CAMP MABRY, Texas - The Texas Merci boxcar, a gift from the people of France, was welcomed to the Texas Military Forces Museum at Camp Mabry in Austin, Texas, in a ceremony held on post, Feb. 23, 2014.
In 1949, this boxcar, filled with gifts by the people of France, was delivered to Camp Mabry - as a gesture of thanks to the American service members for the sacrifices made on French soil during World Wars I and II.
The boxcar was one of 49 given to the United States that same year – one for each state and the then Hawaiian territory. Grand Chef de Gare David Knutson, the Texas State commander for the Society of Forty Men and Eight Horses, explained that in 1947 the American people collected $40 million worth of relief supplies for the people of France and Italy who were struggling from the aftereffects of World War II. In response, the people of France created the “Gratitude Train,” or the Merci boxcars to thank the American people for these supplies, as well as the sacrifices made during both world wars.
“This is a special day to commemorate a special relationship,” said Sujiro Seam, Consul General of France in Houston. “French and American soldiers spilled blood together. That means much more than the dispute on how to name your fries.”
Although originally housed at Camp Mabry, the boxcar was moved and placed under the care of the Travis County American Legion during the early 1950s, when space was needed to support war efforts.
The Texas boxcar then was placed under the care of the Society of Forty Men and Eight Horses, a separately chartered veterans’ honor society established in 1920 by veterans of World War I. The society gets its name from the stencil painted on the side of the boxcar, “40 and 8,” indicating that the car could hold either 40 men or 8 horses. These boxcars were used heavily for military operations during both World Wars I and II.
“One of the great symbols of World War I and World War II is the boxcar,” said Jeff Hunt, Texas Military Forces museum director. “It is very fitting that the boxcar will have a permanent place with the Texas Military Forces where we can remember what Americans and French did together and continue to do together, in various places around the world.”
The ceremony boasted several unique speakers. The mayor of Austin, Lee Leffingwell, read a proclamation, making Feb. 23, 2014 Texas Merci Boxcar Day in Austin. Retired Navy Lt. Michael Thornton, and Medal of Honor recipient, attended as the keynote speaker.
“Freedom is built on blood, sweat, and tears,” said Thornton. “Today we commemorate this.”
Freedom and the relationship between the French and the American people was the dominant theme during the ceremony, as many recalled how the boxcar symbolized the struggle for freedom that both countries’ service members have fought for together throughout the years.
“France was the first ally of the United States,” said Seam indicating the role the French military played during the American Revolution. “But France was also the first country to recognize the Republic of Texas. I hope you Texans know that France was the first ally of Texas.”
The boxcar is on display at the Texas Military Forces museum, along with several of the gifts that arrived inside of the boxcar in 1949. For more information on how to view the boxcar visit the Texas Military Forces museum webpage at www.texasmilitaryforcesmuseum.org.