AUBURN — Last week, Mayor Jason Levesque was in France holding an unexploded hand grenade.

He also walked past old foxholes, patches of field where land mines could still be hidden just under the earth, and found himself 75 feet underground in an old military bunker. 

During his weeklong trip, Levesque crossed off a major bucket list item by retracing the footsteps of his grandfather’s World War II U.S. Army division with the help of some French historians and town officials.

Along with his cousin, Levesque traveled 2,400 miles in a week — taking him from Frankfurt, Germany, and Bastogne, Belgium, to multiple locations in France and back to Germany. 

Levesque said his grandfather, Willard Levesque of Auburn, always wanted to return to France but never did before he died in 2005. He said he and his grandfather were close, and that he was “raised on” the stories from his grandfather and his 100th Infantry Division. 

“I just thought, ‘You know what, I’m just going to go,'” he said. 

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While planning his trip, Levesque discovered French historian Michel Klein, who is an expert on the 100th Infantry Division and who restores war relics. Levesque reached out to Klein and he offered to “taxi” Levesque around in a restored WWII jeep over the terrain on which his grandfather fought.

Klein is from the town of Bitche, France, which was a central battleground for the 100th division. Levesque said Klein received permission from the French Army to take Levesque to sites not typically available to tourists, including a large underground bunker.

“There’s still coal in the hoppers in the kitchen,” Levesque said. “It was very eerie. No American had been in there since 1945.” 

Levesque said that through his own research and through information from Klein, he knew “every town and every hill” the unit fought through, to the day. 

While in Bitche, Levesque was featured in a local television interview and he met with the town’s mayor, Gerard Humbert.

Levesque said he and Humbert had a long discussion about their respective municipalities, and found there were striking similarities — so much that they even talked of establishing a sister-city relationship. 

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Levesque said Auburn does not have a sister-city partnership, and that he may bring the idea to the City Council. 

While in Bitche, Levesque said he was welcomed by residents, who relayed WWII stories they grew up with. 

“It was like I was their long-lost cousin,” he said. “Their memories have not faded on World War II.” 

Throughout the weeklong trip, Levesque posted photos on social media. In one post, he’s holding the unexploded hand grenade found in the woods of France. He also shared photos of bunkers with bullet holes near the Maginot Line, and video of the foxholes that still exist in the forests outside Bastogne, Belgium, where the famous 101st Airborne Division fought.

He visited a number of large American cemeteries, and even stopped by the gravesite of Robert Stone, an uncle of Levesque’s friend, former Auburn City Councilor Bob Stone. 

The trip also included sites in Normandy, France, the site of the massive D-Day invasion on June 6, 1944. 

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Levesque was a member of the 1st Infantry Division during the 1990s, when he and other service members were often visited by World War II veterans from the same division. 

Asked whether his grandfather was ever wounded, Levesque said his grandfather told him he was once hit between the eyes by a piece of shrapnel.

“He said he pulled it out and stuck grease on it, though. He was a Frenchman,” Levesque said.

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Auburn Mayor Jason Levesque, right, stands with Mayor Gerard Humbert of Bitche, France, during Levesque’s trip last week to retrace the footsteps of his grandfather’s 100th Infantry Division in World War II. The 100th Infantry liberated the town in March 1945. (Submitted photo)

Auburn Mayor Jason Levesque poses for a photo last week on Omaha Beach in Normandy, France, a major site of the D-Day invasion of German-occupied France on June 6, 1944. (Submitted photo)

Auburn Mayor Jason Levesque, right, is interviewed by a local television station in France last week during a tour of historic World War II sites. (Submitted photo)


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