- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 19, 2006

YORKTOWN, Va. — French and American notables gathered yesterday, renewing historical ties with the start of a four-day celebration of the 225th anniversary of the last battle of the American Revolutionary War.

The festivities are part of an 18-month series of events commemorating the 400th anniversary of the founding of America’s first permanent English settlement in Jamestown in 1607.

Nearly two centuries later, U.S. and French troops under Gen. George Washington and Gen. Jean-Baptiste Rochambeau defeated British forces at Yorktown — about 15 miles from Jamestown. British Gen. Charles Cornwallis surrendered on Oct. 19, 1781.

French Defense Minister Michele Alliot-Marie spoke yesterday of the “pact of friendship sealed in Yorktown” that continues to bind the United States and France.

But she stressed that “to be friends means to respect one another’s independence.”

Friendship does not mean to be arrogant, she told several thousand people during a ceremony at the Yorktown Victory Monument that included the swearing-in of 33 new U.S. citizens and the placing of a large memorial wreath.

Rather, friendship “first means to respect each other … to talk to one another quite candidly” and to listen to one another with “no attempt to dominate.”

Friendship also means having an “independent vision without excessive reverence, without blind submission,” she said. “We have our own identities, our desires, our national interests to defend. They are sometimes conflicting.”

She also said France will never be a “mediocre friend” to the United States. Relations between the two countries were strained in 2003 when France opposed the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.

“Being independent … will never consist of neglecting our friends or striking a blow at an alliance,” Miss Alliot-Marie said.

The threat of terrorism and the rise of intolerance “make this alliance more than ever necessary,” she said. “Fighting any kind of political, economic or cultural domination is our common historical heritage.”

Miss Alliot-Marie also said that Yorktown is “an unfailing link” between France and the United States.

“Here in America, before us, you made real three ideas that have marked and are still marking the world: independence for the nation, constitution for the state, liberty for the people,” she said.

After the French helped America fight for liberty in the 18th century, Americans helped the French defend liberty on French soil during two world wars in the 20th century, “and we will never forget that,” she said.

U.S. Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne said the Battle of Yorktown was a defining moment of the great American journey that began at Jamestown.

“At the heart of this journey is a hope cherished and honored by both the people of France and the United States, the yearning of all people for liberty,” he said.

He cited French soldiers who died in America and American soldiers who died in France defending liberty, saying, “Today’s celebration is the celebration of these brave men and all their brothers and sisters in arms who likewise have paid the price for our freedom.”

U.S. Sens. John W. Warner and George Allen, Virginia Republicans, also were among the speakers, as well as former Army Secretary John O. Marsh Jr., who offered greetings from Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld.

Events got under way in the fog with a parade featuring representatives of all branches of the U.S. military, the Virginia Military Institute Corps of Cadets, the French Navy, high school bands and various patriotic organizations.

Other activities planned over the four days include the premiere of a symphonic tribute to the military, fireworks and a re-enactment of the final Revolutionary War battle by more than 2,500 participants from around the world.

Leonid Godunov, 22, who was born in Moscow, was among the new Americans who took the oath of citizenship.

“Today, with the senators being here and the international delegation also, it was a great experience that I’ll remember for a while,” said Mr. Godunov, a College of William & Mary student and a senior airman in the U.S. Air Force Reserve who recently spent 21/2 months in Afghanistan.

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