Meg Hibbert Contributing writer
He was a 5-year-old boy when the first Americans he ever met liberated his homeland of Normandy and taught him to say two words: “Freedom and Hershey.”
An audience of 75 veterans of World War II, the Korean War and more recent conflicts, along with other Richfield residents, staff and friends listened spellbound as Bernard L. Marie told them how proud Americans should be of what the Allies did in defeating Nazi Germany and liberating France during World War II.
He emphasized the sacrifices of Americans and the French, and how we should work to maintain freedom today. Marie particularly emphasized that our nation should do more to recognize the accomplishments of military men and women, and noted he was speaking on the 101st anniversary of the end of World War I.
The event was the Nov. 11 Veteran’s Day luncheon at Richfield Retirement’s Alleghany Room in The Oaks. To remind them of his point, Marie had placed Hershey Kisses on each table for audience members to take.
Black-and-white pictures of the 5-year-old Marie looking in a GI’s bag – to find more chocolate, he said – highlight that actual day in June after D-Day when Americans showed the French youngsters not all men in uniform were bad guys.
Other photos were sadder: uniformed Germans in front of French landmarks, a Jewish couple with stars of David stitched on their coats; a French church which Marie said Germans put 750 men, women and children inside and burned it; a firing squad about to kill a civilian man, and a gruesome photo of bodies stacked like cord wood with Germans passing by.
“The British made the Germans look at them and take care of the bodies,” Marie explained.
He spoke of the terror of living under German occupation. “If you had one single paper not correct, your family would be taken by the Gestapo and you would not know where they were,” he said.
Marie grew up not knowing his father. His mother played the part of a widow because his father was in the French Resistance. “She was the only one who knew where my father was. My father spent four years with a cyanide capsule in his teeth,” Marie added.
His mother decided the family should move to Normandy from their villa on the outskirts of Paris, a house that belonged to his family for 150 years. That house still stands. Where they moved was only eight miles from Omaha Beach, one of four landing targets on D-Day and where some of the bloodiest fighting took place.
The family spent the final 15 hours of the war in the cellar. “To this day I do not feel comfortable in a dark room,” he said.
When they emerged, he saw his mother hugging an American soldier.
Marie is known locally and regional the annual dinners he sponsors for D-Day and World War II veterans. “This year we had 425,” he said, with pride.
Air Force Veteran Teddy Sturgill stood up at the luncheon and cheered during a Medley of Armed Service Branch Anthems.
“Of course I stood up,” said Sturgill, who was an Airman 1st Class and lives in Richfield’s Knollwood Independent Living Apartments. “I was in payroll – I paid the men when I served in Texas.” After the program, she explained she lived in The Netherlands and had been evacuated to another part of the country during the war.
Other aspects of the Veteran’s Day Program at Richfield were the presentation of the colors by Sgt. Jedediah Badley and Specialist Nathan Harpole.
After they carefully unfolded and folded an American flag, they presented it to Richfield “On behalf of the President and the United States Army, please accept this flag for our veterans’ honorable and faithful service,” Badley said.
Roanoke resident Bernard Marie holds duals American and French citizenship. He is an international consultant who served in the French Army, specializing in mines, and was wounded. He is an officer of the French Order of Merit. In 2016 he received the American Legion Patriot Award.