BLOOMINGTON, Minn. (WCCO) — About 125,000 World War II soldiers and airmen are buried in 11 cemeteries in France. For many of their families it’s difficult, if not impossible, to pay a foreign visit to decorate their loved-one’s grave.
But 70 years after World War II ended, French volunteers continue their pledge to do what American loved ones can’t.
“He was in a bomber group and they were flying a mission over France,” said the nephew named after his uncle Chuck.
Gunner Charles Speier was just 20 years old, a gifted artist, when he and his bomber crew were shot down April 1, 1944.
Decades later, a simple white marble cross still marks his grave in an American cemetery in Epinal, France.
“She wanted to put a picture or a face with this name on the cross,” the younger Chuck Speier said.
Seventy one years after Speier was killed in action, his nieces, Susan and Barbara and nephew Chuck, got a Veteran’s Day surprise. It came in the form of a visit from the French woman caring for their uncle’s grave.
“It’s like you visit Epinal so I give this to you,” Ann Cascales, holding a packet of cemetery photographs, said.
Like so many American families, laying flowers or planting flags is an impossible responsibility for the Speier family. But Cascales gives them comfort, explaining that her country’s grave adoption program is a debt of gratitude for the untold sacrifices America’s veterans made.
“We have not forgotten, we will never forget the debt of infinite gratitude we have contracted for those who gave everything for our freedom,” Cascales said.
At a Veteran’s Day lunch inside Bloomington’s Olive Garden restaurant, the human cost of war forged new friendships.
“It’s like a member of my family and it’s this bond here and there, it’s very emotional for me,” Cascales said, wiping away tears.
Two families, bridging an ocean and cultures, spend the afternoon trading stories and faded photographs. They’re talking about an uncle they never knew and a brave young man the French people promise never to forget.
“Well, welcome to our family, thank you, thank you,” Chuck Speier said with a warm hug.