During World War Two, My wife Michele’s family lived in the small French town of Bar le Duc just an hour from Paris, which included her father, Louis Varnier born in 1905, and her mother Yvonne Meerts, also born in 1905, a sister, Janine, born in 1930, and a brother, Pierre, born in 1934. A second brother, Yvon, was born in 1945. Louis was a supervisor in a foundry making molds for the pouring of molten metal. Their home, a gracious two-story home, was located across the street from a railroad station.
During the early stages of the war in 1941, with the invasion of France by German troops, the Varnier family escaped by driving their auto which had a mattress tied to its roof and joining other refugees heading toward Dijon where the Vernier family had relatives. German planes strafed the refugees, firing machine guns. Hiding beside the road in ditches with the mattress over their heads the Verniers avoided injury.
Returning to Bar le Duc in 1942, the Varnier family found letters of appreciation left by German officers who had stayed in their home. Also noted were missing china, silverware, and antiques the Germans took as souvenirs.
Michele was born that year in 1942. She has few recollections of those early years, but recalls train loads of Jewish prisoners in cattle cars being pulled through the train station across the street and the frantic waving of their hands through the slats on their way to concentration camps.
The Americans landed in Normandy in 1944. It was a slow slog across France for the allies fighting the Germans, but Michele recalls her father one day pedaling into town on a bicycle announcing, “They are coming! They’re coming! The Americans are coming!”
The U.S. GIs not only arrived but set up a camp of tents in the Varnier’s back yard. Using Louis’ foundry skills, Michele’s father established a business of molding the soldiers’ silver dollars into souvenir rings. Michele remembered that only half of the silver dollars were needed to make the rings and her father had a significant collection of excess silver.
In addition to the GI tents in the Varnier back yard, were coops of chickens and rabbits that kept the family well supplied with food stuffs and eggs to sell. The soldiers introduced the Varniers to the American holiday of thanksgiving and shared their thanksgiving turkey with them. The turkey was delicious but cranberry sauce on meat was not a French custom. It was like putting sweet jelly on a steak.
After the war, Michele completed her elementary schooling in Bar le Duc and entered the Lyceem School—a secondary school—where she took English, German, and Math classes. That led to a job at a nearby American Army base, Trois Foutaines, where she was hired as an English-speaking telephone operator.
Her good friend, Monique, was dating a good-looking Army MP, Ed Risk, but they weren’t getting along that well. When they broke up, Michele became his new girlfriend. Ed was discharged and returned to the US–Columbus, Indiana–but through written correspondence, pledged to return to France, wed Michele, and bring her to Indiana a year later.
Michele’s Siblings: L to R, Pierre, Michele, Yvon, Janine
The rest is history. I ended up hiring Michele for our company as a lighting showroom supervisor and rather than give her a raise, gave her a wedding ring.
And they lived happily ever after.
8 thoughts on “Michele History”
Most interesting, Jim. Thanks for sharing.
Now I’m confused. You were in management at Risk, and Michele’s husband was Risk,….were you fooling with the boss’s wife ??
Just kidding ! A very nice story.
Thanks for this, Jim – quite a story, though sad and significant that at such a young age she had to see such sad sites from the war.
Interesting story. My wife of 65 years and counting also lived thru the war in Europe. She was born in Czechoslovakia in 1935 and remembers well the German and eventually the Russian occupations, especially the German soldiers.that lived with them.
So happy to learn of Michele’s history. And very glad of the happy “ever after” ending with you. Thanks, my friend, for your blogs — and this one in particular.
Jim, now that is a love story to make this old American man shed a tear or two. Pretty similar to Charlotte’s personal background.
I’m so glad you gave her that ring instead of a raise. Nice story.
Interesting and well done. And may they continue to live happily ever after. ~Paul
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