WILLIAM GULLETTE

JUNE 2007

In 1957 when I was 11 years old my family moved to Laon. I promptly fell in love with Laon, the French people, and all things French, and I have never gotten over it. I have returned to France many times but it was pure coincidence that I achieved a long time dream to return to Laon, 50 years later almost to the date.

I arrived in Laon by train after bicycling for two weeks across the canals of northeast Alsace, and then down through the Route du Vin, the Alsace wine country. I felt an immediate rush of excitement with my first distant view of the Laon plateau with the crowning glory of the cathedral.

I was met by Bernard Croza who took me to my hotel and then invited me to dinner with his lovely wife Suzanne
at their home in the quiet village of Mons-en-Laonnois. I was thrilled to cycle up into the old city the next day. It seemed that little had changed except for the storefronts and the merchandise within. The cathedral was spectacular as always, and the old cobblestone streets and buildings had the same patina as in my memory. I was pleased that Laon has not been "prettified" as have so many villages and towns throughout France.

On a Saturday, as arranged by Bernard in advance, we visited the old base along with the Vice-president of the Laon Franco-American Association. I was hoping for some kind of "déjà vu" experience, but that didn't happen. Never the less, it was interesting to see the old chapel, school, base exchange and commissary, and most importantly the flight line headquarters where my father had spent so much time as a squadron commander.

Later that day I rode my bicycle out through the villages of Bruyeres, Vorges, and Thierny where our school bus passed through, and the surrounding country looking for the old chateau where we lived in the guest house. I never did find the house but the villages were just as charming as I remembered them.
The countryside was verdant with thick forests, tree farms, and the fields of grain were interspersed with red poppies in full bloom. I felt like I was riding through an impressionist painting.

Due to the complexity of bus and train schedules and traveling with a bicycle, Bernard and Suzanne offered to drive me to Dinant, Belgium to rejoin the boat I had previously been traveling on, and I accepted the offer.

In the end, my love for Laon and all things French (especially the Crozas) was rekindled and I look forward to my next return with great anticipation.