Surviving war and celebrating life: “Frenchie” turns 90

By Haley Mitchell Godwin

Yvonne Jacques Adkinson, a French native who has called Luverne home since the early 1960s, recently celebrated her 90th birthday in the company of over 60 loved ones at a party held in her honor May 4.

Adkinson’s daughter, Debra Wheeler of Rutledge, expressed extreme admiration for her mother. 

“She has always made me so proud and has been a good example to us all,” Wheeler said. “Always joyful and carefree and the things she had to do to make it in France and then when she came to the states and quickly became a single mother of three, are incredible, and I don’t know how she did it.”

“Frenchie” as many people know her, expressed her desire to share her experiences during WWII, ensuring that future generations remain aware of the atrocities of war and work tirelessly to prevent its recurrence.

Adkinson’s life is a remarkable tapestry woven with threads of joy, resilience, selflessness and a poignant history shaped by the extreme trials of World War II. Born into a large French family with 13 children, she was only five years old when the war erupted, thrusting her into a world defined by fear and the raw instinct for survival, as she witnessed, through the eyes of a child, the resilience of the human spirit pushed to its limits.

Adkinson, having called Luverne home for decades, shares harrowing memories of her childhood spent hiding in a cellar with 26 others as German soldiers prowled the streets of her hometown. Their kitchen floor had a hole leading to the cellar, where they would seek refuge from the Gestapo, and then slide the wood-burning stove over the opening.

Despite the chaos of war, she fondly recalls playtime with fellow children amid the constant threat of war and falling bombs. 

Adkinson’s recollections shed light on the daily hardships and tragedies faced by the French people during the occupation. She speaks of the ruthless actions of the Gestapo, recounting a chilling instance where 15 young French boys were taken, forced to saw trees to be used to block roads, and then mercilessly killed by the Germans.

The nightmare began to recede in August 1944, Adkinson said, when church bells rang out in her home village of Gondreville, France. Townspeople emerged from hiding, rejoicing in the streets as American soldiers arrived, handing out candy and bringing an end to the occupation. However, amid the happiness, there was still sadness for those who did not come home from the war.

“The Americans came in jeeps and gave us candy,” Adkison said. “We were singing and so happy. There was so much dancing. We had a ball! and we rode up and down the street in the American’s jeeps. And, our soldiers came home.” 

Adkison had contracted rheumatic fever and during the celebrations, she was so weak she could not stand. 

“When I saw my uncle, my favorite uncle, come walking toward our house, I could not wait to get to him,” she said. “I started crawling to him. Like a baby, I crawled to him.” 

Eventually Adkison met and married an American soldier. They had three children in Italy before relocating to the United States when Adkinson was 29. Expressing deep gratitude for American soldiers, she emphasized, “I thank God for the American soldiers. I would not be here if it were not for them.”

In celebrating Yvonne Jacques Adkinson’s 90 years of life, the community not only honored a resilient woman but also commemorated the sacrifices she and so many others made during such a tumultuous period in history. 

Although Adkinson’s descendants didn’t endure the hardships she faced during the war or as a foreigner moving to a new country, according to Adkinson, her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren stand as shining symbols of resilience and exhibit a profound love for humanity. 

Adkinson’s narrative serves as a poignant reminder of the enduring strength of the human spirit and the vital importance of preserving historical lessons for future generations.