MERCI BOX CAR- The Merci Box Car, which brought thank you gifts from France to Vermont in 1949, will be on display at the Vermont Military Museum in Colchester.
By Carla Charter
COLCHESTER, VT. – A 70th anniversary celebration of a unique piece of post-World War II history, the Merci Box car arrival in Vermont, will occur on Saturday July 20th from 10 a.m.-3 p.m. at the Vermont Military Museum at Camp Johnson in Colchester.
The story of the Merci Gratitude Train began with 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 committee came up with the idea of filling 49 boxcars with thank you gifts and sending the train to the U.S. The French ended up collecting more than 50,000 gifts – enough to fill an entire train.
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 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 Merci/Gratitude Train Boxcar, which currently sits inside the museum, is one of 49 cars that made up the Gratitude Train. The Merci 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.
Those attending Saturday’s celebration will be able to see the Merci boxcar. A special guest, Brigitte Kibler Helzer, will be in attendance at the event to share her memories. Brigitte, in February, 1949, was a 7-year-old newly arrived immigrant. She was part of the large parade in New York City on the day the cars were off loaded to the United States.
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. She will present a slideshow of some of the hundreds of objects currently being catalogued at the museum.
Admission is free. The Vermont Military Museum is located at 789 Vermont National Guard Rd, in Colchester. More information about the Museum including directions can be found at their website www. vt.public.ng.mil/Museum