I shared lunch with a charming woman of my generation, and we talked of times gone by. She recounted to me her time in France during World War II.
She was born Dec. 23, 1931 in Chaumont Haute Marne, France. The small French town is situated by the river Marne, and an ancient viaduct is visible on the outskirts of the town. She was one of four children. Her father worked for the telephone-post office, which was a combination of services to the city.
Ginette went to school, and at 13 ½ years old, graduated and completed her education. During the summer, she went sent to the countryside with relatives to help out on the farm. She guided cows to the pastures, helped with the milking and did whatever chores she was told to be done.
The cry, “Germans are coming,” could be heard in her town. People began to gather their belongs and their exodus into the countryside. Ginette’s family traveled with the little they carried with them in a baby buggy and walked for two days for many miles. They decided ultimately it was better to return to their home and make the best of the situation.
The Germans arrived with tanks and artillery and told the people to go back to their houses. Since Ginette’s family was not Jewish, they were safe. The people in the village who were Jewish had businesses taken away, and their shops were shut down. Many Jewish people were the shopkeepers of clothing stores, local food stores and the pharmacy. Only the Jewish people were focused upon. They were then gathered and sent to concentration camps.
When Ginette’s family returned to their home, the Germans had captured the town. They occupied the top story of their house for some of the soldiers for some time until they could use the hotel in town for the German headquarters.
There were some townspeople who became active in the French underground movement. When they were discovered their homes were burned down and hostages were taken. Most of the townspeople did not resist, and the Germans did not threaten them.
Ginette remembers dealing with the ordeal of not enough food. Meat, eggs and other items were rationed. She used to go to the Boulangerie for bread with the ration stamps. Often, she would distract the person with which she was dealing with sweet conversation and walk away without using her stamps. There’s more for another day.
She remembers the bombing while still in school at and seeking underground shelter. The bombing was targeted where the Germans had supplies and ammunitions.
Finally, the cry, “the Americans are coming,” could be heard, and the people rejoiced. June 6 was D-Day, the invasion of France, and it began at Omaha Beach. The Americans ultimately liberated France on Aug. 25, 1944.
From 1951-67, there was a U.S. Air Force base under NATO on the outskirts of the city of Chaumont. Like many towns in many countries, the young girls went to the city to meet and dance with the young soldiers. And so it was there Ginette met and married a Yank and came to the United States in 1956. She had a daughter in France and a son born in the U.S.
Today, she is a vibrant octogenarian who lives at Del Webb in Mt. Juliet. She can be spotted almost daily fishing in the lake for tilapia with fishing buddies and is active in many functions. God bless strong survivors, and we welcome their stories.
Linda Alessi contributes a column to The Democrat on life’s later decades.