K.T. Robbins thought he'd never see Jeannine Ganaye again.
It was young love, in France, during war, and Robbins had to leave for the front lines.
The Army veteran, now 97, returned to Normandy in June for the first time since the war for the 75th anniversary of the D-Day invasion he fought in. But it was his surprise reunion with Ganaye that turned the trip into the moment he had been waiting for his entire life.
"I always loved you,'' Robbins told Ganaye, now 92 and with the last name Pierson, as they hugged for the first time in 75 years. "You never got out of my heart."
Robbins has kept a photo of Ganaye with him since 1944. When he got home from the war, he got married but never forgot about his brief love.
He returned to France earlier this month to commemorate the D-Day anniversary, and spoke with various journalists, USA TODAY included.
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"You might say we changed the world," he told a USA TODAY reporter while visiting Normandy.
When asked why he never returned to France, Robbins laughed.
"I had to work all my life, man," he said.
During his week back, Robbins also spoke with France 24, the state broadcaster, and showed reporters a photo of an 18-year-old girl he met while stationed in Briey, whom he fell in love with. But after two months, he had to leave to fight.
Robbins, who knew only the town where she was from, wanted to see her family.
"For sure I won't ever get to see her. She's probably gone now," Robbins, now a widower himself, said.
But then, the journalists gave Robbins news he could hardly believe: "She's alive."
Robbins could respond only with, "No kidding," elated and shocked.
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Ganaye had gotten married, as well, and had children, but her husband died years ago, according to France 24. Yet, like Robbins, she always held onto hope of seeing her love once more.
The two embraced in a retirement home in Montigny-lès-Metz, where Ganaye lives, in a heartwarming moment captured by the French broadcasters.
"Jeannine Ganaye," Robbins said with a laugh as he saw her for the first time. The two hugged with tears, kisses and disbelief.
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"I always thought about him, thinking maybe he was out there, that maybe he'd come," Ganaye said in French.
The two said goodbye again after spending a few hours together, with Robbins returning to the United States, but having shared an unforgettable moment 75 years in the making.
Contributing: John Fritze, USA TODAY. Follow USA TODAY's Ryan Miller on Twitter @RyanW_Miller
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: 'I always loved you': D-Day veteran reunited with French love, 75 years later