By: Yvonne Dempsey
On Monday, August 28, the citizens of Athens gathered at the Alabama Veterans Museum to welcome a patriotic French lady who has devoted many years to honoring the sacrifice of American soldiers. Madame Jocelyne Papelard-Brescia lovingly cares for the graves of American soldiers buried in France and strives to “perpetuate their memory and honor their sacrifices.”
It was France’s Marquis de Lafayette who so bravely fought alongside Gen. George Washington against the British in the American Revolution. He and the French naval forces were instrumental in the British surrender at Yorktown and winning the war. Lafayette was hailed a hero during his visit to the states in 1824. He is buried in Paris under soil from Bunker Hill. When the U. S. entered WWI, his grave was the first place that Gen. Pershing visited.
America, in return, sent her military to France in WWI and WWII. She lost many brave men on foreign soil, never to return home. France is the final resting place for thousands of America’s sons. Many heartbroken families have been left to grieve from afar, unable to visit the graves of their loved ones. However, these soldiers’ sacrifices have not been forgotten thanks to the efforts of Jocelyne.
Jocelyne began her mission with two soldiers by placing flowers on their graves, praying, and researching to discover more about the American soldiers; she has since then personally ‘adopted’ many more. In a Sunday morning edition of a local newspaper, Jocelyne told about her mission and urged others to join her in honoring these Americans and adopting them. The response was immediate and in 2014, the U. S. Memory Grand Est France Association was formed to “pay tribute to the American soldiers dead and missing.” She is responsible for the adoption of 1700 soldiers’ graves.
As president of the organization, Jocelyne is dedicated to remembering these American soldiers through events, memorial dedications, and ceremonies. She works to ensure that French students are taught about the great sacrifices of the American soldiers. Through Jocelyne’s tireless research, she is able to link stories and put faces to the soldiers lying in the graves. Each one has a place in her heart. “These are my boys. They are my pride and joy.”
Jocelyne has worked to provide funds to 16 families to visit their loved one’s graves and attend events in their honor. She travels extensively throughout our country visiting soldiers’ families, attending events, and doing research. When Jocelyne visited our city, she was accompanied by the Thornton family, an Alabama family whose loved one’s grave was adopted by Jocelyne. From here she will be traveling to South Carolina and several other states to meet families, attend events, and research her “boys.”
While in Athens, Jocelyne got a good dose of Southern hospitality and good food. Jerry Barksdale told her, “You can’t leave Athens without eating some fried catfish.” So several of us headed to catfish Cabin. And here is where the story gets really good and you know that God was in charge.
I sat directly across from Jocelyne and enjoyed talking with her. Jerry was seated to her left and encouraged her to try the fried catfish filets. She enjoyed the hushpuppies, which she had never eaten before. Mary Winn, co-owner, came by our table to talk with us. Sandy Thompson, Al. Veterans Museum director, introduced Jocelyne to her, telling Mary about her. Mary couldn’t believe it; she had an uncle buried in France! And at Epinal, the very cemetery where Jocelyne’s boys are!
When Mary showed us a picture of her uncle, Joseph Graham, a surprised Jocelyne cried out, “I know him! I know him!” She told Mary that she knows exactly where he’s buried. Needless to say, it was quite an emotional revelation. Jocelyne remembers the superintendent of the cemetery, Mr. Anderson, showing her Joseph’s picture and telling her of his family’s visit 4 years ago. We could only marvel at how wonderfully God works in our lives. There are no coincidences. God has it all figured out. He enabled Jocelyne to travel from France to our small town of Athens where she unexpectedly met a family member of one of her American soldiers. Now she has her own story to tell.
By: Yvonne Dempsey