Sixty-eight miles north of Paris lies a town whose 5,500 residents continue to celebrate the heroism of Meadville’s soldiers even though almost a century has passed since the events of World War I first joined Meadville with what is now its sister city.
In September 1918, 230 soldiers from Meadville’s 112th Infantry liberated Fismes (pronounced Feem — as in “seem”) from 1,000 German soldiers. Today, the Rue de Meadville leads to the main monumental bridge in Fismes, which is a tribute to the State of Pennsylvania.
Monday, on behalf of Fismes Mayor Jean-Pierre Pinon, Denis Queva, the city’s director of general services, thanked members of the Meadville community for almost a hundred years of friendship and support during a luncheon in his honor on the campus of Allegheny College. Vacationing in North America, Queva said he could not come to the United States without visiting Meadville.
“Pennsylvania funds helped rebuild the town once the war was over,” Queva explained, noting that the main monumental bridges in Fismes is a tribute to the commonwealth. The Rue de Meadville leads to the bridge.
World War I wasn’t Meadville’s only opportunity to aid Fismes. After World War II, Meadville helped Fismes rebuild yet again, sending three boxcars containing food and supplies to what Queva describes as “the devastated town.”
“Fismes and its population never forgot the contribution of Pennsylvania and of Meadville for its liberation and reconstruction, and my presence here among you is the true proof of that,” he said.
In Meadville, the walkway in Diamond Park is known as the Promenade des Fismes and documents and artifacts celebrating the relationship are on permanent display in the city building.
Only 15 kilometers (about 9.3 miles) from the German front, Fismes was both the closest town to the front and home to the closest train station. Thanks to its proximity to the heat of battle, Fismes had taken a terrible beating. “In 1918, there was not one building in Fismes with all four walls standing,” explained former Mayor Richard Friedberg, one of two Meadville mayors to visit Fismes during recent decades. Former mayor Anthony Petruso, who also attended Monday’s luncheon, has also visited the French city.
Noting that 2014 will mark the 100th anniversary of the beginning of World War I and that his city’s relationship with Meadville will be part of Fismes’ reflection on the long-ago event, Queva presented Mayor Christopher Soff the seal of Fismes. “It is a very old seal, given to the city by the Count Thibaud de Champagne in the year 1226,” Queva said of the replica presented to Soff. “The seal indicates that the City of Fismes is a free one, allowed to rule itself by itself.”
For Queva, however, history is only part of the connection between Meadville and Fismes. The future is also playing an important role.
After a number of contacts in recent years involving the efforts of Allegheny College Professor Phillip Wolfe, an Allegheny College student, Wenonah Echelard, spent a month in Fismes last year and another student, Anastasia Wooten, visited this year.
“We hope that we will be able next year to send a Fismes student here,” Queva said. “These contacts through younger people are very important so that they can witness by themselves how important and how meaningful is the sacrifice of the young soldiers who came to France almost a century ago,” he said.
Soff echoed Queva’s hope that the relationship will continue to flourish. Monday’s gathering, Soff said, “illustrates that not only have people from Meadville been instrumental in building the physical bridge, but today, so many people have built bridges between the cities and residents of those cities. It’s heartwarming to me that the relationship continues — and it’s up to us to make sure it continues into the future.”
Mary Spicer can be reached at 724-6370 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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