painting for peace
Ste Mere Eglise
Madame Renaud
Past   Present Future

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Shortly after the Second World War, inspired by the vision of Lieutenant Colonel Augustin S. Hart, Jr., a distinguished member of the proud 82nd Airborne, and Mrs. Martha Breasted, both from Locust Valley, Operation Democracy—an idea ahead of its time, was formed. Though the United States government had designed The Marshall Plan (1947-1952) or, the European Recovery Program in order to revive the European economy and provide a safe political and social atmosphere in which free institutions could survive—it was an enormous undertaking. Government money had to be distributed, bureaucracy was slow, and in the meantime, villages were ravaged; families had been separated; children were homeless. Thus, Operation Democracy made sense. It would supplement the Marshall Plan in its efforts to restore order to the European communities by adopting a sister town in France. Colonel Hart suggested the first town to be liberated by the 82nd Airborne- Saint-Mere-Eglise. This village on the Normandy shore was the burial place of thousands of American soldiers, including Oyster Bay’s Brigadier General, Theodore Roosevelt, Jr. 
Operation Democracy was an exciting enterprise, containing all the best elements of human impulse; it was a spontaneous gesture in response to humanitarian need.  It was a hands on project, a citizen’s grass roots effort from a non-governmental, non-political perspective; immediately, generous and genuine. The citizens of Locust Valley packed and sent clothes, books, toys, medical supplies, and candy –a myriad of affection in the form of letters. A life-long connection had been forged, not by confrontation, but by reaching out to help, and receiving the treasure of gratitude in return. The citizens of Sainte-Mere-Eglise, particularly- Mme. Simone Renaud, wife of the Mayor, repaid the postwar generosity of Locust Valley, as they tended the graves of the young American Soldiers (www.motherofnormandy.com). Mme. Renaud wrote letters to American family’s members, hosting them, visiting them, comforting them in their loss, passing this legacy to her sons for the rest of her life.  For forty years this bond continued, seeded by the simple idea of joining and offering kindly aid from a small town on Long Island to Mme. Renaud’s appreciation for her heroes, the soldiers who graves she tended.
This charming piece of history, the beginnings of Operation Democracy, has a profound meaning for the present citizens of Locust Valley, and of other towns as well.   It reflects character, civic pride—and has deep relevance for current events.  In 1956, inspired by the relationship between Locust Valley and Sainte Mere Eglise, President Eisenhower initiated a federal program called “Sister Cities International” which lives on today in over 700 “twinned” cities all over the world. At the heart of this movement was the belief that the government alone cannot achieve peace—it is set in motion in the hearts of people themselves. We believe it, truly. The time has come to re-activate Operation Democracy, and write their chapter of history.