THE CITY REBORN FROM THE ASHES OF AMERICA'S MOST DISASTROUS FOREST FIRE
Tales from the old-timer
Issue Date: July 27, 2011
August 1944 - On to Paris!
After a bloody battle at Mortain in south-central France, where a tank machine gunner was unable to depress his gun far enough to hit me. He knew what the radio on my back was for, and tried hard to get me, where I was prone on the ground and his bullets were thudding into the hedgerow behind me.
The German resistance collapsed after a second amphibious landing, this one in the south of France, on Aug. 15, 1944. By mid-August we were in a big breakthrough. By Aug. 17 we were rolling down the narrow French highways in our M-7 self-propelled 105 mm howitzer and the French people were ranged along both sides in a joyful welcoming display, throwing flowers at us. They were happy at being liberated from the German occupation after so long a time.
But the people of Paris were hungry after four years of deprivation. We bivouacked in a big park and it was embarrassing to be eating our food with them craning their necks behind a rope barrier. They were well dressed people and the French women managed to dress real nice despite the grim years of occupation. They were commenting about our Spam and coffee.
A man named Fletcher McIver, from South Carolina, had never had even one day of schooling. He was about 30 and married, and his wifes letters arrived regularly. He couldnt read them but one off the guys, a man from Detroit, would withdraw with McIver and read the letters to him. McIver had never in his life heard a foreign language spoken, and he was sure that they were speaking some kind of fake and could talk right if they wanted to. South Carolina was settled by English speakers and had no foreign immigrants. A French Magistrate was among the crowd, and I had to interpret his cultured British-accent English to McIver and also to translate McIvers hillbilly dialect of English for the Frenchman
Poor McIver never caught on to proper camouflage and kept piling branches on our tank, which made it more conspicuous from the air. The idea was to just break up the outline. McIver was jumpier than a beached codfish after a lone German plane had bombed the battery one night in July. He was so scared he had tried to crawly between the bogey wheels of our tank.
Paris was beautiful and cosmopolitan, full of vitality. A man eyed my big mess cup of coffee and asked if it was real coffee. He seemed to be asking for a taste, so I handed it to him. He jabbered a rapid phrase to me and withdrew as he did so. I thought I would never see my cup again, but in 5 or 10 minutes he was back and handed me the empty cup. He had run all the way home and shared it with his family. They had had no real coffee for years!
Our Chief of Section, Sgt. Billingsley had befriended a pretty French girl. He made a date. Well, imagine his surprise when she showed up for the date with her mother and her father!
He must have thought he was about to hit the jackpot with her in bed, but not all French girls were free and easy. Billingsley was a married man! They thought that if his intentions were honorable, OK. (but they werent)
We left Paris in about four days and chased the retreating German Army. As we moved north eastward, we saw the ruins along the road of hundreds of German trucks, Volks-wagens, and tanks strung out for miles all victims of US airpower. When we got into Germany, we were forced to stop as all our munitions were going north to General Montgomerys drive to overrun the north of Germany and stop the V-2 rockets which were hitting London every day and night. We were down to 7 shells for our gun and were even bumming cigarets from the Belgians. The German Siegfried defense line was not even manned but, we had to stop where we were. The attack in the north failed, however (A Bridge Too Far was a movie about it), and we faced 8 more months of war, until May 7, 1945.