The French Remember
El Camarón, Veracruz

Photographs and Text by John Todd, Jr.

In September 2002, our car broke down and we were forced to spend the weekend in Juxtlahuaca, Oaxaca. It was there I heard the story of a train wreck in El Camarón, Veracruz saved the Mexican treasury. An old man man in the market in Juxtlahuaca had told me the story about how he worked as a watchman on the railroad there for 30 years and he knew for sure that it was true.

On a Sunday in October of 2002, we drove over to the hamlet of El Camarón, Veracruz to look for a plaque about the train wreck. The plaque wasn´t there any more, but, instead we found a monument and a parade ground to the French Foreign Legion, out in the middle of nowhere.

The Story
Almost one year after 5 de Mayo, on April 30, 1863, a French regiment was ambushed by Mexican troops. When it looked like it was hopeless, the Mexicans offered the French a chance to surrender. The French valiantly said they would fight to the last bullet and to the last man. And, they did. There were 26 legionnaires dead: 23 soldiers and 3 officers. 16 lay wounded and survived and were taken to the hospital of the Daughters of Charity in Huatusco, 80 km. from El Camarón.

The people in town told us each year on April 30 there is a big celebration to commemorate this act of bravery which today is one of the big holidays for the French Foreign Legion in France. French dignitaries from Mexico City, and even the Governor of the State of Veracruz comes to El Camarón to celebrate this event.

The following April 30 I wanted to be there.

How to Get there
I Almost Forgot
It was the last Friday in April. April 30. "El Día del Niño".

I got up early as usual, and with the first cup of coffee I was waiting for my head to clear, listening to the morning news on XEU radio.

"Buenos Días, today is El Día del Niño, and today in history is the 141st anniversary of the Battle of El Camarón."

"Oh, groan! I had forgotten again!", I thought to myself.

Drum and Bugle Corps
If I am going to Camarón, I´d better get going.I hurriedly fixed breakfast, and ran out the door.

It was about 8:30. The ceremony probably would start at 10. There was still time.

It was just before 10 when I got there. I found a parking place and walked towards the El Camarón monument.

Just then, from around the corner, I heard the sounds of the Mexican Army Drum and Bugle Corps. It was coming my way!
The Monument Downtown
The Parade begins
The Monument
More school children arrived, and began waiting in the sun. It was beginning to get hotter.

Then a rented bus arrived and the dignitaries got out.

A couple of the men were wearing uniforms like out of the movies about France. Two of them were carrying what looked like some very old flags.

They carefully laid a wreath at the foot of the monument, and the Drum and Bugle Corps called for one minute of silence.

The townspeople stared respectfully.
At Attention
Campesinos in the Shade
Hot Day for Kindergartners
School Flag
School Flag

A Moment of Silence
Watching the Ceremony
French Foreign Legion Officials
A Second Parade
At the Conclusion of the first ceremony on main street in town, the Drum and Bugle Corps took the lead, followed by the school children.

And together all of us formed an informal parade toward Mausoleo park, just outside town, about 3 blocks away.

The officials mixed well with the townspeople as we walked through the hot streets that morning.
Walk to the Mausoleum
Tagging Along
The little school children and the French officials walked along together. I wasn´t far behind.

Each Member of the Mexican Drum and Bugle Corps carries a rifle, reflecting the traditions of the Mexican Army.
Walk to the Mausoleum
Drums, Bugles, and Rifles at the Ready
To Protect and Serve
Families Join the Parade
French Support Staff
Hot as Blazes
It was very hot. I thought about asking this guy if it ever got this hot in Paris.

But, thought the better of it, and continued walking the hot streets toward the Mausoleo.
Las Bastoneras
Las Bastoneras de Xalapa
As we arrived at the Mausoleo, we were welcomed by several groups of cheerleaders brought in from Xalapa.

They added to the festive atmosphere.
The French Lieutenant
The French Lieutenant
I met Francois, a French Lieutenant from the French Embassy in Mexico City.

He was looking for his Colonel.
Head of the French Foreign Legion
Giving out French and Mexican Flags
Two Flags
Security is Tight
Shade of a Framboyan Tree
Waiting for the Governor
Everyone was waiting for the governor to arrive. The fortunate ones had found a place in the shade.

Soon a helicopter flew overhead and landed in a nearby field.

Everyone began looking, and in front of a flying wedge of Army and Naval officers, came Governor Miguel Aleman, dressed in a black suit. It must have been very hot.

To his right is Lic. José Antonio Coutelenc, Mayor of El Camarón. Lic. Coutelenc published an extensive account of the Battle of El Camarón on the Internet.

I wish the photographer hadn´t gotten in the way.

People moved toward the area where the speeches would soon begin.
The Governor of Veracruz
The Governor of Veracruz
Main Table
The End
Time to Head Home
The first speaker was Lic. Coutelenc.

Next, the Commander of the French Foreign Legion spoke in French praising the values of his fallen comrades 141 years ago. I could see a long ceremony was just beginning.

And, with the hot sun, I had reached my limits. Plus I was out of space on my digital camera. For me, it was time to think about heading home.

One of people I met worked in the mayor´s office and invited me to come back. He said he would introduce me to the mayor!

It also looks like they are tearing down the old Victorian train station and I would like to get some last pictures.

So, I am looking forward to another trip back to El Camarón. I want to find what´s left of the Hacienda La Trinidad.

Back for Another Look
Later some people wrote and asked if I would go back for a closer look at the monument grounds. So, I went back for another look at the details.

Back to the History Section

>>> Back for Another Visit to El Camaron