After the war, the steel mills in Youngstown and Struthers began to disappear
one by one. Everything began to change and as more and more cars came along, the
busses that used to go everywhere also disappeared from the scene. There was a
fire at Idora Park and it was never rebuilt and many of the steel bridges over
the Mahoning River also found their way to the scrap pile. The population of
Youngstown dropped drastically and the downtown area soon became a ghost town.
About the only thing that didn’t change much was the park behind the store in
Struthers. They added a couple of tennis courts but other than that, it looked
pretty much the same as it did in 1942 when I held Evelyn in my arms and danced
down there in the dark.
I’m not sure exactly when I made up my mind to go back and retrace my steps during the war. Evelyn had passed away in 1980 from breast cancer at the age of 72 and Glen and I sold the garage in 1989. I got my first computer in 1995 so I guess it was sometime shortly after that I decided to go. I was in my 70’s by this time and had been surfing the net and found a good deal on a round trip to Paris. It had been over 50 years since I had said goodbye to Gillian at the train station in Hawick. I had no idea if she was still alive or not but something was tugging at me to go back.
It was Monday, June 16th 1997 when I took off from the Canton-Akron airport for Chicago. There was a several hour layover there and then we boarded a huge 747 Airbus for a direct flight to Paris. It was about a thirteen hour overnight non-stop flight arriving in Paris just before the noon hour. I knew I would be too tired to drive that day so I just decided to stay in a hotel for the one night in Paris. The following day I took a cab to the train station. Gare du Nord was not much different than what I had pictured it in my mind with the exception of the absence of Germans with rifles lashed over their shoulders. My plan was to go south to Châteauroux first. I took the Metro to Gare d'Austerlitz, made my way to the ticket counter and purchased a ticket to Châteauroux. I had no idea what Ardentes would look like after so many years. I was very disappointed to find that the estate where Marjolaine Meyet had lived was empty, run down and in total need of some tender loving care. I managed to find out from some of the local people that Jolaine had moved to the United States in 1945.
My next thought was to see if I could find Jean Ménard. I stayed the night in Châteauroux and left for Abbeville the next day. I retraced my steps back to Paris and then boarded a train to Abbeville. It was just after 12:00 pm when the train arrived at the Abbeville station. I was hungry and decided to have lunch before leaving the terminal. They had coffee in France now but even so, it was much too strong for my liking so I had the waiter thin it down with some hot water.
I rented a car right there at the terminal and headed north on Rue Saint-Vulfran over the same bridge where I had seen the two German soldiers so many years ago. There were many more automobiles in Abbeville now but still a few bicycles here and there. I followed the same path Ménard had taken me and although it was an hours walk to town from his place, it took me only 15 minutes by car. The road was paved the whole way now but I recognized the house the minute I saw it. I pulled up in front of the house and as I did so, I could see an old man working alongside the house in a garden. I got out of the car and walked towards him. He looked around to see who was coming and as I got closer, he leaned on his hoe.
“Is it you, Ménard?”
“Yes, I’m Ménard, who are you?”
With that, his eyes lit up. He dropped the hoe and walked towards me with his arms exteneded. I could still make out his features, much older like myself of course but he still had the moustache and that warm feeling of making me feel welcome.
“James, is it really you? I never expected to see you again. Come into the house, we have so much catching up to do.”
“Yes, it’s really me Jean. I decided to retrace my steps during the war.”
We had no sooner entered the house and Ménard began to shout.
“Hélène……. Hélène, where are you? We have company.”
I heard her voice coming from the other room before I saw her.
“Who is it Jean?”
“You will never guess in a million years”, he replied.
By this time she had walked into the room. We stood there looking at each other, our eyes both searching the memories. Her hair was totally gray, her face wrinkled but there was no doubt in my mind that it was Hélène Renaud. I could see that she was having a hard time trying to figure out who I was so I spoke first.
“I’m James MacGregor, Hélène.”
She stood motionless for a few seconds before a smile made it’s way to her face.
“James MacGregor, the American who’s plane was shot down in 1943? I can’t believe it’s you James.”
Jean chimed in with “It’s MacGregor all right. Come into the living room and sit down. Let me get us all a glass of wine.”
We had a grand re-union, the three of us re-living some very old memories. I was saddened to hear that both Adrian Royer and his sister Brigitte were shot by the Germans for harboring another American Flyer in 1944. I stayed the night and the following day I headed back to Paris and then on to England.