Reunited: Friendship Remains

By Aulica Rutland

[This story, provided to us by William Bailey, was also published in the European Stars and Stripes, as well as many other newspapers in the United States and France. The French National Radio also picked up the story and interviewed the French visitors while they were here.]

REIDSVILLE --Mary-Louise Vincent and Warren Bailey knew each other for a brief two weeks. And if it hadnít been for a little black-and-white school picture 12-year old Marie-Louise gave to Bailey more than 50 years ago, the two probably never have met again.

Bailey, a soldier preparing to enter the fierce fighting at the end of World War ll in western Europe, was posted in the town of Le Treport in Normandy, France, in the winter of 1945. Marie-Louise, a tiny girl terrorized by the battles that rages near her home, was curious about the American soldiers who liberated her town. The two quickly became friends. They didnít exchange many words, but Bailey gave her bits of candy and chewing gum; and she found a place in his heart. Before he left for the front lines, Marie-Louise gave Bailey a picture of herself. For a while, the carried the photo in his wallet, then sent it on to his wife in a letter.

More than 50 years later, as he and his wife Ruth sorted through a box of love letters heíd written her from Europe, the couple rediscovered the picture and the girl. The letters tell of Baileyís meeting Marie-Louise, her smile, her laugh, her warmth. For most of the two weeks in Le Treport, Baileyís letters were filled with stories of the girl: "I saw the little French girl whom I have written about quite often, several times yesterday," Bailey wrote in a letter to Ruth dated Feb, 15, 1945. "She is so cute. Iím afraid I misjudged her age a bit though. She told us yesterday she was twelve years old. She doesnít look a day over 8 or 9. All these French kids are so small and young looking---I was kidding her yesterday and told her Iíd like to take her back to America with me and she said sheíd like to go."

On Monday, Marie-Louise stepped off a plane at Piedmont Triad International Airport. Finding her had not been easy. In 1994, the Baileys enlisted the help of two U.S. representatives, the French Embassy and the French Consulate in Atlanta, all to no avail. In the spring of 1995, Bailey wrote to a young French woman who had been trying to contact American soldiers who had traveled though her town during the war. It took that 19-year-old woman, Stephanie Leveuf, less than a day to find Marie-Louise. She telephoned all the Vincents in the Le Treport phone book. The last to answer was by an elderly woman. Marie-Louise Vincent, the woman said, is my daughter. Leveuf immediately called Marie-Louise and told her about Bailey.

Now 62, and twice married, Marie-Louise Godeby was skeptical. She didnít remember the names of any of the soldiers she had met years ago. She didnít even remember giving one her photo. She was sure Leveufís call was a prank. Leveuf persisted, certain she had found the right woman, and sent Godeby a copy of the photo Bailey had sent to her. When Godeby saw the tiny pictures, the pieces fell in place. "Stephanie sentÖthis picture, and (I) said, "Yes, thatís me," Godeby said through an interpreter in an interview Thursday at Baileyís home. Bailey, who speaks no French, and Godeby, who speaks no English, were united again. By July 1995, Bailey and Godeby were trading letters and photographs. And in the years since, Godeby, Leveuf, her parents and the Baileys have become fast friends. This week, Godeby and her husband Bernard and Leveuf, now 23, traveled to Reidsville to meet Bailey and his wife. And though their language and age barriers to overcome, itís been like a family reunion.

Godeby said she doesnít know what it was about Bailey that drew her to him. He was the only soldier she became close to, the only one to whom she gave that little school picture. Perhaps little Marie-Louise reminded Bailey of what waited at home his pregnant wife and her beautiful smile. I must tell you about my French sweetheart," he wrote home to Ruth on Feb 23, 1945. "She is very cute and has such a sweet little smile. Wish we had one like her.. Her smile and personality are so much like yours."

After exchanging letters and photos and catching up on 50 years spent apart, Godeby invited the Baileys to visit in France. At age 78, Bailey didnít think he was up to the trip. When Bailey extended the invitation to Reidsville, Godeby didnít have to think long before she accepted. "Itís a good thing (we) could come this year," Godeby said through through the interpreter. "(We) might not have been able to make the trip next year. Who knows what could happen? Better now than never." So Bailey finally brought little Marie-Louise to America. Thanks to that picture.

"There were many children who came (to the headquarters)," Leveuf wrote to Bailey soon after she found Godeby, "but Marie-Louise stood out above the rest with her charming personality. She knew that I liked her and she brought me the small picture of herself. Perhaps it was a picture taken at school, I donít know. At any rate I kept the picture and without it Iím sure we would never have found her."