pilots from the Commonwealth are buried.

The Air Base 116 has adopted Kiffin Rockwell’s grave through our US Memory Grand Est Association and they honor his grave regularly and each Memorial Day.  

At the ceremony in Luxeuil, a professor who made a movie about Kiffin Rockwell, brought some soil from his home (Rockwell was from Tennessee) and tobacco because in his letters to his mother he always asked her to send tobacco from home. These were put on his grave. Actually the professor is from the same town as Kiffen.

The following day, I was invited to a huge ceremony at Marnes La Coquette, a memorial event, and there was a magnificent flyover.  Four French Mirages and four F22 U.S. Raptors and also a B52 coming from a South Dakota base. 

Since the early La Fayette pilots had painted the head of a SIOUX chieftain on their planes, the President of the Oglala Sioux Nation, John Yellow Bird Steele, was present and his medicine man did the invocation in the Sioux language. 

Also present were several Veterans of the famous Escadrille from Tuskegee Institute: the “Redtails” who fought gallantly in Italy escorting bomber planes in WWII.  

There I met the grand-niece of Kiffin Rockwell who had come from North Carolina for the occasion. She is going to come next year with her family to visit her great uncle’s grave at Luxeuil and the spot where his plane fell.

I also have to work on making new adoptions of graves in Epinal, in Alsace. 

The boys are taking up all my time, but it is worth it. On April 9th our general assembly (Adopt Grave Association) met. Many mayors of adoptive villages were present, and there was great attendance by our membership.  We were pleased that the hall was full.

We placed pictures of Soldiers buried in Epinal on the stage for our members to see in the hope that these would prompt new adoptions.  This strategy was successful. We are progressing daily.

We spoke about our goals and objectives, our financial situation, and we showed all the events and ceremonies we had organized in 2015. The roses and the Christmas candles were applauded. The attendees want us to do it again.

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