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White House State Dinner

Kerry Emotionally Remembers His Mother

As he travels the world, Secretary of State John Kerry often talks about his father, a Foreign Service Officer, and the family's postings in Europe during Kerry's childhood. But he rarely mentions his mother, at least not until today. At a formal State Department lunch for France's President Francois Hollande - under the benign gaze of a portrait of Benjamin Franklin, America's first envoy to France - Kerry got personal about his mother.

Rosemary Forbes Kerry was living in Paris before World War II, became a nurse and, her son said, was treating the wounded at Montparnasse. Kerry recounted how the day before the Nazis entered Paris, his mother escaped with her sister on bicycles, foraging their way across France while being strafed by German fighters. They eventually made it to Portugal, and from there to the United States.

Kerry to Hollande: Our bonds are both history and family 1:30

Returning to Paris after the war with her young son, Kerry described one of his earliest memories: "holding her hand and walking through the bombed-out and burned-down remains of her family’s home, which had been used as a headquarters by the Germans, and then in retreat as Patton came through, they burned it and bombed it. When we walked through, only a chimney and a stone staircase stood up, rising into the sky."

Hollande seemed genuinely moved by the remarks. Kerry said it was only years later, visiting Normandy Beach after he had been to the war in Vietnam that he fully understood the full price that the French Resistance and the American citizen-soldiers had paid to make the world safe for peace and liberty.

Among the guests at the lunch: 93 year old Art Ordel, a former First Lieutenant, wearing the faded leather bomber jacket he'd worn while flying B-17's over Normandy in 1944. The President of France, Vice President Biden and Kerry saluted this member of the Greatest Generation as the other guests rose in a standing ovation.