SPEECH BY JACQUES ADNET
Merci Mon Général and thank you all for coming . . . Aloha . . .
I am truly honored and very touched by your presence and for taking time to come to this ceremony. I appreciate it more than you can imagine . . . certainly more than I can say. First, I would like for you to meet three precious members of my family: Ilene, my sweet wife . . . my older daughter Denise . . . and my only son Paul.
This is a most emotional moment in my life, and it is certainly one of the most overwhelming . . . and it is with utmost humility that I accept this honor from the country of my birth. But this medal, this honor is not mine alone. I share it with many others, including many of you . . .
This medal is not new. It belonged to a friend of mine who passed away last month. His name was René Hénaut and he made significant contributions to the bonds of friendship that link the two air forces. René joined the French Air Force just before WWII, survived the ordeals of a Viet Cong POW camp and later, as an officer, did what he could to strengthen Franco -American friendship.
For many years, while in the military and in civilian life, he and I worked directly and indirectly to accomplish the same goals . . .
For decades, René wore a lapel pin of the U.S. Air Force Commendation Medal that he received for his service to the Air Force. He left this world wearing that pin, attesting to his pro-American feelings.
But his medal will not linger long on a shelf in my office. Just days after I was notified of the award, I received an e-mail from French astronaut Jean-François Clervoy, now a general, who volunteered to take or send this medal through space at the first opportunity. May be the spirit of international good will that René exemplified travel with that medal as it travels millions of miles above the world!
This is also a time for me to share a moment with some members of my family more deserving of this honor than I am. It is said in my family that one of my direct ancestors was a member of Napoléon’s Imperial guard. He was in the retreat from Moscow and I am most thankful that he survived, or I would not be here. To my knowledge, he did not receive the Légion d’Honneur.
My father was in World War I and he was wounded in the last major German offensive. After recovery, he participated in the last Allied offensive in November 1918. Just a few days before the guns fells silent, to the right of his regiment, an American unit fell into an ambush and American blood spilled on French soil. There were no more prisoners taken after that. Like so many people in France, my father never forgot the American contributions and sacrifices of that war.
During World War II, my father took decisive action that saved all of the workers in the factory where he worked. He sent everybody home and locked the doors just minutes before bombs began to fall He made similar decisions that saved our family many times.
During the course of the war, despite the deadly risks involved, our family helped and sheltered over a dozen escaped prisoners of war of various nationalities.
In the last few years of his life, my father was offered the Legion of Honor. Typically, he declined, saying: “I only did my duty.” However, just days before his life ended, I sensed that he wished that he had said “Yes” like his surviving schoolmates had done.
So, “Papa, j’ai ta médaille.”
In World War II, my brother was active in the French Résistance and his group assisted airdrops of Allied commandos, like my friend Colonel Bradbury who was involved in another part of France. My brother ambushed the enemy and, after the liberation, under General Patton, he fought in Eastern France and drove his Sherman tank into Germany. So, this medal also belongs to him.
I should add that my brother finished his military service in the French Air Force. Mon Général, I have an old picture, a bad one, which shows him in a French Air Force sergeant’s uniform with me next to him. At that time, I was a 16-year old interpreter, also a bad one, for the US Army in Europe, and I wore a World War II U.S. Army uniform.
This photo gives a real meaning to what is meant by the expression “brothers in arms” . . . frères d’armes . . .
It also explains why, in my whole life, I have been committed to the common goals of both air forces.
But let us not forget that this award is also about the Exchange.
In 1966, I received my first French recognition of a sort. It was on the front page of a French Communist newspaper. It attacked me personally. My superiors saw it as a threat both to my family and to me.
I saw it as a badge of honor. Local officials and average people came to my office near Fontainebleau and apologized, expressing the true feelings of the French people toward the American people and the US military.
Just a few weeks after that, President De Gaulle made his famous speech, asking American troops to leave France.
This was a major low point in Franco-American relations but the true feelings from the people of France had surfaced right in front of my eyes. . . Fortunately, some responsible individuals saw it as also a time of opportunity. Yes, President Charles De Gaulle had dictated that “French Army liaison officers” had to be called back to France. But he had said “Army” when everyone knew that he meant “military.”
Some senior French military officers took a chance: the French liaison officer in West Point returned home, but the liaison officer at the Air Force Academy, Paul Aunis, remained here, from 1966 to 1971. He worked very hard with French senior officers, especially those who had earned their wings in the US during and after the war, to establish a permanent contact between the two air forces through the two schools.
It is said that “When the going gets tough, the tough get going” . . . and the leaders of that era , men with a clear vision and courage, responded in kind. They overcame the opposition of many, including some in Congress, and they established the protocol that still exists between the Air Force Academy and the École de l’Air.
Unfortunately, after a bright start, the exchange was in trouble . . . one American cadet was sent home . . . one French Liaison Officer came close to being relieved early . . . The number of participating cadets declined. At one point, some senior officers even considered ending the program entirely.
So, in 1974, the Academy asked me to help. Slowly but surely, we improved the program, one step at a time. One major contributor to that effort was my friend, Rollie Stoneman , who is with us today.
In 1980, Général Ghesquière and General Tallman established new guidelines more in line with the real goals of the exchange. The exchange then became less about learning engineering, which can be done virtually anywhere.
The goal became to have cadets acquire more of an understanding of the importance of cooperation and dialog between the two long-standing, proud allies who share the same democratic values and ideals, as stated in the protocol of agreement.
That understanding is what cadets can retain and, hopefully, apply for the rest of their lives.
Some of the cadets of the past are now the leaders of today. The current Chief of Staff of the French Air Force was in the first exchange, in 1969.
The current Chief of Staff to the Prime Minister of France was on the Exchange. He also served on the personal military staff of the President of the Republic. There are at least 20 former aspirants who are wearing stars. On the US side, we have 2 former cadets who have become generals and 2 two other cadets who have an equivalent rank in the Senior Executive Service. One is here today, Kathy Conley, the first girl to graduate from the Academy . . . she was one of my best students and has been a friend for some 25 years. She now works for the Secretary of Defense.
But we have three former cadets who have reached for other stars: the 3 who have become astronauts: Charlie Precourt, Rick Searfoss and Terry Virts.
As of now: 263 Exchange cadets have gone to France and 237 aspirants have come to the Academy. That is exactly a total of 500 cadet participants of the exchange, by my count..
But, so much for statistics.
The Exchange is much more than that.
From the very beginning, I have compared the Exchange to a tree . . . a very fragile tree at first. A tree that has had to be nurtured, fed, watered, pruned, and protected from those who wished it evil.
This tree has dropped many seeds over the years . . . with personal and professional consequences. On the personal side, I will just mention one of many such examples: a former student of mine, Philip McBride. I want you to meet his lovely French wife, Anne, and their Franco-American son: C1C Matt McBride, a precious product of the Exchange. One of many such offsprings.
Some former aspirants now live and work in the US and Canada and have American children.
Some former cadets live in France and have French children . . .
Dr. Frank Gahren was in the same group as McBride and I think that his professional life would have been different without his experience on the exchange.
Some former cadets work or live in France, including another former student of mine, Colonel Jeff Jackson, the current Air Attaché in Paris. My friend Randy Joslin who went on the Exchange in 1974 later became an Assistant Air Attaché in Paris. Mon Général, he may have been one of the cadets who gave you a hard time when you were a poussin !
Some of those seeds from that tree have given birth to other exchanges, some between operational units, between test pilot schools, and, for a while, even with NASA.
As an example, after 9/11, a former aspirant flew air cover over the United States, in an F-16.
The list of fall-outs is long. Some were predictable, some were not, but all have been for the good.
Now, sons, daughters, and even grandchildren have been hosted across the ocean by former exchangers.
But, more than anything, the Exchange has now become an institution integral to each school.
So now, I want to thank all of you who have made it so and that includes more of my friends, General Cubero, Colonel Mueller, Colonel Crotty, Colonel Rogers, Doctor Lemp, Allan Duhon, Rollie Stoneman, and hundreds of others.
But nothing is perfect in this wonderful but complex world . . .
Yes, in the last couple of years, Franco-American relations have deteriorated and reached a new low in my lifetime, especially if you read or listen to the news media on both sides of the ocean. Have no fear. That too shall pass! . . . In due time, historians will make the proper assessment of recent political decisions across the globe.
But it is in the midst of such a crisis that men of vision respond, especially in the military.
In 1966, the military leaders of the two countries placed their careers on the line, but they met the challenge of their time and created the Exchange. They responded and, thanks to them, we now enjoy the fruits of their initiative and courage.
So, this is our challenge today . . . We must find more ways to consolidate the current exchange, to make it even more productive and to find NEW WAYS to reinforce and multiply the bonds that exist between the two peoples and, especially in our case, between our two air forces.
In my youth, people would say: “L’Union fait la Force” . . . “Strength through Unity.”
Now, I say : “United We Stand, Divided We Fall.” . . .
General Martin, thank you for coming at this point in time in history and for renewing the spirit that has been created between both schools. It is critical for us to work together, to stay on course, and forever . . .