by Lynn M. Burns
Historian Town of Deerpark
Tucked away in an 1897 book of poetic verses, I just found this 2"x5" silk ribbon bookmark. Who was Joffre and why was he being honored at this special occasion at Newburgh's Washington's Headquarters? The date was interesting as it was coming on its 101st anniversary, almost to the day.
Joseph Jacques C. Joffre was the Marshal of France and was known affectionately as "Papa." When the Great War broke out in August of 1914, he was in command of the French Army. He was hailed as the Hero of the Marne and became a household name across Europe and America. However, as the war slipped into that ghastly stalemate, Joffre was blamed for not preparing his army well enough to fight off the German onslaught. He was replaced by General Robert Nivelle and given the title of Marshal, in the hopes he would slip away quietly.
To Joffre's surprise the French Premier Alexander Ribot issued him a challenge to travel to America to garner support and expedite America's entrance into the war. The "Viviani Party' set sail April 15, 1917 and arrived at Hampton Road, Virginia on April 24th, where they were met by Assistant Secretary of the Navy Franklin D. Roosevelt. Joffre started a public relations campaign to endear U.S. citizens to join the French cause, reminding them of the historical ties the two countries had long shared. Behind the scenes, Joffre was negotiating and making recommendations on how best to utilize American troops. The party travelled to Washington D.C., St. Louis, Missouri, Lincoln's tomb in Illinois and Grant's tomb in New York. Back in Washington on May 10th, Joffre received word that most of his recommendations were to be adopted. On May 11, 1917, in his honor, a reception was held in Newburgh, NY at Washington's Headquarters. George Washington with his close ties to Lafayette and France were still an important influence even in 1917. By June 1st, the "Viviani Party" returned to France in triumph.