|Letter to Unidentified Recipient [8/6/1944]
APO 655 c/o Postmaster
Aug. 6, 1944
Thank you for your several nice letters which are now more than ever appreciated as I get no news of what is happening in the world at home and feel more than ever cut off. If I do not refer to events at home that you write me about it is only because I have so much that I want to say about events here and so very little time these days in which to write a letter.
In my last letter I tried to give you some idea of the "short sea voyage" and in this letter I will try to describe what little I have been able to see of France and the French. Also, within the limits of the vitally necessary censorship, some inkling of our life here. For very obvious reasons, I cannot tell you much of what I am doing.
This part of France, after being "liberated", is a picture of startling contrasts. As one Jeeps through the zone on missions here and there, the greater part of the country shows little sign of battle other than the frequent wrecks of burnt out cars and trucks beside the road as testimony to the deadly accuracy of the strafing of our air forces. Generally the scene is, as far as the landscape is concerned, simply peaceful (censored) in summer. But suddenly it will all change as one comes on a little group of houses at a cross road. The first sign is the smell, --- stink (there is no other word for it) of dead cattle. And then one comes on it; horridly bloated carcasses of dead cattle with their legs in the air, shattered houses, blasted orchards, ruined tanks and a confusion of thrown away equipment the men dropped as they died or were taken away to the hospital.
The small towns that I have seen, however, are a far different story. "Liberated by Americans in 1944" is synonymous with "destroyed by Americans in 1944". I have never imagined anything like the destruction of these towns. In many there is scarcely a house standing; nothing except complete ruins and piles of rubble shoved aside by bull-dozers along the sidewalks like snow drifts so that military traffic can get through the streets. Apparently the mortar that holds together the stone of a [censored) house is little more than mud and the shock of the HE collapses the entire house like one made of cards. One wonders whether such destruction was necessary but of course the Germans fought this fluid battle with little resistance in the country while regarding every town and group of buildings as strong points to be tenaciously defended. We had to drive them out with the least possible expenditure of American lives. So with artillery and air bombs we made life in the towns impossible.
In spite of this, the people seem wonderfully friendly. As one drives on the roads, they all smile and wave or salute and there is no doubt but that the greetings are genuine and even to me, who can speak no French. An element of honor comes in when one sees little tow-headed children under four years old stand stiffly and give you a Nazi salute. There is little doubt as to their parentage.
The scene along the roads is also one of startling contrast. Through the clouds of dust or a quagmire of mud --- it is either one or the other --- rumbles a continuous stream of heavy trucks, tanks, ambulances, tractors, artillery, jeeps, cranes, steam shovels, trailers carrying sections of steel bridges and generals' cars screaming for right of way. The noise is unbelievable and goes on 24 hours a day. Late one night I rode for miles in a jeep which drove through the blackout with one wheel practically in a ditch while down the road roared tank after tank weighing some fifty tons each going into battle at 25 miles an hour. I can't describe the noise of these beasts snorting flame from their unmuffled exhausts.
Sandwiched in this parade of war are the little wagons piled high with pathetic household effects of French people trudging along with their entire families. The cart may be pulled by a horse, an ox, a donkey, a cow, or by the family itself; babies are carried or tied onto the top of the household effects. When the military traffic gets too much they pull off to the side of the road and wait patiently for an opportunity to go on again. But always there is a smile and a wave as you pass. They are going back to what is left of their homes; the tide of war has passed on; the Hun has gone. They feel that all is well.
In the fluid war of the break-through many amusing and some tragic instances have occurred. One of the officers here on an advance reconnaissance came into a town held by one U.S. Army captain, three enlisted men and fifteen Frenchmen. The appearance of a Lt. Colonel filled them all with joy and they produced and shared five bottles of hidden Champaign [sic]. Then they remembered to tell him that there were 200 Germans in the woods a quarter of a mile away and, inspired by the Champaign no doubt, they thought it would be a good idea of the Lt. Colonel would organize them a bit and go over and capture the Germans! Since my friend, the Lt. Col., had orders to stay out of range of small arms fire and under no circumstances to be captured, he thought the better part of wisdom was to retire.
As to my own situation, I can say nothing much. My job is perfect. I have been extraordinarily lucky all along. Now I have a box seat in the very front row for this show. It could not be better. The life is extraordinary. Every day is a work day and so is every night. There are no hours of work. A plan may be conceived in the middle of the night so you work until dawn; you take time off when your can --- sometimes to sleep or, if you are too filthy, to drive to the coast and wash in the sea. One pair of pants and two shirts have lasted now for three weeks while, of course, there are no laundry facilities. I sleep, at present, in an old attic between piles of lumber and climb up to it on a rickety ladder. There is, however, only one hole in the roof so it is quite dry. This war is now so fluid that frequent change of location is to be expected. But over all is our joy at the extraordinary American successes that are far and beyond our fondest hopes. The end, I feel, is very close.
Financially the war is now a success for me. I can't spend any money. All towns are "off limits" and there is nothing in them to buy anyhow. Cigarettes, candy, razor blades, tooth paste, haircuts, chewing gum, cookies, are all rationed out free. The monthly liquor ration of a quart of scotch and gin costs 150 fr. or $3.00! So far my total expenditures have been 150 fr. for liquor and 15 fr. for 3 canteens of hard cider. To make it worse, I won 1000 fr. at Red Dog on the boat crossing the channel. Don't see how I can go broke that way. However, after nearly a year in London the pocket book can stand fattening.
I must stop now. I wish you would make copies of this for Barbara, Lora, Miles and the office as I know they would be interested and I have no carbon in the field. My dearest love to you all.