Tribute to 549 soldiers killed in "Opex"


There will be 549 names. The last one was added a few days ago. Brigadier-in-Chief Ronan Pointeau, who was engaged in 1st Spahi regiments, fell to Mali on November 2nd, hit by an improvised explosive device placed by Islamic State terrorists in the Sahel. The 24-year-old has joined the sad list of French soldiers killed since 1963 during an "external operation", an army mission outside the national territory. A monument, inaugurated this November 11 in Paris in the park Andre-Citroen by the President of the Republic Emmanuel Macron, will pay them tribute from now on. "This 11th of November dedicates the entry of the family of" Opex "into the memory ecosystem"they say at the Elysee. Since 2012, the commemoration of November 11th – the armistice of the First World War – is an opportunity to honor all the dead for France. At the ceremony at the Arc de Triomphe on Monday morning, the names of the five fallen soldiers this year will be pronounced.

After the soldiers of the world wars and the wars of decolonization in Indochina and Algeria, these 547 men and these two women belong to the "Fourth generation of fire"who fights on behalf of France far from her. The overwhelming majority of these soldiers belonged to the army. They were 71 to be officers, 201 to be non-commissioned officers and 277 non-commissioned members. It was in Lebanon, in the 1980s, that the tribute was the heaviest with 141 deaths. Operations in Chad, starting in 1979, killed 129 soldiers. In Afghanistan, the army lost 85 men and 78 in the former Yugoslavia. In Mali, the operation Barkhane accuses 23 losses. The French army has also lost men in Côte d'Ivoire (22), Congo (14), Central African Republic (12), Iraq (12), Gabon (9), Egypt (9), the Persian Gulf (4), in Somalia (3), Haiti (3), Cambodia (3), Burkina Faso (2) and Rwanda (1). Since the end of the war in Algeria in 1962, the list traces the geography of the zones of influence of France in the world and threats to it.

For General Lecointre, Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces, the inauguration of the war memorial in Opex does not only mean "Honor our soldiers". "It's also about saying that today France is fighting and that the best of her children are going to fight", he said in October at a symposium organized by Anopex, the association of veterans of Opex. "It's a monument to say we're at war", he added. A war against terrorism.

For all of us, it's important

Pascale Lumineau, who lost her son Pierre-Olivier to Afghanistan in 2012

Initiated under Nicolas Sarkozy, the war memorial project of Opex took eight years to come true. It was necessary to overcome administrative heaviness and political bickering between the State and the City of Paris so that the statue, representing six soldiers carrying an invisible coffin, be installed in the Andre-Citroen Park, not far from the Ministry of the Armies in the 15th arrondissement of Paris. It finds its place in the former "Black Garden", renamed Garden Eugenie-Djendi, former radio operator during the Second World War, deported and executed in Ravensbruck in 1945. The foundation stone of the building was posed symbolically by Francois Hollande in the spring of 2012. Then the Macron government took care of unlocking an encysted process.

"For all of us, it's important"says Pascale Lumineau, who lost her son Pierre-Olivier to Afghanistan in 2012. "But for me, my son is not here", she adds, preferring as a place of memory the cemetery where he is buried. Like many families, the project's accumulated delays have disappointed her. "It hurts, but we can not do anything about it"she sighs. However, she praises the military institution that supported her in the mourning or the importance of national ceremonies that "Help" to accept death.

The families of the 549 soldiers were all contacted and solicited after a long and sometimes difficult "treasure hunt". Unlike other veterans, not all soldiers who come from external operations are organized in representative associations. At the Secretary of State for Veterans Affairs, it was necessary to join the regiments one by one and the last invitations arrived just a few days ago. Beside official officials, 600 people will be present Monday in Paris, linked to 250 dead soldiers. For others, who could not or did not want to travel to Paris, special support was offered by the National Veterans Board to participate in local ceremonies.

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