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WWII veterans both, child, warrior meet decades later in Clayton

Posted January 27

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— At a café on Main Street in Clayton, a little girl who was once hungry and cold and whose life from birth involved war and want, is a little girl no more.

Eva Gentilly was 3 years old and living in the Netherlands when Adolf Hitler surrendered, ending World War II in Europe and the bombardment of her country. But the end of the war brought famine.

“There was no food. Can you imagine eating tulip bulbs? There was no food,” she said.

During the famine, people were eating tulip bulbs and dying from eating poisonous daffodils.

The end of World War II gave rise to humanitarian missions among American troops, including Operation Chowhound and Operation Manna, during which American planes dropped food on a region devastated by famine.

By 1945, the Nazis were gone and boxes of food dropped out of the Dutch sky, raining down from American B-17s that swooped in over Gentilly’s town near Amsterdam.

“Once we were free, we were going to eat this, we were going to eat that,” Gentilly recalled.

Gentilly grew up and immigrated to America in 1961. She now lives in Clayton.

Friday at Jones Café, Gentilly found a new friend in 99-year-old Sam Robertson, who spent the war in a glass bubble beneath a plane.

“They said ‘You’re the only runt in the crowd,’ talking to me,” he said.

The “runt” had ball turret duty in a B-17 with 18 bombing missions over France and Germany. When the blasting stopped his crew began another mission to the Netherlands.

Robertson said he will never forget looking down and seeing tulips arranged in a message.

“Big, long letters: ‘thank you boys.’ Don’t you think that didn’t make us feel good,” he said.

Somewhere on that bleak landscape was a little girl named Eva.

“Three years old, she was. I’m seeing her for the first time,” Robertson said on Friday.

Years after the war ended, Gentilly had something to say to the man in the B-17.

“You have kept my family from dying and the people in my community and the people in my country,” she said.

To sit together with Gentilly on Friday in the town they now both call home, Robertson said “I’ve got one word for that- wonderful.”

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