Nearly Christmas 1945
The fall semester was almost over at the American University in Biarritz, France. I was billeted in the fancy Miramar Hotel, which is on the beach and still had a suite of rooms which were used by Napoleon.
My classes went well. I had a chance to rest and eat very well, but what was later called Post Traumatic Stress Disorder was with me full time. The horticulture class went on a few field trips to nearby estates to learn local plant materials in their landscapes. One of those places was designed in the Renaissance style. Water was its main feature and axis of the total layout. The chateau was of the same period and they were very harmonious in their layout and function.
The student newspaper, “The Bau Banner” wrote an article about an upcoming visit by Marlene Dietrich. It said that “… due to the death of her mother in Berlin, she had to postpone her visit.” Later, Miss Dietrich did visit. She entertained us with songs and many of us GIs had a chance to dance a few steps with her.
She took my hand to partner me. “Oh no,” I said, “I don’t know how to dance!”
She laughed. “That’s OK. It’s a waltz. I’ll lead.”
After her visit, I learned that early in the war, Hitler wanted Marlene to return to Germany and become a national figure. Of course, that was not what she had in mind and eventually there was a bounty on her head. Hitler declared her a traitor.
Shortly after Marlene was at the Miramar, I received a TWX (a military telegram) from my army unit, which had assembled in Le Havre, France and would be shipping out very soon. It advised that if I wish to go to the USA with the unit, I had to get to Le Havre immediately. My unit was already at the port.
The Dean of Students at Biarritz reluctantly gave me permission to withdraw. I jumped on a train to Paris, the first leg of my journey home. Reaching Paris, I phoned the Le Havre Port Captains office, which I was familiar with, and the GI there told me, “Your unit is shipping out in an hour or so.”
My heart sank. I didn’t have enough time to get there and join them. I was “on my own.” After a moment or two of feeling abandoned and sad I thought, “This might be the last time I’ll ever be in Paris. I might just as well make the best of it.”
In my wallet, I had several months pay. I checked into the Charles Hotel on the major street from the Arc de Triomphe, the Av des Champs Elysees.
I planned to explore Paris, and enjoy its sights, sounds. Now that the war was over, the “City of Light” would be my home–until my money ran out.
I ate in restaurants, visited the Notre Dame Cathedral, the Palace at Versailles, and many other “must see” tourist venues. The peace-time nightlife often lasted till dawn. I had fun while I waited to go home.
Le (Oct. ‘15) says, “I thoroughly enjoyed my time in Paris and vowed to return again. It would soon be my third Christmas overseas and was anxious to go home.”