As we walked out of the Abbey at St. Hillaire, a gentleman heard our American accents and spoke to us. He confirmed that he was indeed speaking with some Yanks, and then offered to buy us a drink.
We were a little shocked but we accepted and sat down at the cafe nearby to hear what was on his mind. His English was better than our French (naturally) so we talked over some blanquette, and learned that he trained to be a pilot, for 16 months in 1943 and 1944 in Birmingham, Alabama, Panama City, Florida and Detrioit, Michigan. How did he come to be training in the U.S.?, I asked. He was on vacation with his father in French Morroco when the German invasion made it impossible to go home to Corsica. They stayed in Morroco until the U.S. invaded North Africa, and then it was possible for Monsieur Francois Bernardini to volunteer to join the French Air Force and was shipped to the USA to train.
Mr. Bernardini said a day did not pass when he did not think of the USA........and that he loved Americans in general and one in particular. He met a young lady in Detroit, a young lady whose parents were Swedish immigrants to Michigan. He described the Swedes as " half for the Allies, and half for the Germans." In truth, Sweden was neutral during WWII and did not participate. But, in any case, Francois fell in love with a young lady whose brother didn't cotton to Frenchmen. As his training progressed, he would write her frequently, but all he got from her were letters asking where were the letters that he promised. The brother, apparently, was watching her mailbox and tearing up the letters.
Just as Mr. Bernardini's training ended, France fell to the Allies and France's role as WWII as a combatant ended. There was some talk of Mr. Bernardini joining the troops in the Pacific, but in the end was sent home to France.
We thanked him for his service and told him about my father flying B-24's out of Bari, Italy. We shook hands, said goodbye and he told us, "We'll never see each other again, but I want you to know there are many Frenchmen who love Americans."