The year 2019 marks the 70th anniversary of Vermont receiving a goodwill gift after World War II — part of the historic Train de la Reconnaissance, or Gratitude Train.
The Gratitude Train was a gesture in response to the 1947 Friendship Train, an effort in which Americans donated millions of dollars worth of food, clothing and other supplies to aid recovery in France and other European countries that had been devastated by the war. In return, a French railroad worker and committee came up with the idea of filling 49 boxcars with thank-you gifts and sending the train to the U.S. They ended up collecting more than 50,000 gifts from citizens.
In February 1949, one boxcar was delivered to each of the 48 U.S. states at that time, and another was intended for the District of Columbia and Hawaii.
Vermont’s car currently sits inside the Vermont Military Museum at Camp Johnson in Colchester, included gifts like works of art, crafts, antiques, dolls, books and other objects. Some were distributed around the state. The Vermont Historical Society holds much of the remaining inventory which is now being catalogued.
The boxcar is commonly known as a “40 and 8,” from the idea that it could hold 40 men, or 8 horses. Many U.S. service members would have ridden in cars like this one in Europe or North Africa during World War I and World War II.
The museum will host a celebration of the arrival of the Merci Boxcar in Vermont on Saturday, July 20. The museum will be open 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. that day. There will also be a book sale. Admission is free.
Special guest Brigitte Kibler Helzer will be in attendance to share her memories. In February 1949, Helzer was a newly arrived 7-year-old immigrant. She was part of the large parade in New York City on the day the cars were offloaded.
Nancy Remsen, a volunteer at the Vermont Historical Society in Barre, will also speak about her experience cataloging the objects from Vermont’s Merci Train car.
More information: vt.public.ng.mil/museum.