Honoring Those Who Served



by Jean P. Brody

 The year was 1945. World War II had blessedly and finally ended in Europe. Thousands of young men were moved from the battlefields to Paris. There they waited for the day they would be sent to the Pacific to once again risk their lives.

Every one of the soldiers was scarred from the horrors they had seen and of which they had been a part. Kindness, quiet and peace was the medicine necessary to heal their wounds, at least enough to pick up their guns once again.

My husband, Gene, was one of those men. Though he was decorated several times for bravery, war was foreign to his heart. Perhaps this was why he was particularly drawn to the French, who are people of tremendous personal warmth.

The hotel he was billeted in, Hotel Napoleon, was located in the heart of Paris. The elevator was a cage with pulley ropes, and the rooms were clean but simple. The hotel's most impressive feature was its doorman, Monsieur Jean Fratoni. His job was to stand outside the hotel and to open the doors for the guests. He would greet each visitor with "Bienvenue à Paris" ("Welcome to Paris"), spoken in his rich baritone.

Monsieur Fratoni was particularly kind to the American soldiers. He treated every young serviceman as a special friend, almost like a son. He remembered their names and was not above hugging them from time to time. They had liberated his country, and he loved them for it.

Happily, the war ended in the Pacific before the soldiers in Europe had to go. Instead, they were sent home. When they left Paris and Hotel Napoleon, many shared tearful good-byes with Monsieur Fratoni.

Forty years later, on his sixtieth birthday, Gene wanted to run the Paris Marathon, so we went to Europe. Gene hadn't been back since the war. Finally, with my emotional support, he was ready to see the towns he'd helped to set free; to travel the roads he'd walked while German soldiers on the hills on either side of the road had fired on them, picking the American soldiers off like flies; to visit cemeteries where so many of his buddies lay buried. It was a highly emotional tour, but the pinnacle was yet to come.

When we finally arrived in Paris, we went to register Gene for the upcoming marathon at an American-owned hotel. We thought we'd probably stay there as so many of the runners were doing. But then Gene had an idea: "Let's find Hotel Napoleon and stay there."

It sounded good to me. We got in the car, and after asking directions, we found it. But it was not at all what we expected. In 1945, it had been a simple hotel, definitely of the no-frills variety. Now Hotel Napoleon was one of the finest, most elegant hotels in all of Paris.

"Oh boy, it sure has changed. Must be very expensive." Gene said this softly, but there was something in his voice—I could hear how touched he was just being there.

Listening to my heart, I said, "Oh, but it's so beautiful, and to think, you stayed in this very place all those years ago. Let's at least check it out."

We pulled the car up to the curb next to the hotel and sat there, just looking. Suddenly Gene drew in a breath and whispered, "Ohhhhh."

I watched as a very old gentleman bowed and opened Gene's door. "Bienvenue à Paris," he said in a tremulous but rich baritone. Gene seemed suspended in time as he stared at the man's face. Finally, he stepped out of our car and stood facing the doorman.

I saw tears well in Gene's eyes as he placed his hands on the man's stooped shoulders. Swallowing hard, he said simply, "You were here during World War II, weren't you?"

The man nodded, holding his body very still. Gene continued, "So was I. I was one of the soldiers who lived at the Hotel Napoleon, and you were so kind to me. My name is Brody."

The old gentleman searched Gene's face and then threw up his hands and, with trembling arms, enfolded my husband, repeating over and over, "Je me rappelle, cher ami. I remember."

Finally, at Monsieur Fratoni's insistence, they gathered up the baggage and went inside. The hotel was very expensive, but they found us a tiny room with a bath that we felt we could afford. As we presented the clerk with our credit card, Monsieur Fratoni left us and went to speak briefly to an official-looking man.

When we were taken to our room, it was not the "least room in the inn" but, rather, an elegant suite with antique furniture and priceless rugs.

When we said there was some mistake, Gene's friend shook his head. To Monsieur Fratoni, Gene was still the young soldier who had liberated his beloved France. The old gentleman just smiled and said, "Seulement le mieux pour vous" ("Only the best for you").



From Chicken Soup for the Veteran’s Soul by Jack Canfield, Mark Victor Hansen, Sidney Slagter. Copyright © 2001 by Jack Canfield and Mark Victor Hansen. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means, without the written permission of the publisher. Excerpted by arrangement with Health Communications, Inc. $12.95. Available in local bookstores or call 800-441-5569 or click here.