"One of the greatest acts of diplomacy I've ever seen."
On July 14, Bastille Day, 1918, Lt. Quentin Roosevelt, the youngest son of Theodore & Edith Roosevelt, died in combat while flying over the fields of France.
Buried on the French hillside where he crashed near Chamery, Quentin is remembered there with a fountain erected in his honor. In 1955, Quentin’s remains were moved to be alongside those of his brother, Brigadier General Theodore Roosevelt Jr., at the American Cemetery at Colleville-sur-Mer, Normandy.
Had Quentin returned from his mission, he would have arranged for music to be played at the local celebration of Bastille Day. On the Centennial of Quentin’s death, the Theodore Roosevelt Medora Foundation sent a troupe of Historical Reprisers & American Folk Artists to France to play for Quentin, and to salute French-American friendship.
The Theodore Roosevelt Medora Foundation’s own, Joe Wiegand, lead the troupe and brought Theodore Roosevelt to life through first person living history.
The tour's musical tribute to French-American friendship and the music of 1918, starred folk artist Tom Brosseau, a native of Grand Forks, North Dakota, was joined by Gregory Page, a San Diegan, and Meaghan Kyle of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Austin Artz, a native of Minot, North Dakota and graduate of the University of North Dakota, shared a gifted interpretation of Lt. Quentin Roosevelt.
Videographer Daniel Gannarelli captured the entire journey on video!
Upon our arrival in Chateau Thierry on the evening of July 13, we came upon the massive memorial to the Americans who fought along the front at Chateau Thierry, a great American and British offensive launched on July 18, 1918.
That night, a program celebrating Quentin Roosevelt was held at Champagne Pannier in Chateau Thierry. The program included young students who designed and produced an amazing Quentin Roosevelt comic book, a young man receiving recognition for designing a beautiful label for a Quentin 100 champagne, another young man who built a 1/8 replica of Quentin's French Nieuport plane, and a history master's thesis entirely centered on Quentin Roosevelt. Yes, we had champagne and chocolates at the reception that followed.
Bastille Day, Saturday, July 14, 2018, will be a day and a feeling that I will never forget. The people of Chamery – Coulonges-Cohan, Aisne, Hauts-de-France and nearby Chateau-Thierry, where our day began, embraced us and made us feel like welcome guests and friends. Our way was made straight by Mr. Dick Williams, an American-expat living in France with his lovely wife, Mary. Mr. Williams is the great-grandson of TR & Edith, grandson to Ethel Roosevelt Derby and Dr. Richard Derby, his grandparents having served in France during World War One.
Perhaps before the local villagers had woken from Friday night’s late night fete in Coulonges-Cohan two kilometers to the north, the little crossroads of Chamery was our first landing. The beautiful fountain, quite a practical supply of spring water, gushes its enthusiasm to be a monument to Lt. Quentin Roosevelt. It is appropriately located on the south end of town, across from a beautiful country villa farm house and surrounded by horse paddocks and horses.
At the fountain, our band played softly in preparation for the later day’s performance and Austin and Joe drank it up in a rehearsal of what is an oft repeated but little rehearsed come alive as TR and Quentin. The homeowners came out to join as audience. A man come to place the flags of the United States and France into the flower pots. The man’s father, when a little boy, worked the farm field 800 meters away on the hillside, where Quentin first crashed and was buried by the Germans on July 14, 1918.
At nearby Coulonges-Cohan we were welcomed by the local fire brigade, the Deputy in Parliament, the Mayor and Deputy Mayor, School Director and Deputy Director. We marched along with the French to the monument to the war dead, where Austin joined in the laying of flowers. The Ecole Elementaire was a half block further, and we were awed as speeches and presentations were made and the flagged curtains withdrawn to reveal Ecole Quentin Roosevelt. The name Quentin has a wonderful pronunciation in French, a harder consonant is its beginning and the final N disappears in that mysterious French way.
On to the original gravesite, where a military corps of Frenchmen played horns, and we exchanged the Star Spangled Banner for the Marseilles. On to the fountain, and a performance of TR and Quentin and Teddy’s Troupe of Troubadors (Tom Brosseau, Gregory Page, and Meaghan Kyle). We did not perform in French, which is a dis-service to TR and Quentin, who could have held their own in conversational French, but it was all still so very sincere and real. We spoke slowly and dramatically, and then Tom and Gregory played as Meaghan sang a French translation of a Ben Johnson 1616 English poem titled Drink to Me Only With Thine Eyes. It was really terrific. We sang some more and departed for luncheon back in Coulonges-Cohan.
The luncheon was outdoors, under a sun screen, children playing, pitchers of wine, plates of brie, roast duck, potatoes, baguettes, beer, and, thank goodness, plenty of fresh water supplied by another fountain, this of the Three Muses.
We had to break our visit short to get checked in for a too-brief night’s rest in Paris. One of our last sights was to see Austin, in uniform, racing with a young French boy on his piggy-back, running up the cobblestone alley with three generations of a French family. They were intent, in their back yard, to present Austin with a full size French tri-color flag. The smiles will be with us always.
As we left the town we gave out what we had learned was the quickest way to cheer on the French national soccer team for the following day’s World Cup Final: “Allez les blue!” (Go, Blue!)
From celebration to reflection, as our French GPS, which seemed to be programmed for “take most charming rural route,” took us directly to the Oise-Aisne American Cemetery and Memorial. We had finally gotten to that place where we were so exhausted and ready, we were able to just be. To be in awe of the effort and the sacrifice. To be overwhelmed by what might have been, for the ever-young dead remembered by row upon row of crosses and stars. To be warned by what might have been if these sacrifices had not been gloriously made…for US.
The ride back to Paris was a little quieter and a little more reflective, for what we had just done, been, and seen, by what we felt to be embraced by people who remember what happened one hundred years ago.
Our second full day in France was Sunday, July 15. It would be unthinkable that the wonderful celebration and embrace that was Chamery-Coulonges-Cohan on Bastille Day could be equaled in any way, but our Sunday adventure came so close that it can easily lay claim to be the most phenomenal weekend in recent memory.
Ours is an ecumenical troupe, some enjoyed a morning’s rest while others marched to Notre Dame or taxied to the American Cathedral. Daniel, Austin, and Joe opted for the Cathedral of Notre Dame, Mass, songs and sermon in French, and a tour of chapels, statues, tapestries, and more. Outdoors, again, a statue of Charlamagne reminded us that TR enjoyed reading the saga, the Song of Roland, in the Old French, and that the Lives of Charlamagne was often in his saddle bag or pig skin library.
We loaded our van with all but the band, who would stay in Paris and rehearse for Monday and Tuesday shows. We were headed for the beaches of Normandy, specifically the American Cemetery at Colleville-sur-Mer and D-Day’s famed Omaha Beach below.
We arrived towards day's end, indeed, just in time to witness the lowering of the flags. The ceremony was a reminder of our loss in Medora this year of Cowboy Lyle Glass, a man who had raised and lowered flags in Medora for many years before his passing in June of this year.
Mr. Anthony Lewis, late of Cardiff, Wales, directed us to a portion of the World War Two Cemetery that was closed for repairs. We visited the graves of the Roosevelt men. Ted Roosevelt, Jr., born in 1887, was the only General officer to go to shore on D-Day, June 6, 1944, leading troops at nearby Utah Beach. He died on July 12, 1944, of a heart attack, after having spent the night in conversation with his son, Major Quentin Roosevelt, namesake of his late brother. Just shy of his 57th birthday, and he went to shore after requesting to do so in writing after being denied verbal requests twice. Ted was buried at Normandy after the war. When asked what he deemed the greatest act of bravery that he had witnessed in World War Two, American General Omar Bradley replied, "Ted Roosevelt at Utah Beach on D-Day." In 1955, the remains of Ted's brother, Lt. Quentin Roosevelt, were moved to be by his brother’s side. The two boys lie with over 9000 more there at Colleville-sur-Mer, a constant reminder that America has and continues to be willing to sacrifice its greatest treasure that others might live free.
After visiting the cemetery’s chapel and monument, it was off to the shore front heights up which Americans, Brits, Canadians, and Free French had made their assault nearly three quarters of a century before. We explored the German fortifications, noticing the large guns were positioned to enfilade infantry on the beach rather than ships at sea.
Daniel swam a hundred meters into the English Channel (just 29 more miles to go) and Austin conjectured that the war dead would have taken comfort to see French and German families playing on the beach.
Our return to Paris that night was in the midst of all France celebrating the World Cup Championship. With a four to two win over Croatia, one of the cheers to be heard was “Quatre à deux; Allez les blue!”
Our third day in France, Monday, July 16, was about rehearsals and then a dash to Le Cirque – a restaurant and bar decorated with fantastic circus posters from the 1920’s and 1930’s United States. Our friends at the North Dakota Tourism International Program arranged for Monday night with a score of French Tour Agents as our guests. The night began with the amazingly talented Emmanuelle Blondin, Account Director for the Great American West, a program of Duxin, sharing a wonderful slide show about North Dakota and the Beautiful Badlands, Theodore Roosevelt National Park, and the Medora Musical. TR & Quentin shared some French and American history, and Tom Brosseau, Gregory Page, and Meaghan Kyle played and sang beautifully, the latter quite appropriate representing a summer tourist destination built on a musical and providing many more live music opportunities throughout the day and the evening.
We were struck by the youthful enthusiasm and professionalism of this cohort of French travel agents interested in sending Europeans on vacation to America and her parks. Medora is a wonderful spot between already popular Mt. Rushmore, Yellowstone, and Glacier National Parks. Yes, there was more wine and more chocolate and other French goodies.
We made our way home knowing we had done some good work, for ourselves and our team back home. “Life offers no greater reward than working hard at work worth doing!” Theodore Roosevelt.
Our Goodwill Ambassador Trip to France concluded with one last full day and night in Paris, on Tuesday, July 17. A day of rehearsal was followed by a three o’clock set up and sound check at the Cercle National des Armees, known in English shorthand as the French Officers Club, our ability to play the beautiful and exclusive club due to the fact that our ninety-six year old guest of honor was a former French army pilot and a three time recipient of France’s Legion of Honor. This man had trained to fly B-29 bombers in Alabama in 1944 and 45 and missed World War Two. He would fly many combat flights in French Indochina in the years to follow. His father had fought for France in the Second Battle of the Marne, the American, British, and French offensive launched in the days following Quentin Roosevelt’s July 14, 1918 death. Halsey & Michele Cook were early and vital supporters of Playing for Quentin, and the evening with friends and colleagues of the Cooks was a fitting end for our TR Tour.
Our guests were Americans and Frenchmen. Tom Brosseau and the band played a beautiful set after Quentin and TR performed some of the history of the French-American friendship, from the aid France gave to the rebellious colonies in our Revolutionary War to the gift of the Statue of Liberty to celebrate the Centennial of our Independence and the founding of our Republic, to the Doughboys of World War One and the G.I.s of World War Two. Everyone seemed to appreciate the Man in the Arena. The singers were the highlight of the show.
Our evening concluded with Marcia Mary Cook reading “In Flanders Field.” In World War One, Mrs. Cook’s father, Ulmont Healy, of Mineral Point, Wisconsin, served as an artilleryman, but specialized in reconnaissance, crawling into no man’s land to sketch the position of German artillery batteries. Mr. Healy survived the war. Over one million, three hundred thousand Frenchmen would not be so fortunate. Those French dead were joined by over one million dead from the United Kingdom and her colonies, nearly one million, seven hundred thousand Russians, half a million Italians, three hundred and thirty thousand Romanians, two hundred and fifty thousand Serbians, forty thousand Belgians, and one hundred and nineteen thousand Americans in the fight against the Axis Powers. The Greeks (5000), Portugal (7000), Montenegro (3000), and Japan (300) gave their best. Freedom is not free.
As Professor Cook shared with us, the poem was written in May 1915 by Canadian physician Lt. Colonel John McCrae after he presided over the funeral of his friend, Lt. Alexis Helmer, fatally wounded during the Second Battle if Ypres. The poppy became a symbol of Remembrance Day in the United Kingdom and Commonwealth countries and is often the symbol used by American veterans organizations like the American Legion and the Veterans of Foreign Wars during the Memorial Day and Veterans Day holidays. We concluded our evening in remembrance and in reverence for all who served and sacrificed in that terrible war a century ago.
Marcia Mary's reading will be available online soon. In the meantime, you can read the poem here.
We headed home from France, very different and better people than we had been on our departure. We met French citizens who remember and give thanks for America's sacrifices for France.
A retired British diplomat was heard to say after the evening's entertainment, "That was one of the greatest acts of diplomacy I've ever seen."
Indeed, on behalf of all who gave and went and supported and performed: "Merci. Merci beaucoup."
Join the cause. Help us celebrate the friendship of our oldest ally, and the service and sacrifice of countries and individuals for good.
You can help by making a contribution to the Theodore Roosevelt Medora Foundation, a 501(c)3 charitable educational not-for-profit organization which is helping to sponsor the TR Tour in France.
By joining the cause, you're helping to meet the fundraising needs and goals for this good-will tour.
Gets the troupe to France
Allows funding for additional, free performances for the French public and others
Allows the production of the documentary video that all donors above $500 receive
$19,530 of $20,000 Raised
Support Level Ranges: Donate Now, Get a Little 'Thank You' from All of US
Donations of $5,000 or more
Will be entitled to host a House Party where both Tom Brosseau and Joe Wiegand will perform, entertaining your personally invited guests -- subject to availability.
Plus, these donors receive all the TR merchandise, two tickets to the TR Salute in Medora, two tickets to the Medora Musical, and two tickets to the Medora Gospel Brunch.
Total Donor Package retail value: $1,000
Donations of $2,500 - $4,999
Will receive a complimentary Teddy Roosevelt Package for Two in Medora.
Package includes one night Lodging, Dinner with Joe at Theodore's Dining Room, and tickets to see the world-famous Medora Musical, the amazing Medora Gospel Brunch, and of course the TR Salute to Medora.
Donor must provide own transportation to Medora, ND -- subject to availability. Plus, all the TR merchandise.
Total Donor Package retail value: $500
Donations of $1,000 to $2,499
Will receive a Teddy Roosevelt visit to your local school and a performance to benefit a local charity of your choice. Plus, donors will also receive all TR merchandise items listed below.
Total Donor Package retail value: $300
Donations of $500 to $999
Will receive a specially-produced DVD of the TR Troupe in France, all the TR merchandise items listed below, AND, two tickets to the Medora Musical and two tickets to A TR Salute to Medora.
Total Donor Package retail value: $210
Donations of $250 to $499
Will receive a TR Sampler DVD, a Teddy Roosevelt t-shirt, two TR coffee mugs, and a bumper sticker. Plus! Two tickets to see A TR Salute to Medora.
Total Donor Package retail value: $90
Donations of $100 - $249
Will receive a Teddy Roosevelt t-shirt, two TR coffee mugs, and a bumper sticker. ($40 retail value)
Donations of $50 to $99
Will receive two TR coffee mugs. ($20 retail value)
Donations of $20 to $49
Will receive a bumper sticker ($5 retail value.)
Support of all levels is welcomed. Join the cause today and help reach the goal!
Make a Contribution by Check
Physical Donations by check may be fully tax-deductible (check with your tax professional) and are happily accepted.
Please make them payable to the:
Theodore Roosevelt Medora Foundation
P.O. Box 198
Medora, ND 58645.
Please memo "TR in France" to make sure the funds are dedicated to the French-American Friendship Tour.
Donations will be accepted through August 1, 2018.
Donations received will be used to underwrite the TRMF Goodwill Ambassador Tour effort and to creating and distributing a DVD of the performance adventure.
Every donor will be thanked personally and every donated dollar will go to make the Goodwill Ambassador Tour a success.
Donations are tax-deductible to the greatest extent allowable by tax law; check with your tax professional.
All support donations made will follow the Support Level Ranges Section above to assign premium items.