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‘A once-in-a-lifetime opportunity’: Duke, French military celebrate the namesake of the

PARIS — On June 10, a French military band played the Duke alma mater for a private reception of French generals and Duke students, officials and alumni in the heart of the French capital.

Roughly 150 attendees, some adorned with Duke Blue Devil horns, mingled in the garden of Hôtel des Invalides to celebrate the namesake of the Blue Devil mascot — “les Chasseurs Alpins,” or “the Alpine Hunters,” the elite mountain infantry unit of the French army.

Nicknamed “les diables bleus,” or “the Blue Devils,” after their blue berets and capes, the Chasseurs are renowned by the French public for their expertise in high mountain operations during World War I. The unit, which still exists today, was also recently deployed to Afghanistan and Mali

In 1922, The Chronicle, then known as The Trinity Chronicle, started using the nickname “Blue Devils” to describe Trinity College’s athletic teams after the student body could not agree on a name. 

In an editorial published in October of that year, a student wrote that upon hearing Blue Devils, “immediately there flashes into the mind a picture of those gallant fighters from France who never knew when they were defeated, and such is the spirit that should and will typify our team.” 

The moniker caught on by 1923, setting the stage for this event a century later.  

The evening reception was the third part of a series of Duke-Chasseurs events that took place on that humid day in the French capital. The afternoon began at the Château de Vincennes, a former royal residence, where the attendees toured various military history exhibits before transitioning to the Champs-Élysées for an official ceremony. 

Armed commandos in full combat attire stopped traffic, allowing the French generals and Duke officials, alumni, and other guests to march to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at the Arc de Triomphe. 

An hour-long ceremony ensued in which the generals, French guests and Duke officials, led by Alumni Board President Vikas Patel, Trinity ‘96 and School of Medicine ‘00, and Director of Regional Engagement Chris O’Neill, Trinity ‘85, laid wreaths at the foot of the eternal flame before signing the tomb’s prestigious guest book.

“It was a once in a lifetime opportunity that I’ll never forget,” noted sophomore Katalina Guma, who participated in the evening event. As she marched up the Champs-Élysées, she was told by a French general that she was “representing the United States.”

Eventually, the congregation made the brief trip down the Champs-Élysées and across the Pont Alexandre III bridge. The group arrived at the military complex, Hôtel des Invalides, to an elaborate soirée complete with live music, champagne and hors d’oeuvres.

The evening had its share of lighthearted moments — some American guests were surprised to discover that the small chocolate cakes contained foie gras. One soldier jokingly ordered the bartender to provide him champagne in a glass, and not the paper cup he had been originally handed. 

The Chasseurs band later paid tribute to the victims of the Annecy stabbings that had occurred only a few days prior. As the Chasseurs are headquartered in this Alpine region, the attack hit particularly hard for the unit. 

After the concert, the party transitioned indoors to an ornate reception hall, complete with a grotto. Guillaume Langle, a veteran of the unit who first reached out to Duke to organize the partnership in 2019, spoke about the similarities between the Chasseurs and Duke, noting the shared cultures of excellence, skill and bravery. 

President Vincent Price, who could not attend in person, also made an appearance via pre-recorded video, much to the delight of some students. 

The soirée was capped by a speech from the commanding general in French, thanking the attendees for their support and describing his unit. Following his speech, a group of Duke students succeeded at obtaining a picture with him, yet they were not as successful at getting him to don the blue devil horns.

“It was amazing to see how Duke can create connections across the world through a shared mascot,” remarked Anna Brown, a sophomore studying at Duke in Paris. 

Anaïs Lelièvre, Law School ‘14, who works as a lawyer in Paris, echoed this sentiment, noting how the night left her “even more proud to be a part of the Duke alumni base” and “belong to a community that transcends borders, backgrounds and ages throughout the world.”   

As the night wound down, the unit provided every guest with their own bottle of champagne from the Annecy region, allowing many to continue the party on Les Invalides’ sweeping lawn.  

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‘A once-in-a-lifetime opportunity’: Duke, French military celebrate the namesake of the