This is the earliest in the day I’ve written you in a long while – but things are a bit different in a battery. Last night I slept out under the stars. We were supposed to move – but late in the evening it was canceled. We had already struck our tents – so we left them that way. It was a beautiful night, darling, and as I lay there looking up at the stars – I imagined every one of them was the first one I saw and I wished and wished and wished.
Today should be a pretty full day and that’s why we’re up to an early start. We had K-rations for breakfast and now we’re standing by for orders to get going. Yesterday I got a little chance to catch up with some of my back mail, dear, and I wrote a friend of mine in the Pacific and also Verna. I also started a very good book – which if you haven’t already read – I think you’ll enjoy – “Roughly Speaking” by Louis Randall Pierson – an autobiography – but one of the best I’ve read – at least so far. Have to stop now, darling. Sure did miss you last nite Sweetheart –
Love to the family.
|Greg sits on the Kugelwagen behind his jeep,|
both parked in front of the "Estate".
|The Route of the Question Mark|
|(A) Lignières-la-Doucelle to (B) Les Fretis (75 Miles)|
16 to 25 August 1944
As Allied forces broke through the German containment in the hedge row country beyond the Normandy beaches, Supreme Commander, General Dwight Eisenhower set his sights on a rush into Germany. Concerned that a battle for Paris would only bog down the advance, Eisenhower planned to by-pass the French capital. However, events on the ground would soon dictate a different course. On August 15, news of the Allied advance and of a second Allied landing on the coast of southern France reached the French capital. As the Germans began their evacuation, the Paris police, postal workers and metro workers went on strike. Within four days, a spontaneous uprising erupted. Led by the underground French Resistance (FFI), Parisians attacked their German occupiers, barricaded streets and created as much havoc as possible. General Charles de Gaulle, commander of the Free French Forces called upon General Eisenhower to divert forces to the city and threatened to attack the city on his own if his request was denied. Consenting, Eisenhower ordered de Gaulle to enter the city and diverted a portion of the American forces to support the French.On the same day, Charles de Gaulle, president of the Provisional Government of the French Republic moved back into the War Ministry on the rue Saint-Dominique, then, from the Hôtel de Ville, made a rousing speech to the crowd.
Hitler ordered General Dietrich von Choltitz, military commander of Paris, to destroy the city. The city's bridges were mined and preparations made to follow Hitler's request. However, von Choltitz hesitated. On August 20 he agreed to a cease-fire with the Parisian insurgents. It was a fragile agreement as sporadic fighting continued throughout the city.
On August 24, leading elements of de Gaulle's forces (led by General Jacques Leclerc) made their way into the French capital. The remainder followed the next day. Confronting pockets of intense German fighting, the liberators proceeded through the city. French tanks surrounded von Choltitz's headquarters. The commander of Paris was taken prisoner without resistance and signed a formal surrender agreement. Although sporadic fighting continued, General de Gaulle entered the city in a triumphal procession on the 25th. After four years, Paris was free again.
John Mac Vane was a NBC radio correspondent who accompanied the allied troops as they approached Paris. We join his story as the troops enter the city:
"We reached Paris itself, the university, at just ten minutes past eight by my watch. I felt like pinching myself. It was hard to believe I was back in Paris once again.
Suddenly a fusillade of bullets spattered on the street. The whole column came to a quick stop. We leaped out and crouched beside the jeep. FFI men started blazing away at something over our heads. Men in the dozen vehicles ahead of us began firing at something in the tower of the university. Germans in the tower were firing on the column. I saw the stonework blasted off in white flakes as Leclerc's men kept it under continuous fire.
We were also being fired on from a nearby house. Some FFI men, with Leclerc's troops, got cover near the building, then rushed through the door and up the stairs. I heard the explosion of a grenade and the firing stopped. After about half an hour the tower of the university fell silent, and the column moved on. Twice again the column was held up in similar fashion. One moment the streets would be filled with people. At the first volley of shots they would scatter to the doorways. FFI men with ancient pistols and captured German rifles would start firing at what they thought was the source of the attack.
Resistance fighter shoots at a sniper
Whenever the trouble seemed serious, Leclerc's men would loose a few bursts of machine-gun fire from the weapons mounted on the trunks. Or a light tank would stop at a street comer and streams of tracers would spout out of it to cover our advance. We felt terribly unprotected in the jeep, and the noise of the bullets singing past us was most unpleasant.
Just as the column began moving again, a civilian in a black homburg jumped onto the jeep. I told him roughly to get off. The civilian grinned and told me in good but accented English that he was an American ASS agent who had been in Paris for three months preparing for our entry. He was French by birth but naturalized American. We let him ride with us down the boulevard Jourdain and through the porte d’Orleans. In the rue St.-Jacques he jumped off with a ‘thanks very much,’ smiled, and disappeared as mysteriously as he had come.
We passed across the bridge that led directly to the square between Notre Dame Cathedral and the Prefecture of Police. In the sunshine Paris had never looked more beautiful. It was then just a quarter to nine. The vehicles just ahead of us rolled into the square and parked, and we parked the jeep with them. Kokoska switched off the motor. We looked up at the lovely towers of Notre Dame, and someone said, ‘Well, that's that. The fight is all over now.’
As he finished speaking, the air crackled into life with bullets, hissing and whining all over the square. The French light tanks began firing over our heads at some Germans across the Seine. Germans were also shooting from Notre Dame and from nearby houses. For twenty-five minutes Wright, Jack Hansen, Kokoska, and I lay on our stomachs crouched beside the jeep. We could see no likely shelter of any kind. There was so much shooting that we could hardly hear one another speak. Guns, machine guns, rifles - everything was going off together in one great earsplitting, crackling inferno of sound.
Celebrators seek cover from sniper fire
The wounded were carried across the square by girls and doctors in Red Cross uniforms. They waved Red Cross flags. The shooting sputtered, then died down, and finally burst out with new fury before it ceased. The air was strangely quiet. I could see the sun glint on the white marks where the bullets had struck Notre Dame.
A new sound broke the hush of that Thursday morning the bells of Notre Dame. Someone began ringing them. They pealed over Paris as they had for so many hundreds of years, a song of triumph that Paris was once again free.
...There were some strange incidents in that square. Two men dressed in the helmets and uniforms of Paris firemen came up to me and, speaking in unmistakable American, said, ‘Are you guys Americans?’
‘Sure,’ I replied, ‘but what in hell are you guys doing in that getup?’
One of them, whose name I took down, reported to the authorities at his request, then promptly lost, said, ‘He and I are Eighth Air Force. I'm a pilot. He's a navigator. We got shot down, and the French underground took charge of us. We been in Paris for a month attached to this fire department unit. We have a hell of a time at night, going around fighting fires and killing Germans when we get the chance. I wouldn't have missed this for the world.’
‘Do you speak French?’ I asked.
‘Not a damn word,’ said the bomber pilot. ‘One of the firemen speaks a little English, and he does all the translating. We get into a house of some collaborator that is burning, and we bust up the whole inside before we put the fire out. Or maybe we just let it all bum down.’
When he left us, the pilot said, ‘Hell of a thing to have to go back to flying-after all this fun.’
Why do you desire that we hide the emotion which seizes us all, men and women, who are here, at home, in Paris that stood up to liberate itself and that succeeded in doing this with its own hands?
No! We will not hide this deep and sacred emotion. These are minutes which go beyond each of our poor lives. Paris! Paris outraged! Paris broken! Paris martyred! But Paris liberated! Liberated by itself, liberated by its people with the help of the French armies, with the support and the help of all France, of the France that fights, of the only France, of the real France, of the eternal France!
Well! Since the enemy which held Paris has capitulated into our hands, France returns to Paris, to her home. She returns bloody, but quite resolute. She returns there enlightened by the immense lesson, but more certain than ever of her duties and of her rights.
I speak of her duties first, and I will sum them all up by saying that for now, it is a matter of the duties of war. The enemy is staggering, but he is not beaten yet. He remains on our soil.
It will not even be enough that we have, with the help of our dear and admirable Allies, chased him from our home for us to consider ourselves satisfied after what has happened. We want to enter his territory as is fitting, as victors.
This is why the French vanguard has entered Paris with guns blazing. This is why the great French army from Italy has landed in the south and is advancing rapidly up the Rhône valley. This is why our brave and dear Forces of the interior are going to arm themselves with modern weapons. It is for this revenge, this vengeance and justice, that we will keep fighting until the last day, until the day of total and complete victory.
This duty of war, all the men who are here and all those who hear us in France know that it demands national unity. We, who have lived the greatest hours of our History, we have nothing else to wish than to show ourselves, up to the end, worthy of France. Long live France!