War Memorial officially becomes home of ‘Les Braves II’

By: K. Michelle Moran | Grosse Pointe Times | Published June 21, 2023

 Anilore Banon addresses the hundreds of people on hand for the formal dedication of “Les Braves II” May 25 at The War Memorial.

Anilore Banon addresses the hundreds of people on hand for the formal dedication of “Les Braves II” May 25 at The War Memorial.

Photo provided by The War Memorial

GROSSE POINTE FARMS — As July 4 draws near, people will have a new monument to visit that commemorates the sacrifices made by World War II soldiers.

“Les Braves II: At Water’s Edge,” a large sculpture on the lake side of The War Memorial in Grosse Pointe Farms, pays homage to the soldiers who stormed the beaches of Normandy, France during World War II, turning the tide of the war against the Nazis. Created by French sculptor Anilore Banon, “Les Braves II” is a twin to Banon’s original “Les Braves,” which is in Normandy, on Omaha Beach, and was created to mark the 60th anniversary of the D-Day invasion in 2004. It honors the western Allied forces who landed on Omaha Beach during World War II on June 6, 1944.

Banon was among the dignitaries present for a dedication of “Les Braves II” May 25, as part of The War Memorial’s Memorial Day week programming.

The stainless steel “Les Braves II” weighs 11.5 tons and is 50 feet wide and 25 feet tall. The three parts of the sculpture represent three elements: The Wings of Hope; Rise, Freedom; and The Wings of Fraternity.

Born in Casablanca, Morocco, Banon moved to France as a toddler. She has lived around the world, but now calls Paris home. Her large-scale sculptures begin as drawings, and then she builds a model that’s about a third the size to see if the piece is feasible. Banon has a team in her studio who works closely with her to bring her visions to life and with whom she shares a special bond.

“For me, the making part is very important,” Banon said. “It raises questions all the time. … I like that process.”

Banon said she had always intended on creating a second “Les Braves” as “a bridge over the Atlantic (Ocean).”

“I really work always to build bridges,” Banon said.

For her, it was a question of finding the best location for the sculpture. When she learned about The War Memorial, and its position on Lake St. Clair, across the water from Canada, she knew she had found that location.

“I thought it was right,” Banon said. “It was the right place at the right time.”

The process to bring “Les Braves II” to North America started with a 2019 letter to Banon from former War Memorial President and CEO Charles Burke, who was struck by the original during a family trip to Omaha Beach and asked if she would consider creating a second “Les Braves” for The War Memorial.

“He worked very hard to make this happen,” War Memorial Board President Donna Hoban said of Burke during the dedication. “Without Charles, I don’t think this would have happened.”

Hundreds of local residents were on hand for the dedication, which took place on the back lawn of The War Memorial and featured a performance by the U.S. Army Herald Trumpets and a keynote speech by Utah Valley University Professor Greg Jackson, host of the popular podcast, “History That Doesn’t Suck.” As if on cue, a bald eagle majestically crossed the sky shortly before the ceremony began.

Grosse Pointe Shores resident Gary Mitchell said this was his first time seeing the sculpture.

“I really am very impressed with this,” Mitchell said.

U.S. Navy veteran Mike Trudel, of Grosse Pointe City, was wowed as well.

“This is amazing, what they’ve done with this,” Trudel said.

Bud Cornillie, of Grosse Pointe Woods, a U.S. Army veteran who served during the Vietnam War, was also moved by the sculpture.

“It’s very inspiring,” Cornillie said. “It brings a lot of things to mind, but it means a lot to honor the veterans like this.”

Grosse Pointe City resident Jane Schmidt said she was looking forward to the Dave Bennett concert at the end of the evening, but that wasn’t her primary reason for attending the dedication.

“We’ve been reading about the sculpture for quite a while now,” Schmidt said. “Obviously, we wanted to see that this (Memorial Day) weekend. Anything to honor the veterans is so important.”

Deann Newman, treasurer of the Louisa St. Clair Chapter Daughters of the American Revolution, said the local DAR chapter was working with War Memorial officials to place a Revolutionary War monument on War Memorial property, to commemorate America’s independence from British rule. Several other DAR members were present May 25 as well.

“We’re really excited to support The War Memorial and their efforts tonight,” Newman said.

Interim War Memorial President and CEO Maria Miller thanked the many people who made “Les Braves II” possible, including the contractors who installed the sculpture with care and “a sense of pride.” She also thanked Ron and Mary Lamparter, longtime War Memorial supporters.

U.S. Rep. Jack Bergman, a U.S. Marine Corps veteran, spoke and presented certificates of recognition with a representative from U.S. Sen. Gary Peters’ office to the World War II veterans invited to the sculpture dedication. Peters is also a veteran.

“Thank you for your service,” Bergman told all the veterans in attendance, after asking them to stand and be recognized. “Thank you for our freedom.”

Banon was profoundly touched by the courage of the American, British and Canadian soldiers who fought on Omaha Beach to liberate France from the Nazis. Thousands of them died on that beach and remain interred in France, and the spot is a place WWII veterans and their loved ones come to pay tribute to the fallen.

Grosse Pointe Farms Mayor Louis Theros, who spoke during the dedication, recalled his own visit to Normandy as “one of the most moving events of my life.”

“If you have never been to Normandy … movies, pictures, stories cannot capture what our brave soldiers had to endure,” Theros. “Hundreds of yards of sand before they got to the cliffs.”

Banon said people told her she was crazy when she proposed putting her original “Les Braves” on the beach, where it faces the crashing ocean tides, but the only group whose opinion mattered to her was the veterans.

“They were all unanimous and enthusiastic,” Banon told attendees during the dedication.

“They said, our life remains here forever. That’s why we come back every year in June. Some of our friends are still here. … With that, I started to fight with all of the people who said we couldn’t do it. It was impossible not to.”

Banon said her art is about bringing people together, especially in this fraught time worldwide, when there is so much fear and uncertainty. She’s currently working with the scientific community to make a sculpture with 1,000 engraved handprints that would be placed on the moon.

“It’s a way to convey a spirit of positive energy,” Banon said of art. “We can change things. We, together, can change things. It’s possible. … We, as artists, have to unite.”