Last week I was skyping with 93 year old Leo Ryan and his daughter Jackie, a successful Jazz Singer. We were not talking about her. Leo was telling me a story that happened 70 years ago in Germany, only a few days after WW2 had ended. Leo, a Squad Leader with the 284th Combat Engineers of Gerneral Patton's 3rd Army had arrived in Nuremberg with his Bataillon May 10th. Almost immediately a five year old girl started following him around: Hildegard. They started a friendship. But the farewell came so quickly that they coud never say Good Bye and Leo never got to thank Hildegard for a special gift she had given him at the final military ceremony.
Leo still remembers that moment very well. A field in Nuremberg was roped of. Five companies were aligned with platoon leaders, Germans were watching. Just before the adjutant was about to give the order to "pass in review" Hildegard scooted on the field underneath the ropes and walked straight towards him. In a white dress, her hair up in braids, she seemed to be oblivious to her surroundings passing officers and making a straight line to Leo's Bataillon. It was like time was standing still. Stopping in front of Leo she handed him a little package and returned to stand with her mother.
Leo only got to open the package later: it was a locket with Hildegard's picture and the words "Vergiss mich nicht!" - Forget me not.
Leo never did forget Hildegard. He did not forget how they drove around town together in a Jeep. How Hildegard's mother washed the soldier's clothes - and sold the army soap on the black market. How the family invited him for a big surprise which turned out to be "real coffee" made from old ground beans found in the Army's dumpster. Leo still remembers the daredevil plan to get chocolate for Hildegard's birthday and how her mother refused to give the girl any of the sweets. He later found out: The box was worth a fortune on the black market and understood.
The night after the ceremony where Hildegard so bravely had given him the gift the Bataillon had to leave. Leo did not know Hildegard's last name or address. He first kept the locket in his duffle bag then on his night stand. He still has it in a drawer next to his bed.
It seems almost impossible to find Hildegard after all those years, but Leo's daughter Jackie ist determined to do everything she can to bring the two together one more time. She has already found a few pictures, names and addresses. The story published in a German newspaper hopefully gives her some new leads. Leo tears up thinking about the possibility to meet Hildegard again. "I would love to thank her - for the gift and for her friendship"