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Milltown should rename Petain Avenue

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Milltown should rename Petain Avenue

Typing Letter to the Editor for the Opinion page.

I am a former resident of the Borough of Milltown, a product of its public schools, who has for a long time been bothered by the fact that an avenue in the borough is named for Marshal Henri Phillipe Petain, the Head of State for Vichy France.  

A collaborator with the Nazis, he was a virulent anti-Semite responsible for the transportation of thousands of innocent French citizens to Nazi death camps. Petain ordered French Forces to fire on ships of the United States Navy involved in the amphibious landing of Allied ground forces on the beaches of then-French Morocco in November 1942. One can visit the USS Massachusetts anchored today as a museum at Fall River, Massachusetts, and view an unexploded French artillery shell imbedded in her hull.

To me, having an avenue in a United States town named for an enemy of the U.S. in 2019 is completely ludicrous. Why not have a John Wilkes Booth Boulevard, Dr. Samuel A. Mudd Street or an L.H. Oswald Way? The fact that this avenue’s name was not altered by the Borough Council in December of1942 was a gross oversight which should be addressed/corrected in 2019 – the 75th anniversary year of Operation Overload/the D-Day Landings – without further delay.

A homeowner with a Petain Avenue address should welcome having to modify his/her mailing address to any other name. I am certain that the fact Milltown has an avenue named for such a convicted war criminal Petain depresses all home/real estate values. What Jewish person, in his/her right mind, would want to own a house in a town which has not changed that avenue’s name in 77 years? There is no better time than the present for Milltown’s Borough Council to rectify this omission. It will certainly go a long way toward making the Borough of Milltown a truly inclusive and welcoming community.

David H. Gaither

San Jose, California

Former Milltown resident


(1) comment


This subject is brought up every few years, by our residents. The decision has always been to leave the name as it is to prevent mailing address confusion for the few people who live on Petain. It is important to remember, also, that when the street was named, Petain was a hero of the then recently-ended Great War. The street was named in his honor, at that time, to favor to the very large French population of our small borough (who were brought here to work at the first US Michelin Tire factory). Should the street have been renamed after WWII, when his treasonous atrocities came to light? Absolutely. But here we are, over seven decades, and many mayors and borough councils later. It would be nice to see it renamed to honor a local Milltown icon, but I'm just not sure the council or mayor have it in them to actually make the long overdue change.

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