Robert Whiting, an elderly American gentleman 83 years old and a retired High School History teacher arrived in Paris by plane with a tour group. At French Customs, he took several minutes to locate his passport in one of his coat pockets.
“You have been to France before, monsieur?” a French customs officer asked sarcastically.
Mr. Whiting admitted that he had been to France previously.
“Then you should know enough to have your passport ready.”
Mr. Whiting replied “The last time I was here, I didn’t have to show it.”
“Impossible, French law requires all Americans to have to show their passports on arrival in France!” said the French customs official.
Mr. Whiting gave the French Official a long hard look, then, quietly explained, “Well, when I came ashore in 1944 it was at Omaha Beach on D-Day to help liberate your country. At that time none of us could find a single Frenchman to show a passport to.”
The validity of this well-travelled story is often debated. But there is no denying what actually happened on the seventieth anniversary of D-Day back on June of 2014. In what may be a case of life imitating art, a London Daily Mail article reports as follows…
On D-Day, they defied fierce German shelling and machine gun fire to reach the Normandy beaches. Seventy years on, and much frailer, our Second World War heroes have come up against a new adversary as they return for the landmark anniversary - French bureaucrats.
The authorities require veterans’ groups to complete lengthy forms at short notice or risk being turned away from the battle sites on June 6. Ken Smith, 89, was one of the youngest – and luckiest – soldiers to survive the D-Day landings after a radio he was carrying on his back deflected two bullets.
D-Day veteran Ken Smith, who braved bullets and barbed wire to storm the Normandy beaches 70 years ago, faces a new obstacle to this summer's commemoration - French bureaucracy. The former signals operator, who is organizing an anniversary trip for 40 people, was given just four weeks’ notice of the demands.
It seems that a two-page form must be completed for every person attending, including personal information and contact details, as well as rank, regiment, ‘role’ performed on D-Day, medals awarded, events they plan to attend and details of their travel arrangements.
Mr. Smith, from York, was forced to spend hours on the phone, along with his wife Gloria, to gather all the required details from the veterans, their careers and friends in their party in order to fill in the 80 pages of forms by last weekend’s deadline.
You have to love his response: “We didn’t need to fill in a load of paperwork last time I landed in Normandy,’ he said. ‘I didn’t even need my passport.”
I share this as a simple reminder of what all we owe those who came before us and sacrificed in order that we might enjoy the many freedoms that we now have. May we neither overlook nor underappreciate what they did on our behalf.
This Thursday is Veteran’s Day. As you have the opportunity, please take a moment or two to seek out any men or women you know of who stood tall in the face of tyranny and/or oppression in order to ensure that freedom prevailed for you and me today as Americans.
Remember, their service, no matter how small or how great, was not without sacrifice. And for this reason, they deserve both our respect and appreciation.
Available widely on the internet. See for instance: https://tolleystopics.com/2020/05/18/you-could-have-heard-a-pin-drop/.
Another version is found at: https://worldwarwings.com/wwii-vet-forgets-passport-france-doesnt-take-crap-customs/. This one comes with the following disclaimer: “This is one of those stories which has been passed down for many, many years. Although we don’t know if it actually happened, we sure hope it did. Having talked to a few World War II veterans ourselves, we know they can be quite snappy and don’t take crap from anyone. This leads us to believe that one day, somewhere in the past, this interaction actually took place.”
https://www.poliscirumors.com/topic/an-american-tale. Note that the comments section of this version includes the following addendum: Reminds me of the urban legend about a British commercial airline pilot who landed in Dresden. The pilot wasn't familiar with the airport diagram there and messed up the instructions from ground control about the route to take taxiing to the gate. The German controller got frustrated and said, “Haven't you ever been to Dresden before?!” and the pilot replied “Yes, several years ago, but I didn't bother to land - I was just dropping something off.”
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