On the porch of Arlington House Friday overlooking the Potomac River, Arlington officials and a delegation from the French city of Reims will reaffirm a partnership that began in 2004 — a sister city agreement.
“It’s a chance to build relationships and it’s a chance to learn and build relationships with people in a distant part of the world,” said Harry Amos, a retired Army veteran and president of the Arlington-Reims Committee for the Arlington Sister City Association.
At a time when international relations between the United States and France have become strained in light of the war in Iraq, these two local governments are forging a closer bond that pays tribute to the longer history of cooperation the two nations have shared since the American Revolution.
Arlington’s guests include the mayor of Reims, Jean-Louis Schneiter, vice mayor Roger Vache along with the city’s manager. Along with them are a teacher of English from a Reims school, Christine Berthou, journalists Jean-Francois Scherperel and Marie Jose van den Borre of the newspaper L’Union and photographer Gerard Peron.
The visit begins Friday with the laying of a wreath at the tomb of the unknown soldier. It is a fitting commencement for the event, Amos said, because the remains buried inside the tomb belong to a soldier found at Chalons, a small town near Reims, after World War II.
According to French newspaper articles published after the war, Chalons is where a young Army sergeant was asked to select one of the four caskets belonging to unidentified soldiers whose remains were recovered from the battlefield. Although the Army wanted little ceremony to accompany the departure of its fallen heroes, the people of Chalons insisted on honoring them with a procession as they left the town. Amos said the ceremony may include a recognition of Chalons' role in the tomb’s genesis.
The city is also where German armed forces signed the official surrender to the allies on May 7, 1945 .
The delegation will climb the hill to Arlington House, once the mansion of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee, after the wreath laying to re-sign the partnership agreement in a ceremony.
The visit is a chance for local leaders to meet and learn from each other but the agreement is more than a ceremonial matter. It means, said Amos, the potential for Reims and Arlington to share much more. There’s the potential for student exchanges, for example, between Arlington schools and those in Reims. Libraries in the two cities can share books and as their relationships build, so do new possibilities.
County Board member Barbara Favola signed the Sister City agreement during a visit to Reims in August, 2004. The event marked the adoption of Arlington’s third sister city. The county also has agreements with the cities of Aachen, in Germany and Coyoacan, in Mexico.
“The three sister cities have to build a strong friendship,” Favola said during her visit to Reims. “Even in difficult moments, I hope that they will be able to make their friendships live.”
Re-signing the agreement in Arlington, Amos said, validates it on both sides of Atlantic.
After the signing, county officials will follow the Reims guests to a meeting at the French embassy. And that evening, the Arlington Arts Center will host a reception.