A Trip to the French Consulate in New York – The Chevalier of the Legion of Honor Ceremony
By Rebecca Price Janney, May 14 2018 12:31PM
Last Friday’s trip to the French Consulate is something I am savoring slowly, turning over each detail of that magical day. I’d like to share some of the highlights with you.
For Scott, David, and I, the trip began around 10:30 AM when we left Media for Trenton Station, which took just under an hour. Inside the large building we newbies to train travel found kiosk-type screens to order tickets. At first we were confused by the two Penn Station designations, one for Newark Penn Station, the other for New York. That corrected, we ordered three adult tickets and found our way to the platform.
We arrived at teaming Penn Station around 1:15 and made our way up to street level and all the hoo ha that is Manhattan—cheek—to-jowl crowds, mind-numbing traffic, and noise, noise, noise, both audible and visual. I hardly knew where to focus. We stood in a brief line for a taxi, then headed uptown to 934 Fifth Avenue, near Central Park. The taxi ride was predictably hair-raising, and long. I kept watching the meter ticking away! As we approached Central Park, I felt like I could breathe a little easier for the green spaces, and the people walking at a more leisurely pace, at least for New York!
We arrived at the French Consulate about 20 minutes early, but people had already begun to arrive. Located across from Central Park, the building’s façade is typically French, a gray-white sort of stucco, elegant, understated. Inside, we went through security, then to registration.
We went upstairs in an old-fashioned elevator with a door on the outside, and on the second floor we were ushered into an ornate room about the size of a modest, hotel ballroom. There were rows of chairs with signs for each group—students, VIPS, family. The veterans were being seated at the front of the room under a huge medieval tapestry which seemed to be of the Holy Family in Egypt. The staff were hustling about, doing what needed to be done in preparation for the ceremony. Scott, David, and I sat on the front row of the left family section, and we spent the time before the ceremony talking to a woman whose father also was getting the medal.
The ceremony began a little behind schedule after an honor guard brought in the colors; as a DAR, I naturally put my hand over my heart at their procession and posting! Then the French Consul welcomed us, and the speeches began, brief tributes to the veterans and the long friendship between our countries, how grateful the French people still are, and always will be to the men who served, many who gave their very lives. My dad calls them “The true heroes.”
Children from a French school read short bios of each of the eight men and one woman receiving the medals, then the French Consul and a man who’s president of a French-American association took turns bestowing them, which I found very moving. There was the singing of the Marseilles, which the French sang with great pride, and the American National Anthem. Several of the French officials either saluted during the Star Spangled Banner, or had their hands over their hearts, which brought tears to my eyes.
At the end, Scott and I made our way to the reception area where we accepted flutes of champagne and were offered some truly French hors devours, including “fish and watermelon.” Then the woman who helped me apply for the medal on Dad’s behalf, Claire Voison, came over. “Are you Joseph Perio’s family?” I loved her floral accent! She told us to wait right there. She would get the Consul. Another French associate came over promising to use our phones to take pictures, along with the official photographer.
The Consul, Ann-Claire Legendre, came and introduced herself, then presented me with a beautiful certificate, signed by French President Emmanuel Macron. She spoke about how much my father’s services were appreciated and how they would never forget. Then she gave me his beautiful medallion. It was all so overwhelming, like I was watching a movie happening to someone else. After the official ceremony, I told her I’m a DAR and how grateful we are to the French for coming to our aide in the Revolution. It was a special moment between us. I told her, and Claire, about my dad’s stories of how kind the French were to him as he made his way through France, he and his troops bringing freedom in their wake. What struck me was how truly sincere they are about their gratitude to those Americans who liberated their nation from Nazi oppression.
Vive la France!
What a great story, Rebecca! Like so many of your stories, it shows how we benefit time and again from things that other people did. It reminds me of when I lived in Boston. Every year there was a huge Christmas tree sent by the people of Halifax as a gift to Boston. Many years later I found out why: In 1917, an ammunition ship blew up in Halifax harbor, causing mass casualties in the city. When the news arrived in Boston, a train of medical personnel and supplies was dispatched to Halifax within hours. Decades later the people of Halifax were still saying thank you.
Thanks for your kind remark, Steve. I really enjoyed what you said about the gratitude of people on the receiving end of a great act of sacrifice and kindness, years later. Maybe we don't just benefit from remembering the hurtful things in order to learn from them, and not repeat them, but also in recalling the goodness and decency of people moved by compassion.