By Mark O. Piggott, Naval Weapons Station Yorktown Public Affairs
YORKTOWN, Va. (NNS) -- Sailors from Naval Weapons Station (WPNSTA) Yorktown demonstrated the strong ties between France and the United States by volunteering their support during the visit of the replica French frigate L'Hermione in Historic Yorktown, June 5-7.
L'Hermione was the ship that brought the Marquis de Lafayette back to America in 1780 to support the siege of the British by General George Washington and the Continental Army that ultimately led to the British surrender on Oct. 19, 1781 and the birth of our nation.
"Not only were these French heroes fighting in Yorktown, but L'Hermione participated in a naval blockade and an assault on British Forces," said Thomas G. Shepperd, chairman, York County Board of Supervisors. "Today we celebrate the French who gave so much during the forming of our nation."
The idea for L'Herimone was conceived in 1993 by a small group of enthusiasts in France who came up with the audacious idea of building a replica frigate. The ship was built in Rochefort at the Charente-Maritime on the basis of exact line drawings taken from L'Hermione's sister ship La Concorde. Construction began in 1997 and took nearly 15 years to complete.
Yorktown is the first of 12 ports along the east coast and Canada that the ship will be visiting. As the frigate pulled up to the Yorktown Riverwalk, Sailors from WPNSTA Yorktown and the U.S. Coast Guard Training Center Yorktown were on hand to heave lines and bring the tall ship into port.
"What a great experience mooring a ship other than a Navy ship here in Yorktown," said Chief Boatswain's Mate Christopher Gray, Port Operations leading chief petty officer at WPNSTA Yorktown. "My Sailors had a wonderful time and this seemed to be a morale booster from what we normally do at Port Operations in Yorktown. I really like how the Navy and Coast Guard worked together as one team."
The significance of L'Hermione's visit to Yorktown was not lost on anyone there for the arrival ceremony, especially French Air Force General Jean-Paul Palomeros, the current Supreme Allied Commander Transformation for NATO in Norfolk. He described L'Hermione's Yorktown debut as more than just a history lesson.
"Today more than ever, we need this great transatlantic fleet to face the uncertainties of the world," Palomeros said. "This is a symbol between our two countries and a symbol of alliance against any risk that could emerge."
As part of the weekend's festivities and commemorations, another example of the strong ties between France and the United States was recognized at a wreath laying ceremony honoring the sacrifice American and French military service members at the invasion of Normandy, June 6, better known as D-Day.
Capt. Paul Haebler, WPNSTA Yorktown commanding officer, joined Colonel Philippe Roux, French Military Liaison Officer to U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) at Ft. Eustis, and Col. Todd Hubbard, U.S. Army 29th Division, in laying a wreath at the French Memorial in Historic Yorktown to honor the 73rd anniversary of D-Day.
"As the world continues to be ever changing and ever challenging for the next generations, we must stand together to fight for freedom and rights," said Roux. "We must remind ourselves of these enduring 237 years of friendship and alliance that makes the difference when it comes to freedom."
"We remember all the American servicemen and women who fought for the freedom of France and Europe, especially those of the 29th Infantry Division that landed on Omaha Beach on June 6, 1944," Roux continued. "We also remember the more than 40,000 troops France sent to America to help the colonists gain their freedom. Be our friendship and alliance strong enough for the future centuries to keep our next generation of children safe."
"Today, we are grateful for the veterans of those past conflicts," added Hubbard. "We strive to emulate them as we struggle in the uncertain and ambiguous environment of today's world. America and France continue the strong relationships enjoyed in the past."
As WPNSTA Yorktown color guard stood tall, carrying the colors of the United States and France, a wreath was laid by the three senior officers before a small crowd that included members of the Yorktown Day Association, who celebrate the France/U.S. alliance annually at Yorktown Day in October. A moment of silence gave everyone a chance to reflect on the heroism and sacrifice made on the beaches of Normandy 71 years ago.
"This entire weekend has been about celebrating the strong ties between our two nations," Haebler added, "but, this is something we do year-round here in Yorktown. Being part of the 'Historic Triangle' makes it even more important that we recognize and understand the history that we are a part of being stationed here."
As L'Hermione concludes its first stop in Yorktown and continues its voyage up the east coast, no one will soon forget it's first and, most importantly, historic stop on a journey more than 237 years in the making.