Click here to view the story produced by WCSH
Click here to view the story produced by WGME
The Lewiston Sun Journal also wrote an article in advance of the ceremony. A copy of it can be found by clicking here.
Prior to the ceremony, I put together an introduction. The following is that introduction:
Rene Michaud - Introduction
Good morning. I want to welcome everyone – family, friends, and honored guests – to this ceremony to honor my grandfather, Rene Michaud. I would also like to thank Mr. Lee Humiston for hosting this gathering in this wonderful location.
I would like to begin by first explaining how we got here.
Tom Brokaw described people of my grandfather’s generation as “The Greatest Generation”. I think that may well be true, but you’ll never get any of them to admit it. When the war broke out and it became obvious that he, along with his contemporaries would be heading off to Europe or Asia, Rene enlisted in the Army. No one could possibly know how their lives would be changed by the events to come, but for the able bodied men here in America and overseas, the call to serve could not be ignored. Thousands upon thousands of Americans rushed to the aid of the French and other European countries whose lands were being conquered by the Germans. Their countries, their way of life, and their freedoms were being taken from them. Americans such as Rene signed up to do what they could to change this – to restore these countries to their citizens and freedom from the Nazi aggressors.
Many soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines paid the ultimate price for our Allies’ freedom. Still, many more returned home. It is right and just that we honor those who have laid down their lives for our country and those they were sent to liberate. Those who returned home, like Rene, did this in the most meaningful way possible – by prospering and exercising those freedoms they all fought so hard to preserve.
Upon returning home after the war, Rene rejoined the private sector, working hard to raise his family – a family that has grown to those seen before you and some more still who were unable to attend. The Michaud family has always been hard working and none more so than its patriarch, Rene. He often worked multiple concurrent jobs, and late in his career, even built the log house in which he still resides with his wife, Rita – all while working more than “full time”. His industry and ingenuity have always been an inspiration to me and other members of my family.
Rene, like a great many of his brother’s in arms, never spoke of the war upon returning home. Growing up as his grandson, it was simply understood that it was not a topic for discussion – ever. I cannot conceive, nor can anyone who has not experienced combat, the impact that has on a person. Everyone deals with it in their own way, and it seems the most effective way for Rene to deal with it was to simply put it in his past – like a book on a shelf. We all respected his wishes and understood that there must have been memories that he simply did not want to revisit. He certainly earned that right, and we did our best to honor it.
In September, 1994, My wife, Stephanie and I were married. For our honeymoon, we chose to visit France. We spent some time in Paris and then headed to Normandy. It was the year of the 50th anniversary of the D-Day invasion, and there was so much to learn and see in the Normandy region. It was a tremendously moving experience as we tried to digest and understand what happened there 50 years prior.
Upon returning from our honeymoon, I can remember visiting with my grandparents to share what we had done and seen in France (well, some of it anyway). We had our scrapbook and map spread out over the dining room table and were talking about the places we had visited and the things we had seen. All at once, Rene drops a finger to the map along the beaches of Normandy and said “That’s where I landed”. To my knowledge, those were the first words that he had spoken about the war in 50 years.
Stories began to pour forth. Slowly at first, but then with more regularity. Most of the stories were “G”-Rated, and some were even light hearted, but I eagerly listened. My favorite story involved a lonely cow that wouldn’t leave him alone as he attempted to reconnoiter an abandoned farm house. The cow had been left behind by the fleeing or deceased farmers, and had not seen another human in days. Its incessant “mooing” drew unwanted attention in his direction. Fortunately, no Germans were within earshot, and they were able to bivouac at the farmhouse, later enjoying some fresh beef if I am not mistaken. Days and months passed and he began to reach out to some of his Army buddies and reconnect with them. I am glad that he was able to re-kindle some of these friendships.
Years past and my family began to grow. When our oldest son was ready to enter kindergarten we discovered a French Immersion school located in Winthrop. We liked what we saw in their curriculum and learning environment and decided to enrolled him. The school moved to Freeport and we chose to follow. We would later enroll all three of our sons, and Stephanie became an English teacher there. In the spring of 2009, the director of the school asked if anyone knew of any WWII veterans that might be willing to share their experiences with the 5th and 6th grade classes that were studying it at that time. I volunteered Rene, and not only did the class get the benefit of speaking with a veteran of the effort to liberate France, but one who spoke French as well. Rene participated in their class discussion, answered their questions, and shared some memorabilia that he brought with him. Little did he know that in the back yard of the school, they were preparing a D-Day celebration and he was the guest of honor. Undaunted by being put on the spot, he graciously thanked the school and praised the children – in French and English (for the benefit of some of us in the audience) for their fine work.
The Consul General of France at the time, M. Francois Gautier, could not attend that day due to a schedule conflict. However, the following month he did attend the school’s graduation ceremony. I had a chance to speak with him about the D-Day celebration and what a unique and moving experience it had been for all of us, and especially Rene. He asked me if Rene had received the “Legion d’Honneur” for his services and I explained that to my knowledge, he had not. M. Gautier asked that I forward Rene’s credentials to him and that he would look into it. I sent him his service record and his registration certificate for having been entered in the WWII memorial database.
This past spring, I received word from the French Consulate in Boston that the award for Rene Michaud had been approved. I am honored at this time to introduce M. Christophe Guilhou, le Consul General of France to present the award.