A Piece of the Past

A Piece of the Past

Nearly 75 years after his father served in World War II, a Rockville attorney heard from a French count with ties to his family

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After receiving an unexpected Facebook message from a college friend, Frank Inserra learned more about his father’s life during World War II. Photo by Liz Lynch.

 

Frank Inserra was standing in line at Starbucks near his Washington, D.C., office in February 2018 when he noticed a Facebook message on his phone from a college friend: “Is this your dad?” The friend had shared a post from a French count who was searching for relatives of a Frank Inserra who served in World War II and stayed at his family’s chateau in 1944. Inserra, whose father’s name was also Frank Inserra, was intrigued, but skeptical.

“When something comes out of the blue like that, your first impression is like: What is this?” Inserra says.

Inserra, an attorney with the Federal Communications Commission, was too busy during the workday to deal with the post. But he went online at home in Rockville that evening and read about Aymeric de Rougé and his 2,400-acre estate outside of Paris known as Chateau de Baronville. Inserra looked through a memento box of his father’s from the war that had felt like ancient history—until that moment.

Among the letters and trinkets, Inserra found two photos that were identical to what had been posted on Facebook: one of his dad in front of a troop transport, and another of a young boy in shorts wearing a U.S. Army helmet. The latter was Bertrand de Rougé, Aymeric’s father.

Photo courtesy of Frank Inserra.

“By the end of the night I thought, ‘This is pretty cool,’ ” says Inserra, who emailed de Rougé and shared about 10 other photos of their fathers’ time together. “My initial suspicion of motives was replaced with delight that my dad was recalled warmly after so many years.”

The story of the French-American connection by the next generation was covered last year in an article in The New Yorker.

In the summer of 1944, Inserra’s father, then 32, was bivouacked at Baronville with his Army Medical Corps unit. He befriended Bertrand, then 12, who had stuck his head into the soldier’s tent when he was popping popcorn. “In a sense, they were in need of one another. My father had a lot of younger brothers and had been overseas for a long time,” says Inserra, adding that his dad’s unit was friendly with the locals and welcomed after the German occupation. “Even back then, ‘hearts and minds’ was a big deal.”

Frank’s father, a physician, was from Boston and served in the corps from 1941 to 1946. He spoke enough French to communicate with Bertrand, and the two corresponded for several years. He also spent time with a family in England and with villagers in the Philippines.

“The more I live, the more I realize how many lives he touched,” Inserra says of his father.

 

Photo courtesy of Frank Inserra.

 

These days, de Rougé runs Baronville as a commercial enterprise with a winery and venue for special events and movie shoots. In a Skype call last year, Inserra and his sister, Donna Inserra of Chevy Chase, got a glimpse at the elegant residence that their dad had told them about years ago. “It was very fun to see the son of the boy I heard so much about,” Donna says of the call. “My father didn’t talk about the tough times. He talked about the good times. His time with this family was very special to him, so he had lovely memories of it.”

Through their emails, Frank Inserra learned that de Rougé summered in Maine. This past August, Inserra and his wife, Judy, had lunch with de Rougé and his family at de Rougé’s in-laws’ summer home.

Will Inserra take up de Rougé on an offer to visit Baronville? “In the fullness of time, when we are in France,” Inserra says. “Given what’s happened, stopping by to see what this is all about in the flesh for an afternoon is probably at least in the cards.”

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