Heroes: the Army
"...Most of the French people were glad that we were there since they were living under Nazi rule for a long time. The French Government became very indifferent a short while after they received their freedom..."
Joseph J. Szalay
- Branch of Service: Army
- Unit: 380th FA Btn.,
102nd Infantry Division
- Dates: 1942 - 1945
- Location: European Theater
- Rank: CWO, Bronze Star Medal
- Birth Year: 1925
- Entered Service: Paris, TX
Our Impression of French
People During World War II
by Joseph Szalay
We landed in Cherbourg on or about Sept. 23, 1944, after a six hour trip across the English Channel from a port in Southern England. We spent a couple of days near the village of St. Mere Eglise using pup tents during our temporary stay. Of course, it rained each night and we were glad when we got orders to leave this area.
The village had cobble stone streets with a creek running through the edge of town. We saw elderly women washing clothes on the creek bed. We couldn't believe such primitive behavior was still going on in a civilized country.
As we rode through the village in GI trucks, people stood at the edge of the streets waving at us as our convoy drove by. Some were praying and thankful that our armies had liberated their area from the Germans.
We had received orders to make arrangements to start hauling supplies from the port to Paris. Our entire battalion was assigned duties as the Red Ball Express. Enough 2 1/2 ton trucks were assigned to us to use every available man in our battalion to drive these trucks. Each driver had an assistant who would take over the relieve him since these trucks would run twenty-four hours each day. There was an urgent need for supplies by our advancing armies.
In order to limit traffic problems, a one-way route (two lanes) was used from the port to Paris and an alternate route was used for the return trip from Paris to the port. Our headquarters was located about midpoint. About once a week the drivers were given a day or so to clean up and get some rest.
We stayed in a building that looked like a castle. There was no one living there so we decided to set up our headquarters there. After a few days the owner showed up and we had to vacate the place and find other quarters. Some of these people seemed to forget that our armies had just run the Germans out of their homes and gave them their freedom.
Most of the French people were glad that we were there since they were living under Nazi rule for a long time. The French Government became very indifferent a short while after they received their freedom. They didn't need us anymore. They put up with our military for about a couple of years and they let our government know that they wanted us to vacate all the buildings in Paris and other areas and leave. We were forced to move our troops out of their country. After the war was over, General DeGaule didn't remember that we saved their country in WWI and also in WWII. He was a very arrogant political character who stayed in power for several years.
Local women who fraternized with the German soldiers during occupation were singled out and had their heads shaved. German sympathizers were also rounded up and disciplined.
Many French property owners made claims against our military for various minor damages caused by military vehicles driving through the narrow cobble stone streets. People get greedy when money is involved.
Our tour of duty with the Red Ball Express ended after about two months and we were on our way to join our combat forces on the border of Holland and Germany.
A couple of days before we departed, I received orders from my commanding officer, Col. Hannigan [James P.], to find three of our men from Service Battery, 380th FA, who were unaccounted for as we prepared to move. I made the rounds of all the military police headquarters in Paris to see if they had any records of our missing soldiers. We finally found the names of these men on one of the rosters at the military police headquarters in Paris. I was advised to go to a former French prison near the south outskirts of Paris that was used by our military to house our military prisoners.
My jeep driver and I managed to get lost on our way but somehow we finally found the ancient prison that housed our three missing soldiers. After some discussion with the military prison authorities, they released our long lost soldiers. They looked like they hadn't bathed or shaved in several days. We were glad to see them and they were certainly glad to see us.
We questioned our prisoners to determine what they had done to be placed in prison. They claimed that the French Police who were guarding the warehouse where our military supplies were being stored in Paris accused them of trying to steal some supplies. No formal charges were filed and they were imprisoned because of some administrative foul-up.
I am sure there was more to this story but I never did get any more facts from our three service battery soldiers. I don't remember their names and I would like to hear from them and get the entire story.
We started back to our headquarters and were glad to report to Col. Hannigan that our mission was successful and we were ready to start our trip to the combat area near the Holland-German border
----- Joseph Szalay
(Editor's note: Attempts were made throughout the text of the following story to place full names to the men listed in the story. For the most part, this is an educated guess and some names may very well be mistaken in their identy. The names were all taken from the division history book: With The 102d Infantry Division Through Germany, edited by Major Allen H. Mick. Using the text as a guide, associations with specific units were the basis for the name identifications. We are not attempting in any to rewrite the story. Any corrections are gladly welcomed.)
Interested in some background information?
Check out the related links below...
United States Army, 102nd Infantry Division
102 Infantry Division
History of the 102nd Infantry Division
Attack on Linnich, Flossdorf, Rurdorf - 29 Nov -- 4 Dec 1944
Gardelegen War Crime
The above story, "Our Impression of French People During World War II", by Joseph Szalay, 380th Field Artillery Battalion, was originally published in the 102d Division "Ozark Notes", Vol. 54, No. 2, Jan/March 2002, pp. 16.
The story is re-printed here on World War II Stories -- In Their Own Words with the kind permission of the 102d Infantry Division Association, Ms. Hope Emerich, Historian. Our sincerest THANKS for the 102d Infantry Division Association allowing us to share some of their stories.
We would also like to extend our sincere THANKS to Mr. Edward L. Souder, former historian of Co. F., 405th Regiment. His collection of stories of the "Kitchen Histories Project" series entitled, Those Damn Doggies in F, were responsible for bringing the stories of the men of the 102nd Division to the forefront.
Original Story submitted on 28 October 2003.
Story added to website on 16 November 2003.
September 5, 2002.
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Updated on 17 February 2012...1351:05 CST