Ken Beaton: Is Paris burning?

Two Parisienne women have "latched" on to three American GIs to lead the celebration, Paris is liberated from the "Boches."

Two Parisienne women have "latched" on to three American GIs to lead the celebration, Paris is liberated from the "Boches."

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Aug. 25, 1944 was an historic day for Parisiennes and everyone who enjoys their freedom. I know many of you reading this commentary weren’t alive in 1944, but you love your freedom.
As a child I remember looking at an American magazine with a picture of a Frenchman with tears streaming down both of his cheeks. In the background a German army unit was marching through the Arc de Triumph on the Champs Elysees. The picture symbolized France’s humiliating defeat.
Beginning on Saturday, Aug. 19, 1944, more Parisienne men and women were slipping on French Resistance armbands, “vivre libre ou mourir,” Live Free or Die.” Besides providing military intelligence to the Allies, the Resistance sabotaged the Nazi electrical grid, dynamited railroad tracks and telecommunication networks.
Originally, Gen. Eisenhower had planned to bypass Paris, until the Resistance’s uprising attacking Nazi vehicles with Molotov cocktails and gunning down Nazis soldiers fleeing from their burning vehicles. Ike assigned his only French Division, Le Clerc’s Free French 2nd Armored, with the U.S. 4th Infantry Divisions to liberate Paris with Resistance support.
Parisians had suffered for 1,532 days, 3 hours, and 52 minutes of being abused, 4,500 were executed and everyone starved under the Nazis’ hobnail boots.
Paris was liberated! French men and women went to their secret hiding place and removed their Tricolor, France’s flag. Friday, Aug. 25, 1944 was a day to proudly fly your Tricolor, rejoice, thank God, thank your liberators and CELEBRATE!
Seven years ago, I read Larry Collins’ and Dominique Lapierre’s book, IS PARIS BURNING?  Their book activated the theater of my mind. I felt I was beside Ernest Hemingway, the 4th Infantry Division and Le Clerc’s Free French 2nd Armored Division with all the newly liberated Parisians as they celebrated their new freedom.
I knew how the book would end; the Allies would liberate Paris on the feast day of the patron saint of France, King Louis IX (1214-1270) and a Catholic saint.
“Everywhere, Parisians took out treasures long and secretly stored for this day: a dusty bottle of champagne buried in a closet corner; a dress painfully stitched up from scraps of black-market fabric; a tricolor (the French flag), its forbidden folds hidden for four years; the Stars and Stripes, sewn together from a memory often touching as it was faulty; flowers; fruits; a rabbit; almost any gift, in fact, that might convey a city’s welcome and gratitude.”
During 1944, a 21-year-old French woman had learned English and spent the cold winter and spring months with numb fingers sewing her special Liberation Day dress. She was excited to wear her special dress and to speak English to an American officer for the first time. “He will be the man I marry. We’ll return to his hometown to meet his family. I’ll make my white wedding dress from a white American parachute.”
On Aug. 25, 1944 an American sergeant was assigned “point man” for his company to enter Paris. Two and a half months earlier, June 6, 1944, he was the point man for his division at Utah Beach. Obviously, the sergeant survived D-Day, but today was different! Nobody wants to fight their way across France to be killed before he could celebrate Paris’ liberation. His steps was carefully planned. Suddenly, there was a stray cat roaming from building to building. Then, he heard a window open. Instantly, he snapped off the safety to his weapon. Immediately, more windows opened followed by a female voice yelling, “Les Americans!” Instantly a tsunami of Parisians appeared on the street surrounding him. He was the center of Parisian female attention collecting dozens of lipstick samples.
A 4th ID Captain leaned over his jeep to hug a distinguished gray-haired lady who surprised him with an enthusiastic kiss involving her tongue! She told him, “Thank God you’re here. Now Paris will be Paris again!”
A master sergeant expressed the moment so elegantly, “The French made each of us feel like Lindberg must have felt when he went up Broadway after returning to New York from being the first person to fly nonstop across the Atlantic to Paris.”
When a GI gave a case of C-rations to a French woman, the GI would be invited to dinner. His taste buds would be pleasantly surprised. The C-ration meals were tweaked by the French woman. (The French cook with one of five basic sauces.) “The way to a man’s heart is through his stomach.”
A priest approached a 4th ID private first class. One of the priest’s older parishioners was a lady dying of cancer. She wanted to see an American soldier as proof that she could die in a free Paris. The Pfc followed the priest through a maze of streets and up three flights of stairs to her small apartment. The priest translated the woman’s questions into English, “How soon will you reach Berlin?” He responded, “Soon.” She asked, “How many Boches (Germans) did you kill?” Shocked by her question, he bent over and kissed both of her gaunt cheeks. He whispered, “I’ll be back tomorrow.” Before he returned the next day, she had died in a free Paris.
A 4th ID major looked in the back seat of his jeep when he arrived at the Seine River near Les Invalides. He counted 67 bottles of champagne placed there by happy Parisiennes. The major’s jeep became “party central!”
A major in Le Clerc’s Free French 2nd Armored Division was shocked while driving his jeep to barely recognize his parents riding a tandem bicycle approaching his jeep! His mom had lost 50 pounds and his dad 35 pounds since he saw them four years ago. Being a good son, he gave them a case of C-rations from the back of his jeep.
Three million Parisians celebrated. French men proposed wine toasts with a wet kiss on each GI’s cheek, a new experience for our GIs. Meanwhile French women had so many handsome and virile liberators to kiss and hug with so little time! “Today I will kiss my future American husband!” While every GI in the 4th ID realized, “WOW, these Parisienne gals kiss better than American gals! What a great way to learn about another culture.”
There was a dark side to the liberation of Paris. Immediately, Free French women rounded up every French woman who collaborated with or dated a Nazi to receive extra food, and be taken to the best Parisienne restaurants. Collaborators’ heads were shaved. Their foreheads had a black swastika. They were hit, kicked and spit upon. Being on the losing side has severe penalties.
Vivi la Paris! Vivi liberate!


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