CHARLES DEGAULLE

France

1944

Previously: Gen. Charles DeGaulle has come to Cherbourg. Le and French Capt. Gerard helped deliver the general’s desired all-French train for his ride to Paris.

(Conclusion)

About thirty minutes later, Capt. Gerard came running back down the tracks, waving his arms and shouting, “Sergeant Johnson! Sergeant Johnson!”

I met him a quarter of a mile up the track. He panted, “Chemin kaput!” (Train died.)

Our prior planning paid off. I called the commander at the 728th and explained the French engine had died. He sent two American engines up to relieve the old French ones. Standing with Capt. Gerard, I watched as French workers removed the Tricolor and bunting from the French engines and began putting them on the American ones.

American Steam Engine

American Steam Engine

I don’t know what got into me, but I thought they should not drape our engines with their French flags and I said so. “American engines should wear American flags!”

But, Gen. DeGaulle’s people would not stop. We stood on the tracks, arguing about it: me in English and them in French. The Frenchmen understood me and began yelling in my face.

This went on for a while before Gen. De Gaulle got off the train and came forward. The set of his shoulder and the expression on his face, told me he was angry. He said, “Sergeant Johnson!”

His soldiers pointed and me and explained what I had said.

Gen. De Gaulle was a tall man and glared down at me. Capt. Gerard’s face was white. He looked as though he might faint.

Finally, I took a breath and relented. “OK!” I backed away and the French finished decorating the American engines.

The French crew climbed aboard and the train left for Paris –a bit late.

Le (Aug. ‘14) adds, “I often thought of that scene and the gentle Capt. Gerard, whom I did see later during my time in France.”

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