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Verdugo Views: Le Mesnager was a good soldier

January 17, 2012|By Katherine Yamada
  • Frenchman George Le Mesnager settled in California in 1866, returning to France three times to defend his country; once during the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71 and twice during World War I. He was recognized as the oldest soldier to serve throughout World War I. (Courtesy of the Crescenta Valley Historical Society)
Frenchman George Le Mesnager settled in California in…

Frenchman George Le Mesnager, who once owned the land that is now Deukmejian Park, settled in this area in 1866 and returned to France three times to defend his native country.

He had barely arrived here and was working at various jobs, including as a court translator, when news of France’s war with Prussia reached here in 1870. He immediately left for France, enlisting as a private and serving as a color sergeant. After that war concluded, he returned here, according to Jo Anne Sadler, a member of the Crescenta Valley Historical Society, who has researched Le Mesnager extensively.

When World War I began, he was well into his sixth decade. “He could not sit idly by and see his devoted country again ground under the heel of Prussian tyranny,’’ wrote the Glendale Evening News, May 17, 1919. “When in September 1914, a company of daring young Americans decided to go over and join the French Air Service, he went with them, and his previous war experience made him a valued aid to his sore-stricken people.”

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Le Mesnager enlisted in the 106th Infantry, taking part in the French drive to retake three miles of territory from the Germans. He was wounded during this action and returned to the United States to recuperate. When his ship arrived in New York’s harbor in 1916, he was hailed as a war hero and interviewed by a correspondent from the New York Bureau of the Los Angeles Times. By then, Le Mesnager had received three medals for gallant service. “He is enthusiastic about the entire situation on the western front and believes the war will end before another winter is over,” the correspondent wrote on May 4, 1916.

Despite his age (he was credited at the time with being the oldest non-commissioned officer on the firing line) and his injuries, he returned to the front in 1917 with the rank of lieutenant. He was assigned to Gen. John Pershing’s office as a liaison to the French Army. “There he rendered remarkable service to General Pershing because of his unusual ability as a linguist,” according to The Times, Aug. 23, 1921.

After the war, he returned to his winery in northern Glendale and later received the Legion of Honor from the French Consul. “He will be the first resident of Southern California to receive the prized ‘red ribbon,’’ as the French call it,” said The Times, May 30, 1919.

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