There are 9,387 graves in the American Cemetery in Normandy. Most were killed in Action during the Invasion of Normandy. With most family members across the ocean or elsewhere around the world, how do we honor and keep the memory of these World War Two heroes alive? To me, one name comes to mind. Valerie Gautier Cardin! Valerie is Uncle Matty’s French Angel and my friend for life.
At least four times every year Uncle Matty’s French Angel Valerie Gautier Cardin places flowers on his grave and the graves of 24 other heroes at the American Cemetery in Normandy. Valerie sees this as a sacred mission she was called upon to do. At the age of fourteen, Valerie noticed a confused 505th PIR veteran Bill Sullivan in her town of Creances, Normandy. Bill was searching for the family that helped him in June 1944. With Valerie’s help, Bill was reunited with the family. Thus, a French Angel and an American veterans’ best friend was created in 1992.
Valerie grew up in in the town of Creances, Normandy. Almost from birth, Valerie was taught to honor the American veterans who liberated her country. Her grandfather was forced to leave his home in Normandy and transported to Germany to work for the Nazi war effort. Valerie was preordained with a mission of honoring and helping American veterans and lives by a credo, “We can never forget what the American Veteran did to liberate France.”
Being Uncle Matty’s French Angel, and caretaker for American Veterans and their families is a 24/7/365 mission. I know this first hand, as Valerie worked so hard to plan and make Monica’s and my trip to Normandy in June 2016 a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Valerie would chat, e-mail, and talk with me at any time of the day to make sure our trip was perfect. At the same time, Valerie was doing the same thing for dozens of WWII veterans and their families. How does she do all this? The only explanation is divine intervention, after all, she is an Angel.
Valerie’s commitment to the American veterans is so deep, that in 2012 she established a non-profit organization, Veterans Back to Normandie, with the objective of funding the trip of every single living World War II veteran who fought in France and wishes to return. The organization raises funds in France, the United States, and elsewhere to purchase airline tickets, and arranges housing and meals with French families who host the veterans during their stay. Gratitude runs high, and there is no shortage of host families in Normandy. And there are no expenses whatsoever for the veterans. Valerie makes it a point of honor to bring them back so they can personally see and feel the gratitude of people in France today, and know that their bravery and sacrifice in 1944 will never be forgotten.
“Please come back before it is too late,” I often heard Valerie say. No matter how many veterans she is caring for, she always has room for one more under her wing. As of 2016, her organization has completely funded the return of nearly thirty veterans. All were awarded medals and honors, and many received the French Legion of Honor, the highest award that can be given to a non-French citizen.
WWII hero Jack Hamlin, saved dozens of lives on D-Day serving with the U.S.
CoastGuard Rescue Flotilla One. Jack’s mission was to get our wounded D-Day soldiers on to a Coast Guard Cutter and out to a Naval Hospital. The Coast Guard save over 1,500 hundred American Soldiers on D-Day. Jack also manned a 20 MM machine gun and was credited with shooting down the only German Plane on D-Day. Jack is more famous for kissing the ladies, and rumor has it he has received more kisses than any other WWII veteran. Above all Valerie is Jack’s favorite and she has helped him greatly and has touched his heart.
This is what Jack had to say about his French Angel Valerie.
June 2014, Utah Beach ceremony-Jack was greeted by a young Lady-Valerie GautierCardin-her eyes, her smile her hand extended toward mine, this was the beginning of an elderly Veteran fascinations to the Angel of Normandy !! Four years later, June 2018, Jack is praying his health will allow this Veteran to return and hold the hands of an Angel, Valerie Gautier Cardin, again !!!
Monica and I will be attending the 2017 508th PIR reunion in Fayetteville, NC – October 18 to 22. We will have the pleasure of driving Uncle Matty’s French Angel Valerie to the reunion. This is a thrill and real honor for Monica and me.
Valerie, thanks for all you do to honor American veterans, you are a rock star! I devoted a whole chapter in my book “Uncle Matty Comes Home” to Valerie. I am sure if you ask most veterans, a book should be written about this remarkable young lady.