Even today French locals, other Europeans and Americans find themselves drawn to the Meuse-Argonne region of France. Once drawn there, many return time and again; often working on a multi-year research or preservation project. In this irregular interview series, the Webmaster hopes to introduce readers to some of these individuals and their labors of love.
Jean-Paul’s inclusion in this series is long overdue, because he has helped the Webmaster out numerous times since the two met in 2004! In addition to running a museum and a restaurant, and conducting tours, Jean-Paul gets inundated with questions from around the world. Yet, somehow, he finds the time to assist people and still be a friendly, cheerful face at the museum. Wearing so many hats is more difficult than most people realize. Thank you Jean-Paul!
1) What are your name, nationality and occupation?
Jean-Paul de Vries, Dutch-French (dual nationality) and owner of the Romagne ’14-’18 Museum in Romagne-sous-Montfaucon.
2) Which languages do you speak, and how fluently do you speak them?
Dutch, English, French and German. All fluently.
3) When was your first visit to the Meuse-Argonne?
4) When did you really find yourself drawn to the Meuse-Argonne?
On that trip. The owner of the campsite we were staying at gave me half of a Springfield Rifle bayonet.
5) What is your primary interest in the region?
For me it’s the daily life of the soldiers and civilians. How they lived and survived during those days.
6) Approximately how many times and/or how often do you visit the Meuse-Argonne?
From 1976 – 1986 once a year with my parents. For five years almost weekly with a group of friends. Around 1997 I emigrated to France from the Netherlands.
7) What do you do when you visit?
Mornings are guided hikes through the woods. In the afternoon I am running the museum and restaurant.
8) What research or preservation projects are you working on currently?
I am working on some projects for 2018. I would love to re-open two bunkers of the Hindenburg Line (Kriemhilde Stellung) in a nearby field. I would love to dig them out and allow reenactors to stay there during 2018; but I need several permissions, and lots of work and funds to accomplish this. It might be a project too big to accomplish.
9) What research or preservation projects have you completed in the past?
I continue to make changes and improvements at the museum. I do exhibitions outdoors at schools, etc. A little bit of field work. I helped with the Sgt. York site.
(Webmaster’s note: Jean-Paul has also hosted conferences and meetings at the museum for groups such as the Western Front Association, Netherlands Branch.)
10) What is your favorite spot in the Meuse-Argonne, and why?
The moment I drive over the hill in Charpentry (on the D998) and see the Argonne Forest in front of me. Especially in the late summer when the fog is coming out of the woods and lowlands. I don’t know why, but I love seeing the forest.
11) History aside, what is your favorite thing to do in the Meuse-Argonne?
Walking through nature. I enjoy seeing the beauty of this region. Don’t forget, the Argonne Forest is beautiful.
12) Schedule permitting, would you consider being a tour guide for individuals or groups traveling to the sector?
I do that now. I’m available every morning and by appointment.
13) How can readers contact you for assistance or for more details?
Website (http://www.romagne14-18.com/index.php/en/), Facebook or telephone.
14) Any other comments?
The message behind my museum is to never forget that we are talking about humans. No color, no rank, no religion. Just young people.