The "Merci Train", France's love letter to American veterans

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CHEYENNE, Wyo. (KGWN) - The train car that sits outside of the American Legion Post 6 in Cheyenne is more than just a historical display. You may drive by it every day and not even know exactly what it is. In truth, it's a love letter to America's veterans....and a symbol of what true gratitude looks like. It’s called the “Merci Train”, or the Thank You Train.

Through two world wars, American soldiers had fought and died in France to preserve her liberty. But after the Second World War, an American journalist named Drew Pearson recognized people in France were struggling.

Jim Allison, Collections Supervisor at the Wyoming State Museum, says Pearson wanted to do something, "He recognized that a lot of people were still recovering from World War 2. That the devastation had been pretty severe."

Pearson wanted to fill 30 train cars with donated goods to send to France and Italy. He started with three box cars in California. But by the time he made it to New York in 1947, he filled 17 ships with food and much more – including wheat and evaporated milk from Wyoming. Hundreds of train cars, worth 40 million dollars, were shipped overseas.

France was quick to respond.

"They gathered items from the everyday folks in France and put them into 49 box cars." Allison says, "They didn't have anything they could send back of monetary items or whatever...but they could something they had a personal connection to...that meant a lot to them...and in some cases that's more important."

The French sent handmade dresses and shoes, family heirlooms, and even a legion of honor given to napoleon. It wasn't millions of dollars or tons of food...but it came from the mending heart of a thankful people. Wyoming's car arrived February 14th, 1949. Some of the items from that car can be seen today at the State Museum, where the lesson of these seemingly simple items can be remembered.

Winston Churchill, England's prime minister during World War 2, once said that “We make a living with what we get...but we make a life with what we give.”

Currently, the Wyoming’s Merci Train car is kept up by a small group of veterans called the “40 and 8er’s”. They rely almost completely on volutneer work and donations to get the job done. If you’re interested in joining or helping the 40 and 8, contact Ken Fletcher at (307) 630-5801.