- Historic Sites
How Papa Liberated Paris
An eyewitness re-creates the wonderful, wacky day in August, 1944, when Hemingway, a handful of Americans, and a senorita named Elena helped rekindle the City of Light. Champagne ran in rivers, and the squeals inside the tanks were not from grit in the bogie wheels
April 1962 | Volume 13, Issue 3
The show was over. The tanks were moving on to a bivouac in another part of the city. The apartments lining the avenue were now spilling forth Frenchmen laden with pâtés, cold bottles, and frosted grapes. And the jeep had taken two bullets from this last round of foolishness, one getting the windshield, another a tire.
We drank. We ate. We glowed. And there was at least one bit of entertainment. Along the curb opposite, three Frenchmen and one woman suddenly ganged up on one female, rode her down into the street, and were ready to apply scissors to her locks. It was too much for Sergeant Red Pelkey, Hemingway’s driver. He was over there in a bound, kicking the hell out of the three froggies and shouting at the top of his voice: “Leave her alone, goddam you, you’re all collaborationists!”
Amid such diversions, we still sat on the curb one hour later when we saw a small Oriental peering from the doorway of the bullet-riddled building across the street. He scuttled through the garden and collapsed just inside the gate. We walked over to him. He was bleeding from a bullet crease in the shoulder but was more frightened than hurt.
I asked him: “Who are you?”
He replied: “Tonkinese—laundryman.”
“What were you doing in the building?”
“You looked from the building when the tanks went by?”
“Yes, I looked out to cheer parade.”
So there it was. The major had been right, in a way. We put a first-aid pack on the little man. Unwittingly, he had been a hero of sorts—the last simulated spark of resistance to the Resistance.
Other scenes in this melodrama were no less mad. It is the only argument for beginning at the beginning.
I set it down as an almost inviolable rule that the truly good things which happen to you in war come by accident, like manna out of heaven, rather than because any earthly authority ordered or planned it that way.
Certainly, it was true of my connection with the liberating column. I didn’t belong with the expedition, and I had no intention of joining it for pleasure.
I had been with the two United Stales airborne divisions,82nd and 101st, in South England, completing my mission of determining what had happened to them in the Normandy drop. When I left them, they were already assembled in “The Bottoms,” poised for a second jump into France. There was reason enough to accompany them, since the show was certain to be entertaining.
But there was a more compelling argument tor rejoining the First U.S. Army in the breakout, since I hadn’t completed the account of the 1st Infantry Division’s landing at Omaha Beach. The Big Red One had been put through the meat grinder; it was necessary to find out how and why it had happened. So on leaving my airborne friends, I promised that I would link up with their drop as promptly as possible, and then headed across the Channel, looking for whatever sector was held clown by the 1st Division’s 16th Infantry Regiment.
Now that was where luck began to take hold. The 16th Regiment was in line; its slice of the front was quiet, however, and it was obvious that my work could be completed quickly. On joining the regiment, I happened to mention to the regimental commander my other commitment. There followed one week of questioning his troops about the earlier operation. On the seventh day, at 9 A.M. , I completed my notes and dismissed the last formation. It was time to thank the C.O. for his help.
Before I could open my mouth, he said: “I’ve got news for you. A flash just came in over the radio. Paris has just been liberated. Also, there has been an American air drop across the Seine. I suppose you want to hit the road.”
We didn’t take time to say good-by. Westover, my man Friday, was already heading for the jeep. The hard facts were that there had been no air drop, and Paris was still far from being liberated. But we had to learn these things through trial and error.
At the outskirts of Chartres a gentleman farmer flagged us down.
He said: “You have a funny army.”
I said: “No funnier than any other army, but why do you think so?”
“Because it isn’t allowed to drink milk.”
“The hell it isn’t; it drinks more milk than whiskey.”
“You’re wrong. I brought out enough milk cans to take care of two battalions passing through. The first company was crazy about it. Then up came a major who told me your troops were not allowed to drink milk. So I hauled the rest of it back to the farm.”