50 Years Ago

PrintPrintEmailEmail

Ernest Hemingway told a wonderful story about his liberation of Paris. He claimed he was one of the first to enter the city, taking over the bars at the Crillon and Ritz hotels. Famed World War II historian S.L.A. Marshall corroborated Hemingway’s account in American  Heritage. —The Editors

From the war there is one story dear to my heart of which I have never written a line. There are reasons for this restraint: a promise once made; the unimportance of trying to be earnest about that which is ludicrous; and the blight of the passing years on faded notes.

When the smoke cleared that night, nine of us dined at the Hotel Ritz. Officially, we were the only uniformed Americans in Paris. That knowledge made us more giddy than did the champagne. There was food fit for the gods and service beyond price. But the headwaiter made one  ghastly blunder: He slapped a Vichy tax on the bill. Straightaway we arose as one man and told him: “Millions to defend France,  thousands to honor your fare, but not one sou in tribute to Vichy.”

It was our finest and final victory of the evening. Then we did a round-robin signing of menu cards for the benefit of posterity. Among my souvenirs is the paper bearing the signatures of Colonel David K. E. Bruce and Ernest Hemingway. Above the signatures is the caption: “We think we took Paris.” The date was August 25, 1944.

But we agreed on something else. Hemingway said it: “None of us will ever write a line about these last 24 hours in delirium. Whoever tries it is a chump.” On that pledge, we solemnly shook hands, raised our glasses, broke up, and redeployed.

April/May 1962|Volume 13, Issue 3