An Opportunity to be Better - Chapter 10 Page 9

Mayor to Maire!

Having enjoyed visiting their Fèves friends during the previous two years, Freeland and Vaughan decided to return once again in the early summer of 2016. Pracht joked that they should consider purchasing a home in the area, pointing to a nearby property that was for sale.

Perhaps the highlight of the trip was a gathering of friends at a pizza party in the back yard of Torlottings' neighbors Alex and Rosetta Dentice. It began around noon and was still going strong when the Americans left for their home in Metz near 10 p.m. By that time, the hosts had already made 32 pizzas.

Neighbors gather at the Dentice home next to the Torlotting place for a pizza party. Rosetta made the dough while Alex was in charge of the baking.

But the visit that summer came with a touch of sadness. It was learned that Cathy Haney had died in the hospital in Salina, Kansas. Several years earlier, she had been diagnosed with cancer, but after treatment, was thought to be free of the disease. So, it came as a surprise when she went for tests for what was believed to be a minor problem and learned she had only a few days to live.

As the Clay County Historical Society's museum curator for many years, Haney had spent hours nurturing the sister-city story and collecting related artifacts. The people familiar with the story were glad she had lived to see her efforts bear fruit.

And they were about to bear even more! During Vaughan and Freeland's visit, Pracht mentioned that it would be nice if the Morganville mayor would visit Fèves. Vaughan immediately passed that comment on to Charlotte Rundell. She said she would like to visit, but doubted Brent could leave his work. His job was a year-round one because when farmers were not busy with planting, growing and harvesting, they were involved in planning for the following year.

Brent too thought it unlikely he could leave, but did mention the invitation to his colleagues. To his surprise, they immediately told him he was crazy to let such an opportunity pass and they would work together to cover his clients. With that hurdle addressed, plans began immediately for a ten-day-to-two-week trip in late September. Vaughan asked if there were any special experiences they would like to have. Charlotte asked if it would be possible to visit a French stable where horse riding was taught as she gave riding lessons. Brent's wish was to visit a French farm.

Departure was September 22 from Manhattan. The four arrived in Luxembourg the following day and immediately settled into the same home-away-from-home Freeland and Vaughan had rented before in Metz.

That evening, they drove to the Pracht home in Fèves and passed the time in easy conversation.

The next three days were spent familiarizing the Rundells with the area. The high point of those days may have been visiting Ouvrage Hackenberg, the largest fort in France's Maginot Line.

Freeland, Vaughan and the Rundells at Fort Hackenberg

Tuesday, September 27, was the official reception date for the Rundells. The day portion was very informal, with most parts being a repeat of the tour Freeland and Vaughan had experienced two years earlier.

The main difference was the renovation of the old presbytery was nearly complete and had become the new home for the village Mairie.

Standing at one of the entrances to the new village Mairie are, (l-r): Charlotte and Brent Rundell, Fèves Mayor René Girard, First Deputy Cyril Crast, Art Vaughan, Maria Schreiber, Gérard Torlotting, Gloria Freeland and René Schreiber.

The evening portion of the reception was in the village social/cultural center. People began arriving around 7 p.m. It was a bit more formal than the daytime portion and provided an opportunity for anyone in the community to meet the mayor of their American sister city.

At the rear of the room, tables and free-standing frames contained photos and other artifacts from the connection between the villages. Items were from the late 1940s and early 1950s as well as from the 2015 visit to Morganville.

The central portion of the room was filled with chairs facing toward the front, where twin podia for the mayors stood below a screen displaying photos of the Fèvotes' Morganville visit.

Roger Wechtler and Brent Rundell
with Morganville visit photos

About 8 p.m., with Pracht again acting as an interpreter, Fèves Mayor René Girard welcomed all those in attendance, mentioning the Rundells in particular. He said that since almost everyone present was familiar with the story, he would not repeat it, but wished to add:

I would like to just outline a couple of facts about Morganville, a small village of 200 inhabitants in the heart of the United States. This story recalls that the people from this village did something absolutely extraordinary. They chose to help and support Fèves by shipping essential products of first need and more. This event shows that you are wonderful human beings. Ceremonies with American and French officials took place to remember these terrible times when Fèves was 80% destroyed.

Today, in this room, some people remember that period. These difficult times remain in everyone's memory and will continue to be remembered by future generations. This is why the entire town council, various associations and the people from Fèves wanted to invite you tonight for a friendly drink to get to know each other.

Left, members of the community and guests listen while, right, Fèves Mayor René Girard, welcomes Morganville Mayor Brent Rundell. Francis Pracht, center, waits to translate for the English-speaking visitors.

Cyril Crast, a village council member and assistant to the mayor, then presented the Rundells with a gift basket of items from the Lorraine region. It was noted that among the items was the only beer that was allowed to be exported to the United States - General Patton beer!

Girard also read a note from Simone Joly, who had been one of the people expelled from Fèves during the war and later was an aid recipient. She said in part:

We are all experiencing the same pleasure to meet again. The chain linking us will never break and each link represents one person who received help ... You, our friends, our saviors, we thank you from the bottom of our heart since you became our good star and our hope. Give us the joy of being always supported by your presence.

Thank you again,
Your friend Simone

Rundell, Freeland and Joly

Rundell, having exhausted his knowledge of French with his opening "Merci," had Pracht translate his remarks into French. He began by thanking Mayor Girard and the others for their warm welcome and the experience of becoming familiar with this story from their combined pasts.

He also shared a personal connection his boss, Ron Gilbert, who grew up nine miles east of Morganville, had to the region. In February 2018, Brent's wife Charlotte interviewed Gilbert to add detail to the version Brent related in Fèves.

Gilbert, who grew up nine miles east of Morganville, was not personally involved in the pageant. But his wife was in attendance. His future mother-in-law, Arlene Taddiken, who helped with the pageant, was pregnant with Gilbert's future wife, Pat.

In 1965, Gilbert was stationed at the Chambley U.S. Air Force base about 25 miles southwest of Metz, maintaining coding equipment for scrambling messages. The base's reconnaissance bombers (RB58s) were to take to the air in the event of a Russian missile launch. The purpose was to draw fire as decoys, sparing the soon-to-arrive B52s.

"Knowing their mission was to be shot down, the airmen kept the local taverns busy," Gilbert said.

Gilbert was used to having a car. An airman named Walsh, who was fluent in French, located what was called a "barn find" - a 1956 Citroën Traction Avant - in a town near Fèves. Gilbert said they were nicknamed "gangster wagons" for their big fenders and square bodies. Gilbert paid $400 for the car and to celebrate the deal, the seller treated Gilbert to a local specialty, a glass of mirabelle.

"It was pretty strong. I felt a little light-headed afterwards. I drove a block or two and pulled over. I waited 45 minutes or so before driving on," Gilbert said.

Ron Gilbert holds a picture
of his "gangster wagon."

Rundell presented Mayor Girard with a plaque that described the main aspects of the original story and reconnection, including identifying the key people. He added, "I would read it, but it is in French!"

Referring to the plaque, Pracht announced, "We will put it in the city hall where anyone passing by can read it."

The formal portion of the evening came to an end when he added, "Now let's get down to the serious things and have a drink of friendship!"

Rundell presents plaque to Girard.

The morning of the following day was spent visiting the Brigitte and Michel Torloting farm southeast of Metz. As far as Gérard knew, the couple was not related to him. Brent thoroughly enjoyed quizzing the Torlotings about many aspects of their farm and so, the time quickly passed. The Torlotings invited the group for an evening meal two days later, an offer that was quickly accepted.

Then the group was off to a nearby stable, where Gérard's granddaughter Julia had her horse. Charlotte enjoyed wandering through the stable and asking Julia about various aspects of riding as done in France.

Left: visiting the Brigitte and Michel Torloting farm. (l-r) Charlotte and Brent Rundell; Vaughan; Freeland; the Torlotings' daughter Julie; Michel Torloting; Solange and Gérard Torlotting; Christiane Pracht, wife of Francis; and Brigitte Torloting. Right: Charlotte Rundell with Torlotting grandaughter Julia's horse.

On Thursday, Freeland, Vaughan and the Rundells visited the Lorraine American WWII cemetery, the largest such cemetery in Europe, in nearby St. Avold.

The remainder of the trip was spent exploring sites nearby such as Trier, Germany, the World War I battlefield at Verdun and the city of Metz.

The Rundells and Vaughan in the Lorraine American Cemetery and Memorial in St. Avold

One event during that period did stand out. It took place the evening of September 30, the same day as the cemetery visit. It was a multi-course meal in the village of St. Privat just west of Fèves and it rivaled the reception on the 27th in regard to being a highlight.

A highlight of the trip was a meal at a restaurant in St. Privat on September 30. Left: Freeland and Hélène Porquedou; middle: René and Maria Schreiber; right: a group picture at the end of the evening

People began to arrive about 8 p.m. Before each course, the restaurateur provided a preview and the wine flowed freely throughout.

Near the end of the evening, the tables were all pushed to one side of the room and everyone gathered for a group photo. After, small groups stood in the then-quiet street, talking and hugging one another.

A farewell dinner was held at the Torlotting home for Freeland, Vaughan and the Rundells the day before they flew home. The Prachts joined the group. Conversation ranged from politics to wine. Gérard served his personal hearty version of couscous.

The visitors left on Monday with the knowledge that the reconnection was complete. In both 2013 and 2015, Fèvotes had visited Morganville. In 2016, the mayor of Morganville and his wife had visited Fèves. What the future held for the villages and their connection was, as always, unknown.

Farewell dinner at the Torlotting home