Nothing brings back memories like photographs

I have always loved this image at the heading of our “International Wall” just outside the Museum’s administration wing. I see it many times a week, and it takes me back to a wonderful adventure over 40 years ago.

Out of the blue, a few weeks ago, I received a fat envelope from the UK. It was from Steve Melendez, the son of Helen and Bill Melendez, who, following in his father’s footsteps, is producing animation in London.

The envelope was filled with photos from the same trip as the photo above, all of which revolved around a trip to northern France, which precipitated from a WWII Company B reunion in St. Louis in 1974.

At the St. Louis meeting, Sparky was reunited with fellow squad members, many of whose careers he had followed in the newsletters sent by the Company B Historian, Art Lynch.

One such special Army buddy was Elmer Hagemeyer, whose name and that of his wife, Margaret, are featured prominently in the Museum’s Army Case. In that case, we showcase samples of early cartoon drawings of Army life by Sparky on Elmer’s envelopes to Margaret.

Post WWII, Sparky and Elmer talked regularly on the phone, and Elmer, 10 years older than Sparky and who had a career as a policeman in St. Louis, was a good listener and offered ‘big brotherly’ advice, which Sparky appreciated.

Once we planned to attend the reunion, the Hagemeyers invited us to stay with them, which pleased Sparky to be with friends. On the Sunday that we were there, we went with them to their church, where Margaret played in the bell choir—so it was a truly momentous occasion for both of us.

In addition to reuniting with buddy Elmer, Sparky was amazed to hear of the adventures of several fellow soldiers who had traveled to France to relive the route they had taken in Europe.

Sparky was hooked, and a year later, we set off with their maps in hand and with our well-traveled friends, Helen and Bill Melendez (animation director for the Peanuts half-hour television specials), our destination being Chateau Mal Voisin.

Following the map, we were looking for a wooden bridge over a small river.

As soon as we approached the bridge, Sparky recognized the landscape and was very excited when he said, “There it is!”


Helen Melendez exploring the exterior walls.


The grass was quite overgrown, and there were tall walls, but Sparky found a door that opened.


I have a hard time thinking back to how Sparky might have felt when he was walking around the Chateau—you can see that I gave him plenty of space because I didn’t want to intrude on his experiences of seeing this place almost 30 years after he had trained in Camp Campbell, Kentucky for 18 months, then traveled en masse with his company to the east coast to board a troop ship for Europe, not knowing what they might encounter after they landed in Le Harve, France.

Having survived the war, he was seeing it with completely different eyes.


Here, Sparky is inside the walls—walking toward the ‘lean-to’ that looked as though it used to stable the animals before the war.


Up close, Sparky pointed out where they slept, it was February when they were there, so I imagine it may have been cold, but he didn’t mention that aspect.

However, what he did point out was: “I slept here, and Dieffenwerth slept here, and Hopkins slept over there.” He was completely back, remembering everything clearly and absorbing the memories.


After spending a couple of hours at the Chateau, we drove to the Normandy beachhead, and I am looking here at one of the bunkers overlooking the ocean that the German forces had built to protect the coastline.


Sparky looking OUT from inside the bunker at the ocean-scape in the distance.


Then, we went down to the beach, where an outgoing tide exposed a great expanse of beach. The historical exhibition at a small museum was moving to all of us, but particularly to Sparky, who realized that slightly different circumstances could well have put him there at that time, on that beach during the D-Day invasion.


The village of Croissy sur Andelle was a crossroads with a church, a school, and a café about a mile from the Chateau. Sparky said they used to walk up at night to listen to the jukebox and where there was electricity to write letters.


Helen Melendez and I waking near the school.


Helen Melendez, Sparky and myself.


Bill Melendez, Sparky, and myself in the patio of the cafe.


When we walked into the café, we were greeted by a smiling proprietor. Sparky was astounded to see that it looked just as it had when he had been there with his squad.

He gestured to the proprietor, “I was here during La Guerre.”

And pointing at the Foosball game and mimicking the motions- “I played this, here.”

“No, no,” the proprietor shook his head— “Pendant la guerre il était la bas.” (He pointed to a corner, and Sparky realized the man was correct; it had been in a different place.)

How amazing to think that all these years later, with all that had happened to Sparky and in the world, he would be face to face with someone he probably had seen many times in those six weeks at the Chateau.

These are the memories that return every time I look up at the photo of Sparky sitting in the classroom in Croissy sur Andelle, France

— Jean Schulz


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