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USA : The Merci Train : Washington DC

Updated : April 23, 2015

"The Merci Train" - "The Gratitude Train" - "Train de la Reconnaissance Francaise"

Table of Contents :

Small stories :

David C. White - Farmer in Kansas Ruth Nathanson - High school senior from New York City


Individual states :
Bold = new content. (G) = can be seen on Google Streetview.

Arizona - Alabama - Arkansas (G) - California (G) - Colorado - Connecticut - Delaware (G) - Florida (G) - Georgia - Hawaii - Illinois - Indiana - Iowa (G) - Kansas - Kentucky - Louisiana (G) - Maine - Maryland - Massachusetts - Michigan - Minnesota - Mississippi - Missouri - Montana - Nebraska - Nevada - New Jersey - New Hampshire (G) - New Mexico - New York - North Carolina - North Dakota - Ohio - Oklahoma - Oregon (G) - Pennsylvania (G) - Rhode Island - South Carolina (G) - South Dakota (G) - Tennessee (G) - Texas - Utah (G) - Vermont - Virginia - Washington (G) - Washington DC - West Virginia (G) - Wisconsin - Wyoming (G).



On this page :
The boxcar - The official reception - The gifts - Sacred Torch at Arlington - Photos from reception - My photos

Main sources :

www.newspapers.com www.mercitrain.org

Most of the information below has been collected from old newspaper articles.
The list of articles is free. The actual newspaper clippings are password-protected.

When researching the "Merci Train" it is important to distinguish between :
  • The single boxcar given to a state.
  • The "Merci Train" as a name for the 49 boxcars.
  • The "Merci Train" as the name for the transport of the boxcars to each individual state.
  • The contents - gifts - that were in each boxcar.
  • The fact that "The "40 & 8 Society's" made replicas, of varying likeness, of the French boxcar to use as floats in parades.

Using various search words and combinations of words is necessary :
"Merci Train" - "Gratitude Train" - "car" - "boxcar" - "french".

Known missing facts are shown with "_____" or a " ? ".


The Washington DC boxcar

The 49th box-car was divided between Washington DC and Hawaii.

Hawaii had been a big contributor to the "Friendship Train".

Washington D.C. got the gifts from the boxcar. Hawaii got the actual, but empty, box-car.
  • 1948 - January 1949

    Same history as the other 48 boxcars.
    Repaired, repainted ( "slate grey" ) and decorated with shields and signs in France.
    Shipped to the USA on the Magellan.

  • February 1949

    • Wednesday, February 02, 1949.
      • Loaded off the "Magellan" at the Weehawken docks, Erie Railroad Pier North H, New Jersey.
      • Placed on a US-railroad flatcar and shunted onto "Southern Section" of the "Merci Train".
      • Guarded by railroad-police till departure.

    • Saturday, February 05, 1949.
      • Left the Pennsylvania railroad station in Jersey City at 06:00 AM for Washington DC on "Erie Railroad" as part of "Southern Section" of the "Merci Train".
      • "Merci Train" made stop in Trenton (NJ), New Jersey.
      • "Merci Train" arrived in Philadelphia (PA), Broad Street Station, Track 4, at 11:45 AM.
        The "Pennsylvania" and "West Virginia" boxcars were taken off the "Merci Train".
      • The "Merci Train" arrived at 04:40 PM at Pennsylvania Station / Union Station in Baltimore (MD).
        Maryland boxcar taken off the "Merci Train" at Pennsylvania Station in Baltimore.
      • The "Merci Train" continued towards Washington DC.

    • Sunday, February 06, 1949.
      • Welcome reception in Washington DC at Pennsylvania Railroad sidings at 14th and D Street opposite the "Bureau of Engraving and Printing" on what is now ( 2015 ) "D Street SW".
        See my photos below of how the area looks today.
        10 boxcars were shunted onto the reception tracks.

      • Before the ceremony a guard of jet planes circled the "Merci Train".
    • Spring 1949.what
      Later the D.C. boxcar was transported to Hawaii.

    • Present time.
      The 49th box-car is still in Hawaii today where it, after having been neglected for many years, is undergoing renovation.

The reception on February 05, 1949

Participating in the welcome reception were :
Merci Gratitude Train Boxcar Washington DC Vice-president Alben William Barkley
Vice-president Alben William Barkley.
Merci Gratitude Train Boxcar Washington DC Senator Arthur Hendrick Vandenberg
Senator Arthur Hendrick Vandenberg.
Merci Gratitude Train Boxcar Washington DC Senator Tom Connally
Senator Tom Connally.
Merci Gratitude Train Boxcar Washington DC Attorney General Tom Clark
Attorney General Tom Clark.
Merci Gratitude Train Boxcar Washington DC Undersecretary of State Jimmy Webb
Truman Library - 97-1372
Undersecretary of State Jimmy Webb.
Merci Gratitude Train Boxcar Washington DC Drew Pearson
Drew Pearson.
Merci Gratitude Train Boxcar Washington DC French ambassador to the USA, Henri Bonnet
State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory,
http://floridamemory.com/items/show/18982

French ambassador to the USA, Henri Bonnet.
Merci Gratitude Train Boxcar Washington DC Salvind Olson
Mr. Salvind Olson - Chairman
"D.C. French Gratitude Train Committee"
5742 Oregon Avenue, NW.
Washington D.C.
© www.mercitrain.org
Merci Gratitude Train Boxcar Washington DC Andre Picard
André Picard
Man behind the "Merci Train"
Merci Gratitude Train Boxcar Washington DC
Michel Junot
[ Chef de cabinet du secrètaire d'État à la présidence du Conseil Paul Devinat.]
[ Paul Devinat : Secrétaire d'État à la Présidence du Conseil du gouvernement Henri Queuille. ]

Special assistant to Paul Devinat, Under secretary of State,
Chief of cabinet for Prime Minister Henri Queuille.

President Truman was notoriously absent from the reception in Washington DC and the ceremony at Arlington National Cemetary although there didn't seem to be any other items on his schedule that Sunday - except a concert.

Drew Pearson commented on Truman's absence in his "Washington Merry-Go-Round" on February 25, 1949 and argued that given the "cold-war" climate and Russia's efforts to make France and Italy communist, it would have impressed the French delegation to be received by the President of the USA.

On the other hand - Vice-president Barkley was an active member of Trumans cabinet, and by no means at the time a un-important figurehead.

Then again - at the Arlington ceremony President Truman was represented by his assistant military aide - Colonel Louis H. Renfrow - which appears some-what superficial.


Program for the reception :

Apparently it was planned that Vice-President Barkley should have broken the seal of the box-car, but it was Senator Tom Connolly who did that.
Merci Gratitude Train Boxcar Washington DC reception program
© www.mercitrain.org


Drew Pearson anecdote from the reception :

From "The Washington Merry-Go-Round"

Three distinguished statesmen were on hand to greet the French Gratitude Train when it arrived in Washington - Vice President Barkley and his former colleagues, Senators Connally of Texas, Democrat, and Vandenberg of Michigan, Republican.

These three have served in the Senate together for more than a quarter of a century. Sometimes they have been on opposite sides of bitter political battles, but they have never let party politics interfere with personal friendship. They know each other as well as they know the Senate - which is better than almost anyone else in Washington.

How much Senator Vandenberg knows about the early boyhood of Senator Connally of Texas is his secret. But at the very conclusion of the ceremonies welcoming the Gratitude Train, as the venerable Tom Connally took a pair of shears and snipped the red, white and blue ribbon sealing the District of Columbia boxcar, his old friend, the senator from Michigan, whispered to the vice-president of the United States:

"I'II bet that's not the first time Tom has broken into a boxcar."



After the reception :

Apparently the D.C.-boxcar was paraded through Washington D.C. according to this photo :

Merci Gratitude Train Boxcar Washington DC parade
© www.mercitrain.org

that should be from Washington D.C.
It could be the the tower of "St. Peters" on Capitol Hill - what.

The gifts from the Washington DC boxcar

The 49th box-car was divided between Washington DC and Hawaii.

D.C. being the Capitol of the USA and Hawaii, because Hawaii had been a big contributor to the "Friendship Train".

Hawaii had shipped several car-loads of sugar from Hawaii to California to be loaded onto the "Friendship Train".

The citizens of Hawaii however were a bit surprised and disappointed when they finally received the boxcar.
All the gifts had been removed, and the Hawaiins only received an empty box-car.


All the gifts were allocated within the DC-area.
On www.mercitrain.org some of the gifts are identified :

List - no particular order - of known gifts from the D.C. boxcar :

  1. Sevres porcelain vase, ( one vase known to have been in each box-car ).
    • From : French President Vincent Auriol.
    • Allocated to : ?
    • Present or last known location : ?
    • Other remarks : One vase known to have been in each box-car and supposedly a gift to the Governor of each state.
  2. Medaillion from a horse's bridal (?).
    • From : ?.
    • Allocated to : Salvind Olson.
    • Present or last known location : The Olson family.
    • Other remarks :
  3. Shot-gun.
    • From : ?.
    • Allocated to : Salvind Olson.
    • Present or last known location : The Olson family.
    • Other remarks :
  4. Silver tea service.
    • From : ?.
    • Allocated to : Salvind Olson.
    • Present or last known location : The Olson family.
    • Other remarks :
  5. Bridal gown.
    Merci Gratitude Train Boxcar Washington
    Photo # 10
    © www.mercitrain.org


    Merci Gratitude Train Boxcar Washington
    Photo # 16
    © www.mercitrain.org


    Merci Gratitude Train Boxcar Washington
    Photo # 18
    © www.mercitrain.org


    Merci Gratitude Train Boxcar Washington
    Photo # 24
    © www.mercitrain.org


    Merci Gratitude Train Boxcar Washington
    Photo # 28
    © www.mercitrain.org
    • From : Lyon.
    • Allocated to : ?.
    • Present or last known location : ?
    • Other remarks : See photo #10 ➜
  6. Sand from "Mulberry Beach".
    • From : Lyon.
    • Allocated to : ?.
    • Present or last known location :
    • Other remarks : History lesson wink
      "Mulberry" was the code name for the artificial harbours needed for the D-Day landings in Normandy untill the allied forces had captured a "real" harbour. See photo #10 ➜
  7. Bust of Benjamin Franklin.
    • From :
    • Allocated to : Benjamin Franklin University, D.C.
    • Present or last known location : Benjamin Franklin University ?
    • Other remarks : See photo #16 ➜
  8. Statue of George Washington.
    • From :
    • Allocated to : The George Washington University, D.C.
    • Present or last known location : The George Washington University ?
    • Other remarks : See photo #18 ➜
  9. Pieces of glass ware.
    • From :
    • Allocated to : The George Washington University, D.C.
    • Present or last known location : The George Washington University ?
    • Other remarks : See photo #18 ➜
  10. Picture of "Le Havre".
    • From :
    • Allocated to : The George Washington University, D.C.
    • Present or last known location : The George Washington University ?
    • Other remarks : See photo #18 ➜
  11. Medals.
    • From :
    • Allocated to : The George Washington University, D.C.
    • Present or last known location : The George Washington University ?
    • Other remarks : See photo #18 ➜
  12. "Two boxes".
    • From :
    • Allocated to : The George Washington University, D.C.
    • Present or last known location : The George Washington University ?
    • Other remarks : See photo #18 ➜
  13. Etching : "Naturalist studying the bees and butterflies in a field".
    • From :
    • Allocated to : Superintendent of Schools - Franklin Administration Building, D.C.
    • Present or last known location : Franklin Administration Building ?
    • Other remarks : See photo #24 ➜
  14. 96 samples of Jacquard narrow fabric weaving ( 1850 - 1900 ).
    • From :
    • Allocated to : Smithsonian - National Museum, D.C.
    • Present or last known location : Smithsonian ?
    • Other remarks : See photo #28 ➜
  15. 1 sample of chiffon, woven of rayon and metallic yarns.
    • From :
    • Allocated to : Smithsonian - National Museum, D.C.
    • Present or last known location : Smithsonian ?
    • Other remarks : See photo #28 ➜
  16. 1 hand-woven linen piece.
    • From :
    • Allocated to : Smithsonian - National Museum, D.C.
    • Present or last known location : Smithsonian ?
    • Other remarks : See photo #28 ➜
  17. 1 Jacquard woven picture ( black and white ), rayon.
    • From :
    • Allocated to : Smithsonian - National Museum, D.C.
    • Present or last known location : Smithsonian ?
    • Other remarks : See photo #28 ➜
  18. 1 Jacquard woven picture ( tinted ), rayon.
    • From :
    • Allocated to : Smithsonian - National Museum, D.C.
    • Present or last known location : Smithsonian ?
    • Other remarks : See photo #28 ➜
  19. 1 hand-woven wool scarf, with embroidered design.
    • From :
    • Allocated to : Smithsonian - National Museum, D.C.
    • Present or last known location : Smithsonian ?
    • Other remarks : See photo #28 ➜



Photos from the welcome reception

Photos © The Harry S. Truman Library & Museum
but stated as being "Unrestricted".
See my photos below to see how the reception area looks today ( 2015 ).

Merci Gratitude Train Boxcar Washington
73-2951.jpg
Vice-president Alben William Barkley speaks - left hand on podium. Drew Pearson is standing on his right. Immediately behind ( to the left ) Barkley is Mr. Salvind Olson in light colored jacket ( the D.C. chairman of the committee in charge of the distribution of the boxcars gifts ). Further to Barkleys left is the un-identified man, dark suit, speaking in picture 73-2957.jpg
Merci Gratitude Train Boxcar Washington
73-2955.jpg
Vice-president Alben William Barkley speaks - left hand on podium. Drew Pearson is standing on his right. Immediately behind ( to the left ) Barkley is Mr. Salvind Olson in light colored jacket ( the D.C. chairman of the committee in charge of the distribution of the boxcars gifts ). Further to Barkleys left is the un-identified man, dark suit, speaking in picture 73-2957.jpg
Merci Gratitude Train Boxcar Washington
73-2962.jpg
Senator Arthur Vandenberg speaks. On his right Drew Pearson is looking down to his right.
Merci Gratitude Train Boxcar Washington
73-2956.jpg
French Ambassador to the United States Henri Bonnet speaks. Seated to his left are Vice-President Alben Barkley and Senator Arthur Vandenberg.
Merci Gratitude Train Boxcar Washington
73-2959.jpg
Drew Pearson speaks. Standing to his left are Vice-President Alben Barkley and Senator Arthur Vandenberg.
Merci Gratitude Train Boxcar Washington
73-2957.jpg
Unknown person (presumably French ) speaks. Seated to his left are Vice-President Alben Barkley and Senator Arthur Vandenberg.
Merci Gratitude Train Boxcar Washington
73-2952.jpg
Senator Tom Connally, Texas, breaks the seal on the boxcar.
Merci Gratitude Train Boxcar Washington
73-2963.jpg
First gifts.
Merci Gratitude Train Boxcar Washington
73-2953.jpg
Anthem being played. Senator Tom Connally (saluting), French Ambassador to the United States Vincent Auriol (next to Connally), Vice-President Barkley (holding his hat over his heart), and Senator Arthur Vandenberg (to the right of Barkley)
Merci Gratitude Train Boxcar Washington
73-2961.jpg
Anthem being played. From left to right, French Ambassador to the United States Henri Bonnet, Vice-President Alben Barkley, unidentified woman, and Senator Arthur Vandenberg.
Merci Gratitude Train Boxcar Washington
73-2960.jpg
From left to right, French Ambassador to the United States Henri Bonnet, Vice-President Alben Barkley, and Senator Arthur Vandenberg.
Merci Gratitude Train Boxcar Washington
73-2954.jpg
Vice-President Alben Barkley (in light-colored coat) receiving medals from French Ambassador to the United States Henri Bonnet (foreground, left). Senator Arthur Vandenberg is standing, with hat on, on the right. Senator Tom Connally is standing on the far left.
Merci Gratitude Train Boxcar Washington
73-2958.jpg
Band and press. At least 6 news-reel cameras.


4 photos below : © www.mercitrain.org

Merci Gratitude Train Boxcar Washington From left to right :

Drew Pearson - Salvind Olson - Senator Tom Connally.

Medals in frame presumably are the ones given to Vice-president Barkley.



Merci Gratitude Train Boxcar Washington From left to right :

Michel Junot - Drew Pearson - André Picard - Salvind Olson.



Merci Gratitude Train Boxcar Washington Henri Bonnet presents framed medals to Vice-president Barkley.

Same situation as photo 73-2954.jpg above.

Senator Tom Connally standing on Henri Bonnet's right.

Senator Arthur Vandenberg is standing on Barkley's left.



Merci Gratitude Train Boxcar Washington Same situation as photo 73-2951.jpg above.



"Sacred Torch" and Flag gifts

One particular "gift" falls into a category all by itself.

The French delegation brought a bronze torch ignited at the "Arc de Triomphe" in Paris where an "Eternal Flame" is placed at the grave of an unknown dead French soldier from WW1.

The torch was transported on the French steam-ship liner "De Grasse" on which the French "Merci Train" delegation arrived to New York on Thursday, February 03, 1949. The 49 box-cars were transported on the Magellan.


On Sunday, February 06, 1949, at 11:00 AM, the torch was placed at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington National Cemetary and used to ignite a flambeau at the tomb of the American Unknown Soldier.

See my photos below to see how it looks today ( 2015 ).

Present at the ceremony was :
  • French Ambassador Henri Bonnet.
  • Michel Junot ( Head of the French Gratitude delegation ) - Chief of cabinet for French Prime Minister Henri Queuille.
  • Pierre Triou from New York - president of the Federation of French War Veterans in the USA.
  • Rodolphe E. Rusenacht - President of the War Veterans of Le Havre.
  • Colonel Jacques De La Boisse - Military attache.
  • Perry Brown, Beaumont (TX) - American Legion national commander.
  • Owen C. Holleran - American Legion executive committeeman for the District of Columbia.
  • Colonel Louis H. Renfrow - Assistant military aide to president Truman.

The torch was presented by Pierre Triou to Perry Brown.

The torch was carried on the "Western Section" of the "Merci Train" and presented to the "American Legion" at each state capital where a box-car was unloaded from the "Merci Train". The torch is known to have been presented at "Merci Train" stops in Albany (NY), Oneonta (NY), Utica (NY), Binghamton (NY),


The French delegation also presented a flag - the only battle flag left flying at "Le Havre" after its destruction during WW2. The flag was presented by Rodolphe E. Rusenacht to Owen C. Holleran.


The torch and the flag was eventually given to the "American Legion" to be kept at the "Legions National Museum" in Indianapolis, where they presumably still are.




My own photos

Merci Gratitude Train Boxcar Washington Merci Gratitude Train Boxcar Washington

This is how the area - the railroad yard - where the reception took place on February 05, 1949, looks today.
The railroad yard is long gone. Instead there is a parking lot.


Merci Gratitude Train Boxcar Washington Merci Gratitude Train Boxcar Washington

The "Tomb Of The Unknown [American] Soldier" at Arlington Military Cemetary.

This is where the French delegation placed the torch with the flame lighted at the Tomb of the Unknown [French] Soldier at the L'Arc de Triomphe in Paris.


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