January 6, 2013

Author Q &A: Peace of the Past

A largely untold chapter of Nazi-occupied Belgium – and of one family's history – combine in Maine writer Walter W. Bannon's new book.

By TOM ATWEL, Special to the Telegram

(Continued from page 1)

click image to enlarge

click image to enlarge

Walter W. Bannon

MEET THE AUTHOR

WALTER W. BANNON has two book signings scheduled, and is planning to do more.

3 p.m. Wednesday, Harrison Village Library, 4 Front St.

Noon March 1, Portland Public Library, 5 Monument Square

For more information, go to:

thewhitepocketbook.com

When we were going through the boxes she had and came across the pocketbook, I suggested we throw it away, and she became really upset. Then some more of the story came out.

When I was working on this book, I spoke to a woman who is a writer about it, and I said I was thinking of calling it "The Three Men I Hate," and she said no, that women will never buy it. But then I thought that the story begins with the white pocketbook and ends with it, and that should be the title. 

Q: Tell me about the three men she hates.

A: One was Hitler. I asked her if she could ever forgive him, and she said maybe someday, but not yet. Then there was Leon Degrelle, who was from her hometown, became a Nazi, brought the wrath of the Nazis on Bouillon and was made a general by Hitler. He was a friend of her family before the war. Hitler told him, "If I ever had a son, I would want him to be like you."

The third one was Sen. Joe McCarthy. While our family was moving from one military post to another in 1954, because she had come from overseas, was French and had shifty eyes, they thought she might be a Communist and at one point, she was separated from her husband and children and put in a cell for four days. There was even talk of her being sent back to Europe. After four years of living in a basement and surviving the war, she came to America and was put in a prison. Even someone as giving and forgiving as her could not forgive that. 

Q: Your mother went with her father to rescue a downed pilot -- and she has a picture of her on the plane. She was too young to be a resistance fighter, but was connected with them, wasn't she?

A: She never told us about that. I saw the picture and had to ask her about it, and she told me the pilot had crash-landed not far from her house, and they found the pilot, and got him very quickly back to town and then back home to England.  

Q: The idea that they were taking 16-year-old girls from their homes and sending them off to serve the soldiers is horrible. But since her father was in the resistance and found out that was happening, he sent Andree to France to escape this.

A: He was connected and able to move her over to France, where she stayed for a month or two. When things settled down and they stopped taking the girls, he brought her back.

At the end of the war, community members wanted to kill some of those girls for sleeping with the German soldiers, and her father had a big part in preventing that. 

Q: I found it odd that Andree agreed to marry an American who came in to play her family's piano, and that he would return in three years to marry her after meeting her for just one day.

A: There were close to 1 million women who ended up marrying American and English soldiers. But every one of the soldiers who walked down the street was a hero. 

And my father was like that. Whenever he saw a piano, he would want to play it, and he spoke a little French. And he could play the piano, but not like my mother, who was taught by nuns.

She says that she never even talked to him that day, but that when he left, he told her father that he was going to return in three years and marry his daughter. And I think her father was excited about Andree marrying an American hero, and when he received a letter a while later with a formal proposal, they agreed to it. 

Q: Do think that there is a lesson here that people should record family memories when they have a chance -- even if they don't want to write it for public consumption?

A: I do think so, whether it's just writing the account for themselves. When I talk at high schools, people are really interested in this. People are floored, and they end up in tears. People should really save these stories.

Tom Atwell is a freelance writer living in Cape Elizabeth.  He can be contacted at 767-2297 or at:

tomatwell@me.com

 

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