Thursday, April 30, 2009

Joe from Maine loved in post-WWII France

Mainers seem to find their way into the most interesting places. Here's a great story about a WWII era connection between an Augusta, Maine, native and a French town.
After 43 Years, a French Town’s Nostalgia for Harry and Joe Lingers
Châteauroux Journal - Agence France-Presse
Published: April 26, 2009

CHÂTEAUROUX, France — More than 40 years ago the American military left this town in central France, but Harry and Joe stayed on.

The two Americans had been here because France was a member of NATO and Châteauroux housed the largest American base in Europe, a huge supply center and aircraft repair unit with about 8,000 Americans and 3,000 French civilian employees — cooks, chauffeurs, barbers, accountants, carpenters.

But in 1966 de Gaulle decided that France, which had survived two world wars with the help of soldiers from Britain, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the United States, could stand on its own militarily, so he withdrew France from the military side of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and told the Americans to leave.

For many here in Châteauroux of the older generation, the years at the NATO base were the good old days, with well-paying jobs plentiful at the base and splotches of color — as off-duty Americans sported Hawaiian shirts and tooled around in their brightly colored Chevrolets and Oldsmobiles — in the dreary grayness of postwar France. About 450 weddings were celebrated between American servicemen and Frenchwomen in City Hall.
Even today, however, the Americans are not entirely gone. In January, 1952, Joseph Gagne, a native of Augusta, Me., who had landed on the Normandy beaches, got wind of the plans to build a base here. So together with his French wife, Jeanine, he opened a hamburger restaurant, Joe from Maine, in narrow Rue Ledru Rollin. Joe died this month at the age of 86 in a local hospital, but his daughter Annette still serves up hamburgers, hot dogs and Tex-Mex dishes six days a week.

“The customers are now French, though G.I.’s who served on the base back then continue to come back, or their children,” said Annette, entertaining a visitor between meals under a faux-Tiffany lamp that read, “Schlitz on Tap.” “When Dad opened in January of 1952 the French didn’t know what a hamburger was,” said Annette. “We made our own ketchup; we got spices on the base.”

Beneath the restaurant is a vaulted stone cellar, about 900 square feet (30' x 30'), now used for storage, where American airmen once quaffed endless amounts of beer, chain smoked and danced with French girlfriends. The vaulting is covered with their carved names. “Benny. Tom. Fagan.”
A version of this article appeared in print on April 27, 2009, on page A7 of the New York edition.

To read full article: [Source]
The restaurant was well-known for being a good place to get hamburgers and Tex-Mex style food. If you're curious about what the inside of Joe's of Maine looks like today, you can go to the reunion photo page of the Chateauroux American High School here. Joe Gagne's obituary (in French) can be found on

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