French citizen visits local soldier's family
BY PHILIP SAYBLACK
Sunday, October 22, 2017
A Rocky Mount soldier’s family came face-to-face Saturday for the first time with the French citizen who has been tending the soldier’s grave at Normandy for the past five years.
Jean-Vincent du Lac de Fugeres met members of Pvt. John T. Lee’s family on Saturday at Gardner’s Barbecue on 1331 North Wesleyan Blvd. to thank them for Lee’s service and to share his love of North Carolina and America. De Fugeres choked up as he told Lee’s family how proud he has been to keep Lee’s memory alive by caring for his grave at the Normandy American Cemetery at Colleville-sur-Mer, France.
“It is a great honor for me to be here with you today,” de Fugeres said. “It is my privilege to honor John T. Lee. He and the other soldiers who fought at Normandy are a symbol of freedom and strength. We will never forget we are free because of what they did.”
Rocky Mount councilman and mayor pro-tem W.B. Bullock was on hand for Saturday’s event. He said being included was an honor as he presented a plaque to de Fugeres for his service to Lee. De Fugeres, in return, presented Bullock with a medal for the city.
“It is wonderful to see this family come together,” Bullock said. “It is so heartwarming to be a part of this and wonderful to be able to represent Rocky Mount in this event.”
Tonya Lee Lowe, Lee’s niece spent the past seven months planning Saturday’s event. She also was moved to see so many of Lee’s family members come together in Lee’s memory.
“It means everything to me to see this,” Lowe said. “It’s great. I love France. I’ve been once, but never been to the cemetery at Colleville-sur-Mer.”
Before Lee’s family came together for the reunion, Love joined de Fugeres at the Joint Veterans Committee of Nash and Edgecombe Counties’ monthly flag raising ceremony at Jack Laughery Park. Two local service members were recognized at the service. De Fugeres said after the service that hearing taps being played was moving.
“I was about to cry,” de Fugeres said. “It was very emotional for me. I’m always thinking about the fallen soldiers as they played taps. I couldn’t not cry.”
De Fugeres returned to Laughery Park later in the day with Lee’s family for a solemn ceremony to honor Lee, who was born in Rocky Mount in 1924 to John and Annie Lee and was one of 10 children that the couple had together. He was part of the Allied D-Day invasion on Normandy on June 6, 1944, but died a month later during the Allied forces’ Cobra Operation.
The Cobra Operation ran from July 25 to July 31, 1944 and involved American forces breaking through German lines as British and Canadian distracted the Germans so Allies could push deeper into France.
De Fugeres said Saturday that he was happy to finally meet Lee’s family after so many years of searching for them, stressing he would eventually come back to North Carolina.
“I shall return,” he said with a laugh and a smile.