To contact William McSweeney and others working on the Charleston-Flers project, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more information, visit Flers Normandy Charleston SC on Facebook.
Bill McSweeney was attending a family funeral in Toulouse, France, last summer when he learned a part of Charleston's history that he never had heard growing up here or teaching history at the College of Charleston.
In the devastation that followed World War II, the Holy City reached out to assist Flers, a small town not far from the beaches of Normandy.
Flers (pronounced 'flair') had suffered heavy bombing from the allies as they sought to weaken the German presence there before the D-Day invasion, and it saw further fighting as Allied soldiers passed through. By the end of the war, 80 percent of the town had been destroyed, and its surviving inhabitants faced a daily struggle to make ends meet.
In 1948, William Montgomery Bennett, a Connecticut man who was spending the winter in the Lowcountry, began reaching out to churches, monasteries, city and business leaders and schools on both sides of the Atlantic to encourage South Carolina cities to "adopt" a French town in need.
More than a dozen did, but the city of Charleston did it best: It shipped Flers about 100 tons of supplies, including a new Chevrolet utility truck. Mayor Bo Morrison paid a visit, and the Charleston Naval Base also sent the destroyer Shea to make a goodwill visit to the coast, where it hosted 35 orphans from Flers.
The French town was moved so much by the city's help that it dedicated one of its urban squares as "Place Charleston."
McSweeney, who is now retired and dividing his time between Charleston and Alabama, said he is hoping to spread the word about this story of generosity as the 70th anniversary of the D-Day invasion nears this June.
"I thought this would be a good opportunity to raise a little bit of awareness on that front," he said, adding that he hopes the anniversary can be marked by a renewed connection and possibly some new mutual charitable work.
McSweeney has reached out to the city of Charleston, the Alliance Francaise de Charleston, the Carolina Youth Development Center and others, and plans to have an organizational meeting Monday about how best to rekindle the relationship.
He, and others with the city and Alliance, said last week that it's too soon to say how their effort will proceed. "We're working that through," McSweeney said. "We're still gathering the appropriate folks."
McSweeney has never been to Flers and said he was a little taken aback when a computer search showed that Place Charleston resembled a parking area, "but that's not really what this is all about. It's about the two cities at one time being connected and there being this feeling of benevolence."
Reach Robert Behre at 937-5771.