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Following father's footsteps: Angela Condeni Mabin finds location in Paris where he'd stood at end of WWII

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By BILL MABIN

Walking in your father’s footsteps isn’t always possible, especially when those steps were taken in Paris 67 years ago. But it happened for former Chesterton resident Angela Condeni Mabin, now of Marshall, Mich.

The story starts with a small black-and-white snapshot of Angela’s father, Anthony Condeni, of Chesterton, dressed in his World War II army uniform. Angela remembers the photo being in a box of family pictures when she was growing up, but back then her father was reluctant to speak of his wartime experiences.

Earlier this year, she noticed her now 91-year-old father had placed the photo near a bedroom dresser mirror. He recently had become more interested in discussing his time in the Army, and Angela was helping him seek documentation of his service from government sources.

He said the photo was taken in 1945 after the war in Europe had ended, but he didn’t know where and suggested it was either in Paris or in Belgium. Angela believed it was in Paris due to the architecture of the building in the background.

Angela borrowed the photo and had it enlarged. Signage on the building was now visible, and one awning read Restaurant du Havre. Angela sent the photo to her son Tony in Grand Rapids, Mich., who said he believed the location was near the large department stores in central Paris.

Angela and her husband Bill had a trip planned that included a week in Paris in early June of this year. On a damp, cool Sunday morning, they began the search for the building in the photo. The building’s corners had unusual angles, and there was decorative black iron work near the windows as well as carved stone detailing.

They started along Rue (avenue) de Havre, searching for a building with the right number of floors and windows per floor. They hoped the detailing still would match. The photo also showed an entrance to the Metro (subway).

After inspecting numerous buildings along several blocks, they thought they found it. But the iron work didn’t match. Then, they realized the building across one of the side streets of the plaza they had entered did match-the Place du Havre across from the Saint Lazare train station.

A man staffing an outdoor jewelry booth had been watching the American couple inspecting the buildings. Angela told him what they were doing, showed him the enlarged photo and asked if this was the correct location. He indicated she should wait. He returned soon with another man more familiar with the area’s history. With enthusiasm, he named each business shown in the photo and pointed to where it had been located in the building. When he was done, he handed the photo back to Angela with a flourish and said, “Voila” (there it is).

After posing for a picture where her father had stood 67 years earlier, Angela realized she had been there before. On a previous trip to Paris, she and Bill had stayed at a nearby hotel and had crossed Place du Havre numerous times. She feels she was destined to find this location and make the connection to her father. She noted that while there are 1,500 hotels in Paris, she had chosen that one.

She had felt the same way on that previous trip when she and Bill visited Omaha Beach, one of the Normandy landing sites of the D-Day invasion. Her father, a member of the 348th Ordinance Depot Company, had crossed the English Channel in a landing craft and then rushed into chest-deep water off Omaha Beach on June 10, 1944, “D-Day Plus Four.” While there no longer was fighting on the beach that day, not all of his company made it safely ashore.

Based on matching her father’s memories to historical records, Angela believes her father’s unit was part of the Second Armored Division that broke out of the Normandy hedgerows, crossed northern France, went into Belgium, was involved in the Battle of the Bulge and then entered Germany. Her father’s role was as a jeep driver for a lieutenant. The unit’s mission was to transport truck parts.

After the war ended, he was housed in an apartment building in or near Paris awaiting space on a transport ship back to the United States. Apparently one day Angela’s father took the train or subway into central Paris, and a friend took that photo outside the Saint Lazare station.

Her father was thrilled she was able to identify the photo’s location. She feels ordained to have walked where he once had. She’s also glad he made it back safely.

Editor’s Note: Bill Mabin’s mother, Margaret Mabin, was a long-time Chesterton Tribune reporter and editor starting in the 1950s. Bill worked at the Tribune during the 1960s and his brother John Mabin worked later for the Tribune as Sports Editor.

 

Posted 11/12/2012