Secretary of State John Kerry frequently talks about his father, a career foreign service officer, as a key influence. But Kerry rarely sheds light on his mother’s experience abroad, as a young nurse who was separated from her future husband by the ravages of war.
Speaking at the State Department’s luncheon honoring French President Francois Hollande, Kerry noted that his parents first met and fell in love on the Brittany coastline of France in the small town of Saint-Briac-sur-Mer, where Kerry’s mother’s kin, the Forbes family, had a home.
Kerry recounted how she was separated from her future husband, and barely escaped the Nazis as they entered Montparnasse, where she had been working as a nurse treating wounded soldiers.
“The day before the Nazis entered the city, she escaped with her sister, ahead of their advances, on a bicycle, and proceeded to forage her way across France while German fighters were strafing them en route, and she made her way to Portugal, eventually, where she boarded a ship that brought her to the United States and brought me here,” Kerry said.
He returned to the small village with his mother as a young child.
“One of my first memories was holding her hand and walking through the bombed-out and burned-down remains of her family’s home, which had been used as a headquarters by the Germans, and then in retreat, as Patton came through, they burned it and bombed it. When we walked through, only a chimney and a stone staircase stood up, rising into the sky,” Kerry said.
But the Kerry connection is still strong in the tiny town. His cousin, Brice Lalonde, now a United Nations official, was the mayor there from 1995 to 2008.