2018-03-29 / Front Page

People, stories sought for hall of fame

By Molly Lovell-Keely
Managing Editor


Biddeford resident Geraldine Litalien with a picture of her uncle, Louis Dubreuil, who died Nov. 11, 1918. His photo and a diary he kept during World War I were among items Litalien has saved. Her family will nominate Dubreuil for the Biddeford Cultural Hertitage Center Hall of Fame Award. (Molly Lovell-Keely photo) Biddeford resident Geraldine Litalien with a picture of her uncle, Louis Dubreuil, who died Nov. 11, 1918. His photo and a diary he kept during World War I were among items Litalien has saved. Her family will nominate Dubreuil for the Biddeford Cultural Hertitage Center Hall of Fame Award. (Molly Lovell-Keely photo) BIDDEFORD – Biddeford native Louis Dubreuil’s name is forever etched in stone at Veterans Memorial Park on Pool Street and he was laid to rest at St. Joseph’s Cemetery, after being exhumed and brought back home from France, where he died fighting in World War I.

His story, however, is not well known.

The newly established Biddeford Cultural Heritage Center plans to change that.

The center is looking for nominations for its Hall of Fame Award and the Litalien family of Biddeford plans to nominate Dubreuil, who died at the tender age of 23, on Armistice Day, 1918.


Geraldine Litalien, who spent all her life in Biddeford and was the organist and choir director at St. Joseph Church for about 30 years, goes through family records. (Molly Lovell- Keely photo) Geraldine Litalien, who spent all her life in Biddeford and was the organist and choir director at St. Joseph Church for about 30 years, goes through family records. (Molly Lovell- Keely photo) Biddeford resident Diane Cyr, 60, established the cultural center, formed a board of directors and secured its nonprofit status in a matter of a couple years and said the death of beloved family members inspired her to start the organization.

“I’ve seen their belongings thrown away, discarded or sold for profit,” she said, adding that she envisions the center to at least be a place for the stories of the residents who have made “Biddeford and the world a better place to live and work,” according to a press release about Hall of Fame nominations.

Geraldine Litalien, 92, is a lifelong Biddeford resident and when she downsized and moved to a small apartment, kept a few books of family documents, newspaper clippings, photos and a diary that belonged to Dubreuil, her uncle, though they never had the opportunity to meet.


Louis Dubreuil was originally buried in France, where he died in World War II, but was exhumed three years later and laid to rest at St. Joseph’s Cemetery in Biddeford. (Molly Lovell-Keely photo) Louis Dubreuil was originally buried in France, where he died in World War II, but was exhumed three years later and laid to rest at St. Joseph’s Cemetery in Biddeford. (Molly Lovell-Keely photo) “It’s emotional,” she said of the diary, which begins July 5, 1918, a Wednesday: “We spent the day waiting to leave Camp Devens. We knew since 6:30 p.m. that we were leaving at 9:30 p.m. The boys raised hell before leaving. We boarded the train at 11:20 p.m. We passed through Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont and Canada. When we reached the city of Montreal, it was 10 in the morning. We entered Montreal at 1:15 p.m. We stopped for an hour. I asked everyone passing by for something to eat. All we had to eat for the last 24 hours and 15 minutes was two small sandwiches.”


Geraldine Litalien goes through family documents about her uncle, Louis, Dubreuil, who lived on Prospect Street in Biddeford and died on Armistice Day, 1918. (Molly Lovell-Keely photo) Geraldine Litalien goes through family documents about her uncle, Louis, Dubreuil, who lived on Prospect Street in Biddeford and died on Armistice Day, 1918. (Molly Lovell-Keely photo) “It’s a damn life,” he wrote later in the same entry.

Litalien said Dubreuil sent the diary to his sister and over the years was lost, found and translated from French to English.

“It gives you a real good glimpse of what it was like to go off to war,” said Denis Litalien, Geraldine’s son and also a lifelong Biddeford resident.

“Guys like him represent everybody who went to war back then,” Denis said, adding that he knew his great uncle’s name was on the war memorial in Biddeford, but never thought much of it until his nephew, a member of the Air Force, did some research into the man.

“I think a lot of information gets lost,” Denis said. “Part of what I’d like to see happen is to try to capture that stuff before it’s gone.”

Though Dubreuil died Nov. 11, 1918, Denis said it didn’t hit him that his relative died on Veterans Day, originally known as Armistice Day – the day the armistice was signed by Germany and World War I allies – that took place at 11 a.m. the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918.

The recovered diary of Dubreuil reveals a lonely journey.

July 24, 1918: “We are on land since the 23rd (of July). We left the ship at 3 o’clock and we arrived at the camp at 4:30. We slept with the fleas . . . It’s not Camp Devens. There is no ice cream or pie. It is 9:10 and we have passed through London: no young people, only men and children.”

July 28, 1918: “It’s going from bad to worst. We ate outside. We are not allowed to leave the field. Today is Sunday, No mass. We are 10,000 soldiers here who have arrived yesterday.”

July 28/31, 1918: “We left at noon on Sunday and walked for two hours. At 3 p.m. we boarded a train: it was a horse train. We left the train Monday night at 8:30 p.m. Again we walked for 2.25 hours and slept in a stable in the place of the cows.”

Aug. 7, 1918: “I met people from Biddeford. I was able to speak only to a young Bergeron . . . I went to mass and received communion and I cried. It made me think too much of home. There were no French-speaking people, just soldiers. And here we are outdoors and it rains every 20 minutes: it’s not home.”

Aug. 15, 1918: “We had a pretty good week. We did exercises and we are tired from the heat. Tonight, 50 from our company left. We fired the machine guns for the first time. Weill write more, when possible.”

Sept. 2, 1918: “Planes bombed the city and at night they dropped some bombs close to us: bombs were falling 50 feet from us. I was not too big (brave) for the first time. At every explosion I bowed my head. And now we are sleeping in a barn. I thought we would not sleep. It is now 11 o’clock on Wednesday. Since the 25th of August my feet have not healed. We are between life and death. I think about saying it, I am not afraid of saying it.”

Dubreuil was wounded in the right knee on Oct. 6, 1918 and died Nov. 11 in France, where he was buried. On Jan. 12, 1921 his body

Denis is a member of the Biddeford Cultural Heritage Center and said a project in the works includes recording the voices of people like his mother and archiving the material. The group would also like to establish a location to keep historic items.

Cyr said cultural heritage center members consulted with Biddeford Historical Society about being a facet of its organization but decided to be its own entity.

“Even though our missions sound alike and culture and heritage are intertwined with history, culture is more the stories, the dress, traditions, art and music, not just the early history of Biddeford but how we’ve changed as a city.”

Though the city is known for its Franco- American heritage, Cyr said the center “wants to celebrate everybody.”

“The French certainly weren’t the first ones here,” she said.

From Biddeford’s Albanian population to the Irish to the city’s current population of Iraqi immigrants, Cyr said all are eligible for the award.

Nominations with testimonials for the Biddeford Cultural Heritage Center Hall of Fame Award are due Saturday, March 31 and can be sent to bchc04005@gmail.com, or mailed to: Selection Committee, BCHC, 20 Buzzell Road, Biddeford, ME 04005.

FMI

The deadline to nominate a person for the city’s newly established Hall of Fame award is March 31. For more information, visit biddefordculturalandheritagecenter.org.

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