The Girl in the Photo: Daughter reconnects with father’s WWII past

Published 7:00 am Saturday, May 21, 2016

From left, Denise Robert sits with Carl Lazarone during WWII in Neuchef, France on March 12, 1945.  Photo submitted

From left, Denise Robert sits with Carl Lazarone during WWII in Neuchef, France on March 12, 1945.
Photo submitted

Last month, armed with only a few black and white photographs, Poplarville resident Carlette Lazarone Bonnette retraced some of the steps her father, Carl Lazarone, took while he was stationed in Neufchef, France during World War II. During her travels, she also met the girl in the photograph.
About three years ago, Bonnette started digitizing the images her father captured during the war, a topic she didn’t know much about because Carl Lazarone died when Bonnette was 25.
“He died when I was so young that I regret not asking him about the war,” Bonnette said. “At that time I had no interest in family history.”
Bonnette said her father was an avid photographer and each picture from his Army days are annotated with dates, names and places.
When she and her husband Bo decided to take a cruise, Bonnette said it dawned on her that they would be close to Neufchef.
“He and the other soldiers had met the locals, befriended them and spent a lot of time with them,” she said. “I looked at a map and knew we could drive there.”
In one of her father’s photos, he is pictured with a girl who looks to be about 5-years-old. The name on the back of the photograph identified the girl as Denise Robert. A teenage girl named Odile Leteyer was in another picture, she said. Odile also wrote Bonnette’s father after he returned to the United States, Bonnette said.
Prior to her trip, Bonnette searched the Internet for the names, but was unable to find any information on their whereabouts.
Once in Neufchef, she and Bo visited city hall and attempted to speak with three clerks who only spoke French. That’s where they met Mary Agnes, who overheard the conversation. She offered to translate for the Bonnettes.
Prior to searching for Denise, Bonnette sat down with Mary Agnes, who volunteered to be their translator and tour guide for their two-day adventure. They studied Lazarone’s pictures and Mary Agnes told Bonnette she recognized some of the structures.
After, the three of them walked to Denise’s house and knocked on her door. During their walk, they received a phone call from the local newspaper and mayor of Neufchef, who were interested in writing a human interest piece.
“When we knocked on the door her husband had this deer caught in a headlights look on his face,” Bonnette said. “We explained what we were doing there and when Denise came to the door, she looked almost exactly as she did in her photograph that was taken about 71 years ago. When we showed her the pictures, she told me she remembered my dad. She told me he used to bring her Hershey chocolate bars and take her to the movies.”
Denise agreed to sit down with Bonnette and the reporter from the local newspaper at Neufchef’s City Hall. She also brought her mother’s copy of the same picture Bonnette had, the one of her father and Denise sitting on the steps.
“From what Denise said, the ladies in the neighborhood cooked dinner for the soldiers,” Bonnette said. “Denise and her husband joined us for dinner after the interview and we all had such a lovely time.”
During the remainder of her stay in Neufchef, Bonnette visited and photographed many of the same buildings her father had.
As a result, Bonnette now has two new friends. She and Mary Agnes have kept in touch and Bonnette recently mailed Denise some Hershey bars.
“It was a goosebumps moment,” Bonnette said. “It was just like my daddy to take to a child like that. It was perfect that it all came together for us to do this. My advice to young people is that if you have a grandparent or someone older in your life, talk with them and write down their stories. Once they’re gone, you can’t go back and ask questions. I’d give anything to find out the answers to the questions I have.”

More than 70 years later, Carlette Lazarone Bonnette (left) met the girl pictured with her father, Denise Richard (right).  Photo submitted

More than 70 years later, Carlette Lazarone Bonnette (left) met the girl pictured with her father, Denise Robert (right).
Photo submitted

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