‘You never got out of my heart’ – Mississippi World War II soldier reunited with wartime love after 75 years apart
Published 4:59 pm Tuesday, June 18, 2019
K.T. Robbins shed tears this month, tears 75 years in the making.
Robbins, a 97-year-old World War II veteran who lives in Olive Branch, Mississippi, traveled back to France with other Allied troops to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the D-Day invasion on Normandy, France.
But Robbins’ story is one that’s far more personal; he’d left part of his heart in a small French village, and he was going to try to find it.
U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Robbins was assigned to a mobile baking unit that made bread for the troops in the small village of Briey.
A chance encounter in 1944 with a young French woman who lived near the baking operation would send the young man head over heels with affection that has survived seven decades.
Jeannine Ganaye was just 18 when she and her two younger siblings saw Robbins asked him if they could have the empty 5-gallon lard buckets discarded near a fence that surrounded the baking unit.
He asked them what they wanted them for, and they told them they planned to heat them up and get the last bits of lard out of them.
He gave them the discarded buckets, and she started returning daily, with each passing day their relationship grew.
Robbins spent three months in Ganaye’s village and as their time together went by their feelings grew deeper and they both say they feel in love.
Robbins told media outlets, “Yes, we did have a hiding place.”
Then Robbins’ unit was moving and he had to leave.
Both believed they would reconnect after the war.
When the war ended, Pierson began taking English lessons in hopes that Robbins would return soon. But after five years of waiting she eventually married in 1949 and became Jeannine Pierson. She and her husband had five children. Her husband has since died.
While Jeannine waited for Robbins to return, but life took a turn for him.
Robbins returned home, went to Ole Miss and married Lillian, his wife of 70 years, a woman with whom he’d exchanged letters late in the war.
The couple bought a hardware store in Memphis that they operated for 50 years. Lillian died in 2015 at age 92.
After his wife’s death, Robbins pulled out a photograph of Jeannine that he’d kept in a trunk for more than 70 years.
He wondered what became of her. He had no clue he would soon find out.
That photograph ultimately led to the reunion when a French journalist interviewing surviving American trooper ahead of the D-Day anniversary spoke to Robbins. He showed the photo and said, “For sure I won’t ever get to see her,” believing Jeannine likely was dead.
But the journalist tracked Jeannine down and found that she was very much alive and living in a retirement home in France. They kept this a secret from Robbins though until he was already in France and headed, he was told, to visit some of Jeannine’s relatives.
A group called Forever Young Veterans helped arrange a meeting while Robbins joined other World War II survivors in France earlier this month in ceremonies marking the 75th anniversary of the turning point in the war.
The group videoed their encounter: two lovers, separated by war and ocean of distance reuniting after so many years.
“What a wonderful time to see you, girl” he said. “You bring tears to my eyes.”
As they hug and kiss, they talk about the love they felt so many years ago.
“I always loved you. I always loved you,” Robbins said. “You never got out of my heart.”
Jeannine said she felt the same way.
“I have always thought about him. I always wondered, where is he, will he come back,” she said.
Jeannine said she would never forget the day he left her village.
“When he left in the truck I cried of course,” she said. “I was very sad. I hoped that after the war he would not go back to the war.”
As they say goodbye, they promised each other they would try to meet again.
“Jeannine, I love you girl,” he said with tears in his eyes.