By Matt de Simone
Last Friday morning, the English and History departments of Lord Botetourt High School welcomed Bernard Marie and Dr. Marilyn Moriarty to speak about each of their family’s history in relation to the events of D-Day that occurred in France over 75 years ago.
Lord Botetourt English teacher Bruce Ingram helps put together the program annually. He along with other members of the faculty teach units focused on World War II to their ninth and tenth grade students. At the end of the unit, the students produce PowerPoint presentations focusing on movies, music, weaponry, and other popular topics from the era.
This year, Lord Botetourt invited two guests to share their stories with the students. The first to speak was Dr. Marilyn Moriarty, a professor of English at Hollins University who is currently in the process of writing a book about her mother, Andreé, who played a part in the French Resistance during the Nazi’s occupancy of France beginning in 1940. This was Dr. Moriarty’s first time speaking to the students and staff at Lord Botetourt.
The second guest speaker was Bernard Marie who was five years old when he witnessed the events of D-Day firsthand alongside his mother while they lived in Normandy. Marie has spoken to many Lord Botetourt students over the years. He’s hosted an annual dinner for World War II veterans in the area since 1984.
Dr. Moriarty told the students a fascinating story about her mother’s life in France before leaving for America. She presented slides which better explained the layout of France at the time of the German occupancy that included maps, pictures of her mother, and images of other organizations within the Resistance.
“France was going through a social revolution,” Dr. Moriarty explained. “The social revolution was a conservative revolution— conservative for women. France had lost almost a third of its army in World War I so there was a lot of pressure on women to become a housewife and to become a mother.”
She spoke about the specific jobs of women within the Resistance like hiding British and American aviators which they would hide in plain sight by disguising them as a member of the French society. Dr. Moriarty went on to mention the heroics of the women within the French Resistance carrying out acts of sabotage and intelligence to keep their country safe from Nazi interference from carrying mimeograph machines in baby carriages to traveling out of the country to purchase weaponry which aided their allies in rescue missions.
Years after moving to America, when Dr. Moriarty was 14, her mother passed away. Soon thereafter, Dr. Moriarty found a photograph of her mother containing a note to Dr. Moriarty’s father. The letter read, “My love for your will last forever,” and it was signed “Lilian.” This was Dr. Moriarty’s clue which led her to discovering her mother’s role within the French Resistance. She talked about traveling to France to meet with relatives to further investigate the meaning of the name Lilian Santoni, which was the name Andreé assumed during the time of the German occupancy of France.
Dr. Moriarty compiled a document containing her identity card, letters from France, and other photos which she used when meeting with her cousins. Utilizing the information her cousins gathered, she managed to track Andreé’s movement throughout the German occupancy up until leaving for America in 1945.
Bernard Marie— who speaks to the Lord Botetourt students annually— gave the students a presentation about the Nazis’ occupancy of France and inception of the French Resistance.
“My father was an organizer within the French Resistance,” Marie explained. “I didn’t know I had a father for years. My mother acted like a widow because if the Germans knew my father was in the French Resistance I can assure you that I would not be here today.”
Marie presented a map of France at the time of the Nazi occupancy showing where the Germans were stationed and the areas in France that were still free. He also showed the students a clip from an interview he conducted with The History Channel explaining where he was during D-Day and the aftermath. As Marie explained, he and his mother were “front row” for the landings on Omaha Beach on June 6, 1944.
He talked about seeing his mother hugging a soldier soon after the fighting stopped. As far as Marie was concerned, a soldier was a “bad guy” based on the Gestapo he saw frequently in and around his home. The American soldier his mother embraced kneeled and handed Marie a piece of chocolate and taught him two words in English: “Hershey” and “Freedom.”
“The most important thing for any human being is freedom,” Marie said in the clip shown to the Lord Botetourt students. “Every day you need to remember what the veterans did for you to get the freedom back.”