Paris, France, Saturday, January 23, 1949: The “Flambeau de la Reconnaissance,” the VERY FIRST “Torch of Gratitude” to travel from France to Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia, U. S. A. was solemnly kindled from the Eternal Flame of the Unknown Soldier at the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, France, by Gen. Paul DASSAULT, Grand Chancellor of the French Legion of Honor, before being passed to the American Legion by the French veterans via the ”Merci Train.” © Laurent Dassault Private Collection. All rights reserved.  





After driving up the Champs-Élysées accompanied by the Grande Escorte, President Emmanuel Macron rekindled the Eternal Flame, burning continuously at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at the Arc de Triomphe since 1923.

The « Train de la Reconnaissance Française » aka the « Merci Train » (1949).





© The Official French-American Project entirely conceived by Ms. Elisabeth JENSSEN to celebrate the 75th Anniversary of the “Merci Train” (1949-2024/2025). All rights reserved.

Chair, Elisabeth Jenssen

Honorary President: The Comte Gilbert de Pusy La Fayette


Victory in Europe Day (VE Day) Celebration


MAY 8, 1945 – MAY 8, 2024

JANUARY 23 – FEBRUARY 6, 1949 – MAY 8, 2024


In memory of Gen. Paul DASSAULT, a French military hero.

In memory of MM. André PICARD, Louis CAST and Maurice ARTIGUENAVE, French railway veterans in WWI, members of the French Resistance in WWII, and members of the French Gratitude Train (Merci Train) National Committee who, 75 YEARS AGO, carried for THE VERY FIRST TIME THE ETERNAL FLAME FROM THE ARC DE TRIOMPHE IN PARIS, FRANCE, to ARLINGTON NATIONAL CEMETERY in the UNITED STATES.

Passing the symbolic “Flambeau de la Reconnaissance,” the French “Eternal Flame” to the American Legion and have it taken all the way to Arlington as Gen. Paul DASSAULT did with such dignity for the “Merci Train,” 75 years ago, in Paris, thus honoring the memory of the American soldiers who sacrified their lives during both World Wars to free France from Germany while saluting all the U. S. veterans who lived to tell their stories, is a huge responsability. This very important mission of remembrance should always be conducted by carriers who really know about this part of History. Who really know the meaning of the word “MERCI.” The meaning of the words “GRATITUDE” and “FRIENDSHIP.” Because, well, Respect and Decency also Really Matter in Cultural Affairs in every Free Society!

Elisabeth Jenssen

(Liaison of the American Legion USA-Europe project #MDFDEFriendshipMerciTrain75)


Dear MDFDE Friends of the “Merci Train,”


As the People of France celebrate next month, along with their WWII Allies, the 80th Anniversary of D-DAY (June 6), of the Normandy Landings (1944 – 2024), honoring the lives of the American military forces and of our Allies who fought and died to free our parents and grand parents from nazi Germany.

And many States throughout the United States commemorate, this year, via various events held by the American Legion, the 40 and 8 Society and many other cultural associations whom we salute and thank for their undying dedication to the preservation of their own SNCF “40 and 8” “Merci Train” boxcars, the 75th Anniversary of the Merci Train (1949 – 2024) — the French response to the People of the United States as a gesture of eternal gratitude for the Friendship Train (1947) — the greatest American humanitarian campaign led by Washington D.C. veteran journalist Drew PEARSON. 

A special milestone which will still be celebrated, next year, in Hawaii, thanks to our friend Jeff Livingston, project mgr. still hard at work on the on-going restoration of their D.C./Hawaii “Merci Train” boxcar housed at the Hawaiian Railroad Society (HRS) on Oahu.

As we commemorate today the 79th Anniversary of Victory in Europe Day (VE Day) with French President Emmanuel MACRON, who presided over the official ceremony this morning on Place Charles de Gaulle, and under the Arc de Triomphe, before rekindling the Eternal Flame.

And yet another “Flame Day” with today’s triumphal arrival from Greece of the very symbolic Olympic Flame, in the port of Marseille, France, aboard the three-masted antique cargo ship Belem (circa 1896), two months before France hosts the 2024 Summer Olympics Games Paris (July 26 – August 11, 2024).

I am deeply honored to share with you an exceptional “Merci Train” document, an incredible picture (see above) never seen in 75 years, never published before while also giving you some details about the story around it, a story I’m quite sure you never heard about, which I was able to gather thanks to my extensive 8-year, highly-documented research yet to be published along with the making of a documentary (work in progress) about the “Friendship Train” and the “Merci Train.”

As you can see, this unique “Merci Train” picture featuring heroic Gen. Paul DASSAULT, a highly decorated engineer and military officer who graduated from the prestigious École Polytechnique (1901), a famous WWII Resistant (1941- 1944) under the name “Rapp” then more appropriately “Chardasso,” and the First Free French Military Governor of Paris (1944) named Grand Chancellor of the French Legion of Honor by the Gen. Charles de Gaulle.

How did I find a copy of this photographic treasure you might ask? Well, the truth is that after discovering every single detail about this very special “Torch of Gratitude” ceremony years ago, after searching tiressly all these years in so many different Archives Depts and newspapers worldwide without any luck, my instinct telling me to keep looking as I was persuaded somebody must have recorded this historic event at the time…

At the last resort, I finally contacted Mr. Laurent DASSAULT, Managing Director of Dassault Group and Director of Artcurial Paris, France, to let him know about our work and enormous research re: our French-American project #MDFDEFriendshipMerciTrain75, including research on Gen. Paul DASSAULT, his great uncle, and what do you know? Ten short days later, I received this rare picture (above) I’m so proud to be sharing with you today.

Needless to say, again and again, THANK YOU so much Mr. Laurent DASSAULT and your wonderful assistant for your precious collaboration in helping me in our noble search! As you know, you surely moved this researcher to happy tears!

The “Merci Train Flambeau de la Reconnaissance” aka the “Torch of Gratitude”

So what actually happened, 75 years ago, when Gen. Paul DASSAULT himself, and the American Legion in Paris joined forces to make sure the “Merci Train Flambeau de la Reconnaissance” would get the most appropriate send-off before safely reaching the American Legion in New York, then in Washington D.C., and on to its final destination at Arlington National Cemetery, Virginia. 















Gen. Paul Dassault (January 13, 1882 – May 3, 1969)




Well, here is the actual story about the “Torch of Gratitude” offered to the American Legion via the “Merci Train” by the French Veterans of WWI and WWII: 

On Sunday, January 23, 1949, Gen. Paul DASSAULT, Grand Chancellor of the Legion of Honor, and the French veterans of both WWI and WWII, wishing to actively participate in the “Merci Train” national campaign in order to express their eternal gratitude to their oldest Allies, the American Legion, the U.S. Military Forces and U.S. veterans of boths World Wars, warmed anew the French-American Friendship by the symbolic gift of a Flame kindled from the Eternal Light guarding the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at the Arc de Triomphe in Paris. France.

The ceremony was attended by the Commander of the Paris Section of the American Legion, Mr. Denby WILKES, as well as many other French and American dignitaries.   

Made of bronze, the “Torch of Gratitude” was flanked by two re-kindling lanterns. It beared an inscription in French which said: “A gesture of friendship from the Committee of the Sacred Relay to American ex-servicemen.” 

At the end of the moving ceremony, the precious French Torch that would soon shine on American soil in the Arlington National Cemetery, carried by French veterans accompanied by a military band marching down the Avenue des Champs-Elysées, first stopped at the American Legion Pershing Hall (today the Pershing Hall Hotel), then the headquarters of the American Legion at 49 rue Pierre-Charron in Paris 8th arr. district.









The Tomb of Marshall Ferdinand Foch at the Musée des Invalides, Paris France. © Paris, Musée de l’Armée, dist. Rmn GP/Anne-Sylvaine Marre-Noël.

The “Torch of Gratitude” was then transported to the Invalides where it kept a one-night vigil at the Tomb of Marshal Ferdinand FOCH, designed by French sculptor Paul Landowski (but that could be another future MDFDE story), guarded by mutilated French veterans from both World Wars.   

On Monday, January 24, 1949, the “Torch of Gratitude” was solemnly taken from the Invalides to the Gare Saint-Lazare in Paris, where it was handed over to its three official guardian angels, all working for the SNCF.

They were: André PICARD, general secretary and originator of the “Merci Train” with Commander Guy DE LA VASSELAIS; Louis CAST, Committee president; and Maurice ARTIGUENAVE, treasurer, all railroad veterans of World War I, members of the French Resistance in World War II and officials of the French Gratitude Train National Committee, en route for New York via Le Havre on board the legendary French Liner De Grasse where the “Torch of Gratitude” was placed and watched over night and day during the entire crossing.

So why did the “Torch of Gratitude” travel on the De Grasse and not on board the Magellan

As you might recall from reading some of our past MDFDE/Friends of the Merci Train France-USA posts, back in 1949, the 49 “40 and 8” SNCF boxcars making the “Train de la Reconnaissance Française au Peuple Américain” aka the “French Gratitude Train,” and better known today as the “Merci Train,” which departed from Le Havre and arrived in New York City, N. Y. on board the French freighter Magellan on February 2, 1949, contained over 52,000 gifts ranging from Sevres vases, tapestries, books, statues, paintings, French Dolls, toys etc...

And so, the best answer I could give is safety first, of course; but also, without a doubt, the fact of having such a “star passenger” as the “Merci Train Flambeau de la Reconnaissance,” the “Eternal Light” from the Arc de Triomphe leaving for the VERY FIRST TIME the French soil on its maiden voyage to New York on the legendary liner De Grasse was bringing so much “panache” to the French Lines, its owner, but also much excitement to its passengers.

February 3, 1949: Arrival in New York of the “Flambeau de la Reconnaissance” on board the French cruise ship De Grasse carried by part of the official French “Merci Train” delegation: (L to R): André PICARD, general secretary; Louis CAST, committee president; and Maurice ARTIGUENAVE, treasurer. The New York Times.

A Moving Welcome of the “Eternal Flame” in New York City

As MM. André PICARD, Louis CAST and Maurice ARTIGUENAVE, standing on the deck of the De Grasse, proudly held the “Torch of Gratitude,” the People of New York City, along with French and American veterans of two wars, stood with bowed heads as the said torch was first passed to the American Legion in a solemn ceremony aboard the ship.

Luckily for the French delegation on the De Grasse, which docked at pier 88, foot of W. 48th St., a day after the French freighter Magellan docked with the “Merci Train,” they had arrived early enough that morning to make it in time for the Broadway parade. After that phenomenal success, the New York State “Merci Train” boxcar would be displayed in the New York State Gratitude Train Exhibit at 500 Park Ave. before being finally taken to Arlington.

New York City’s Ticker Tape Parade in Honor of the “Merci Train”

New York City, February 3, 1949: Photo: The New York “Merci Train” Boxcar parading on Broadway under the watchful guard of members of the American Legion. Elisabeth Jenssen.

Carried by M. Pierre TRIOU, president of the Federation of French War Veterans in the United States, and based in New York, the symbolic torch flamed brightly in the New York Parade of Honor for the French Gratitude Train. Within three days, it would pass in the hands of the national American Legion commander, Perry BROWN, over the grave of America’s own Unknown Soldier in Arlington Cemetery. 


Sunday, February 6, 1949: Commander Perry Brown of the American Legion from Beaumont, Texas, placing the French “Flambeau of the Eternal Flame” at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery, Virginia. George Tames, New York Times Pictures.

At last, on February 6, 1949, at 11:00 AM, the “Torch of Gratitude,” lit from the French “Eternal Light” by Gen. Paul DASSAULT, and delivered by Pierre TRIOU to Commander Perry BROWN of the American Legion at Arlington National Cemetery, was symbolically merged with the “Eternal Light” on the Tomb of America’s Unknown Soldier. 

Escorted by French war veterans and American Legion members, the dignitaries attending the said ceremony were: French Ambassador Henri Bonnet, Michel Junot, Head of the French Gratitude delegation as Chief of cabinet for French Prime Minister Henri Queuille, Rodolphe E. Rusenacht,  President of the War Veterans of Le Havre, Colonel Jacques De La Boisse Military attaché, Owen C. Holleran, American Legion executive committeeman for the District of Columbia and Col. Louis H. Renfrow, Assistant military aide to President Truman.  

At Arlington, the torch was presented by Pierre TRIOU, president of the Federation of French War Veterans, to Commander Perry BROWN of the American Legion. It would be carried along as the “Merci Train” toured the various state capitals.  

Hope you all enjoyed reading about the real story of the “Merci Train Torch of Gratitude.”

All the best,

Elisabeth Jenssen

P.S. Jeff Stoffer, Editor of the American Legion Magazine, and I are still looking for that bronze “Torch of Gratitude” along with the only French flag left flying at Le Havre after its destruction in WWII, also brought to America by the French veterans and given as part of the “Merci Train” to the American Legion in 1949.

Related MDFDE posts:

MDFDE/FRANCE-USA: MARCH 15 – 17, 2024: HAPPY 105TH BIRTHDAY, AMERICAN LEGION! #MDFDEFriendshipMerciTrain75 #FriendsOfTheMerciTrainFRANCE-USA

The Merci Train – A Valuable Piece Of History And Gratitude

From the Historian – 40/8: 75th Anniversary of the Merci Train



MDFDE/France-USA: 49 Days of Gratitude: ‘MERCI’ NORTH CAROLINA! #MDFDEFriendshipMerciTrain70



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