A trip to France with three Mandarin connections

By Sandy Arpen
mail@floridanewsline.com

In May, my husband Tracey Arpen and I were fortunate to make a three week journey to France. We included three stops that were strongly connected to Mandarin’s history.

Oisne-Aisne American Cemetery and Memorial (Pvt. Marion Joseph Losco)

Many readers have heard the story of Mandarin/Loretto’s Marion Losco by now. We have been honoring him with a special exhibit at the museum for the last two years and volunteer Paul Ghiotto wrote a book about him based on his letters home during World War I. 

Marion Losco lies in this cemetery in the very front row near the front gate. We were given a tour by Superintendent Bert Caloud, a wonderfully informative guy and so interested in any information he could gain about any of the 6,012 known men and 597 unknowns that are buried here. These soldiers were involved in the Aisne-Marne and Oisne-Aisne offensives which took place March – September 1918. Approximately 310,000 American soldiers and Marines fought in these operations which helped end the war on Nov. 11, 1918. Marion Losco was killed 101 years ago on July 31.

Le Puy-en-Velay (Home of the Sisters of St. Joseph)

The second Mandarin-related stop was in Le Puy, the town where the Sisters of St. Joseph were founded in 1650. Their historic 1898 St. Joseph’s Mission Schoolhouse for African-American Children was moved to Walter Jones Park and now serves as an interpretive exhibit related to the Sisters and Mandarin’s African-American history. What a stunning, ancient, historic city Le Puy is! With narrow cobblestone streets and buildings dating back centuries, one could actually imagine being there in 1866 when eight Sisters answered the call to come to the frontier of Florida and teach.

We attended a service at the Cathedral, which included a blessing of the 50 or so hikers who were beginning their pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela in Spain and we hiked to the top of the volcanic needle to visit the chapel of Saint – Michel d’Aiguilhe. We learned about the ancient craft of bobbin lace-making, which the Florida Sisters did to make money for their schools, and we also had a personal guided tour of the original Sisters of St. Joseph’s dwelling place and kitchen as well as the Centre Internationale St. Joseph.

Rhone American Cemetery and Memorial (Lt. William W. Webb)

The third of our Mandarin stops was at the cemetery where Lt. William W. Webb is buried. Lt. Webb is the grandson and namesake of Major William W. Webb, who built the farmhouse and the barn that are in Walter Jones Historical Park. Lt. Webb was killed in World War II during what many call the Second D-Day — Operation Dragoon — the southern invasion of France by the Allied Forces. Lt. Webb was killed during the landing in Ste. Maxime on the first day. This year will mark the 75th year anniversary. The Mandarin Cemetery also has a memorial stone for Lt. Webb near his grandparents.

The cemetery is in Draguignan, in southern France, which was liberated by the Allies after several years of Italian and German occupation. It holds the remains of 861 American service men and women. It also has a beautiful chapel and a listing of the missing. The cemetery is spotted with beautiful native olive trees.

We do not have a photograph of Lt. Webb; however, we do have his medals on display in the museum, including a Silver Star which American Cemetery Superintendent Andy Anderson believes was earned while on duty in Italy or Africa. If any one reads this and is related to Lt. Webb, or knows someone who is, please let us know at mandarinmuseum@bellsouth.net. We would love to have a photo of him and learn more about his life.

To learn more, visit the Mandarin Museum, 11964 Mandarin Road, on Saturdays from 9 a.m. – 4 p.m. Visit www.mandarinmuseum.net for more information.

Sandy Arpen is president of the Mandarin Museum & Historical Society.

 

Photos courtesy Sandy Arpen

Gravesite of Pvt. Marion Joseph Losco