An all but forgotten memorial to American Soldiers who died in France during the two world wars - The Merci Box Car - is getting a face-lift and veterans hope the new look will renew interest in that priceless piece of history.
The car - the same as those used to transport troops accross France during both wars - is situated on Reed Street just off Bremer Street.
Following World War II, 49 such box cars - one for each state and one for the District of Columbia - were sent to the United States by the French Goverment as its way of saying "thank you" for this contry's assistance in the wars.
The cars were meant as memorials to Americans who fought and died on French soil in defense of world freedom. There are less that 35 of these cars still in existence.
The facelift which involves the rebuilding of the structure which houses the car, is being completed by the New England Trade Institure with financing from St. Mary's Bank. Additionally, the Grand Voiture du New Hampshire 40 & 8, which is responsible for the memorial, has given a $5,0000 scholarship to the Institute.
"The car itself is still in good condition," said Don Still, a 40 & 8 official, "but the house surronding it fell into disrepair over the years and we voted last October to have it rebuilt. We Approached the N.E. Trade Institure for help and students were assigned to rebuild the structure as a school project.
"We hope the new building - which will be completed in a few weeks - will renew interest in the car," said Still.
"A lot of people have forgotten about it over the years and that's a shame because it's a true memorial to those who died in battle."
Each September, Still said, 40 & 8 members gather to commemerate those who died and to read the names of the Grand Voiture du New Hampshire 40 & 8 during the previous year.
Prior to shipment, each car toured France and villagers were encouraged to place gifts and mememtos in them for distribution to the American People.
The cars came ladden with gifts that ranged from now priceless china to a small piece of paper with a child's inked handprint on it. Other gifts included handmade lace, clothing, dolls, wines and cheese, expensive perfumes, paintings, money, American, German, and French weapons taken from the battlefields, snapshots of families - some with American soldiers - and a multitued of other items.
Although the whereabouts of most of the gifts are unknown, at least two paintings from the train are hanging in the library of the Association Canado-Americaine in Manchester and a prominet Queen City French Family was given one of the china vases from the train.
The cars arrived in the late 1940s and the Granite State's car was taken to Concord where it remained until 1953 when it was given to Manchester at the request of the Grand voiture du New Hampshire of the 40 & 8 which promised to enshrine it and hold regular services at its site to keep its memory alive.
A local church donated the Reed Street plot.
"The car is empty now," said Still, "but we still hold an annual ceremony at the site as promised in 1953."
The car, which still bears the coats-of-arms of the then 40 French provinces may be viewed at anytime by the public. Although the doors to the structure surrounding the car are generally kept locked, there are a number of large viewing windows.