K. T. Robbins returned to France to commemorate the anniversary of D-Day, not expecting to get a second chance at love.
- Posted on Jun 17, 2019
Songwriter Sammy Cahn once wrote, love is lovelier the second time around. He'd likely get no argument from 97-year-old World War II veteran K. T. Robbins.
In June 2019, Robbins, who currently resides in Olive Branch, Mississippi, returned to France for the first time since the war to take part in the activities commemorating the 75th anniversary of D-Day. While there, he experienced a reunion he could never have expected.
In 1944, Robbins was stationed in the northeastern French village of Briey, where the 24-year-old staff sergeant was assigned to a mobile bakery unit that made 3,000 pounds of bread daily for the troops.
Robbins soon met a 18-year-old local girl named Jeannine Ganaye (now Jeannine Pierson), who lived near his Army installation. The young couple quickly fell in love, but just weeks later, Robbins was informed that he would be sent to the front lines on the Eastern Front. The night before he was to depart, Ganaye's family had him to dinner, where they fed him eggs, sausage and toast.
Robbins told Maryse Burgot of the television network France 2 that when the sweethearts said their goodbyes, he told Ganaye, "Look, someday we’ll see each other; I hope we do."
For her part, Ganaye began to teach herself English in hopes that she might have at least a basic command of the language if Robbins did come back for her. But it was not to be.
“I cried, of course, I was very sad," Ganaye said, as she recalled watching Robbins depart. "I wish, after the war, he hadn’t returned to America.”
After the war, Robbins returned to the U.S. and met Lillian, who worked at a shirt factory with his uncle and had begun exchanging letters with Robbins in the waning months of the war. The pair, who were soon wed, operated a Memphis, Tennessee, hardware store together for 50 years. They had been married for 70 years when Lillian passed away at the age of 92 in 2015.
Ganaye married in 1949 and had five children before her husband died, but she never forgot her American soldier.
Though Robbins hadn't returned to France, he retained a small photograph Ganaye had given him when they parted. After Lillian's death, his thoughts returned to his wartime sweetheart and he searched his trunk to find the photograph, which captured Ganaye standing, hands on hips, smiling at the camera.
When he learned that he would be returning to France for the 75th anniversary of D-Day, Robbins, who assumed Ganaye was no longer living, expressed the wish to visit Briey in order "to find her family," unaware that Ganaye was still alive and residing in a retirement home in Montigny-lès-Metz, Moselle, not far from Briey.
A reunion was arranged and it was almost as if the pair had never parted, as they embraced and kissed. "I always loved you,” Robbins said, as he showed her the photograph he'd kept all those years. “You never got out of my heart.”
"I always thought about him," Ganaye told France 2, "thinking maybe he was out there, that maybe he'd come."
The former sweethearts were able to spend a few hours together, catching up and reminiscing, before Robbins had to leave in order to make it to the D-Day celebrations in Normandy. But they agreed that they would meet again soon.
"He said he loves me," Ganaye said. "I understood that much."
Robbins said his parting words were, "'I’d like to see you again. Why don’t y’all try to see me sometime?' I told her son and daughter, ‘Why don’t you bring her over and stay a couple of weeks with me and I’ll take care of you.'"
Robbins ruled out marriage, saying, "It’s too late in the day. But to visit would be great. If they could come out and see me a while, that would be great."
In the meantime, the pair hopes to communicate via email. Robbins has never used a computer, but a Parisian man, inspired by the press coverage of the reunion, has volunteered to serve as email translator for the two sweethearts in gratitude for what Robbins had done for France.
Informed they could even send pictures back and forth, The Daily Memphian reported that Robbins said, "That would be great. I’d love to do it."