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WWII Vet Reunites with Long-lost Love

WWII Vet Reunites with Long-lost Love

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We never forget our first love. WWII veteran K.T. Robbins certainly never forgot the woman he left behind while stationed in Briey, France, in 1944. Seventy-five years later, he returned to France to get the surprise of a lifetime. His first love was still alive and still waiting for his return.

You never forget your first love

Do you remember your first love? We’re not talking about puppy love, we’re talking Cupid’s hammer. Not the arrow, but the hammer. The kind of love that slams you in the chest and makes you forget how to breathe. For some, there is no hesitation when called to love.

They hold on tight, and never let go. But for the rest of us? If the moment passes us by, we’re left to wonder what could have been. That’s what happened to World War II veteran K.T. Robbins.

Robbins story starts 75 years after the war

Like most young men, K.T. Robbins enlisted to fight for his country in WWII. Unlike other soldiers that fought at the front lines, Robbins was a baker, so he was responsible for feeding thousands of soldiers. He was also a part of a baker’s guild known as the 95th Quartermaster Bakery Battalion.  

K.T. Robbins

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Although the work wasn’t easy, Robbins was proud to serve his country — whether it was holding enemy lines or at the mouth of a glowing red oven. Everything would change in the fall of 1944, when he and his crew of bakers were stationed in Briey, France.

Living the good life

When the war ended, Robbins returned home and forgot about his life as a soldier. He hung up his apron and got on the next train back to Mississippi, where the vet currently resides. There, he focused on acclimating to civilian life. He bought a house and got married to his pen pal.

K.T. Robbins in Normandy

FRED TANNEAU/AFP via Getty Images

For 75 years, Robbins lived a humble and noble life. As time passed, people came and went, including Robbins’ late wife, Lillian, who died in 2015. This is where Robbins’ story begins. Not at the forefront of war, but in his bedroom, opening boxes that reminded him of the past.

His wife was his pen pal

After the war, Robbins returned to his hometown of Olive Branch, Mississippi, to connect with a girl, Lillian. Lillian worked in a shirt factory with Robbins’ uncle — and after the war, the two became a couple.

K.T. Robbins at Normandy

TANNEAU/AFP via Getty Images

Lillian and Robbins communicated through a series of letters, becoming pen pals and eventually, husband and wife. “We had a great 70 years together,” he said in an MSN interview. “I owned a hardware store for 35 years. We had a good life.” Back home and married, Robbins considered himself lucky, but there was something missing. There was an obvious void in his heart.

They never had children

Although Robbins and his wife loved each other, they didn’t have children — but that didn’t matter to the couple. They saw their neighbors as extended family. When Robbins’ wife died in 2015, it wouldn’t be until four years later that he decided to filter through Lillian’s belongings. With the help of his adopted family, they rummaged through old photos and clothing. That’s when his neighbors found something that made them question the veteran’s past.

Black and white portrait of K.T. Robbins

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One neighbor, Linda Tosh, found a box of old photos — inside were snapshots marking Robbins’ life through each decade. But one picture was decidedly different from all the others. Tosh pulled it out for a closer look and was shocked when she discovered who was in the photograph.

Sifting through the present to remember the past

Tosh was rifling through old photos when one black-and-white photograph caught her eye. The woman in the photo was wearing a jumpsuit, her arms at her hips, and had a wide smile. Tosh asked Robbins about the photo: “Hey, K.T., who is she?” 

Robbins didn’t hesitate to answer. Though Robbins might have forgotten about the photograph, he never forgot the woman. Robbins said, “Oh, my goodness, that’s Jeannine Ganaye.” Robbins fondly looked at the photo: “She was my first love.” His neighbors were shocked by his confession.

He never forgot his first love

Once Tosh heard Robbins’ story, she peppered the vet with questions. What did he mean by first love? Who was she? Was she still alive? Robbins was doubtful that Jeannine was still alive after all this time, but he still had hope. He was content with the beautiful memories he and Jeannine made all those years ago.

Young K.T. Robbins with Jeannine

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But his neighbors were relentless. They were not only determined to find out Jeannine’s location, but if she was still alive, they hoped to reunite the former couple. They went to work and found something that made them smile.

Her name was Jeannine 

For as long as his neighbors had known Robbins, he had no secrets (at least none as interesting as a hidden romance). Robbins was a simple man, but when he announced that Jeannine Ganaye was his first love, everyone was shocked. Robbins never said anything about a first love. 

Val de Briey, France

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How did this happen? Robbins sat his neighbors down and told the story about how he met a beautiful girl one fall day in Briey, France. While Robbins set up lard cans against a fence, three people approached him, and one stood out among the others.

She was 18 and the prettiest girl Robbins had ever seen

One of the three people who approached Robbins introduced herself as Jeannine Ganaye; the other two were her younger siblings. Robbins was instantly smitten. Jeannine approached Robbins because her father wanted to use the tin cans for personal use. Robbins would have given Ganaye the moon if she had asked.

K.T. Robbins and Jeannine

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She had a knockout smile and there was an instant connection between the two. After that, they spent the fall season together and Robbins thought he found his match. In the beginning, the two forged a friendship, but it eventually blossomed to love. The best part — everyone approved of the match, even Ganaye’s parents!

The two were inseparable

While reminiscing about his past love, Robbins recalled his relationship with Ganaye: “We became very good friends. She would come to visit me at the mobile bakery tent every day. Her family would invite me over to their house for meals. We loved each other.”

Jeannine Ganaye

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Neither Ganaye nor Robbins spoke each other’s languages proficiently, but they knew enough to communicate their affections. Robbins said, “Back then, I spoke a lot more French than I do now, and she got along pretty well with her English.” It seemed like their love would stick, but unfortunately, they would eventually be torn apart.

Torn apart by war

The war ended in 1945, and while the world was celebrating, Robbins and Ganaye lamented what was to come. Robbins was called home and he had to leave the person he loved behind, but not without a proper goodbye. Robbins said, “Her family had a going-away breakfast for me — it was so nice.”

K.T. Robbins and Jeannine Ganaye

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“The day I had to leave, I called her to tell her I was going. I said, ‘Jeannine, I’ve got to go. I don’t have time to see you,’ and that’s when they ripped the phone out of my hand and said there was no time for calls. That was the last time we spoke.”

Fate brought the lovers together

Neighbor Linda Tosh was in awe of Robbins’ story. It was then that she and a group of neighbors decided to help the vet find his first love. Tosh began her research and saw an opportunity. Tosh told MSN, “He often said to me, ‘I sure would like to go back to France,’ and I never thought much of it.”

K.T. Robbins on the way to see Ganaye

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Determined to find a way to get Robbins to Europe, Tosh said, “One day, I saw a story online about veterans going back to Normandy, and I mentioned it to him. He said, ‘You have to get me on that trip — I want to go.’”

Veteran reunion at Normandy 

The story Tosh was reading featured an organization known as Forever Young Senior Veterans. The organization was calling on all WWII veterans for the possibility to take a trip to Normandy for the 75th anniversary of the D-Day invasion. Tosh instantly told Robbins about the organization and had him fill out an application.

Helmet on the beach

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As Robbins signed the application, both he and Tosh noticed a portion of the application that asked if the vet wanted to look for anyone in particular during his trip. Robbins put down Jeannine’s name. What Robbins didn’t expect was a call from the organization’s president, Diane Hight.

A shot in the dark to find love

Diane Hight saw that the vet was looking for his sweetheart and relayed to Tosh that it might be a shot in the dark to find who he was looking for. But that didn’t stop Robbins or Tosh from getting on that plane. Sure, it may be near impossible to locate her, but what’s love if not taking a risk or a leap of faith?

K.T. Robbins

BBC News via YouTube

For Robbins, it wasn’t a question of practicality, but one of taking action. It didn’t matter if they found her, the point was doing, going there and trying despite the odds against him. Unfortunately, there would be another bump in the road for the 98-year-old.

Filling in the questionnaire 

Before leaving Mississippi, the Forever Young Senior Veterans organization gave each veteran a questionnaire to help them look for fellow soldiers to reconnect with. But Robbins didn’t see it that way. Tosh said, “The questionnaire they gave him (Robbins) asked if there was anyone he wanted to find while there, and he listed Jeannine.”

writing in a questionnaire

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“We tried to tell him it wasn’t for ex-girlfriends but for other soldiers, but he refused to change it.” If you had one opportunity to broadcast your goal and purpose for everyone to see, would you falter on that opportunity? As long as people knew he was looking for Ganaye, it was enough for Robbins.

Fate intervened in the best way possible 

When it came time to enroll Robbins with the other group of veterans, he was alarmed to discover that the tour was full. In dismay, Tosh and Robbins thought of their alternatives when a last-minute miracle took place. “One of the veterans that was supposed to go dropped out, and he got the last seat on the plane,” Tosh said to MSN. Robbins could hardly believe his luck.

Holding her picture

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He was convinced that his trip to France was meant to be. For Robbins, going to France was his last chance to make amends with the past and revisit a moment in his life. He got on the plane without knowing what awaited him across the Atlantic, never knowing if Ganaye was still alive.

The surprise of a lifetime

Robbins took a leap of faith not knowing whether his long-lost sweetheart was still alive. He only had his intuition and the need to fulfill an age-old longing. It all changed once Robbins was in France, and a woman approached him — someone who knew Ganaye and told him that she was still alive.

Robbins and Ganaye

BBC News via YouTube

Robbins was elated. “No one told me she was still alive when we went down there,” he says. “One of the nurses on the trip turned to me and said, ‘I’m going to tell you something — she’s still alive.’” His gamble paid off, and he was going to see his sweetheart after all this time.

Ganaye’s family didn’t recognize him

Ganaye was alive and well — she was 92 and living in a nursing home. Reaching out to her family proved to be a challenge, however. Her family never heard of Robbins or his affiliation with Granny Ganaye. Even Ganaye herself denied knowing the American soldier until the photograph was discovered.

Daughter of Jeannine

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That’s when the truth unfolded. Ganaye confirmed that Robbins was indeed her first love. Tosh told MSN, “(They) had never heard this story before this. Back then, people kept these things close to their hearts. It wasn’t something they shared.”

Robbins recognized Ganaye instantly 

When Robbins arrived at the nursing home, he was far from nervous. In fact, he couldn’t wait to see Ganaye. Robbins rushed into the nursing home, Tosh in tow, and that’s when he saw her: the same face he loved 75 years ago.

Jeannine and Robbins

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Robbins said, “When we got to her nursing home, they had her wheelchair in the lobby. I recognized her immediately. She’s still very beautiful.” A well of emotions poured out of Robbins as he hurried to her side. Then, Ganaye said something shocking.

Ganaye waited for him after the war

It was Ganaye’s turn to tell her story. After the war, she was heartbroken but was confident that Robbins would return for her. Ganaye was so sure that she waited five years for him. She told MSN that she “ … waited for him for five years before deciding that he was never coming back.”

Holding hands

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When it was clear Robbins moved on without her, Ganaye married and had five children with her late husband, who died 30 years prior. It was a vintage tragedy, one created out of unfortunate circumstances that tore them apart. Although they were out of each other’s lives, they held each other close in their hearts.

Ganaye never forgot the man she loved 

Ganaye told ABC: “When he left in the truck, I cried. I was very sad. I hoped he would come back after the war.” With a heavy heart, Robbins left France to return to the U.S., leaving a brokenhearted Jeannine on the shore all those years ago. It turned out, Ganaye had been thinking of Robbins since his departure.

Ganaye and Robbins

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What was going through Ganaye’s mind then? Did she ask herself if he still thought about her? Waited for her? Did he forget about her? Her questions were answered, though it was bittersweet. But that didn’t matter to Ganaye; what mattered was that he came back. After all those years, he came back to find her. All was forgiven when Robbins said three simple words.

Robbins said ‘I love you’ first

Some of the first words that came out of Robbins’ mouth when he embraced Ganaye were, “I’ve always loved you.” It was Robbins’ mantra. And although Ganaye didn’t speak English, she knew what he meant “in her heart.” The couple held hands and kissed each other in greeting. It’s the authentic love many of us wish to find in this day and age.

Veteran embrace

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Despite being a world apart, separated by time and circumstance, they had the present; they had each other while they were still alive. For the elder couple, that’s all they needed. But, like that day in 1945, the couple would eventually say their goodbyes once again.

Hugs, kisses, and a teary goodbye

The couple would spend three days together. Robbins visited Ganaye, and they talked about their families, friends, and the memories they made while they were away from each other. But their first day together was the sweetest. “We had two hours, and dinner together,” Robbins said.

Ganaye and Robbins

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“When it was time to go, (Ganaye) got out of her wheelchair and walked with her walker to the car. We embraced there for awhile. She didn’t want me to go.” Who could blame her? Saying goodbye the first time was hard enough, but a second time? It must have been heart-wrenching. 

A possible happily ever after?

What is that stops us from love? The answer is obvious: fear. We’re afraid of the failures of love, forgetting the possibility of success. What if it doesn’t work out? What if they don’t feel the same way? What if … ? For Robbins and Ganaye, their entire lives were ruled by, “What if?”

Robbins and Ganaye last kiss

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The fear of never knowing existed. Although the old couple reunited three-quarters of a century later, there was one thing left to wonder: Is it too late? Robbins told MSN he had no plans to move from Mississippi to France. The only thing he could say was obvious: “I love her so much.”