Pat Mire's newest film takes an in-depth look at the contribution of French Louisianians during WWII.
By RICHARD BURGESS
LAFAYETTE — A new documentary explores the little-known role of French-speaking Cajuns during World War II, when men whose language was ridiculed at home proved a valuable asset behind enemy lines in occupied France.
"Mon Cher Camarade," by Lafayette film maker Pat Mire, premieres tonight at the LITE Center on Cajundome Boulevard.
The hour-long film examines Cajuns who enlisted in the war effort and found themselves serving as translators for French-speaking populations overseas and as operatives working with the French Resistance.
The resistance worked behind German lines in occupied France to sabotage the invading army and help the Allies after the June 1944 D-Day landing in Normandy.
Cajun soldiers served as liaisons to the resistance, blending in with the French population and coordinating the flow of intelligence and supplies between the resistance and the Allies.
“They were spies. That’s what they were,” Mire said.
Cajun soldiers were even trained to alter their speech, clothing and manners to mimic the locals.
Retired Brig. Gen. Robert LeBlanc of Abbeville, who worked behind enemy lines, spoke in the film of how soldiers who smoked cigarettes would be sure to burn them down to the very end to avoid suspicion, because no Frenchman in occupied territory would waste even the smallest amount of tobacco.
The film also looks at the value of ordinary Cajun soldiers who, because of their language skills, served as critical interpreters for French-speaking populations and officials not only in France but in French North Africa and Belgium.
One such solider was Mire’s father, Felix Mire of Pointe Noir, who was interviewed before passing away two years ago.
The father-son connection helped spur the documentary project.
Mire said he met World War II historian Stephen Ambrose in New Orleans in the late 1990s, and while Ambrose was signing a book for Mire’s father, the historian advised the son “to tell the story about those French-speaking Cajuns.”
The project began in earnest about six years ago and suffered a big setback in 2005 when Hurricane Katrina flooded the cinematographer’s New Orleans’ home and destroyed much valuable footage.
The documentary features extensive interviews of veterans and local academics interwoven with archival war footage and scenes from the 1960s World War II television series “Combat!”
The popular series, which Mire said he watched as a child, had a French-speaking Cajun soldier as a main character.
Mire said he thought often during the project of Cajun soldiers serving during World War II in an area of France that their ancestors left in the 1600s.
The connection explains in part why the Cajun soldiers fell in so easily with the French population along the west coast.
“We were invading Normandy, but we were going back to the homeland from where we came,” Mire said.
A public screening of “Mon Cher Comrade” begins at 8 p.m. at the LITE Center on Cajundome Boulevard.
The documentary is scheduled to air on Louisiana Public Broadcasting on Dec. 9 at 8 p.m.