YAKIMA, Wash. — The Yakima Valley has plenty of ties to Latin America: A statue downtown honors Yakima’s sister city of Morelia in Mexico, and through much of the Valley, you’re as likely to hear Spanish as you are English.
But ties to France? Non, monsieur. That rather obscure connection is hiding in plain sight at Sarg Hubbard Park in the form of the seafoam green “Merci” boxcar.
The boxcar is one of 49 given to the United States in 1949 as a thank-you gift for the U.S.’s aid to France after World War II.
In 1947, the U.S. sent France $40 million worth of food and other supplies donated by people across the country. The much-needed donations were collected in what was dubbed the “Friendship Train,” and eventually filled more than 700 boxcars before being shipped overseas.
Out of gratitude, the French filled 49 boxcars of their own with gifts for the American people and sent their “Merci Train” back across the Atlantic. The cars went to the then-48 states with the last car split between Hawaii and the District of Columbia.
To date, six of the original boxcars have been lost or destroyed, but Yakima’s is still in reasonably good condition. Located within a metal enclosure at the top of the hill at Sarg Hubbard, the box car bears a red-white-and-blue banner reading “French Gratitude Train.”
It ended up in Yakima, thanks to Mel Tanasse, a former Moxee mayor who in the late 1980s was instrumental in rescuing the car from rusting and rotting where it stood on the west side of the state.
It’s called a “40 and eight,” because it had the capacity to carry 40 tightly crammed soldiers or eight horses. The cars were used by the French for military transport, as well as by American soldiers moving around Europe during World War II.
“The history of those (boxcars) and the reason they’re in the U.S. is a far bigger story than you can put placards up on the side of it to tell,” said Al Brown, executive director of the Yakima Greenway Foundation.
The boxcar serves to remind people of veterans and their sacrifices, he said.
“We’ve got to remember those people,” Brown said. “We’ve got to remember what they did for us.”