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Follies of a Navy Chaplain

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Tanks for the Memories

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They were all young kids

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Love Company

A Mile in Their Shoes

A Mile in Their Shoes

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Nine Lives

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2014. Aaron Elson

   

Love Company

By John M. Khoury

online edition

2014 John M. Khoury

Chapter 7

Arrival in France

    On 15 August 1944, the U.S. Seventh Army, commanded by General Alexander Patch, invaded Southern France. It was made up of the 3rd, 36th and 45th Infantry Divisions which had been through the campaigns of Naples-Foggia, Anzio and Rome-Arno. In addition, the 45th had been in the Sicily campaign, while the 3rd had also been in Algeria-French Morocco, Tunisia and Sicily campaigns. These veteran divisions overcame the German defenses in the south and fought their way inland to Baccarat and the foot of the Vosges Mountains. The mission of the 100th Infantry Division was to be the first division to join with them on the U.S. Seventh Army front.

    We passed the Pillars of Hercules, through the Strait of Gibraltar, along the North African coast, and then sailed northeast to Marseilles, arriving on 20 October 1944. As stated in the Morning Report of 21 October 1944: Debarked fr Marseilles, France 2345 20 Oct 44 and proceeded by foot to NATOUSA Delta Base Section Staging Area No.1 Arrived 0330 21 Oct 44. Most of the men of Love Company would have stated it a little differently: It was midnight (2345 is 11:45 p.m.) and it was raining steadily. Overhead, an airplane could be heard. It was reported to be an enemy plane that had come to attack us. Also, Axis Sally was broadcasting greetings to the 100th Infantry Division and predicting that Major General Withers A. Burress and his men would be destroyed by the mighty forces of the Third Reich. Since I did not have a radio and I did not particularly notice any aerial attack at that time, I only mention this because everyone seemed to repeat the same story.

    However, I do remember going over the side of the ship along with two or three other soldiers carrying full field pack, rifle, and steel helmet, and then descending slowly step by step down the cargo netting into a landing ship. I thought we looked like a stream of rats abandoning the troop ship. When she was finally loaded up with soldiers, the landing ship cast off from the U.S.A.T. George Washington and the Navy helmsman ferried us to the nearby beach. The front of the craft came down as a ramp and we waded through a few inches of water and entered France. Fortunately for us, the enemy had been routed during the U.S. Seventh Army invasion and our arrival was a walk on the shore.

    We hiked up from the beach along cobblestone streets with stone walls on either side in the dark early morning hours. The "Staging Area" we arrived at, after three and a half hours of hiking 10 miles in the rain, was a mud-soaked farmer's field in Aix-en-Provence, where we were to pitch pup tents. I was so tired because of the hour, 0330 (3:30 a.m.), that I just lay down in the mud, with my head in my helmet on my field pack and my raincoat over my face. I slept for a couple of hours. The rain did not disturb my deep and restful sleep, but I was thoroughly soaked.

    During the next week, the company set up pup tents, latrines, showers, and field kitchen. We had hot meals, cleaned ourselves, checked our weapons and equipment, and prepared for the move to the front. The toilet facilities consisted of a box latrine, which was an eight-seater -- four holes cut out back-to-back -- mounted over a trench slightly smaller in size that was lined with lime. This was used by the enlisted men when nature called. It was better than a slit trench or a cat-hole that an infantryman would use in the field.

    Since it was situated in front of the camp about 10 yards from the road, we could look out over the countryside and watch the people passing by as we sat there. On occasion, it happened that a passerby would use the latrine while soldiers were there. It was "Bonjour," "Hello." When a young French girl came along, it was a little embarrassing when she joined the group by taking a seat, but she seemed to enjoy the visit. Incidentally, the officers had their own latrine, which was much smaller and surrounded by a khaki privacy curtain for "gentlemen."

    One-day passes were issued to those who wanted to visit Marseilles. This port city was filled with soldiers of every sort. There were Frenchmen, French Colonial Gurkhas, Senegalese from Africa and Americans. Except for the French soldiers, I never saw any of the colonials outside of Marseilles. We heard stories of GIs being robbed and even murdered in the city for their combat boots. However, I never saw a single incident or ran into any difficulties there.

    The cafes were busy selling beer and wine, and some had music and girls who would dance or keep you company. At one place, I was having a beer at a table, with some buddies and observing the scene, when I noticed a young French girl sit down at a table on the other side of the room. She lifted the back of her skirt before she sat down so that she would not sit on it and wrinkle it. At that moment, the brilliant whiteness of her gluteus maximus (rump) hit me in the eye. She was not wearing underwear!

    I marveled at this strange world as I made my way to the toilet to relieve the pressure of the last glass of beer. As I opened the one door marked "WC," I was surprised to find a woman squatting there and looking up at me. I said "Pardon," closed the door, and waited outside. A few minutes later, she gave me a smile as she exited. I then went in to find a Turkish toilet, which was a hole in the floor with positions for my feet so that I could stand or squat to relieve myself, as necessary. It was a marvelous world of wonders for me.

     

    My squad leader was Sgt. John D. Baud, who was a few years older than most of the men in the company. He was not a bellowing, overbearing sergeant, but rather a soft-spoken workman who was well liked and who spoke with a slight French accent. He was originally from Marseilles, and on the day he had his pass, he went to visit his family there. They, unfortunately, did not know that he would be knocking on their door, and they were not home. That was the only chance he had to call on them, because just one pass was issued to each soldier while we were there. He was deeply disappointed.

    In about a week, all preparations had been completed, and the day had come to move out. Personal items were packed away in our duffel bags and left with the supply sergeant. I left my Kodak box camera, the silver identification bracelet my mother had given me, a wristwatch, and my Army-issued eyeglasses in my bag. Others left musical instruments, such as guitars and harmonicas, along with their personal belongings.

    Before we left Marseilles, it would have been funny if I had met Twist there, because the 14th Armored Division was in our convoy and it had also landed on 20 October 1944. He would have yelled, "Hey, Khoury! I thought you were in the Army Air Corps!"

Contents                       Chapter 8

(If you would like to order an autographed copy of "Love Company," please contact the author, John M. Khoury)