SCOTT DEPOT, W.Va. -- Dany Defechereux flew from Belgium to the United States this week to meet the soldier who befriended his family and stood for freedom during wartime.
"This is what I had to do," Defechereux said.
Defechereux arrived in West Virginia on Wednesday and was met at Yeager Airport by William Conrad "Connie" Young, who served in the U.S. Army during World War II.
The last time they saw each other in person was 69 years ago. The two men knew each other immediately from photographs they had exchanged. They embraced and felt an emotional bond of friendship.
Defechereux brought along his wife, Francine, and one of their four daughters, Christine. Young was with a mutual friend, Josette Gryzberg, who could help with any language barriers.
But let's start at the beginning of the story of a Belgian boy who touched the heart of a young American soldier.
During World War II in 1944, Young said his outfit had moved into Esneux, Belgium, and began setting up a tent when a little Belgian boy approached the soldiers.
"He had this egg in his hand and he handed it to me," Young said. "His family thought we needed food. I thought they needed it more than we did."
While he declined the gift of the egg, he visited the boy's family and the foundation was created for a friendship that would last throughout the decades. The child lived in an apartment not far from where the soldiers were setting up camp. Dany lived with his parents, Pauline and Emile, and two older sisters, Mariette and Madeleine.
Young visited the family almost daily during the few weeks he stayed in the town. They spoke no English, but he had picked up enough French to communicate. Dany's father belonged to the Belgian underground movement working against the Germans, and his mother was a homemaker.
Dec. 24, 1944, was Young's 21st birthday, and the family had a celebration for him. He remembers they served French fries, but he can't recall the rest of the meal.
"They were always doing things for me and getting me things they thought I needed," said Young, who also remembers the tragedies of those days.
On Christmas Day in 1944, a truck carrying 11 American soldiers plunged into icy water, and Young dove in to try and save them. He pulled one man out who was already dead, and the others perished as well. He said he kept thinking of their parents back home.
"When I crossed the street, a man handed me a glass and some cognac," he said. "I didn't need both. I didn't need the glass."
When Young returned home, he worked at Union Carbide, married and had children. As the years flew by, he stayed in touch with the Defechereux family through Christmas cards and occasional notes.