After the liberation of France in World War II, there were those who wanted to lump France with Italy, and treat it as a lesser state than the United States, England and the USSR.  UL's President Fletcher rose to France's defense.

There was a wide range of emotions among French citizens after Paris was liberated from the Germans in World War II – first hatred, then jubilation, and finally disbelief.

With the Germans in retreat and most of France already liberated by Allied Forces, American General Eisenhower and Free French General Charles de Gaulle wanted a major French military presence to liberate Paris. The world was shocked when Paris fell in 1940, and it was important politically and symbolically that French soldiers reclaim their capital.

On August 25th 1944, French General Leclerc with his famous French 2nd Armored Division entered the French capital. The city was in chaos with raging firefights on one block and celebrations on another. The Parisians were elated that French and American forces were battling for Paris, and victory seemed imminent. The Germans soon surrendered, and the liberation of Paris was complete.

After 4 years of German rule, French citizens were frantic to be free; however, things began to turn very ugly and revengeful once they saw the long lines of German prisoners.

As the Germans were escorted out of the buildings with their hands raised high above their heads and then led down the streets to their detention areas, they had to pass through a gauntlet of very angry Parisians who wanted immediate justice. They spit, hooted, threw stones, and used champagne bottles as weapons to communicate their hatred to the prisoners.

French and American soldiers displayed half-hearted attempts to protect the Germans, and there were reports that some who had surrendered peacefully were machine-gunned down as they were being led to captivity.

The French were unsympathetic of their own countrymen who served as accomplices, and consequently received much better treatment during the occupation than the average citizen. The saboteurs or traitors among the men were treated harshly, and sometimes killed without trial.

Women who provided sexual favors and information were also punished, but more symbolically. Female traitors were separated from the Germans and made to sit in straight-backed wooden chairs. With their heads bowed between their legs, they protested their innocence and begged for forgiveness unsuccessfully. Men with large, silver-plated scissors chopped off large and jagged chunks of hair until the head was mostly hairless.

If August 25th was a dramatic day in the lives of the French, the next day would be even more dramatic. On August 26th all those present witnessed the greatest celebration in the history of France. It was a day that produced a joyous sensation of victory from overwhelming despair and defeat.

General Charles de Gaulle was a great man with an even greater ego. He stood six foot six, and on that day he was wearing his military uniform with the French officer’s pillbox hat that emphasized his height. The hat made him look even more of an impressive and imperial figure than he actually was. He was a flawless fit for leading a military parade, similar to the prominence of a Drum Major leading a band.
The crowd roared as the French General led his troops from the Arc de Triomphe down the wide expanse of a downward sloping Champs-Elysées to the Place de la Concorde square with the magnificent obelisk as its centerpiece. People cheered, kissed, hugged, laughed, cried, threw flowers, and uncorked bottles of champagne. It was a historic and glorious day.

Soon after the celebrations, emotions would change again and cycle downward dramatically. Free French leaders were disbelieving when they learned that the Allied Forces or "Big 3" – British, American, and Soviet – did not consider France as one of the "victors" with equal status, but placed them in a subservient category with other European nations that had surrendered to the Germans, and by some accounts included with a defeated Italy.

A complicating factor was that the Free French were operating under a provisional government without formal elections. This initial position by the Allies caused quite a controversy, even as far away as Lafayette, Louisiana.

Joel Lafayette Fletcher Jr., President of Southwestern Louisiana Institute (now the University of Louisiana), followed the war effort closely. He felt that this snub or discourtesy was a great injustice to France. As a representative of the local Acadian college in the heart of French speaking Louisiana, Fletcher decided to make his pen his sword to help the French cause.

The following editorial letter, written in October, 1944, was published in newspapers throughout the country, and read into the Congressional Record.

This letter comes as a result of information that has come to my desk during recent months from the governments in exile of many smaller nations of conquered Europe. I am deeply sympathetic with practically all their causes, but the future of one nation that I as a Louisianan love more than any other besides my own - France – has not been mentioned in any of this literature.

It may be that this neglect occurs because that nation’s future is so assured upon Allied victory, that such efforts would be superfluous. However, in the leading editorial of a large city daily which serves this section, I recently read a phrase which disturbed me very much, one that linked the future treatment of the peoples of Italy and France together in a sentence that seemingly considered the fate of both as one problem.

I have only pity for the Italians, but they are an enemy nation, while France has been the tried and true friend of this nation since its birth. Also, the French nation in spite of myriads of traitors and saboteurs in her midst, fought until the last, and I believe history will prove that without the heroic last-man stand of the French army, the evacuation of the English army at Dunkirk would have been an impossibility. It has been my privilege to teach the children of Louisiana for 25 years, and I have known them as few persons of English descent do. Without exception I have found them to be loyal, patriotic citizens of this, their motherland.

There are no more loyal and dependable citizens than those of French descent. There are no families which have more willingly given their sons and daughters to the service, and no people serving in the armed services who have made finer records in this and every other war since the American Revolution than these people of French descent.

As a representative of Louisiana, I am asking that in every means of your disposal you look after the interests of France and exert your influence to the end that she be given her proper position as one of the powerful nations of the world.

                                                                                              Joel L. Fletcher
                                                                                              President, Southwestern Louisiana Institute
                                                                                              Lafayette, Louisiana

This letter was the beginning of a series of patriotic and educational initiatives by President Fletcher in support of France. These efforts earned him the Reconnaissance Francaise (Medal of Gratitude), and later La Légion d’honneur (Legion of Honor), France’s highest decoration.

Fletcher proved to be a loyal friend at a critical time when France very much needed support.


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