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AfriGeneas Military Research Forum Archive

Re: Kentucky Soldiers: European Theater

Hi Bennie:

Thanks for letting us know about the African American veterans that will be present at the D-Day commemoration.

Another question about Normandy etc. I remember a conversation with French filmmaker, Thierry Fournet (Mon Pere Etait un GI a la Liberation) from TF1 and Bill Miles about the presence of Blacks at D-Day. Bill pointed out that the men who manned the pontoons were African-American. Do you know what unit they were in?

My question brings back ten year old memories of the film and how it was shaped by the French TV production crew. Its power could tug at the heart of any stoic.

Thierry and his colleagues produced the show, for "52 Sur La Une" to commemorate the 50th Anniversary of D-Day. Leave it to the French to create an extraordinary film centered on the search of a Frenchman for Joseph Clark, a black GI, who served in France in 1944. Daniel Carpon, Joseph's son and his family came to Harlem looking for Joseph with only a photo, his name, an old address and memories from his French mother.

Thanks to Leonard "Smitty" Smith, a Harlem resident and veteran of the 761st Tank Battalion, Daniel and the production crew learned a lot about the black military experience in France. Smitty took them throughout Harlem looking for people who may have remembered Joseph Clark. But it was the Amsterdam News that helped Daniel find his father. Harlem's foremost newspaper wrote a story of Daniel's search and the community responded. It led him to Point Pleasant, New Jersey where sadly Joseph Clark had died. The camera captured Daniel overcome with sadness. He fell to his knees and sobbed over the grave of the father whom he'd never met.

The producers brought Smitty back to the beaches of Normandy where the 761st landed in the autumn of 1944 after D-Day. Smitty and Daniel walked its beaches as he told of the carnage that remained after D-Day and the battles that lay ahead for the 761st Tank Battalion.

The film's producers created more than a commemorative film about D-Day. Smitty and Daniel became very close. At the end of Daniel's story, his family and neighbors threw Smitty a surprise party. When asked to say a few words, Smitty said" I lost my son in February. But God was good to me because now I have another son."

Later, Smitty gave Daniel his Bronze Star awarded him for his heroism at the Battle of the Bulge.

I will always be eternally grateful for the French production team of "52 Sur la Une" who looked beyond the traditional commemorative war stories to include African-Americans as liberators of their country.

Merci Thierry Fournet, Jean Bertolino, Alain Clement, Jean-Claude Fontan, Jacques LeClerq, and Patrice Lucchini for "Mon Pere Etait un GI a la Liberation."

K Wyer Lane

18 Dec 2002 :: 14 Nov 2008
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