2009 58 mins. Color. English Subtitled and French Subtitled Versions
Cajun translators were as important to the American war effort as the much acclaimed Native American ‘Code Talkers;’ yet, the Cajun translators’ contributions have been entirely ignored.
Historian Carl A. Brasseaux, Ph.D., ULL
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During World War II, hundreds of French-speaking Cajun men from South Louisiana enlisted in the U.S. military. Their linguistic skills and French heritage had been denigrated for decades in South Louisiana and was ridiculed as well by American officers in the processing centers at Camp Shelby, Mississippi, and Fort Polk, Louisiana. Remarkably, these same men found that their ability to speak French became of vital importance to the American war effort in French North Africa and in France and Belgium. French-speaking Cajuns not only worked with the French resistance after D-Day, but they also provided the U.S. Army’s most effective means of communication with local authorities and the civilian population, which, in turn, provided critical support and intelligence to the American army. Indeed, Cajun translators were as important to the American war effort as the now much acclaimed Native American “Code Talkers,” yet, the Cajun translators’ contributions in this regard have been largely ignored until now.
This documentary film, through memoirs and interviews of French-speaking Cajuns who served in WWII either as members of the OSS or as citizen soldiers, tells the story of this important aspect of the American war effort in Europe. Additionally, cultural scholars provide insight into the stories of these veterans from both an historic and linguistic perspective. As a result, this documentary film allows the audience to take a new look at the American experience, from a South Louisiana perspective. The Cajun G.I.’s of World War II were American citizens, however, their cultural pedigree was tributary to something other than the typical American experience. The end result is a film that acknowledges the unique and important contributions of the French-speaking Cajun soldiers to the war effort and gives long overdue credit to them and their linguistic skills and French heritage.
I began the journey that led to the production of this film with a brief conversation several years back with historian Stephen Ambrose. Recognizing that an important aspect of the American war effort during WWII had not been told — that of the role of French-speaking Cajun soldiers — he urged me, whose father was one of those soldiers, to tell it. In the process of putting that story to film, my life took many difficult turns — losing valuable film footage and a dear actor friend to Hurricane Katrina and then losing my father, truly “mon cher camarade.” In the end, the film is a different and, I think, a better film than I had first envisioned after that early conversation with Stephen Ambrose. The story is told through a combination of powerful archival WWII film footage, moving interviews in both English and French with Cajun veterans who served in the OSS or as citizen soldiers, an original soundtrack by Sam Broussard, and 35mm film footage of the Southwest Louisiana winter landscape that symbolizes the last act of these veterans’ lives when their stories can and shoud be told. As my friend and scholar, Carl Brasseaux, assured me when I expressed concern that this film should have been made years ago, “No, Pat, they weren’t talking then.” I thank them for talking now, telling their stories and, ultimately, in so many ways, making this film possible.
For more information see the film’s page at Louisiana Public Broadcasting.
This film, which includes interviews in English and in French, is available in an English version with English subtitles and a French version with French subtitles. If you are interested in purchasing the French version with French subtitles, please e-mail Pat Mire at the Contact section of this web site.