Paris, France – US service members helped France celebrate Bastille Day today as they led the military parade down the famed Champs Elysees under the eyes of French President Emmanuel Macron and President Donald J. Trump.
“The ties between the United States and France stretch back almost as far as our shared history as democratic republics,” Trump said in a written statement. “We have remained joined in common purpose ever since.”
From World War I on, the United States and France together weathered the bloody 20th century.
“Today, our two countries stand taller, and more united, than ever,” the president continued. “From Africa to the Middle East to Central Asia, we are fighting to destroy the terrorist organizations that threaten all civilized peoples and that continue to exact a terrible toll on the French people, including one year ago today. Together, we will eradicate their ideology.”
The president was referring to the terror attack on Bastille Day last year in Nice that killed 86 people.
‘Great Day for a Flyover’
It was a deliriously beautiful day with temperatures in the 70s under a cloudless sky. “A great day for a flyover,” said Navy Capt. Greg Hicks, the special assistant to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and former helicopter pilot. And he proved to be right as the US Air Force Thunderbirds in their distinctive F-16 Fighting Falcons flew from the Arc de Triomphe to the Obelisk of Luxor in the Place de la Concorde, flanked by two US Air Force F-22 Raptors.
Hicks attended the event because his boss, Marine Corps Gen. Joe Dunford and his wife, Ellyn, were special guests of French Defense Chief Army Gen. Pierre de Villiers.
Dunford noted earlier that there is hardly a combat zone in the world where French and American service members are not working together. The American military is working closely with French forces in West Africa, Libya, Syria, Afghanistan and in the Pacific. France is a charter member of NATO, and French Air Force Gen. Denis Mercier commands Allied Command Transformation in Norfolk, Va.
The parade down the Champs-Elysees is an annual event and this year the theme was “Operational Together.” It highlighted the close relationship among all the French security services and with the Americans. While France is America’s oldest ally — the United States would not have won the Revolution without French sailors winning the Battle of the Chesapeake against the English in 1783 — the modern version of the alliance dates to World War I. The 2017 Bastille Day Parade was almost exactly 100 years from when 14,000 American soldiers arrived in France as part of the American Expeditionary Force.
The American contingent leading the parade included troops from the Army’s 1st Infantry Division. The soldiers of the flag detail carried vintage 1903 Springfield rifles and were dressed in the uniform worn by World War I troops, with flat helmets, wool uniforms with choker necks and puttees.
The division flag carried battle streamers from Catigny, St. Michel and the Meuse-Argonne — World War I battles where the division lost almost 5,000 killed in action and a further 18,000 wounded. During the Great War, American divisions had 28,000 personnel assigned.
Other American soldiers marching in the parade were members of the 173rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, the 7th Army Training Center and the 10th Combat Aviation Brigade. Airmen from US Air Forces Europe, sailors from US Naval Forces Europe and Marines from U.S. Marine Forces Europe marched with soldiers showcasing the joint force of today.
The American soldiers in World War I fell in on French weapons and vehicles, and the military parade featured a Schneider tank from 1917 next to today’s armored combat vehicle and a 1917 Saint Chamond tank next to today’s Leclerc main battle tank. Following them in a long line, historic transporters, trucks, bridge units and ambulances drove along next to their modern-day counterparts.
The World War I vehicles almost looked quaint. “You have to remember that in 1917, those were cutting-edge weapon systems,” said a French major in the press area. “They would have been very familiar to American forces arriving in France.”
The parade was a straight shot down the Champs-Elysees — one of the most famous streets in the world. While it was the first time Americans had the honor of leading the parade, it was not the most famous American military march in Paris.
Four days after the liberation of Paris on Aug. 25, 1944, the entire U.S. Army 28th Infantry Division marched down the Champs-Elysees as a show of Allied unity. French leader Gen. Charles De Gaulle and US Army Gen. Omar Bradley took the salute of the division. The 28th marched all the way through the city and was in combat later that day.