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Bringing War Home: How a handmade French flag kept an American solider going

A small handmade French flag with three vertical stripes: blue, white, and red.

A gift given by a young girl during the liberation of France gave this soldier the strength to keep going, and ultimately formed a connection spanning generations.

Original air date: November 11, 2022
KATIE WHITE: This is Bringing War Home, a collaborative project led by Drs. Susan Grayzel and Molly Cannon at USU’s College of Humanities and Social Sciences — connecting listeners with the history of war through sharing wartime objects and the personal stories that surround them.

Here’s Molly presenting an interview with World War Two veteran James Jones and his son, Erik.

MOLLY CANNON: How do you express gratitude? Words often fall short; a quick thank you might soon be forgotten. However, through the act of giving a gift, an object, we recognize, cross-culturally, a bond, a connection that can link your experience and mine.

During wartime, when encounters between combatants and civilians are often fraught, such gifts can bridge enormous divides. Through giving an American GI a handmade French flag, a young girl creates a connection, one that ultimately spans generations and both expresses gratitude and recognizes a shared experience of loss. It is by carrying this memento throughout the war that a soldier can remind himself of what is at stake.

Transformed into a family object, maintained and cherished long after the war’s end, the flag continues to serve as a reminder of the connection between two people, two families and two communities, helping us to understand better the legacy of war.

JAMES JONES: In France, this little girl came up to me and said, "Please tie this on your rifle." Which I did. I carried it through the war and it still made it. She knew what was going on. And she wanted it to be shown. That's why she wanted to hang it on my rifle.

I'm proud of this. That's how I kept my senses. I didn't — It didn't throw me. You know? I was okay.

ERIC JONES: As his son, this flag has been part of family lore and we've always known the story of the girl that made the flag, Susanne Banaue. So for me, this is a story of hope and gratitude. And that was really the only story from the war that was told. The other aspects of the war were contained and not shared. So this is what we knew of the war — and a more hopeful side of the war.

We tried to find her. We went back to France in 2014 and she had passed away, but the town of Rebais, the mayor gathered all of the residents of the town who were alive during World War Two — during this period of liberation.

They all came out and we had a celebration and sharing of the stories of that time. Having lived in the United States, you get kind of used to not having war in your first dimension. To me, it was a very learning experience and very revealing how traumatic that it can be.

JAMES JONES: They lost a lot of people. We lost a lot of people.

ERIC JONES: They understood the history very well. It was not just an abstract lesson. It was something that was more tangible, and their parents and grandparents had vivid memories of not just the fighting but all of the other difficulties of war — of finding food, of just surviving. Understanding how consequential war is, it does influence how they live their lives, how they think their thoughts.

They were very, very gracious to Dad.

JAMES JONES: They were very nice to us. They still appreciate it.

Support for Bringing War Home comes from Utah State University, the National Endowment for the Humanities Dialogues on the Experience of War and Utah Humanities.

Katie White has been fascinated by a multitude of subjects all her life. At 13-years-old Katie realized she couldn't grow up to be everything — a doctor-architect-anthropologist-dancer-teacher-etc. — but she could tell stories about everything. Passionate about ethical and informed reporting, Katie is studying both journalism and sociology at Utah State University.