Aug. 25, 1944: Liberation!
Recently, I read Larry Collins’ and Dominique Lapierre’s book, “Is Paris burning?” Their book was written similarly to “Ernest Hemingway, A Life Story” by Carlos Baker and “Unbroken” by Laura Hillenbrand. Those three books activated the theater of my mind. I felt I was beside Ernest, Louis Zamperini and a number of newly liberated Parisians as they shared their emotions.
Before reading the book, I knew how it would end; General Leclerec’s Free French 2nd Armored Division with the U.S. Army’s 4th Infantry Division would liberate Paris on Aug. 25, 1944, the feast day of the patron saint of France, Saint Louis.
There was a picture in Life Magazine of a Frenchman with tears streaming down his face on Friday, June 14, 1940, when the German army marched through the Arc de Triomph and down Champs Elysees. The picture symbolized France’s complete defeat.
Parisians had waited 1,532 days, 3 hours, and 52 minutes to be liberated from Nazi oppression.
“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.”
The following are three Parisians’ stories to touch your heart. Twenty-one-year-old Jacqueline Malissinet spent the winter with cold, numb fingers as she sewed a skirt to wear for Liberation Day. She had completed a course in English and thought she would speak with an American liberator. She wondered what he would be like. She met an unshaven, dirty American captain with a handsome smile in a jeep on the pont de la Concorde. Two years later, she married him. Those French women know how to kiss!
Norman Lewis was a doughboy, an American, who fought with the British and French on France soil in 1917. After World War I he married a French woman and became a French banker. During World War II Norman was captured by the Nazis and placed in an internment camp where he lost a leg. He hid an American flag before the Nazi occupation. After placing Old Glory in a sack around his neck, Norman fulfilled a promise. He used his crutches to deliver his flag to the Ministry of Health in Paris to be flown above it. While in the Ministry of Health, he was killed instantly by a stray bullet.
A priest approached Pfc. George McIntyre, 4th ID. One of the priest’s parishioners was an old lady dying of cancer, who wanted to see an American soldier as proof that she could die in a free Paris. Pfc. McIntyre followed the priest through a maze of streets up three flights of stair to small apartment. The priest interpreted the woman’s questions into English, “How soon will you reach Berlin?” McIntyre 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.” She died before he returned next day.
Three million Parisians celebrated their liberation differently on Aug. 25, 1944. Most French women had so many liberators to kiss, so little time. Vive la Paris!
Ken Beaton of Carson City contributes periodically to the Nevada Appeal.