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Robin Collen, holding a wartime photo of her parents, with Hilda Nuttens in St. Martin de la Lieue, France.
Robin Collen, holding a wartime photo of her parents, with Hilda Nuttens in St. Martin de la Lieue, France.

Retracing her father's wartime footsteps

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Veterans Day is this Sunday - a time to honor the service of all U.S. military veterans. A Potsdam woman traveled to a small village in France to retrace her father's footsteps during World War Two. Robin Collen's father, Leonard, served in the Army Air Corps. When his plane was shot down over France, he parachuted to safety and was rescued by local villagers.

As a child, Collen remembered tissue paper-thin air mail envelopes from France, and occasional war stories from her dad. When her father died in 2000, he left behind a map and note about the experience and his French rescuers.

A few years ago, after some web research, Collen says she was curious and determined to revisit her father's past. She and her husband, Bruce, traveled to rural France to try to connect with one of the women who helped hide her father from the Nazis more than 60 years ago. She wrote an essay to honor his experience and shared her thoughts with Todd Moe.

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The wedding photo of Robin Collen's parents.  She gave a copy to Hilda, one of her father's rescuers during World War Two.

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Todd Moe
Morning Host and Producer

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Collen found her father's World War Two medal when she was young, ang asked him about it. He replied, "I got that medal for killing people." Although she says he did have good feelings about the war, saying it was the most exciting of his life, she knew it was also a very difficult time. Her father volunteered for the war because he knew the world needed him. After his death 12 years ago, Collen found a replica Normandy map, with a note that said, 'Don't lose this map.' There were names of people who helped hide him from the Nazis; Ernest and Hilda [Millard], Suzanne, and others.  This sparked her journey to St. Martin de la Lieue, France, and eventually to writing her essay.   She said, "I wanted to just walk the same streets that I think he might have walked." There were many old buildings that Collen believes her father would have seen when he was there. "My heart was just so fulfilled by doing that." Her husband had the idea to go to the post office to see if they could locate any of the people her dad met. Although there was a language barrier, Collen told the postmistress everything she could about her father's time in France. The women phoned around and eventually found that Hilda, who had changed her last name to Nuttens, was in a retirement home just down the road. Collen writes about her meeting with Hilda in her essay. She knew how important World War Two was to her father and to many others, but she didn't have a "fleshed out feeling" about what happened to him. She wanted to know more, and understand that part of his life. "I just knew I had to go, even if I didn't know how to explain to anybody why."

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