Three Vitters of the French Résistance

Tough times often bring out the very best in people. France was facing very tough times during World War II when it was overrun in May 1940 by Hitler's Third Reich. The southern half of France officially remained in French control, ruled by the Vichy regime, an authoritarian government so named because it was headquartered in Vichy, France. The government was headed by Prime Minister Marshal Philippe Pétain, a hero of World War I, who signed an armistice with Germany on 22 June 1940 and thereafter assumed dictatorial powers.

Vichy France was essentially a German collaborationist regime. Germany had considerable leverage over the Vichy government: The Nazis held two million French prisoners hostage in forced labor camps, and in return they exacted a steep penalty of gold, food, and supplies from France. The Vichy regime cooperated by rounding up and killing tens of thousands of Jews, communists, and other "undesirables."

Meanwhile French General Charles de Gaulle worked closely with Supreme Commander of Allied Forces General Dwight David Eisenhower and became the de facto figurehead for the key underground group known as the French Résistance. The goal was an eventual Allied invasion of France against its German captors, facilitated by underground sabotage and attacks orchestrated by members of the French Résistance. Once the Allies got a foothold in France, they could link up with the French Résistance and drive the Nazis eastward.

That historic invasion occurred along the Normandy beaches of France by 160K American, British, and French troops on D-Day, 6 June 1944. By the end of August 1944, with the help of the French Résistance, over 2 million Allied troops arrived in France, though the toll was steep, with a total of 225K casualties incurred (killed or wounded). In addition, the Allies launched a complementary invasion in the south of France in August 1944. After the Allied defeat of the Nazis, Pétain was convicted of treason; de Gaulle commuted his sentence to life imprisonment.

The stories of three Vitters in the French Résistance — Louis, Roger, and Pierre Vitter — are documented in Jean-Pierre Vitter's manuscript A tous les Vitter du monde (To All the Vitters of the World) among other sources. The riveting TV historical drama Un village français (A French Village) about the German occupation and French Résistance is set in the same Franche-Comté region of eastern France where the three Vitters lived.

Roger Vitter French naval officer and Résistance fighter Roger Vitter.

Brothers Louis and Roger Vitter

The two brothers Louis Gaston Vitter (1913–1992) and Roger Camille François Vitter (1918–1955) were Jean-Pierre Vitter's uncle and father as well as Albert L. Vitter Sr.'s 3rd cousins. They were natives of Clerval in the Doubs department, Franche-Comté region of France, where their 2nd great grandfather Hérard Vitter immigrated to in 1799, as told in the history How the Vitters Got to Clerval.

Louis and Roger were both heros of the French Résistance, formally known as the F.F.I. (French Forces of the Interior). Older brother Louis was seriously injured by the Germans — losing an arm, a leg, and an eye. Partly as a recompense after the war, the French government granted Louis a license for tobacco distribution, which was how he earned his living for the rest of his days.

We know more about Roger's career from his son Jean-Pierre: Roger originally entered the seminary but left and entered the French navy as an electrician, where he served eventually as an officer on the ships Colbert and Jean Bart and submarine Thétis during 1934–1940. He received a citation of the order of the brigade for his submarine service in April–May 1940 in the North Sea, during which he spent 300 hours underwater!

Even more significantly, Roger Vitter went underground during WWII near his native Clerval. He took part in dangerous reconnaissance and sabotage missions behind German lines. And when Clerval was liberated, he did undercover operations against the Germans in other locales. On 26 September 1944, French Maréchal Marie-Pierre Kœnig, who commanded the F.F.I., awarded Roger Vitter with the following citation (translated from French):

"Resisting [German occupation] from the very beginning, he was a regular volunteer for arms transport, dangerous liaison missions, and sabotage. Shunning danger and going ever forward, he volunteered for combat in his native region of Clerval and Crosey-le-Petit as well as for reconnaissance behind enemy lines. After the liberation of Clerval, he took on other reconnaissance missions in dangerous areas."

For his work in parachuting and camouflaging arms during the battle around Clerval, Roger Vitter was awarded the War Cross with bronze star. He received several medals and designations.

The two brothers Louis and Roger Vitter were the only children of their parents Louis Constant and Julie Augustine (née Reguillot) Vitter, and they married the two sisters Andrée Germaine Riot (1912–?) and Simone Denise Ernestine Riot (1918–1999), respectively, who were the only children of their parents Stanislas and Marie (née Felez) Riot. The Riots were prominent members of the Clerval community; Stanislas was a noted Citroën dealer and inventor, and Marie was a well-known hat maker. Andrée became known locally for her beauty parlor in Clerval, and Simone worked as an artist in Vaucluse, France.

Louis and Andrée had two sons: Guy and Joël. Roger and Simone had three children: Jean-Pierre and twins Alain and Andreé. Roger served as an officer of the court and passed away at 36 years old.

Pierre Vitter French Résistance fighter and Senator Pierre Vitter.

Senator Pierre Vitter

Pierre Joseph Louis Léon Vitter (1913–1995), who was Louis & Roger Vitter's 2nd cousin and Albert L. Vitter Sr.'s 3rd cousin, was a pharmacist from the city of Gray in the Haute-Saône department, Franche-Comté region of France, about 50 miles west of Clerval. Like Louis & Roger, Pierre served in the French Résistance from 1940–1945 and was a guerilla fighter in 1944.

After the war, while a pharmacist, Pierre went on to many accomplishments in the public sector. Like his American 3rd cousin 2x removed and Jeff's brother, U. S. Senator David Vitter, Pierre Vitter served in his nation's Senate. He played several important roles:

  • Honorary member of parliament;
  • Chevalier de la Légion d'Honneur;
  • Mayor of Gray from 1947–1977;
  • French Senator (the youngest in France) from 1948 to 1951;
  • Deputy in the National Assembly, reelected six times, between 1956 and 1978;
  • President of the General Council;
  • Member of the Regional Council from 1952–1976;
  • Member of the Parliamentary Assembly;
  • Member of the West European Union;
  • Member of the European Council for 17 years; and
  • Founding president of the Youth Commission of the European Council for 10 years.

Along with his wife, fellow pharmacist and Ukranian immigrant Irène (née Himitch) Vitter (1916–2011), Pierre ran a popular drugstore in the town of Gray. In fact, the furniture from the store is now featured 13 miles north in the Musée départemental des Arts & Techniques (Haute-Saône Museum of Arts & Popular Traditions) at the Château de Champlitte.

Pierre was also a colorful keeper of Vitter family history. He was the source of the two legends — one about Charles-Quint and the other about the two brothers — that were recounted in the histories How the Vitters Got to Clerval and Après le « Aha! moment » (et avant aussi !). He and Irène had four children: son Michel and daughters Annie, Christine, and Dominique.

More Vitter Histories