Madame Simone Renaud – also known as the Mother of Normandy – was 45 years old when the United States invaded Normandy during World War II. She and her three children watched in horror as German soldiers opened fire onto the 101st and 82nd Airborne Division soldiers. Madame Renaud, the wife of the mayor of Ste. Mere-Eglise, vowed to always remember the sacrifices made by these brave young American men whose young lives were cut short at the hands of the Germans.
In the weeks following the invasion, this young mother took it upon herself and began taking care of the grave sights of the more than 15,000 US troops who died and were buried in temporary cemeteries in and around the area. When Life Magazine published a photo of Madame Renaud decorating the gravesite of General Theodore Roosevelt, Jr., she began receiving numerous pieces of mail from US families asking if she would take care of their son’s resting place as well. Some asked if she would photograph their loved ones resting place and send it to them.
Even Madame Renaud could not have envisioned the 44 year journey she was embarking upon – a journey that would last until her death in 1988. During those years, she wrote countless letters, took hundreds and hundreds of photos, organized ceremonies, corresponded with many of the families who lost loved ones in Normandy and even sent soil samples to them from the gravesites. This was no small undertaking; with the sacrifice of so many American soldiers from the 101st and 82nd airborne divisions on June 6, 1944, Madam Renaud would often work 8 to 10 hour days in order keep current with her mission – a mission of compassion which would bond two countries once separated by political differences and cultural misunderstandings.
Madame Simone Renaud would not only provide peace and closure to the families whose loved ones could not return home, she would became a touchstone. These young American soldiers gave the ultimate sacrifice in order to protect freedom and democracy – the mark they left was indelible, as was the touch of Madam Simone Renaud – the Mother of Normandy.