Nineteen-year-old PFC Jim Rice landed on the beaches of Normandy on D-Day+20, just one of the nearly 1.5 million Allied soldiers who were part of Operation Overlord, the Allied assault on German-occupied Western Europe that began June 6, 1944.
He got an eight-month grand tour as a medic with the 22nd Infantry Division, a tour that ended just short of Prum, Germany, on Valentine’s Day 1945, when he couldn’t outrun the shrapnel from an exploding shell . He got Last Rites twice, one Purple Heart and two citations for his service. And this week, he and the rest of his generation got a thank you from the French, with the launch of the Paris Regional Tourist Board’s “We are Free. Merci” campaign.
The campaign, which will run from now through June 27, is dedicated to the 70th anniversary of the Liberation of Paris, on Aug. 24, 1944, a little more than two months after D-Day.
The battle to liberate Paris began Aug. 19, 1944 and ended with the surrender of the German garrison on Aug. 25, 1944. And on May 8, 1945, the Allies accepted Nazi Germany’s surrender, marking the end of WWII.
Parisians can take “selfies” in iconic locations and post them on social media with the hashtag #wearefreemerci. .They can post those photos “Paris Tourisme” Facebook page and will automatically be entered into a contest to win a trip for two to New York. Similarly New Yorkers and fellow Americans are similarly invited to post selfies in iconic places with the hashtag #youarewelcome on the Paris Tourisme Facebook page or its Instagram page.Whoever takes the photo that gets the most likes will win for a trip for two to Paris.
Even though it wasn’t taken in Paris or New York, I’m posting this photo of Jim Rice, my dad, taken in France in a village in the Dordogne, on May 8, 1998. We were all vacationing together that spring–me, my husband, our three-year-old daughter, and my parents. But that day, Mother and Dad had headed off to do some exploring on their own. And there, as they poked around a little village, the locals recognized him for what he was, a U.S. WW II vet, and said “Merci.”
So, today I’m saying, “You’re welcome.”