Some background first:
Sans Peur et Sans Reproche. These words are etched into Val’s tombstone at Arlington National Cemetery. Like “Adapt and Overcome”, this represented one of her favorite guiding mottos that got her through tough times and kept her focused on achieving her dreams of becoming a Naval Aviator. The phrase comes from Pierre de Bayard (1475-1524), a renowned French military leader who became known as the fearless and faultless knight (le chevalier sans peur et sans reproche). Val heard this story from our father, a native of Calais, France, who moved to the U.S. after falling in love with our mother while she was studying abroad in college (a classic love story!) The three of us girls grew up speaking French and taking regular trips to visit our family in France, which I believe developed in us a sense of worldliness from a young age that expanded our horizons of possibilities and impacted our ambitions.
Val seized every opportunity she could to deepen her connection to the French language and culture and to our French side of the family. She minored in French while studying at the Naval Academy and took two opportunities to spend significant time there. The first occasion was a month-long tour at the French Naval Academy (École Navale) in Brest, France during the summer of 2006. She and her group of fellow midshipmen had a great experience on the small French warships, called corvettes, and while touring around in their free time. During her second-class (junior) year, Val spent a full semester in France at the École Spéciale Militaire de Saint-Cyr, the prestigious military academy that is comparable to our West Point. While West Point has had a long standing exchange program with Saint-Cyr, this was the first time that the Naval Academy sent two midshipmen for a semester abroad… and unfortunately, it was the last. In typical Val fashion, she broke barriers and challenged herself to take the most difficult path. And difficult it was. Saint-Cyr was a struggle for her not only academically because she ended up having to do independent study to complete required coursework for her aerospace engineering major, but also socially since she was one of so few women in an extremely male-dominated culture that was not accepting of women. She overcame these challenges with grace and did end up making the best of the situation, taking the opportunity to perfect her French speaking, to visit with family on the weekends, and to fall in love… with a horse named Diamond Rose.
Fast forward to 2017:
Just a few weeks ago, we randomly received a message on our W4V Facebook page from a man named Rudolph De Patureaux. Rudolph is a retied French Naval officer and writer now living in Canada with his wife and four daughters. He shared that he met Val while she was at Saint-Cyr in 2007, but didn’t find out until recently that she had passed away. She left such an impression on him that he wanted to do something to mobilize the French and Canadian aviation communities in her honor and in support of our foundation. We didn’t know quite what to expect at first, and we are still processing what has since taken place… My dad and Rudolph have been regularly exchanging messages through Facebook like they are old friends. In Rudolph’s words, “It is an honor to help you. You are a part of France in USA. And I have four daughters… I hope, they are future proud women.”
It started with advertising on Avialogs, an online aviation library organization based in Canada that is supporting Women of Aviation Worldwide Week and donating all the subscriptions fees registered, new or renewed, between March 4-11 to our Foundation.
Rudolph then shared a eloquently written reflection of his encounter with Val at Saint-Cyr in 2007, which you can read in full here in both French and in English.
Then came this video:
The video credits lists more than 60 people that contributed to this project in a very short period of time… Female soldiers, French army pilots, warbirds fans, aerian photographers, retired navy officers… all who were asked to take a picture of them with one of Val’s portraits. While we didn’t understand the significance of the vintage style filming at first, Rudolph explained that he used this style and many re-enactors dressed in vintage aviation uniforms because he “wanted to make a link between the past WASP of WWII to enlighten the destiny of Val.” This video amazingly connects several generations of armed forces across two continents with simple images from strangers. This is a living memorial, a historic chain of memory and love between France and the US, that celebrates our heroes of past and present in a way that can inspire the future generation of young women and leaders.
Rudolph shared that this is “For Val. For Women. For WASP. For Valor. For Victory. For Veterans. For France and USA.” We are blown away from the power and sincerity of this tribute, showcasing the “big big big hearts” of the military aviation community around the world. To yet again quote Rudolph, “When you fly without knowing if you will land, you will measure the value of life.”
Thank you to Rudolph for mobilizing your community in this way. We are honored and humbled, especially that you received the Wings for Val t-shirts we sent you and took these great photos to share!
Here is a selection of some of our favorite vintage-style reenactment photos from the collection, which is still growing (many featured in video)!