THE GIRL WHO WORE FREEDOM
“We may have heard of D-Day, but we have not heard the stories of the men, women, and children liberated from enemy forces that day. For the citizens of Normandy, D-Day is more than a date in a history book or archival footage on a movie screen.
“D-Day means liberation.
“D-Day is freedom.”
So go the opening lines in the trailer for The Girl Who Wore Freedom, the new documentary directed by Christian Taylor, mother of Jake Taylor ’20. The film tells the story of D-Day from the perspective of those who were freed, their children, and grandchildren. It begins with the story of Daniéle Patrix Boucherie, who was a little girl when soldiers from the U.S. Army’s 4th Infantry and 101st Airborne Division liberated her town of Sainte-Marie-du-Mont from Nazi control on June 6, 1944. She showed up at a ceremony a year later wearing a red, white, and blue dress her mother had made from the parachutes of the American soldiers who freed her.
The film focuses on the extraordinary gratitude felt toward Americans in Normandy to this day, celebrated by thousands during four days of events Taylor witnessed for the first time in 2015 when her son, Hunter, a sergeant in the 101st, participated in re-enactments there.
WM asked the director to tell us about that first visit to Normandy, and the moment she knew she had to make a film.
WM: You went to Normandy in 2015 to see your son participate in D-Day commemorations there. Did you travel there with the army?
Christian: Oh no! Hunter called me in April of that year and said, “Mom, the Army is sending me to France.” And I’m like, “We’re going to France!” He says, “Mom, you cannot go.” I said, “Hunter, there is no way you’re going over to France to do something for D-Day and I am not going.”
So, you traveled by yourself?
I’ve only been overseas one other time, right out of college. I speak Spanish, but not French. I knew nothing about anything that was going on in Normandy. Jacob [Taylor ’20) was graduating from high school. I knew I had to take him to help me.
What did you find when you got there?
We rented a car in Cannes and were following an old U.S. Army Jeep when it broke down, so Jacob got out to ask the soldiers for directions. When he came back he said they didn’t speak English—they were French.
We drove on to Carentan and into the middle of what seemed like a Fourth of July parade. American flags waving. Hundreds of people—mostly French and many dressed as civilians or GIs from the 1940s— crowded around our soldiers and the WWII veterans. I felt like I was in a time machine.
The French people asked our soldiers to hold their babies and have their pictures taken with them. They stood in line for hours just to meet the World War II veterans, shake their hands, and tell them thank you. The women plastered them with red lipstick kisses that the veterans left on their faces all day long.
It wasn’t just for the soldiers. I didn’t pay for a meal the whole time I was there. I had a personalized tour of the Utah Beach Museum. All because I’m an American and my son was in the 101st.
At one ceremony they played “The Star Spangled Banner” first, then “The Marseillaise.” I wondered, Why are they playing our anthem first? Then it dawned on me. If there were no American forces here, there may not have been a French national anthem.
It was a level of gratitude that, unless you see it with your own eyes, you cannot comprehend. My father was in Reagan’s administration, and I have been a part of some spectacular Veterans Day events. I have never seen anything that would compare to what I saw in Normandy.
How did you meet Daniéle Patrix, the “girl who wore freedom”?
We had found Hunter and were talking when this beautiful French woman, Flo Boucherie, walked up to him and said, “Excuse me. May I take a picture?” Of course, I’m like, “Well, of course you can. Let me take it. Hop on in there. I’m his mom.”
I took a picture, then Flo said, “This jacket that I have on was given to my mother in 1944 by an American GI.” I asked if her mother was still alive. She said, “Well, yes. Here she is,” and she introduced me to her mother and her father—Daniéle and Jean-Marie Boucherie. We learned that Dany had a special dress in the Utah Beach Museum—the dress her mother made for her. As I began talking to Flo, Dany, and Jean-Marie, I handed my phone to Jacob, who recorded this little interaction. We have that video on our Facebook page as the birth of the film.
Does it seem odd to you that it was our sons, our people, who fought and died in that space, yet those people, in some ways, remember it better, honor it better, than we do?
We have never been occupied, so we have no true understanding of what it’s like to be under an oppressive regime. We have no idea what it’s like to live on another country’s time, and have our guns taken away, or not be able to gather in groups.
Because of our lack of understanding of the occupation, we can’t really understand the preciousness of freedom. I think the French do understand how precious it is. They lived without it. And that knowledge has been passed down from generation to generation. There are still people alive that remember living on German time and having Germans live in their houses.
We can learn that from them?
Exactly. Our GIs came back and didn’t want to talk about anything. They didn’t want to remember it. Here in America, until recently, we haven’t known their stories. It was impossible to really understand the depth of what they were carrying, what they experienced, or have any way to celebrate what they had done.
When did you realize you had to make a film about this?
The very first time I began to talk to Jean-Marie, I thought, I’m talking to an eyewitness to history—we have to record this. Jake saw that too.
How much experience did you have making films?
I’ve been in this industry for 35 years and I’ve worked as a producer, as an actress, as a news person. I have never, ever made a film. The audacity to think I could do this—what was I thinking? But I was aware of my own limitations. I knew that I personally couldn’t tell this kind of story the way that I should. But I knew enough people in this industry who could help me, and I could figure this out.
That’s the way I’ve always done things. I just jump in, not caring what I don’t know, and thinking, I can do this. That’s how it all happened.
What do you hope those watching the film take away from it?
I believe the French in Normandy are a window through which we can understand the preciousness of freedom.
Not only that—as a country we do not understand what a lasting effect our actions have on an international level. Here we came to rescue and restore an oppressed people. Yes, we did that, but what happened because of that action has trickled down to today—the gratitude of the French for freedom and for the Americans who rescued them. We paid a heavy price, yes; yet look at how grateful these people are still. Look at how it changed history and saved their culture.
I look back, as do the veterans, and say, “We’re glad we did that.”
The Girl Who Wore Freedom will premiere at the Utah Beach Museum next summer, the 75th anniversary of D-Day.
Learn more about the film at: https://www.normandystories.com