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Daughter finds closure in family's war story

Nancy Bachant shows a scrapbook she has put together chronicling part of her family
Nancy Bachant shows a scrapbook she has put together chronicling part of her family's history.
— image credit: Susan Riemer/Staff Photo

Later this month islander Nancy Bachant will follow in her father’s footsteps when she travels to Rennes, France, where he was killed during World War ll. There, she and her family will participate in events commemorating the city’s 70th anniversary of liberation from Germany.

Bachant and her sisters Karen and Janet — a set of triplets — were born in May of 1944, just months before their father, Herbert Bachant, died near Rennes when German fire hit his military vehicle. Shortly after his death, Bachant and her sisters came to be known as the Bachant Triplets and were featured in newspapers across the country with their mother, who had been widowed at just 22 years old.

Now, after researching that time and finding one of the sisters online, a military historian in Rennes has invited the three women to be part of the community’s commemoration event, which will be held early next month, marking its Aug. 4 liberation date. A story about the women’s impending arrival has been carried in at least one Rennes newspaper.

“This will close the circle,” Bachant said last week at her home overlooking KVI beach. “It’s closure. Now you know the end of the story. He did not die in vain.”

Bachant calls herself the family historian, and a trip to her home shows the results of her efforts, with framed tributes, scrapbooks and newspaper clippings telling the family’s story.

For many years, Bachant knew little about her father, but began researching his life and death when she was in her 50s. For a long time, it felt to her that little information was available, she said. After remarrying when he girls were 3, her mother had complied with her new husband’s wishes and got rid of most of the reminders of Herbert, his daily letters, uniforms and artwork.

This was common practice at the time, Bachant noted. Few women worked outside the home, and if they were widowed, there was little social safety net. Many remarried as a means to raise their children, and the new husbands often wanted mementoes of the first husband gone.

“We had nothing to go on,” she recalled.

But Bachant, who is a scrapbooker by nature, began to gather information, researching her father’s unit — the 94th Armored Field Artillery Battalion of Patton’s Fourth Armored Division — requesting his records and conducting other research, in sometimes unexpected places. One day at the Vashon Pharmacy, she said, she was looking at the magazines and spotted a commemorative issue of Time magazine about World War ll. Leafing through it, she was startled to come across a picture of herself and her sisters as babies, chewing on war bonds.

“I bought every one of their magazines,” Bachant said.

Other news came from family, including one of Herbert’s sisters, who, at the time of her death had three Victory Mail letters Herbert had written to her and their mother, including one that said how excited he was to be having triplets.

“They were like gold to me,” Bachant said. “That was the first time … that I saw his handwriting, and I was in my 50s.”

In a 2009 essay for The Star, a publication of the American World War II Orphans Network, Bachant shared some of her parents’ history.

Her parents met when Herbert was a bus driver in The Bronx and Muriel was one of his  passengers, she wrote. He was several years older than Muriel, and when they were married in 1941, he had already been drafted, but was released shortly after their wedding, considered then to be too old for service. After the invasion at Pearl Harbor, however, he was recalled to service.

While he was in additional training before his deployment, Muriel became pregnant and went on to spend the final six months of her pregnancy in the hospital. She asked him at that time to go AWOL, but he felt it was his duty to serve, despite the impending arrival of triplets.

Herbert learned of the girls’ birth through the military newspaper, The Stars and Stripes, which featured their birth on its front page. In a letter to Muriel, Herbert told her how he could not wait to see the girls grow up. Just days after the girls’ birth, one of the triplets became very ill, and a soldier was sent to get a blood sample from him to help with the diagnosis. An Associated Press reporter accompanied the soldier and gave Herbert a picture of Muriel and the babies. A photograph of him looking at the picture then circulated in many newspapers in the United States, stating he was looking at his new triplets while he was in a trench in England, waiting for the invasion.

After giving birth, Muriel returned home to her apartment, a three-room, fourth-floor walk-up. Although she had some help, caring for her daughters was difficult. In July, Muriel wrote to the commanding general of Herbert’s division, asking that he be released to help with the daughters. The next month, Muriel was notified that Herbert was missing in action. In September, she learned that he had been killed on Aug. 1. The general wrote Muriel back personally, apologizing and informing her that her letter had arrived after Herbert had been killed. Muriel always felt guilty she waited so long to write the letter, Bachant said.

Muriel lived to be 90, dying just last year in the New Jersey community where she had lived most of her adult life. She never got over Herbert’s death, Bachant said, and asked to be buried next to him, a wish the daughters were able to carry out.

And now, 70 years after their father’s death, Bachant, her sisters and their family members are preparing to travel to France, where they will be present as the people of Rennes remember the many individuals it lost in the war and the actions — and sacrifices — of those who helped liberate them. In addition to attending the ceremonies and speeches, the women will travel the same road their father did when he was killed. Bachant said she will take pictures of that place and conclude her scrapbook with them when she returns home. She would also like to bring back something less fleeting than a photograph.

“I would like to get a little of the ground,” Bachant said. “That would mean I was a bit closer to the father I never knew.”

time, it felt to her that little information was available, she said. After remarrying when he girls were 3, her mother had complied with her new husband’s wishes and got rid of most of the reminders of Herbert, his daily letters, uniforms and artwork.

This was common practice at the time, Bachant noted. Few women worked outside the home, and if they were widowed, there was little social safety net. Many remarried as a means to raise their children, and the new husbands often wanted mementoes of the first husband gone.

“We had nothing to go on,” she recalled.

But Bachant, who is a scrapbooker by nature, began to gather information, researching her father’s unit — the 94th Armored Field Artillery Battalion of Patton’s Fourth Armored Division — requesting his records and conducting other research, in sometimes unexpected places. One day at the Vashon Pharmacy, she said, she was looking at the magazines and spotted a commemorative issue of Time magazine about World War ll. Leafing through it, she was startled to come across a picture of herself and her sisters as babies, chewing on war bonds.

“I bought every one of their magazines,” Bachant said.

Other news came from family, including one of Herbert’s sisters, who, at the time of her death had three Victory Mail letters Herbert had written to her and their mother, including one that said how excited he was to be having triplets.

“They were like gold to me,” Bachant said. “That was the first time … that I saw his handwriting, and I was in my 50s.”

In a 2009 essay for The Star, a publication of the American World War II Orphans Network, Bachant shared some of her parents’ history.

Her parents met when Herbert was a bus driver in The Bronx and Muriel was one of his  passengers, she wrote. He was several years older than Muriel, and when they were married in 1941, he had already been drafted, but was released shortly after their wedding, considered then to be too old for service. After the invasion at Pearl Harbor, however, he was recalled to service.

While he was in additional training before his deployment, Muriel became pregnant and went on to spend the final six months of her pregnancy in the hospital. She asked him at that time to go AWOL, but he felt it was his duty to serve, despite the impending arrival of triplets.

Herbert learned of the girls’ birth through the military newspaper, The Stars and Stripes, which featured their birth on its front page. In a letter to Muriel, Herbert told her how he could not wait to see the girls grow up. Just days after the girls’ birth, one of the triplets became very ill, and a soldier was sent to get a blood sample from him to help with the diagnosis. An Associated Press reporter accompanied the soldier and gave Herbert a picture of Muriel and the babies. A photograph of him looking at the picture then circulated in many newspapers in the United States, stating he was looking at his new triplets while he was in a trench in England, waiting for the invasion.

After giving birth, Muriel returned home to her apartment, a three-room, fourth-floor walk-up. Although she had some help, caring for her daughters was difficult. In July, Muriel wrote to the commanding general of Herbert’s division, asking that he be released to help with the daughters. The next month, Muriel was notified that Herbert was missing in action. In September, she learned that he had been killed on Aug. 1. The general wrote Muriel back personally, apologizing and informing her that her letter had arrived after Herbert had been killed. Muriel always felt guilty she waited so long to write the letter, Bachant said.

Muriel lived to be 90, dying just last year in the New Jersey community where she had lived most of her adult life. She never got over Herbert’s death, Bachant said, and asked to be buried next to him, a wish the daughters were able to carry out.

And now, 70 years after their father’s death, Bachant, her sisters and their family members are preparing to travel to France, where they will be present as the people of Rennes remember the many individuals it lost in the war and the actions — and sacrifices — of those who helped liberate them. In addition to attending the ceremonies and speeches, the women will travel the same road their father did when he was killed. Bachant said she will take pictures of that place and conclude her scrapbook with them when she returns home. She would also like to bring back something less fleeting than a photograph.

“I would like to get a little of the ground,” Bachant said. “That would mean I was a bit closer to the father I never knew.”

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