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A Bittersweet D-Day Love Story Comes Full Circle as Brothers Find Each Other After 70 Years

The upcoming 80th anniversary of D-Day is an opportunity to reflect on the colossal impact that day had on our world. It’s also a good opportunity to note the stories of those for whom D-Day served as a catalyst on a much more personal scale. One such story is that of Wilburn Henderson, an American soldier who landed at Normandy in June 1944, and while in France, met a beautiful local woman named Irene.

Irene Gantois of Nancy, France. Photo enhanced and colorized by MyHeritage

Irene Gantois of Nancy, France. Photo enhanced and colorized by MyHeritage

Irene Gantois of Nancy, France. Photo enhanced and colorized by MyHeritage

Wilburn and Irene fell in love, and when Wilburn was sent back to the U.S. after the war, he wanted to take Irene with him and marry her. However, Irene’s brother had been captured during the war as part of the French Resistance and sent to his death at Buchenwald, and their mother was devastated by the loss. Irene was the only child she had left, and Irene couldn’t bear to leave her mother to live across the sea. So she told Wilburn to go home without her and she remained behind. But there was something she didn’t tell him: she was pregnant with his child.

The child, Andre, grew up knowing nothing about his father. Irene didn’t reveal anything about his identity until, lying on her deathbed, she told Andre that he had been an American soldier, and that he had been the love of her life.

‘A secret he carried inside all those years’

Andre tried everything in his power to find out who his father was and connect to his paternal family. He and his family had searched for information everywhere they could think of and scoured archives and historical records. Eventually, he took a MyHeritage DNA test, but at first, it didn’t provide any new information.

Then, in August of 2018, a new DNA match showed up: Allen Henderson. His estimated relationship to Andre? Half-brother.

Allen was born in 1953 and currently lives in North Carolina. He grew up knowing that his father had spent a year in France and had been involved in the invasion of Normandy, but his father never said a word about Irene: “It was a secret he carried inside all those years,” he says. Wilburn died in 1997 and never had any idea he had a son in France.

Allen decided to take a MyHeritage DNA test because he was interested in learning about his origins. He never dreamed he would find a brother on the other side of the Atlantic, and when he received an email from Andre’s daughter-in-law about the match, he was completely shocked. “It was very surreal because I just had no idea,” he says. “I got to thinking how I could have a brother in France. And then I remembered my dad fought in World War II on Omaha Beach and in Normandy. He was there from June 1944 to November 1945. So I thought that it’s possible.”

But when she sent over some photos of Andre, he knew there was no question: the resemblance between the two was striking.

Fox and Friends

Allen (left) and Andre (right) when they were younger

Their appearance isn’t where the resemblance stops. Both brothers are partial to plaid shirts and sweater vests, both owned nearly identical cats, and they both worked in Evangelical ministry — particularly unusual in Andre’s case, since France is largely Catholic.

Andre was overjoyed to have found his brother and to be able to learn about his father at last.

Wilburn, Allen and Andre’s father. Photo enhanced and colorized by MyHeritage

Wilburn, Allen and Andre’s father. Photo enhanced and colorized by MyHeritage

Wilburn, Allen and Andre’s father. Photo enhanced and colorized by MyHeritage

‘Our lives will never be the same’

A month later, Allen traveled to Nancy, France, to meet his brother for the first time. Watch their beautiful reunion here:

While in France, the brothers visited Omaha Beach and took their father’s dog tag with them. It was the first time Andre visited the beach, as he hadn’t been able to bear going before he knew his father’s identity.

“Thanks to MyHeritage, I live better and that’s not an exaggeration,” says Andre. Allen says he was told that Andre was so consumed by the search for his father that it became detrimental to his emotional health, and that finding Allen had “given him life.”

“This process has changed our lives forever,” says Allen. “Our lives will never be the same after this. It’s just like a miracle that we discovered each other.”

Allen also shared his story on Fox & Friends in 2018:

The brothers don’t speak each other’s languages, but they are trying to learn to communicate. Andre’s son enjoyed listening to Allen’s radio show on the Christian HIS station, and they’re still learning and discovering things about each other.

The beautiful bond between the brothers serves as a comforting ending to the bittersweet story of Wilburn and Irene, brought together by the military operation that turned the tide of WWII 80 years ago.

The post A Bittersweet D-Day Love Story Comes Full Circle as Brothers Find Each Other After 70 Years appeared first on MyHeritage Blog.

Source: My Heritage

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