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Merci America Continued


The French Gratitude Train Boxcar had arrived in Bismarck on February 15th, 1949. It carried gifts from the French people in recognition of not only the military sacrifice of America’s young men and women, but also for the acts of kindness following the war. Only a brief ceremony was held upon its arrival with plans for a larger event at the Capitol during the Legislative Session. Gen, H. L. Edwards was named chairman of the program committee and William Treumann of Grand Forks, the Grand Chef de Gare of the North Dakota 40 & 8 Chapter, was asked to make the official presentation to Governor Fred Aandahl. J. J. Viala came from Chicago to represent the French Consul General.

As the local members of the 40 & 8 Chapter unpacked the boxcar, they noted how carefully the gifts had been packed to withstand the long ocean voyage. There was about everything imaginable, including a tiny toy replica of an American soldier from 1917 and a miniature French flag trimmed in gold braid with the embroidered notation, “Merci to the U.S.A.” Books and pictures were in abundance, but the treasures also included military medals from World War I, plaques, ribbons and even a stamp collection. There were porcelain ashtrays, candy boxes, plates, and figurines. Items of clothing included scarves, a pair of wooden shoes, a waistcoat, and a wedding gown to which was attached a note wishing that it be presented “To a happy American bride with best wishes from the City of Lyon.” On the back of one painting there was a note in English that the donor wished that the picture “may be offered to an invalid man of war.” French children, with little of their own, sent dolls, marbles and other toys.

Among the jewelry and relics was a curious but significant treasure. It was a portion of an old cannonball bearing the date of September 20, 1792. This was a remnant from the Battle of Valmy where the Prussian army was defeated and the French monarchy abolished with the creation of the Republic of France.

Over three hundred gifts were packed into the small boxcar, almost all with notes carrying the names of the donors and their heartfelt thanks to the American people. Today North Dakota’s Forty & Eight Box car, newly refurbished, stands proudly on the Capitol Grounds near the North Dakota Heritage Center. Most of the treasures it held are secure among the collections of the State Historical Society of North Dakota.

Dakota Datebook written by Jim Davis

Bismarck Tribune February 17, 1949

Bismarck Tribune February 15, 1949

Contents of French Gratitude Train, Museum Division, SHSND 90.25 file 1