PARIS >> Officers of the French Republican Guard, riding motorcycles and wearing blue uniforms and white helmets, formed the honor guard escorting the simple dark car carrying the body of Col. Arnaud Beltrame to the Invalides in Paris for a hero’s memorial today.
President Emmanuel Macron gave a eulogy for Beltrame, and the gendarme was honored with a full military ceremony for his act of courage in voluntarily exchanging himself for a female hostage during a terrorist attack last week in the town of Trèbes, in southwest France, an act that saved the woman and possibly others, but that cost the gendarme his life.
“To accept to die so the innocent can live, that is the essence of what it means to be a soldier,” Macron said. “Others, even many who are brave, would have hesitated.”
Macron awarded Beltrame the title of Commander of the Legion of Honor, one of the highest accolades that France bestows.
Macron and Édouard Philippe, the prime minister, stood bareheaded out of respect for Beltrame, despite a chilly, steady rain, as did crowds of Parisians who lined the route the hearse took through the capital. Although most of the onlookers had not known the 44-year-old gendarme in life, they knew everything about his death.
Laying aside his weapon on Friday, Beltrame entered a Super U market in Trèbes not long after Radouane Lakdim, 25, had entered, wielding a handgun and a knife. Lakdim shot a customer and the supermarket’s butcher, and then took a female cashier as a hostage. Beltrame told him to let the woman go and to take him instead.
French news reports suggested on Wednesday that Beltrame had at some point tried to disarm Lakdim, precipitating the shooting and lethal knifing of the gendarme.
The Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attack, saying that Lakdim had been inspired by the militant group. The language used in the claim was similar to that employed in instances when the Islamic State has had no direct contact with an assailant.
Lakdim’s 18-year-old girlfriend, however, who has been identified only as Marine P., has been placed under formal investigation for terrorism-related charges including kidnapping, murder, and criminal conspiracy.
Beltrame’s act prompted an outpouring of support and a sense of community from people of different faiths and backgrounds. A Mass held for him in Trèbes on Sunday drew not only Christians but also Jews and Muslims, who saw the attack at the supermarket as an assault on their community and on a place where they all shopped.
“The light that Colonel Beltrame lit will not die with him,” Macron said today. “He symbolized the French spirit of resistance.”