Libération, not Liberation

ONE AMERICAN WHO HAD REMAINED at his post for four years of occupation watched the Allied armies march down the Champs-Elysées. Charles Anderson, now 83 years old, stood tall in his purple uniform with gold braid. On his chest hung pale ribbons of French military service. He had once worn the American uniform, when it was blue and the army was fighting Indians. The American veteran of the US and French armies had made France his home for fifty-six years. He spoke French as well as he did English. For the past four years, despite the German occupation, he had gone every workday to his empty office in the De Brosse International Transport Company and read the newspapers. Each month, his employer had sent his salary cheque by mail from the south of France.

The Allied armies started their march at the flame above the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, alight for the first time since 1940, and paraded along the Champs-Elysées to the Place de la Concorde. The soldiers’ route was identical to that of the victorious Germans in June 1940. Tears were shed, as in 1940, but in happiness rather than humiliation. All of Paris joyously cheered the saviours. Military bands played La Marseillaise, ‘God Save the King’ and the ‘Star Spangled Banner’. Charles Anderson watched the faces of the young Americans, who had liberated Paris and were on their way to free the rest of France and to occupy Germany. They were sixty years younger than he was, but it was not their youth he noticed. It was their white faces. He was looking, among the thousands of bright Americans under their steel helmets, for Negro soldiers. He did not see one in the American ranks. It was as it had been in 1918, when General Pershing banned the all-black Harlem Hellfighters from the First World War’s victory pageant. Anderson folded his newspaper and walked home with the slow dignity of an old soldier to the French wife who loved him. Paris had been liberated. America would take longer.

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