By Sunday evening, more than 35 feature films, documentaries and videos will have premiered in the Third Annual GI Film Festival in Washington, D.C. The founders of the event, which presents films that celebrate and honor military service, received The American Legion National Commander's Public Relations Award at the 50th Washington Conference on March 3, 2010.
Among this year's entries is "Mother of Normandy: The Story of Simone Renaud," a documentary by Reminiscent Films, Inc., that tells the story of a French woman who dedicated her life to preserving the memories of Allied troops who made the ultimate sacrifice liberating France during World War II. Mme. Renaud, wife of Ste. Mere-Eglise wartime mayor Alexandre Renaud, and her children watched as U.S. airborne soldiers parachuted into a deadly attack in her Normandy town in the early-morning hours of June 6, 1944. As the wounded and dead passed her eyes in the weeks following D-Day, she gave a clear directive to her children: "Never forget."
She did not. Some 15,000 Allied troops were buried in and around Ste. Mere-Eglise between 1944 and 1948, before the graves were moved to the Normandy American Cemetery near Omaha Beach. Among those buried in Ste. Mere-Eglise was one of The American Legion's founders, Brig. Gen. Theodore Roosevelt, Jr., who died of a heart attack five weeks after coming ashore at Utah Beach. A photograph of Simone Renaud placing flowers at Roosevelt's grave appeared in Life magazine in August 1944, and the families of fallen soldiers began writing letters to the mayor's wife, asking her to tend to their loved ones' graves, too. She continued placing flowers, writing letters and building relationships with American families for the next 44 years. She also led efforts in France to commemorate the Allied invasion with anniversary celebrations in and around Ste. Mere-Eglise.
American Legion Magazine Editor Jeff Stoffer wrote the original treatment and screenplay for the film after writing about the town and the legacy of Simone Renaud for the nation's largest veterans' magazine in 2006. He also wrote a book to accompany the film. The book will be available in June.
To see a video and read an interview with GI Film Festival founders Brandon Millet and Laura Law-Millett, click here.