NORWICH, Conn. (WTNH) – On this Bastille Day, 20 unnamed French sailors were remembered in Norwich.
“On behalf of the city of Norwich we gratefully acknowledge their sacrifice,” said Norwich Mayor Peter Nystrom, who spoke to a group gathered at the Old Norwichtown Burying Ground.
The sailors had been prisoners of the British in New York and were brought to Norwich in 1778 to be exchanged for British prisoners held by the French fleet.
“A lot of them succumbed to a lot of different diseases,” said Brian Hague, President of the Norwich Area Veterans Council.
They died on the Norwichtown Green and were buried in the nearby Old Norwichtown Burying Ground.
The French were our allies in the Revolutionary War and the sailors gave the ultimate sacrifice for this country.
“The 20 that lost their lives here in Norwich need to be remembered, must be remembered,” said Veteran Sherri Vogt.
The monument which was surrounded Wednesday by 20 French flags and 20 American flags was erected by the Daughters of the American Revolution in 1901 and then a couple of years later the French government installed another monument behind it.
But for most of the last century, the memorials went unrecognized.
“These are our allies. Why aren’t we doing anything? So I took it upon myself,” said Hague. He now leads this ceremony each year.
“They’re far from home and you think ‘what were their final moments? What were they thinking?’” pondered Hague.
“I don’t know of any other French mass grave,” said historian Damien Cregeau.
This may be unique to Norwich, as may be Samuel Huntington also buried in the historic cemetery. Cregeau will host a ceremony marking Huntington’s 290th birthday at his tomb on Saturday.
“We have what we think is arguably the first president in the U.S. Congress under the Articles of Confederation in Samuel Huntington, a signer of the Declaration of Independence,” said Cregeau.
History remembered and honored.
“These are veterans just like me,” said Hague.