MARQUETTE - Oliver Pernot said he sometimes feels as though he has two nationalities: French and American.
Which is why helping American families find out about loved ones killed while serving in France during World War II comes, well, naturally to him.
Alsace, France, resident Pernot and his wife, Marie-Rose, recently aided a Republic family trying to find out more about the death of their loved one, George F. Ritola, who was killed in action in January 1945.
In honor of what would have been George Ritola’s 90th birthday on April 13 of this year, Oliver Pernot placed a rose on a tree near the spot where RItola died Jan. 23, 1945, in France. (Photo courtesy of Oliver Pernot)
Pernot received information from Marquette resident Loraine Koski about George Ritola. She and her husband, Jim, have done extensive research about Upper Peninsula military members killed during WWII, putting them in contact with Pernot.
"First I met Loraine and Jim in September 2008 at the French Memorial of Grand-Failly (eastern France)," Pernot said in an email. "In this area was a Temporary American Military Cemetery (1945-1948) (where) were buried 2,967 American soldiers killed at the Battle of the Bulge (Bastogne-Belgium).
"I received the first name of a soldier buried there 'Oliver' from Oliver Simmers because his family living in Pittsburgh, Pa., asked if someone would take care of his grave and my mom Josy Simon did it - put flowers, took photos, wrote to the family and then when I was born Mrs. Simmers asked that I got the name of (her) son. Long all these past years the two families were in very good relationships, with all the Oliver Simmers family.
"I went many times to visit (the family) and the nieces of Oliver Simmers also came (to) France. Also I am the godfather of a niece's daughter living close Pittsburgh. One of the nieces is my 'Heart Sister' and we write sometimes twice per week, at least at once. sharing all the news and photos.
"To tell you it seems (to) me I got two nationalities: French and American."
When Loraine Koski asked in March if Pernot might be able to help find information for the Ritola family, he immediately agreed.
"You cannot refuse this work in memory of all the American soldiers who gave their life for our freedom," Pernot said. "Most of them were around 20 years old and France doesn't forget that and says a BIG THANK YOU."
"Second reason. I was born in a part of France (East) between Verdun (WW I) and Bastogne (WW II) where (the) American Army fought during these World Wars and people know a lot of stories about that and let us to know them," he said. "You yet could see a lot of war things elsewhere. Even many years later for a child born in 1949 you are living with all these things and the stories. They are a part of you and maybe they helped you in your mind to help to make some researches in memory."
And there's more.
"Third reason: Another thing I was in the French Air Force (now in retirement) but I am living with the soldier's spirit: the soldiers helped one another," Pernot said. "And the last I thought it will be great for the Ritola family to do that. You see, many reasons to make these researches. I can to tell you I was very happy when I did it to (be able to) find a lot of things...
"I am very glad and proud for the Ritola family to do it and find (information). George Ritola is not dead, because people think of him. Since Lafayette, the friendship between the U.S and France is not dead. Today I made this research, tomorrow it shall be another French child for the memory (not to be forgotten)."
Renee Prusi can be contacted at 906-228-2500, ext. 253. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org