Friday December 27, 2013 | 09:09 AM
Franco-American veterans consistently report how their experiences as native French speakers assisted their military careers and experiences afterward.
Donald Dubay is a retired US Army Colonel who was born in Lewiston and grew up in New Auburn, Maine. He and his wife Gail now live in North Carolina.
Although he spoke French while growing up, he didn’t realize how being bilingual would positively impact his Army experiences.
Dubay recently responded to a blog about a World War II oral history group discussion held in Tophsam, ME. Of particular interest was how Robert Freson, of Harpswell, who grew up in Belgium during World War II, spoke about his memories of the German occupation of his country and the subsequent liberation.
Freson’s memories reminded Dubay about an annual Belgian ceremony he and his wife attended with their son. It was an appreciation memorial for American liberators, specifically honoring US Army airmen called the “Royal Flush Crew”.
Lt. Col. Dave Dubay with Mr. Bonnet and Donald Dubay, COL, US Army, Ret., in Fouleng, Belgium
This annual ceremony continues to honor American airmen rescued in Fouleng, Belgium on April 13, 1944, after their B-17 Flying Fortress World War II bomber aircraft crashed in a farm field occupied by German troops.
While visiting their son and his family in 2011, in Belgium, the Dubays had the opportunity to observe the Fouleng ceremony. The original incident happened when the crew was flying back to England after performing a bombing mission in Germany. As they were flying over occupied Belgium, toward the English Channel, the plane was fired upon by German artillery and crashed.
On April 13, 2011, the Dubays stood on the ground of one of those farmhouses, occupied by the Germans, when the plane crashed in 1944, with the airmen.
A Belgian resistance group helped the crewmen who parachuted to safety and hid them. Only one man, Staff Sargent Charles Johnson, was taken by the Germans before the Belgians could move him, because he was badly wounded. But, before his capture, Johnson managed to give a 15 year old boy named Gheislan Bonnet a chocolate bar. Mr. Bonnet attended the 2011 Fouleng ceremony. He spoke with the Dubays who conversed with him in French.
Fouleng, Belgium Memorial to US Airmen who crashed on April 13, 1944
Another man, Antonia de la Serna, who was 10 years old at the time of the crash, also witnessed the entire event and attended the commemoration ceremony.
“We were touched by the way the Belgians celebrate the memory of the Royal Flush crew. They spoke to us about being grateful to the Americans who gave their all to liberate their country. By memorializing the Royal Flush Crew every year, they ensure that the children of Fouleng will carry forth the story to future generations."
As a native French speaker, Dubay says his bilingual ability helped him to learn other languages during his Army career. Although Dubay grew up speaking French at home and in elementary school, he says his interest in being bilingual didn’t mean much until he went into the Army, after graduating from the University of Maine.
“Children who grow up multi-lingual are able to learn languages easily. In my case, it helped me to learn Hungarian at the Defense Language Institute in California. Vietnam interrupted whatever the Army's plans were for using Hungarian, but I did find French useful in Vietnam. A few years later, the Army accepted me into the Foreign Area Officer program, with a North Africa and Middle East specialty. My first assignments were in North Africa's former French colonies, in Morocco, Tunisia, and Algeria where I spoke French almost exclusively with the locals. I brushed up my fluency via a tutor at the American Embassies,” he says. He also learned Arabic dialects common in North Africa. Being multi-lingual helped to make learning Arabic a bit easier.
“Franco-Americans should continue to build on their natural bilingual ability, because, often, unexpected opportunities arise where speaking French helps to bridge cultures and share special memories,” says Dubay.
An on line video of the 2011 special ceremony in French is posted at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yjDkyLFGcc0 ; the Dubay’s son Lt. Col. Dave Dubay speaks with a French translation at the end of the 3 minute program.
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