The last time I saw Paris
Actually it was the only time I saw Paris. The second most important day in my Army career was 8 May 1945, the day the Germans finally surrendered. (The most important day was 9 October in New York when I saw the Statue of Liberty again — after three years, three months and nine days.)
I was with the 70th Infantry Division, the Trailblazers, in Hesse, a suburb of Frankfurt-Am-Main.
Heading to Paris
Soon after 8 May, the lieutenant asked who wanted to go to Paris. Naturally I was ready with a group of other GIs. We had the best of two worlds in our platoon; my sergeant was fluent in German and I was equally fluent in French.
On 14 May we loaded into the Army 6×6, without a canvas top to obstruct our view as we toured along the Rhine River to Koblenz where we headed west along the Moselle River to Luxembourg City. What a fantastic tour that was!
In Luxembourg we boarded a train that was obviously for third-class passengers as the seats were wooden benches, but what did we care? We were going to Paris!
One of our GIs had brought along his guitar, so we sang for part of the night; surprisingly some of other passengers sang along with us.
The sun was well up when we arrived at the Gare de l’Est, the railway station in Paris. On the map, the distance from Luxembourg to Paris was 290 miles, but it took the night to make the trip.
With my buddy, Basta, from Germany, we headed to the quarters where my former buddies from England were. Now it was Depot 0-644, 319th Ordnance Company. That first day, Basta and I toured on our own but at night we had supper on the Depot and bunked in the barracks with my friends.
A taste of Paris
The next day Basta went off with his friends and we did not see each other again until we were back in Germany. Three of my buddies toured me around and we were doing great until a jeep with two MPs pulled up. They got out, came around, took my arm and said I had to go with them.
“Why?” I asked. “I haven’t been here long enough to do anything to get in trouble.”
“You’re not in your Class A uniform.” The guys with me started in; I didn’t have to say another word. “He just came in from Germany. He doesn’t even have a Class A uniform. Because of him, and the other guys fighting the Germans, we can wear Class As.” And so on. That was the only time I was stopped during the four days I was in Paris.
One night the four of us went to a nightclub they said they had practically bought across the bar. Since it was still daylight, we had a couple of drinks served outside at a sidewalk table. Next, we went into a fantastic looking club and were given a table by the dance floor where we ordered supper. The owner came over, introduced himself and drew up a chair to talk to us. He spoke good English, but since I was in his country, I spoke to him in French.
As we finished our meal I told him that we wanted to get some tickets to dance with the ladies. The tickets were quite reasonably priced, but the owner said he would take care of them so we didn’t need the tickets. He brought four ladies over and we took turns dancing with them.
About 2300 the fellows said we had to get back to the barracks, so I asked the owner, in French, for our bill, also telling him we had certainly enjoyed the entire evening.
He said, “There is no bill. You are the first American solider I have met who has taken the trouble to learn my language, and I appreciate it.”
The bill must have been about $60 in U.S. dollars, big bucks for us in 1945.
I was the fair-haired boy on the way back to the barracks.
On another night I told the fellows I wanted to attend the Folies Bergère because of all I had heard about it. They suggested I go to the Casino de Paris as it was a lot better; later I understood their preference. One of the numbers featured about 30 ladies, each standing alongside a staircase, but all they were wearing were high-heeled shoes and large, fancy headdresses. No wonder the guys steered me there!
I saw the best of Paris with the Eiffel Tower and the Arc de Triomphe on the Champs Elysee, and everything else that was worth seeing.
Returning to Germany, I remember being the only passenger in a very luxurious German rail car, departing from Gare de l’Est. At some point, after a lengthy ride, I met a fellow GI who carried me the rest of the way in his truck to Hesse.
Recently, some lady friends were telling me about their tour to Ireland, England and some European countries. I told them I had had an all-expense-paid tour to England, Wales, Scotland, France and Germany including spending money and clothing allowance. Finally it dawned on one of them when she said, “You were in the Army!”
It was a memorable journey even having to survive the German bombers, V-1s and V-2s in England and then the German 88s, among other things in France and Germany.