War and Peace: The Friendship of Louis Chevrillon and Herbert Hoover

Part 3

By Thomas F. Schwartz

Sustained by Hoover’s loan of 100,000 francs, Chevrillon also received infrequent shipments of food aid through Hoover’s Lisbon agents.  By 1942 Chevrillon reported that, “the markets are empty….the harvests for next year are announced as poor.”  He added, “already the ration itself is insufficient for normal feeding and the children suffer seriously.  The death of all the little children is increasing in a terrible way.”  In spite of these hardships, Chevrillon took time to send his condolences on October 26, 1944 to Hoover upon hearing of the death of Lou Henry Hoover.  “My wife and I wish to tender to you our sincere condolence for the great loss that you have sustained by the death of Mrs. Hoover,” wrote Chevrillon.  “we both had towards her a great feeling of affection and gratitude and will never forget her kindness to us in the far distant days of 1917.”

In this same letter Chevrillon describes the condition of his own family:

“My eldest daughter, Monique, is now married to an aviation officer who has been all through the 1940 campaign during which he has had several very narrow escapes.  He succeeded in November 1942 in joining North Africa and has been at some front or other ever since.  He commands now a battalion of parachutists largely employed as a ‘troupe de choc [shock troops].’  Monique is now a full-fledged government nurse and will shortly join her husband at the front.  For the last two years she and her sister, Genevieve, have been actively employed in the ‘Resistance’ mostly helping British and American aviators fallen in or near Paris.  Several of them have come to our house and stayed with us to our great joy.  But they had to change lodgings every second day at least and the children were busily employed finding hospitable friends who took them in.

Her sister, Genevieve, is now engaged to young Guy di Boyston who was quite a young chief of the ‘Resistance’ in Paris.  He was the head of an organization most members of which were taken by the Gestapo; he remained practically alone and had to assume the greatest responsibilities and risk.  Several of his friends were shot or very roughly handled by the Germans.

My eldest son, Rene, in March 1942, just eighteen years of age, left us for North Africa.  He crossed the Pyrenees Mountains at an altitude of 9000 feet with snow up to his waist and only succeeded to reach Spain and fall into the hands of the Spanish Police.  For two months, he was in prison.  Finally in June 1942, he reached Barcelona where he had to stay five months before he could embark for Casablanca.  He immediately entered the Naval School there and we just heard that he has been through all his exams and is now a young Midshipman not 20 years of age embarking on his first boat at Beyrout.

My youngest son—15 years—is still at school, had got his B.A. and has acted as a kind of errand boy for his sisters all through their activities.

Now we have a feeling of immense relief but the sky is not clear yet and we must, alas! submit to another winter of war with no coal, very little electric power and a frightfully high cost of living.”

Always the loyal friend, Hoover penciled out a grocery list of items to be sent to Chevrillon including coffee, soap, cocoa, tea, chocolate, bouillon cubes and dehydrated soups.  Bernice “Bunny” Miller, Hoover’s secretary, made regular orders through R.R. Macy & Company to have these basic items shipped to Chevrillon.  On April 20, 1945 a grateful Chevrillon wrote Hoover: “What is to me of the greatest value is the kind and friendly interest taken by my American friends in my welfare and that of my family as we say in French ‘La facon de donner vaut mieux que ce qu’on donne [How to give is better than what you give or The way of giving is better than what is given].’  The Hoover/Chevrillon correspondence continued until Chevrillon’s death in 1955.  Details of the political controversies in post-war France and Europe were often the topics.  Chevrillon promised to send materials documenting the period of the war and aftermath to the Hoover Institution at Stanford.  Upon Chevrillon’s death, his wife Hedwige, continued to update Hoover on family matters and life in France.  Hedwige was an accomplished writer and frequently sent her published poems to Hoover as ongoing expressions of their friendship.  The last significant act of friendship was Hoover’s February 3, 1958 letter to Wilber Brucker, Secretary of the Army, asking Brucker to reinstate the security clearance for Rene Chevrillon, one of Louis’s sons.  Because Rene’s brother-in-law had a brief involvement with the French Communist Party in the immediate aftermath of the war, US officials felt Rene a security risk.  Hoover’s intervention seemed to make the difference.

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