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Once upon a time in France

By Jane Doyle

    ©2002, 2009 Jane Doyle

   I am a proud member of the "baby boomer"generation, that generation born to the returning World War II veterans whose stories have been made famous in recent years by the books of Tom Brokaw and Hollywood movies like "Pearl Harbor." I would have to admit that the success of these projects and anniversary tributes made over the years, as well as the deaths of my parents, have increased tenfold my sense of pride. Pride, not of my generation, but rather pride in what Brokaw has now famously called the "Greatest Generation." I regret not having had the wisdom to fully soak in the marvelous treasures of my father’s life while he was still available to provide answers to my questions. Questions which I will spend a lifetime spinning over and over in my head.

   Dad was a member of the 38th Bomb Group stationed in Ridgewell, England. When his plane was shot down, he parachuted successfully and his story is included in the narrative histories which follow. Like many others of his generation, he did not readily share what had happened. He never viewed his struggle to be heroic. Certainly, his gratitude and love for the French families who had aided him were profound; these people were the true heroes of the War to him. The stories which are recorded here are narratives given, wherever possible, by the direct participants on both sides on the Atlantic. These men and women have graciously agreed to share their personal accounts in the hopes that those of us who have the closest connection to their generation shall never forget the priceless gifts which were passed on to us. We are blessed to have personally known members of the "Greatest Generation."

   I have been fascinated by anything French for as long as I can remember. I didn’t realize for many years the reason for this obsession. Despite the fact that Dad mentioned little about his wartime experiences, there were times when I heard the names of Robert and Elise Montcomble mentioned with loving affection. Granted, these times were few and far between and as I think about it today, these were times when old stories were resurrected with the help of alcohol. I found a way to stay within earshot of his recollections; knowing I wasn’t the intended audience. Much of it I couldn’t follow anyway, but that only added to the intrigue. These people were people I wanted to know.

   It was obvious even to me that if I wanted to know anyone French I would have to learn some French. I started my study of French in 9th grade in the classroom of Miss Hordesky. (At that time the title of Ms. had not come into vogue.) She was a young teacher full of enthusiasm and she was determined her students were going to work hard. I soaked in everything she had to offer. Then ,just as quickly as she had appeared, she was off to get married. She’ll never know what a lifelong influence she had on me, even though I didn’t intend to be a teacher. I wanted to learn French, find the Montcomble family, get a job in France and marry a Frenchman. Half of those dreams have come true. I’d say I’ve been blessed.

   Little by little, during my high school years, Dad would share things here and there. I could imagine what a French country town looked like; Dad sharing red wine and whatever food there was to be served. I began to ask questions. They weren’t always so well received. I perceived his reluctance as annoyance at me. I couldn’t have been more wrong. The faraway look in his eyes should have been a clue to me that he wasn’t feeling annoyed. Memories of France and Elise and Robert were back; personal memories, sad memories, memories of a time he wanted to "get past," I suppose. Today I wish I had pursued the unanswered questions at another time or in a better way. But, instead, I contented myself with the bits and pieces I had been given. Judson F. Doyle’s story is an attempt to connect those pieces.

   Judson Floyd Doyle was born March 22, 1921, in Jerseyville, Illinois, a typical Midwestern town southwest of Springfield, the capital of the state. He never knew his father, Floyd Doyle, who passed away from Rocky Mountain fever before Jud’s birth. His mother was Helen White Doyle, who married Floyd because the man she had wanted to marry went off to fight in World War I. It is indeed strange the circumstances war can create. After Floyd’s death, Olivier Noel returned from his military service and he and Helen were married. However, Jud was to be his mother’s only child. Helen developed tuberculosis and Jud’s real childhood would end when his mother died. Dad once talked to me sadly of what a painful experience it must have been for his mother to watch her child from an upstairs bedroom window. Watch him playing, knowing she would never see him grow into an adult. Apparently, she was told if she moved to a warmer climate she stood a chance at a longer life. Helen refused to leave her Midwestern roots and the town of Jacksonville which was her family’s home. Mom and Dad would also eventually find their way back to make this charming town home. From time to time, before Mom and Dad returned to Jacksonville I would pass through and stop at the cemetery. The first time I was armed with only vague childhood memories of where Helen’s grave was located. It is not such a surprise to me that when I got to the cemetery I was able to find Helen. Helen was 32 when she died, having borne just the one child, my father. I had a beautiful daughter, Beth, but so wanted other children.

   On one of the few trips I made to visit Helen, I sobbed to her about my disappointments and she calmly told me as clearly as if I had called her on the phone that I need not worry. Another birthday would not arrive for me without another child. Unlike her, I would not turn 33 without that new life. My birthday is in February; Laura Noelle was born in December, 1983, when I was 32 years old. Heather Danielle arrived to complete the sisterhood in 1987. I never knew Helen White Doyle Noel in the conventional way most children know their grandparents but she’s always loved me the way any grandmother loves her grandchild.

   The Depression was especially hard for someone nine years old and essentially an orphan. Olivier could not care for the young boy, too soon called to be a man. He was sent to live with his paternal grandmother, Lucie Dugan Doyle in Ellis Grove, Illinois. They survived on a steady diet of turnips and whatever else they were able to scrape together. Times must have been awfully difficult but this little town was to remain Dad’s favorite place about which to reminisce. He attended a one-room school and somewhere along the line met Mr. Armstrong. Dad had trouble staying in school because he didn’t have much in the way of supplies. When Mr. Armstrong recruited Dad for his track team, Dad politely refused because he couldn’t buy the shoes necessary. Mr. Armstrong fixed that by finding him a part time job to pay for the shoes and also to help out with other school expenses. Dad never forgot that. Many years later he would find it possible to thank Mr. Armstrong in person for his kindness.

   When he was old enough, Dad joined the CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps).

   One of their projects was construction at Pere Marquette State Park. Dad helped build the lodge that is still admired by visitors to the park. The CCC proved to be a good training ground for the experiences Dad was yet to encounter.

He entered the Army October 19, 1939, and was honorably discharged May 28, 1943, with the rank of aviation cadet. Dad had long dreamed of being a pilot and joined the newly formed Army Air Corps, training in California, Arizona and finally Texas. He always told us that he crashed three planes before the Air Corps decided he wasn’t pilot material. I don’t know if that is true; it seems to me the superiors in the corps must have been slow learners if they allowed him to continue after the first disaster. He left training as an advanced bombardier and was assigned to the 381st Bomb Group, the "Triangle L’s" flying out of Ridgewell, England. He would be flying bombing missions in Europe and Northern France.

   The mission of February 11, 1944, undoubtedly began the same as every other but it was to end less than successfully. The plane was shot down somewhere over northern France and what I will share about the crash is a direct narrative given by the pilot, Robert V. Laux, in a letter written to my father July 14, 1989.

   Robert Laux wrote: "I suppose it would be appropriate to tell you what happened to the crew after we bailed out. As you already know I tried to hold the plane level until everybody got out. I believe we, you, jumped out at 14,000 feet. Does that sound right to you? After you fellas left I attempted to set the plane on autopilot but for some reason (possibly I was too frightened and didn’t have the controls set properly) was unable to. However, the plane wallowed and almost stalled out. Each time I straightened it out and tried to leave the same thing happened. Finally I flew through an undercurrent and at about 12,000 feet finally got the ship to settle down long enough to leave. Unfortunately I had forgotten to buckle my leg or crotch straps before jumping out.

   "When I finally righted myself I slowly started to slide out of the harness and chute. By pulling the harness up and crossing my arms I was able to get down safely, if not quite comfortably. Shortly after leaving the ship she blew up. It was really close.

   "When I hit the ground some French people helped me out of my tangled harness and motioned for me to run into a nearby woods. There I covered myself with leaves and branches – burrowed in like a rabbit. A German patrol passed over me and one soldier stepped on my wrist and broke my tack watch. Later on I heard foreign voices and still did not give myself up. These were Frenchmen who had come to help me. Being so frightened, I guess I just wasn’t sure. Later on I got up and found an abandoned hut that I went into. Even though I had my flying gear on it was cold and sleep just evaded me.

   "Bright and early the next morning I awoke from one of my ‘naps’ and started walking. With the aid of our compass I started south. After having walked across fields for a short time I came upon a young boy chopping wood. I approached him and scared him half to death. After he determined what I was, he motioned me to stay where I was while he ran toward a nearby farmhouse. Fearing he was going for German troops, I hid in a nearby woods. The boy came back with some food and a steaming mug of coffee. He was dismayed I had left; however, I left my hiding place and approached him again. He gave me the food and drink and eventually, after I had eaten the bread and drunk the coffee, he told me as best as we could together communicate, that the Germans were nearby and suggested a safer route.

   "I walked the entire day, Saturday, and was able to convince a farmer, about sundown, to let me sleep in his barn. A rather fitful sleep with the farm animals all about me. Promptly at 6 a.m. he appeared with his watch, coffee, bread and some meat paté. He wanted me out – NOW.

   "It was Sunday and I met a lady, Madame Mansion, who took me into her home and again with the family’s limited English told me I was safe and would be safely in the hands of the Underground shortly. By Tuesday I was on my way to Gisors-Beauvais-Paris. From Paris, where I met the rest of the crew, we were eventually taken to Plouha. I had previously met P.T. (I believe this is P.T. Wright) on the route and in Paris met Helfgott, Hamilton, Cutino and Glennan. All six of us came out the same night.

   "A British gunboat – MGB 503 – came into a cove at Plouha and took all six of us back to England. A total of six weeks had elapsed from being shot down on 2/11/44 to 3/23/44 when we landed in England.

   "Stayed in England for about a month and got back to the U.S. in about 4-5 weeks after landing. Spent a month at home and eventually was assigned as an Instructor Pilot in B-17’s at Lockbourne AAF near Columbus, Ohio. This was only 154 miles from home, so I was able to get home almost every weekend."

   Dad had some of the same difficulties with the parachute harness about which Bob Laux spoke in his letter. He was in the process of bestowing wisdom on my younger brother, Robert, one day when the story of the harness was revealed. My brother was wanting to skydive and my dad explained to him that even with the best of preparations things can go wrong. Dad had apparently grabbed a British parachute that day in February and was not entirely familiar with the straps and buckles. He was able to get down but the shroud caught in a tree and he was left dangling from a tall tree. This was to be the beginning of his firsthand experience with the French and life in Occupied France.

   As Bob Laux indicated there were people who had witnessed the crash. A farmer found Dad and helped him down. They traded clothes and the Frenchman led him to safety. I do not know if he immediately went to the home of Robert and Elise Montcomble, but this was to become his refuge. The Montcombles spoke little English and Dad neither spoke , read, nor understood French. Communication must have been difficult and limited at the beginning. Dad spent his days hidden away in the cellar and ventured out of his lair only at night. An elderly lady, who Dad referred to only as the "blind grandmother," kept him company as best she could. She was anxious for him to learn French and provided him with a basic French language book of some kind. They would spend hours together, the age-old story of the zealous, enthusiastic teacher and the reluctant learner. I guess, maybe it wasn’t so much reluctance on Dad’s part; rather, he just didn’t seem to be able to respond satisfactorily for his teacher. I am certain the Midwestern accent was quite obvious in all his attempts and the teacher would get exasperated with both the accent and lack of sufficient progress. Dad would just quickly sneak the book and look up whatever it was he was to have "learned." Grandmother excitedly complimented her student and the lesson would continue.

   Dad was no stranger to being hungry, but wartime France did not provide the "visitor" with the abundance of culinary delights typical of the French. Nearly every French household survived the war by raising rabbits. Food was closely rationed and Dad told me stories of Mme. Montcomble smuggling extras underneath her aprons. He would never have complained about whatever was offered, of this I am certain.

   I know little of the everyday life in the Montcomble home. I do know there was a tavern nearby, where the German soldiers would gather at night to enjoy each others’ stories and drink beer late into the night. An old piano in the house provided some light entertainment for Monsieur Montcomble and the others in the house. But eventually, as the night wore on and the soldiers got loud, Monsieur Montcomble’s mood darkened a bit. He would play the Marseillaise, forbidden in Occupied France, louder and louder. Tears streamed down his face; his pride in his country never wavered. I never knew Monsieur Montcomble but I have a clear mental image of this heroic man, Robert. Robert; the name would later be given to the son of a very grateful American.

   Eventually Dad was provided with an identification photo and a new identity, Kasimir Raspbot. He was a Polish worker who had immigrated to France. Not only had Dad not perfected his French; he had never even spoken a word of Polish. At one point it was thought he could perhaps get out of France somewhere on the Brest Peninsula by boarding a fishing boat. This plan seemed too dangerous. His journey home would begin in Paris. A member of the Resistance put him in contact with a woman at a Paris hotel. There he encountered another Allied soldier in the same predicament. They were both instructed to wait at the hotel for the woman’s return. Dad was suspicious of the whole arrangement and tried to convince the other soldier they should leave. The other man refused, but Dad left alone, with probably little money and no idea what to do next. He later learned the other soldier had been captured, no doubt turned in by the mystery woman.

   With considerable thought and realization that the options were limited, Dad decided to try to get to Switzerland. I am certain he had limited funds but attempted to travel part of the way by train. On the train headed somewhere south, Dad dropped a British coin which accurately and noticeably rolled right down the middle of the aisle of the train. Fortunately for him, everyone in the vicinity ignored the obvious coin. From that point on, train travel seemed a bit risky; to mention nothing of the fact that train stations were frequently patrolled by German soldiers. A German soldier who could also speak Polish wasn’t exactly a rare find. Dad’s knowledge of Polish could accurately be described as nil. He knew this wasn’t going to be his way out of France.

   To my knowledge, Dad basically walked to Switzerland from that point on. I know only that when he got to the border he became concerned about how he was going to get across. Luck, along with some compassionate human beings, was on his side. A group of men was working in the fields raking wheat or hay into stacks. One of the men approached, realizing Dad’s dilemma, and starting talking to him. Dad, no doubt, understood nothing he said but pretended to anyway. The gentleman probably gave the appearance of having been waiting for Dad’s arrival, motioned to explain what work was being done and handed Dad a rake, then motioned him to get busy. Dad joined in with the others. Slowly and nonchalantly, no doubt, he worked his way to freedom.

   Allied soldiers were interned in Montreux or Glion, located along beautiful Lake Geneva. Exactly how much time he spent there, I do not know. I do know, however, he said he was in no great hurry to get home, understandable to say the least. At his arrival in Switzerland his already lanky 140 pound 5-foot-1 l frame was certainly even more bony. He eventually made it back to the States and went to visit his only uncle, Lloyd Doyle, and his Aunt Freda who lived in East St. Louis at the time. War’s strange turn of events was about to offer a new path for Dad.

   In the apartment below Lloyd and Freda another aunt and uncle visited with a beloved niece, widowed by the war and left with a child to raise, Patricia Mary Pritchett Hindle. The two aunts and uncles arranged a dinner meeting for the two and, well, you already guessed the ending. They were two people who probably would never have crossed paths, otherwise. Mom was raised in St. Louis with both parents and an extended family of aunts and uncles. Times were hard for them, but there was a group to contribute to the running of the household. Mom had dance lessons, piano lessons and probably never really had to worry about going hungry. She never had brothers or sisters, however. That may have been the only thing she and Dad would have had in common if it weren’t for the war.

   On one of their first "dates" at the apartments, Dad brought along a guitar. He had heard about my mother’s music background, I suppose. Mom said he never tried to play, he just kind of carried it around as a prop. The stories of a lifetime of love between them is of no interest to anyone else but I know I experienced the blessing of being raised by two parents who truly loved each other and their children above all else.

   For years after the war, Dad periodically sent items like coffee and nylon stockings to the Montcomble family. These were hard to get in postwar France but also were heavily taxed. Politely, the family asked Dad to stop sending them. I know their contact continued at least through the birth of my brother in 1956. After that I only heard the anecdotes I have shared.

   I continued my study of French through college, earning a Bachelor of Arts degree with majors in French and Spanish. My college offered a summer study program in France in 1972, the year I graduated. It seemed my turn to travel to France. I borrowed the money; at that time about $2,000 for an entire nine-week stay in France. It was a trip worth ten times that amount. I settled in and toured my summer home, the Latin Quarter in Paris. I wrote a letter to find the Montcomble family. I received a response awhile later explaining the family no longer lived in the village of Frevent, where they had lived during the war, but I was given the address of Elise Montcomble, who now made her home near Dieppe, a town on the English Channel.

   I rushed a letter of explanation to her and anxiously awaited a response. When the letter arrived, my hand was shaking as I opened it and read her response. She would be only too happy to receive me for the weekend and explained to me she would wait for me on the platform the following Friday morning. If that wasn’t convenient I should let her know but otherwise I should plan on spending the weekend. I immediately went and bought my round trip ticket and waited impatiently for Friday to arrive. I sent off a letter to Mom and Dad to tell them I had actually found Elise Montcomble and was going to meet her. The lack of mention of Robert made it clear to me I wouldn’t he meeting him also. The questions about him would have to be answered by Elise.

   The Normandy countryside is beautiful but I don’t think I was soaking in much of its charm that Friday morning. I got more and more nervous as we passed each of the little towns indicated on my ticket. The sun was shining but there was a cool breeze blowing in Dieppe that morning. As the train slowly made its way into the station and stopped, I searched out the window for the person I thought to be Elise. How old would she be now? Did she wear glasses? Had her hair all turned gray? Would she be saddened by my arrival because it would bring forth so many memories, good and bad? I took my time getting off the train, allowing others to find their loved ones and giving me the chance to eliminate the potential candidates. There, standing rather apart from the others, was a distinguished, reserved but attractive looking woman wearing a cardigan sweater and neatly holding her purse in front of her. She watched me carefully; I am sure she suspected from the moment she saw me that I was her weekend guest. It’s impossible for this American to be mistaken for someone French. It was easier in 1972 when I was young and much thinner but that only happened to me once. I was making an overnight trip to Spain with a friend later that summer. For some reason we were unable to get assigned the same sleeping car and I occupied a car with a Swiss family. I spoke only French in their presence and was asked where I lived in Switzerland. I mention this only because it was the greatest compliment I had ever received. For a glimmering moment, my French was good enough that I was not mistaken for an American. Miss Hordesky would have been proud.

   As I approached her, Elise’s eyes glistened with tears; tears which flowed easily down her face when I introduced myself. I suffered the same explosion of tears and we hugged in silence; no words were necessary. She politely asked about my summer plans and complimented me on my French. She joked with me about my father’s failure in that area. We waited for a bus to take us out of the city. She explained she lived on the road leading to Dieppe, in a farmhouse much like what they had owned during the war. She talked about what she had planned for me, including a trip the following morning to the Saturday market place. She talked about her house a little and what she had bought for us to eat; always hoping I would find everything satisfactory. I told her as sincerely as I could that I was honored to be a guest in her home and would be pleased with anything she planned. No mention was made of Robert and I didn’t think the atmosphere of the bus a dignified place to ask. When the bus stopped in front of her house, I realized it was much the same as those I had seen out the train window. But I knew this house would provide me many memories to share when I returned home.

   We ate a light lunch; the exact menu I no longer remember. We cleaned up the table and Elise told me to follow her to the bedroom I would use for my stay. It was small with an iron bed and window, complete with the shutters typical of French homes. The window overlooked the garden in the back of the house, complete with rabbit hutches, now unoccupied. She showed me where to find the bathroom and towels. She told me I could get settled in and then we would talk.

   At the table where we had just shared our first meal together, Elise took out the photo albums. The first thing she told me was that she had lost Robert the previous summer. She did not dwell on the topic. She just looked at me sadly and said how much he would have loved meeting me. I learned of her son, Roland Saillard, now married with daughters of his own. In fact, one daughter, Martine, had recently married. He lived in Paris but he and his wife would be to visit the following afternoon. I was too mindful of the respect with which my father had spoken of Elise and Robert to inquire about the last name. Anything Elise offered to tell me I devoured, thinking I would never forget. We can be so foolish when we are young. I wrote nothing down, again, in part because I thought it was disrespectful. I saw photos of the family on vacation, at holidays and we both enjoyed the entire evening. Elise suggested I not get too tired and retire early enough to be ready to go to the market in Dieppe early Saturday morning.

   I had never been to an open-air market even at home. The smells, sights, sounds and mixture of people and animals were a bit overwhelming to me. Elise would ask me if I wanted to try a certain vegetable or fruit as we passed each stall. She bought anything with which I seemed the least bit intrigued. When it came to selecting the seafood, however, she didn’t ask my opinion. She took some time at one of the booths and found what I guess was the best crab. It was tossed in a plastic bag with a bit of water and handed to Elise. We wandered around the market until she had found everything she felt we needed and anything she thought I wanted, including a nice bundle of flowers. French tables aren’t complete without them, especially when you have guests. I wish we had the same custom.

   The bus bumped its way back past the meadows, farms and hedge rows so common in Normandy. We went inside and Elise explained what we would eat for lunch and what she planned to fix later when Roland and his wife were there. I watched as she filled a big pot with water and placed it on the country-style stove. I don’t remember much about the rest of the meal, only that it would have included the normal paté, salad, cheese, bread and fruit. What I do remember vividly is watching her take the helpless crab from his safe haven in the plastic bag and drop him into the pot of boiling water. The lid was slammed on the pot and Elise calmly sat down to continue her conversation. I said nothing but it was hard for me to concentrate with the poor little crab clicking away his s.o.s behind her. I can’t say that kept me from enjoying the meal when it was served but I will never forget that moment of cultural shock.

   I was greeted by Roland and his wife with the same fondness shown me by Elise. Roland seemed a bit more interested in my studies and what I planned to do. In some ways, I suppose, I represented something different to him. We talked a bit about how the generations viewed Americans differently and how France had changed since the war. It was clear to me that Elise was still not fond of anything German and that the friendship now shared by Germany and France had only developed from a desire for money. She listened to the discussion without saying much. Only her raised eyebrows and sighs of disgust made her opinion obvious. I did not interpret her reaction as bitterness. Instead, I saw her as a woman of high moral character who did not "sell out" for personal monetary gain.

   I never got to meet Roland’s recently married daughter, Martine. I was told, however, that she was quite interested in improving her English. At one point I did visit with her on the phone and she told me she hoped one day to come to the United States. The evening passed enjoyably and Elise told me the next day we would enjoy a walk in the country surrounding her house. Roland and his wife returned to Paris but gave me a business card with a home address and telephone number. We agreed we would see each other again in Paris before I had to leave to come home.

   On Sunday morning Elise prepared me a typical French breakfast of bread, butter, jam and hot chocolate. The jam was some Elise had made herself and it tasted better to me than any jam I’d ever had, complemented by the best butter in the world. Warned to dress in comfortable shoes, Elise told me we would take a walk through the neighboring countryside. We went through the garden in back of the house. Elise explained about the flowers, some of which I thought must be typical of the area because I had never seen any like them before. We went through the back gate and into a large meadow that eventually led to a country church. I had some idea, now, of where I was being led. The tiny iron gate of the cemetery squeaked as it was pushed open. Elise led me to the headstone marked Robert Montcomble and lovingly put her hand on the top. My memory fails me about the exact cause of his death but I believe it to have been a heart attack. We did not stay long; it was painful for both of us.

   When we returned to the house Elise helped me prepare my bag and get ready to get back on the bus to Dieppe. She left for a few minutes and then called me again to the kitchen table. There she gave me two souvenirs she wanted given to my mother and father. One was a gold coin and the other a very old piece of glassware. I am certain it had been in the family for some time. She made it clear, despite my protests, that she wanted to send these things home to my Mom and Dad. It was another emotional moment, a time when it would have been difficult to express my sincerest thanks in English, let alone French. Elise smiled politely, her eyes welling up with tears, reached across the table and squeezed my hand to let me know I didn’t have to try to say more. She made sure I got on the right bus and explained to me what platform to expect the train that would take me back to Paris. She hugged me and promised to write to me in Paris and I did the same. I begged her to come visit us in the United States. She smiled politely and stumbled around to find an answer. She said she preferred to remember my dad as she had known him. It was obvious to me at that moment that Dad had never attempted to go back to France for the same reason. It wasn’t my place to intrude and try to change her mind. I told her I would be back again someday. I just didn’t know at that moment that my next trip I would make without being able to see her or Roland.

   In the weeks that followed I enjoyed visiting Roland and the intellectual discussions of which he seemed fond. They were quite different from those I had with Elise, but cherished just the same. The summer passed and I packed away the treasures given to me by Elise. They were in my backpack all the way, never out of sight, cradled in my arms like an infant.

   I returned home to the good news of being hired as a French/Spanish teacher at the same high school from which I had graduated. But my greatest joy in returning home was rushing to see Mom and Dad and share my adventure with Elise. The gifts were lovingly received. The coin was made into a necklace that Mom wore proudly and more proudly shared its history when anyone asked. The cup was given an honored home beneath a glass globe in the curio cabinet. The appropriate letters of thanks were sent and communication between myself and Elise, as well as Roland continued until the complete reorganization of the postal system in France. It became difficult to get letters to them and then in the years that followed I lost touch.

   The names of Robert and Elise Montcomble have a lasting place in the Doyle family history. My brother Robert fondly remembers the Frenchman for whom he is named. My oldest daughter is named Beth Elise and I have it on good authority if she and her husband Brad are blessed with a daughter, she will proudly carry the middle name of Elise. If I have my way, she will also learn a little French. That would make both Dad and Elise happy and will give her grandmother a new little person with whom to share the treasures the French have always had to offer.

   I frequently called Mom and Dad in the years that followed. It was normally my Mom who answered and held the conversations with me. Dad usually just came through and yelled a "Hello, Janie." I would sort of cringe. It didn’t seem to bother me so much when Mom called me that. I just felt like a child again when it came from Dad. Today, I remember those times fondly and I hope my brother never stops calling me Janie, even though I am the older. When Dad found out he was sick and was to have further tests in January of 1991 made the trip to be with them. About a week passed and the phone rang. When I heard Dad’s voice on the other end I knew it wasn’t good news. It was lung cancer. He stoically told me he intended to pursue no drastic means of treatment, no removal of the lung, no chemo, nothing. I was too stunned to reply. The tears started forming pools in my eyes, I was grateful the conversation wasn’t being held in person. "Janie, honey," he said, "I thought my life was over that day I parachuted and ended up hanging twenty feet up in a tree with Germans minutes away. The Bible only promises four score and ten. I’ve had more than I ever expected. I’ve been lucky and I want you to understand that it will be all right."

   I replied with more anger than he deserved, "You might think it is all right but I just don’t. How can you say that when you know how much I need you?" I just couldn’t talk any more. The phone calls from Dad became more frequent and I went to see him and Mom more often. In a few short months he was gone, but his lessons of courage, bravery, good sense and yes, humor, will last me a lifetime. I only hope his story lives on with my daughters and their children as well.

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