Re-igniting the Eternal Flame at the Arc de Triomphe | Stephen Ambrose Historical Tours

Re-igniting the Eternal Flame at the Arc de Triomphe

Arc de Triomphe ceremonySenior Historian Chris Anderson was invited to attend a ceremony to re-ignite the flame at the Arc de Triomphe in Paris. Read his moving account of this solemn moment.

Re-igniting the Eternal Flame

by Chris Anderson

Appropriately, having just finished up my World War I trip, I was honored to attend the ceremony to re-ignite the eternal flame at the Arc de Triomphe this past November 14, almost 100 years to the day that the flame was first lit.

Flame at Arc de TriompheOne of the most recognizable landmarks in Paris, the Arc was inaugurated in 1836 to commemorate those who fought and died during the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars. It was not until January 1921, however, after a prolonged campaign by veterans of the Great War that the remains of France’s unknown soldier were laid to rest underneath the arch. Shortly after the burial, poet Gabriel Boissy suggested an eternal flame should be lit above the body to symbolize that the memory of the soldier’s sacrifice-and the sacrifice of 1.4 million other French soldiers-would never be forgotten. The eternal flame was lit for the first time on November 11, 1923, by Andre Maginot who was, at that time, Minister of War. The flame has remained lit since then-even during the period of German occupation.

The flame is watched over by La Flamme Sous L’ Arc de Triomphe, an association of 150 French veterans organizations. Every evening at 6:30, the association presides over a ceremony where the flame is rekindled with appropriate ceremony and reverence. It is incredible to watch such a solemn event in the midst of such a busy city.

At the invitation of my dear friend Lt. Col. Andre Rakoto, this past November 14 I was able to attend the rekindling ceremony, which on this occasion was held in recognition of the members of France’s reserve forces who have made the supreme sacrifice.

Surrounded by veterans and serving soldiers, I can’t ever remember being so moved by the La Marseillaille. It was certainly an experience which I will never forget.

Chris Anderson at Arc de Triomphe

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