Updated 29 May 2021.
Remy is a village of less than 1,000 people, and lies 60 miles northeast of Paris. In August 1944, a flight of American P-51 fighter planes flying over the town spotted a German train pulled up to the town depot. They did not know that it was an ammunition train with 17 boxcars of munitions, but they made three strafing runs of the train with their big .50 caliber machine guns. At the third run the train exploded, flattening nearby buildings, killing an untold number of Germans and a child in the village. The explosion blew out almost every window in the town, including all but one of the stained-glass windows of the 12th century church. The explosion also knocked the last of the planes out of the sky, and it crashed at a traffic circle on the edge of town. The nose of the plane knocked a gap in a low brick fence near the circle. In the midst of the devastation some villagers ran to the airplane and pulled the pilot, Lt. Houston Braly out of the wreckage, but he was already dead. Two teenagers, a sister and brother pulled Braly’s body from the wreck. They laid his corpse on his parachute and left a few Dahlias next to his body. Later his body was moved to the village cemetery, with one blade of the propeller of his plane set up as a grave marker. On it they inscribed, using information from his dog tags:
Houston L Braly
O 756462 T 43 A P
2 Aout 1944
They placed some more flowers on the fresh earth. The local German commander, who came to inspect the damage was outraged by the flowers. A few weeks before a German pilot had been shot down in the area, and the villagers had given his body no respect. The commander demanded that the mayor remove the flowers. He refused. The Nazi then turned to a local woman, who also refused. In frustration, the commandant declared that if the flowers were not removed, there would be reprisals, and he stormed away.
The next day, the commandant could not see the grave, as it was covered with flowers. The reprisal came later, after the landings at Normandy. A boy heard the news, and ran through the town shouting “The Americans are Coming.” He was shot and killed.
Juliette Quertelet, a young woman in the village had some colored cloth hidden from the Germans. When word came that the Allies had landed at Normandy, and were nearing Remy, she took the cloth and hand-made three flags. American, Canadian and Free French. She hand-painted the 48 stars on each side of the U.S. Flag.
Fifty years later, 1995, at a reunion of the 383rd fighter group, Stephen Leavell, who knew one of the members of the squadron investigated the death of Lt. Braly and discovered the story of the villager’s gallantry. The villagers had rebuilt the wall Braly’s plane crash through, but marked the spot with a cross of white bricks. He also discovered that the church still had clear glass windows. Lt. Braly’s body had been exhumed by graves repatriation and sent to the family plot in Brady, Texas.
After learning the details, the old warriors formed an organization, “Windows for Remy” to raise $200,000 for new stained glass windows in the church. Mary and I made a small contribution to the group, and followed their progress until the goal was achieved and the windows were commissioned. They were formally dedicated July 30, 2000.
Since we would be near the town on vacation the previous June, I contacted “Windows for Remy” and asked if we could see the windows before the formal dedication. We were told that the windows had been installed, and were given directions, and the name of a contact, Mssr. Michel Souplet. So we took a train out to Compeigne, hired a taxi for the 10 miles trip to the village, and found Mr. Souplet.
His English was no better than Mary’s French, but he called Peggy, a young woman who spoke English well to act as interpreter. They took us to the site of the crash (the street is now renamed “Lt. Houston Braly.”) There is a memorial there now in addition to the cross of light-colored bricks. We saw the rebuilt train station, and were shown where pieces of rail where thrown in the explosion (about 3/4 mile, I would guess.) Then we were taken to the Church.
The windows are pretty, somewhat modern, but not entirely. Two windows commemorate the four gospels, one St. Denis, the patron Saint of the Parish (the prettiest one) and one Lt. Braly and the “Windows for Remy” organization. The theme of the last window is “Death and Resurrection.” An abstract tomb at the bottom of the window moves to vertically rising glass, to a light colored heaven. In the window are a few words, commemorating the flier, the group, and the Squadron. We were the first Americans to see these windows, and Mssr. Souplet and the interpreter seemed honored that we came. We felt honored by their kindness.
Mssr. Souplet then asked us if we wanted to go up the church steeple. Peggy got as excited as we, for she had never been to the top. We climbed a dozen rickety ladders, past the skeletons of birds, the bells, and piles of dust. At the end, we emerged onto the platform, and had a beautiful view of the town and countryside. The village has changed little in the last several hundred years, with old stone walls, red tile roofs, chimneys. The chateau of the local knight, built in the 1700s, was one of the most recent buildings in town. Wheatfields rolled over the horizon, and another village could be seen in the distance.
Mssr. Souplet told us that the “Windows for Remy” organization had some extra funds after the windows were installed, and the fighter pilots told the town to keep the funds and use them to restore the organ of the church. It was a good sum, about $20,000.
We then went to Mr. Souplet’s house. He excused himself for a minute, and returned with Old Glory mounted on a flagstaff. He explained that this flag would be used at the parade that would precede the dedication of the windows. His wife came out with a bottle of champagne, glasses were filled, and he raised his glass and said, “L’Amerique!” Mary and I both called out “Vive la France” and we drank.
After the formal dedication the Souplet’s sent us a video of the celebratory parade. A French World War II recreation group came with an armored personnel carrier and a jeep, painted with the US colors. Mdme. Souplet rode on the personnel carrier, her legs crossed in a saucy manner and a bagpipe band tromped behind. Everyone came out- the flags of our countries lined the road, and bouncing children got caught up in the excitement. The town is small and the parade was short and everyone was having a good time, so they turned the parade around and went back through the town. Ms. Quertelet gave her old hand-made American flag to the members of the squadron, saying “I knew you would come.”
On September 12, 2001 we received an email from Mssr. Souplet. The town council had met the night before and unanimously voted to donate the funds raised for the organ, which with their own donations was now $65,000, to the “Twin Towers Fund” created to care for the children of the Police and Fire Fighters who had lost their lives that day in New York City.
Don’t tell me the French don’t remember.
Anyone who would like more details on Windows for Remy and related matters, please contact me. I have a lot of information from Mr. Stephen Leavell, who provided some of the information for this piece.
2 thoughts on “Windows for Remy (2001)”
Beautiful and touching story. I imagined I could see the village and also the view from the steeple. Thanks for including the description of the parade!
I had the pleasure on attending and recording this wonderful day. There was a lot of French & American love flowing that day, deservedly so on both sides. Vive la France and American friendship!