Commemorations followed celebrations on Bastille Day for French President Emmanuel Macron, who traveled to the Riviera city of Nice for a solemn remembrance of the 86 lives lost one year ago when a huge truck sped through revelers feting France’s national day.
The solemnity in Nice was in sharp contrast to the pomp and display of French military might at the Bastille Day parade hours earlier in the French capital before Macron’s guest of honor, U.S. President Donald Trump.
There, U.S. soldiers joined the traditional military parade, a bow to the centennial of the entry of U.S. soldiers into World War I, fighting and dying alongside the French, and to French-U.S. friendship.
In Nice, the honors went to victims of the carnage on July 14, 2016, as the city that is considered the jewel of the Riviera and best known as a center of carefree urban life tries to move forward without forgetting.
Fireworks displays were banned and the cannon traditionally fired on Bastille Day was silent. As in Paris, security was tight, the city heavily guarded on land and in the Mediterranean, and the Place Massena, the central square where Macron was to speak, was protected by cement blocks to stop intruders.
Still, the “Patrouille de France” air display team streamed the French colors – blue, white and red – over the crowd, hours after flying over the Champs-Elysees to open the Paris Bastille Day parade.
Two former French presidents, conservative Nicolas Sarkozy and Socialist Francois Hollande, Macron’s predecessor, arrived together. Among other dignitaries present was Prince Albert of Monaco. Macron’s wife Brigitte was also present.
Hundreds of people gathered on the famed Promenade des Anglais – where the truck, driven by a Tunisian long-time Nice resident, barreled into crowds. They laid plaques in the national colors that at day’s end will form a 160-meter-long message.
Earlier, the day had begun with a private interfaith gathering with representatives of seven religions.
Nice resident Jean-Paul Collona, 36, said he wanted to be part of the commemoration “because my parents were present during the attack, and their names could simply have been on those plaques.”
In contrast, the parade in Paris coupled traditional displays of military might with a look at wars past and present – and a nod to the U.S. role in both.
Several highlights of the parade put the United States in the spotlight. Eight U.S. Air Force fighter jets were first invited to immediately follow the nine Alphajets of the “Patrouille de France.” A joint detachment of U.S. 145 Army and Navy troops and Marines soldiers opened the ground parade. Five of them wore period World War I uniforms.
At the end of the ceremony, the two presidential couples left their seats at the Place de la Concorde and stood in front of giant French and American flags that were unfurled by soldiers. Trump was then whisked away.
Macron, in a speech, thanked the U.S. for intervening in World War I and said the fact that Trump was at his side “is the sign of a friendship across the ages.”