An American Tradition in a Small French Village

Aaron Howson, who lives in the French village of Chantraine near Epinal American Cemetery, raises and lowers two American flags every day at his home. He treats this daily event with a reverence and honor experienced at our most hallowed grounds, and uses the daily flag lowering at Epinal as his guide.  As a dual French and American citizen, Howson stands with his hand over his heart, listening to a recording of the Star-Spangled banner. The sound of recorded cannons firing can be heard before he lowers the flag to “Taps.”

Howson is not a military veteran. He was not alive for VE Day in Europe. In fact, Howson is not even old enough for kindergarten. At the age of just three and half, this daily ritual began after regular visits to Epinal American Cemetery with his parents.

In the summer of 2013 the Howson family began visiting the cemetery on Sundays to pay their respects to our fallen, and to decorate the graves of  Pfc. John A. Carver, Pfc. Wilson Frazier, Pvt. Joseph Holt, Pfc. Monroe J. Owens, and Cpl. Weldon Richey, the family’s adopted gravesites.

“I wasn’t really aware until recently that there was an American cemetery in Epinal,” said Benoît Howson, Aaron’s father, who is also a dual citizen. “Every time I go there it feels like I’m in America. “

During that first visit, Superintendent Andy Anderson gave Aaron a small American and French flag, and then the family watched the flag lowering. “Pretty much every Sunday at about 1600 I can count on them arriving,” said Anderson.  Since that very first visit, Aaron’s fascination in remembering our fallen started to grow, and he’s developed a special connection with Anderson, whom he fondly calls Mr. Flag.

Aaron’s playhouse, bedroom and backyard have been transformed. His parents created a small flag pole in his bedroom, and installed a 20 foot flag pole in the backyard. And his small, backyard playhouse now serves as his office, where the folded flags are kept at the end of each day, mimicking the actions he’s seen from Anderson at the cemetery. “He’s a great kid, a special kid,” said Anderson. “He’s very proud to be an American.”

Because of  the interest,  the Howson family  visited seven ABMC cemeteries in the past year, including Brittany American Cemetery, where 1st Lt. Arthur L. Thomas, a family member is buried. Benoît, a school teacher, has begun taking groups of students to Epinal American Cemetery.

While Aaron needs help from his mom or dad to fold the flags at the end of each day, it’s clear he understands the significance of these actions. “Aaron is still too young to fully understand war, but he does know that the soldiers buried on these hallowed grounds have to keep on being honored and remembered,” said Benoît.

On November 11, 2014 Aaron will be at Epinal American Cemetery for the Veterans Day ceremony. He’ll be standing there with his hand over his heart, honoring the flag and what it represents, as he does every day in his own backyard before heading off to school.