French Defense Attache's Speech at the Commemoration of the 1780 French Encampment at Lebanon, Connecticut, 1 October 2005

Address delivered at the unveiling of a commemorative marker to
the duc de Lauzun and his Legion
in Lebanon, Connecticut
by General Vinchon,
French Defence Attache
on Saturday,1 October 2005

Major General Pascal Vinchon.

Madam State Regent, dignitaries of the state of Connecticut and of the town of Lebanon, members of the Society of the Cincinnati, members of the W3R committee, members of the Lebanon Historical Society, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen.

It is a great honor and a real pleasure for me to be invited to Lebanon today as the representative of the Ambassador of France to the United States, Mr. Jean-David Levitte. The Ambassador has asked me to convey to you his deepest regrets for his inability to join you on this special occasion.
Regretfully, his previously scheduled commitments in Lebanon and elsewhere in New England, had to be cancelled so that he could fly to the state of Louisiana recently devastated by hurricanes Katrina and Rita. He wanted to demonstrate again France's sympathy and meet with local officials as well as relief workers, to discuss the effectiveness of our help and study future recovery programs.
As soon as Katrina subsided, the French government sent tons of humanitarian aid, as well as a team of French navy divers specialized in rescue and recovery missions. The French people's hearts and thoughts went out to all the residents of Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas who have lost their homes, their livelihoods, and especially to those who have lost loved ones.
To the families of the victims, I wish to express my most heartfelt condolences and that of the French people. Indeed, it is under the most tragic circumstances that one knows who one's true friends really are.
We are precisely gathered today to celebrate true friendship, a true friendship which was born here 225 years ago, a friendship which has been regularly demonstrated on battlefields up to nowadays.
* * * *
Indeed, we are assembled here on the ground of Jonathan Trumbull Jr. House to dedicate a commemorative marker to the duc de Lauzun and his Legion along the famous Washington-Rochambeau Revolutionary Route. This road, as we all know, follows the journey of the French troops from their point of landing in the American colonies to Yorktown where they achieved with the Continental Army and the French Navy, the combined decisive victory which was going to decide on your war of independence from England.
I feel always very moved, as a military officer, when speaking of our longstanding French-American friendship because I know that it was founded for sure on our common ideals of liberty, democracy and justice for all, but also on our brotherhood-in-arms.
Indeed, by signing a treaty of alliance with the United States in February 1778, France acknowledged the search for liberty, sovereignty, and independence of the United States, and promised to help maintain them. Thus the French government became the first foreign power to provide assistance to the United States and decided to join the fight against the British, alongside the Continental Army. In July 1780, France sent to the new world a sizable force that would decide the outcome of the rebellion across the Atlantic. It included some 6,000 well equipped, well trained and experienced troops under the command of comte de Rochambeau.
Their journey initially took them from Newport, Rhode Island, to Connecticut, where some 220 hussars of the 600-strong Lauzun's Legion entered winter encampment, precisely here in the small town of Lebanon. They would wait the winter out from November 1780 until June 21, 1781, before setting out again, to join up with Washington and his Continental Army in Philipsburgh.
The Lauzun's Foreign Legion, a unique unit of light infantry, cavalry, and artillery, was placed under the command of the duke de Lauzun. They were all soldiers who had volunteered to fight a war that would deliver America from tyranny! Quartered on Lebanon's green for seven long months, they whiled away their time conducting daily drills, training their horses and even building their own bread ovens! As the most colorful French unit to serve in the American war, these Hungarian-looking hussars riding through town with their sky blue jackets and scarlet breeches made for quite an impressive sight!.
However, frigid weather, high food prices as well as boredom were some of the hardships faced by these horsemen over the winter months.
Having joined General Washington on the Hudson River by marching across Connecticut in June 1781, the duc de Lauzun's Legion rode south of the army to prevent British attacks from the coast. At Yorktown, Lauzun's hussars routed Cornwallis' dreaded dragoons, which helped lead to the surrender of General Cornwallis on October 19, 1781.
What we are celebrating here in Lebanon is therefore what we would call today interoperability preparation, joint planning and focussed logistics. Indeed, can we imagine the difficulties of coordinating militiamen only recently organized and trained in Valley Forge, with weathered professional soldiers from faraway lands? Let us also think of the challenges involved with the planning of a common action at the Capes of Virginia by an army walking from Connecticut and a fleet sailing from the Caribbean without GPS or satellite communications. Finally, do we figure out properly the hardships caused by feeding, bringing weapons and ammunitions to, or caring for the different illnesses of all these men going to Yorktown without any armoured personnel carrier, I-95 nor bridges?
Definitely, all of that was planned and prepared here on the green of Lebanon and elsewhere in Connecticut. It was planned together between French and American officers and political leaders and it played a decisive role in the success of the republican cause and the birth of your great nation. Being on the ground of the Trumbull family, we better understand how it was possible. It took probably all the amount of strength and faith of Governor Trumbull, the power of conviction of his brother John and the courage and dedication of his son Jonathan Junior.
It took also an equal faith, dedication and courage from all the officers and soldiers from Rochambeau's expeditionary corps. Let me mention that in 1789, within a thirty-day period, the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen was approved by the National Assembly in France, while the Bill of Rights was passed by the US Congress. The convergence of these two events was neither sheer coincidence nor historical accident.
It was a clear demonstration that the destinies of France and the United States had become tightly intertwined, and a good omen that the two nations would champion and fight for freedom and human rights wherever and whenever they would be threatened and challenged.
* * * *
The Treaty of Versailles did not mean the end of our cooperation. On the contrary, it marked the birth of a long, deep-rooted and unique friendship later consolidated by the blood shed along your side on many other battlefields. Whenever the freedom and security of either nation has been threatened, we have stood by each other's side.
In the course of the two world wars, many young American soldiers landed on France's shores to liberate us from tyranny and occupation, and many, too many of them did pay the ultimate price to give us back our freedom. The French nation has never forgotten and will be eternally grateful to America.
As a token of our gratitude, in june 2004, on the 60th anniversary of the D-day landing, 100 of your most heroic World War II veterans were flown to France at the French government's expenses to participate in the commemorative ceremonies held on the Normandy beaches, and to be awarded the Legion of Honor, France's highest distinction. On this day, I can assure you that all the French people, in one voice, joined President Chirac to state: we will never forget.
If the French military cemetery at Yorktown reminds you of the price paid by our people for your freedom, the American military cemeteries in France are equally a constant reminder of the much higher price paid by your people for our freedom. More recently French and American troops fought again side by side for the defense of liberty and justice. In 1984, French paratroopers and US marines were targeted together in Beirut. In 1991, France contributed a significant number of its armed forces to operation ‘Desert Storm' in order to liberate Kuwait.
A few years later, France was the second largest contributor to operation ‘Allied Force' in Kosovo. And, in the wake of the dreadful attacks of September 11, the President of France was the first head of state to visit Ground Zero in New York to show his support to the American people. Shortly thereafter, France joined the United States in its global fight against terrorism. Actually, as of October 2001, France started contributing reconnaissance aircraft and air tankers to the air campaign in Afghanistan. They were reinforced from the winter of 2001, by French naval aviation and French air force fighters. France was the only nation in the world, along with the United States, to fly bombing missions over Afghanistan in direct support of American ground troops. In one year, our Mirage 2000 D and our Super Etendard strike fighters destroyed some 33 targets linked to Al Qaeda or the Talibans.
Today France is still playing a significant role in tracking Ben Laden with its special forces in Afghanistan and in securing Afghanistan through contributions to the NATO stabilisation force and to the training of the new Afghan army.
We contribute also with naval assets to the control of sea lanes in the Indian Ocean and with all our military, judiciary and diplomatic means to fighting terrorism, criminal trafficking, proliferation and spread of failed states.
That cooperation between the French and the US armed forces which spans over 220 years, is also very much alive today through common training and exercises. This past may, the French carrier group "Charles de Gaulle" carried out a major exercise with the USS Roosevelt carrier group off the coast of Norfolk. It was the first time such an exercise had been conducted between a US and a foreign aircraft carrier group, and it was the largest French navy presence off the coast of the United States since Admiral comte de Grasse fought in the very same Chesapeake Bay.
Numerous exchange programs between the American and the French military academies and units take place on a regular basis, thereby contributing to the enhancement of our brotherhood-in-arms, our friendship and our interoperability.
* * * *
Though over the years we have had our differences on ways and means, in every crisis since 1778, we have naturally shared the final objective and marched together and I am truly confident that we always will.
Whenever there is a need to defend and uphold our heritage and our common ideals of liberty and democracy, France and the United States have always joined together to ensure the triumph of these sacred values throughout the world. We owe it to our heroic forefathers who paid the ultimate price during the Revolutionary War and the 20th century world conflicts in order to change the course of history.
As General Washington said after the signing of our Treaty of Alliance: "at a happy juncture of times and circumstances, France has laid the seeds of eternal friendship". To me, nothing has ever happened between our two countries to refute that statement.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Thank you for keeping the Washington-Rochambeau Revolutionary Road alive. It is the visible part of a remarkable strategic decision, an astonishing human endeavor, and the culmination of the crucial contributions of France to the achievement of American independence.
Thank you also for your warm welcome. I do feel as Baron von Closen felt when writing about his experience in Connecticut over 200 years ago: "we have been treated wonderfully well wherever the army has marched."
And long live the French-American friendship!

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