A spotlight has been thrown on the little-known role of Cajun French interpreters during World War II, thanks to local filmmaker Pat Mire’s documentary, “Mon Cher Comarade”.
Mire presented his film to the public at LSU at Eunice’s LeDoux Library Tuesday evening.
Mire’s hour-long documentary, much like Ken Burns’ “The War”, combines first-person interviews of Cajun WW II veterans who served in France with archival footage and narration.
When these veterans were growing up, their native Cajun language was denigrated as an ignorant backwoods dialect, even by the Army.
But when U.S. forces began operations in France, their language skills became vital to the war effort.
Cajun French is very similar to the Provencal, or peasant French dialect spoken at that time.
Savvy German soldiers in occupied France could root out speakers of Quebecois French, but Cajuns were able to pass themselves off as French peasants.
Cajuns were able to work behind enemy lines with the French Resistance, as well as serve as liasons with French informants.
They also acted as translators for their superiors and fellow soldiers.
Following the war, the role of Cajun soldiers in France was almost forgotten, although the television series, “Combat!”, which ran from 1962-1967, featured one Cajun character, PFC Paul “Caje” LeMay.
LeMay, however, was described as “a Cajun from New Orleans”, and was played by a Canadian actor, Pierre Jalbert, adding to the confusion.
Mire was inspired to film the documentary by his father, Felix Mire, who served in France during the war.
Mire, an award-winning filmmaker who counts “Dance for a Chicken” and “Dirty Rice” amongst his credits, began working on the project four years ago, interviewing his father and other veterans, but much of the original film footage was lost due to Hurricane Katrina.
Mire was able to refilm most of the interviews and finish the film, which will air on Louisiana Public Broadcasting on March 4 at 8 p.m.