Md. Man Digs Into Dad's Letters From French Girls
By BRICE STUMP
The Daily Times
SALISBURY, Md. (AP) -- It has been almost 65 years since Clara Bisker reread a Christmas card she received in December 1948. It had been tucked away in her desk since it was sent to her and her husband, Gordon, by two French girls.
The card was recently rediscovered by their son, Rick.
"I was looking for old stuff in her desk, as I have an interest in genealogy, and found the card," said Rick Bisker, 68, of Salisbury. "The card had a note congratulating them on my birth."
The card was one of three notes or letters from three girls that Gordon and his friends had met while stationed in France during World War II. Josette Reich, Gilette Chapot and Jeanine Jaime lived in Saint-Jean-De Bournay, France, near Lyon. All three signed them but Gilette wrote them.
"My father was in the Army's 582 Signal Air Warning Battalion. He went over in March of 1944 going from Italy into France to the town of Saint-Jean-De Bournay. He was there for about a month in August of 1944," Rick Bisker said.
It has been more than six decades since the last card arrived. The Christmas card he found in the desk held a mystery that he wanted to solve. Bisker, a former engineer for Dresser-Wayne in Salisbury, set out to find the letter writers pictured in his dad's war-time photo album.
"My father died in 1999, at 84, but my mother, Clara, 95, is still living. She was the recipient of two of the three letters. I had a return address for the letters and I wondered if any of the girls were still living," Bisker said.
"I went online using the French white pages looking to see if there were any families with the name Chapot -- the last name of one of the girls that wrote to my mother.
"I found two people with the Chapot last name and one of them was living on the same street that was on the return address. I wrote a letter to both of the people and copied the letters that I had and included copies of some pictures of the girls that were in my dad's album and included my e-mail address. In about two weeks I received an email from Annick Chapot. She is the daughter of the brother of one of the girls that had written my parents," Bisker said. "Her father, Henri Chapot, 84, was a brother to Gilette Chapot and he remembered my father coming to their home. Henri and Annick were very surprised to hear from me. We have been emailing back and forth, exchanging information and pictures. I have been using Google Translate to be able to understand her French correspondence, but of course, the translation is not always perfect."
"We stay in touch about once a month," he said, as one of the original yellowing letters from 1948 slipped from his fingers to the desk. "I once asked dad about these letters, the story behind them but he simply said they were from friends he made in France during the war."
I sent Annick copies of the photos from dad's album of her family, and she was surprised because she did not have the same photos in her family album," he said.
From the start of the correspondence, Bisker learned the bad news. All three girls were deceased. Gilette died in 1979 of cancer. Yet, through Annick's father and her uncle, Jean Chapot, he got answers to some questions.
"The soldiers, Annick Chapot said, came to her grandfather's because `he had a trade that sold lemonade and Jerome and the others gave them chocolate, chewing gum and fuel,"' he said. "My father only drank lemonade as a boy, never coffee until he went to war, so I know he appreciated the lemonade offer. My dad and other soldiers would go to the home of Gillett's parents and eat dinners because her mother was such a good cook."
The three girls wanted to write to Clara. "They wrote to my mother, in broken English, and it was hard for her to understand exactly what they were sometimes trying to say, and all three would sign the letters," he said.
"Gordon sent me a letter telling me the girls were going to be writing to me. He told me he met a French family and how kind and good they were to him and his buddies. Their English was difficult to understand. They called him Jerry. I wrote them back," Clara said.
"What first crossed my mind when I found out about the French girls," she said with generous laughter and frankness, "was how many little Biskers could be running around over there. But I had no reason for concern.
"We were married in 1940. We met at my high school prom," she said, "and he wasn't even my date. Oh, my, yes, it was love at first sight."
He was drafted, and during the war years she worked as a trimmer at the Manhattan Shirt Co. in Salisbury.
"It was a surprise," she said, "getting the first letter." The first letters came by the time Gordon had left their little town. It was so exciting to see a letter from France and that it was sent by air mail."
There may have been more letters, but Clara now can't recall the number. "Over the years I threw some of his letters away. I'm sure they were mushy love letters," she said, smiling. "Some of the letters from the girls may have been discarded too. I just can't remember."
When Bisker returned from the war, Clara shipped off a box of goodies to the three girls.
"I knew it was hard for them to get nice things, so like the good Samaritan we are supposed to be, I sent chocolate chip cookies, which I made by hand, and chocolates and candies."
About the box of sweets, Gilette wrote to inform Clara the box had taken half a year to reach them and was opened. "Only a little chocolate was remaining ...You have spoiled us so much with daintiness foods we were mad to find almost nothing but paper (in the box)."
The last letter, written in the Christmas card, ends with the a timeless wish, especially cherished during the holidays.
"We speak very often of you" Josette wrote. "Your friends distant who do not forget you and who address their best kindness to you." For 65 years war memories and those last words remained tucked in a desk drawer.
She still calls the trio "the girls," and said she appreciated, that during the war and especially at Thanksgiving and Christmas, American soldiers were offered kindnesses and hospitality so far from home. She invited the girls to visit her and her family in the USA, but they never came.
"I was curious what happened to them, but there was no way to find out what happened to them until recently (with the Internet). I'm too old to travel, but now I know how things turned out, thanks to my son."
Information from: The Daily Times of Salisbury, Md., http://www.delmarvanow.com/
(Copyright 2014 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)
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