On my tours at the Roosevelt Birthplace I always told the story of Marshal Ferdinand Foch’s 1921 visit to the site, which was then still under reconstruction. The Great War had been over for three years and Foch was on East 20th Street paying his respects to Theodore and Quentin Roosevelt. Many of you will know that young Airman Quentin died in France on Bastille Day 1918. The wider story is that Foch was in the United States on a goodwill tour modeled in part on Marquis de Lafayette’s goodwill tour of 1824-25. Lafayette arrived in New York and landed at Castle Garden to great fanfare before venturing out across the still-young nation whose independence he had helped win.
This all came back to me yesterday when, after the day at Governors Island, I ventured up to the South Street Seaport to see the Hermione. For those not aware, this is a reconstruction of the frigate that took Lafayette here. The ship sailed into New York earlier this week to mark the 4th of July. Interest was high and there were many people out enjoying the scene.
One of the most symbolic acts of the Great War took place on a Fourth of July. In 1917 members of the 16th Infantry Regiment led a contingent that included General Pershing on a five mile march ending at Lafayette’s tomb at Picpus Cemetery. The arrival of the Americans in summer 1917, though largely symbolic at this point in the war, could not have come a better time for the flagging morale of the French people. It was at Lafayette’s grave that Colonel Charles E. Stanton said the famous line: “Nous sommes ici, Lafayette.”