It took forever to go through the seemingly endless rail yards approaching Paris. I remember row after row of gray building jammed close together passing the sooty windows of the rail car. Although the rubble had been cleared away, 13 years after the end of WWII, the signs of war were still there.
We pulled into a huge station. We were allowed to briefly disembark but warned to stay in a clearly marked off area reserved for US military personnel. There was a Red Cross booth where the Donut Dollies handed out coffee and, yes, donuts. There was even a special restroom for us.
Once we were under way, I remember staring out the window. It took forever for us to leave the grayness of the city and, I don't ever think we were in a position to see the Eiffel Tower. The countryside was far more interesting once we got out of Paris. I don't remember seeing all the expected vineyards, just miles after miles of hedgerows delineating boundary lines between farms. We passed through small railroad stations, just as gray and disinteresting as the big city.
As in Paris, the one thing I noticed was the lack of beautiful, young women. All the females wore dark, long dressed with coats and drab head coverings. Looking back now, I'm somewhat certain that we stopped in Orleans to let some troops off. Our next stop was Tours and then Poitiers. The next leg was longer and we ate K-rations on the train for dinner. The only good thing was plenty of ice cold milk and, for those who drank it, hot coffee. It wasn't until late in the evening when we pulled into the huge station in Bordeaux.
Once again, we were herded by MPs, this time outside into the dark. All I remember seeing was the outlines of buildings with spiky roofs, shuttered windows and cobblestones in the big plaza in front of the station. We loaded onto two American-style school buses in the standard Olive Drab and headed off into the night. We crossed on, then another, large bridge I guessed spanned a big river. Then we drove into the dark night with widely scattered villages.
I think the thing that made Harold and I feel best was to be met by a First Lieutenant and a Sergeant First Class. They were clearly waiting for us and, after handing over the sealed envelopes with our personnel records, we saluted the lieutenant as he left and got into a three-quarters ton truck with the sergeant. He took us two a WWII barracks on the outer side of a military camp and led us up some outside stairs to the third floor.
“Welcome to your new home,” he told us. There were two vacant top bunks next to one another and a Specialist Five had us drop our duffel bags and follow him to a room where we signed for our foot and wall lockers as well as; sheets, olive drab, standard military; a blanket, olive drab, standard, military and a pillow, striped, feather, standard military. I don't remember much beyond that but to making my bed, putting my stuff in my wall locker, and falling into bed, instantly dropping off to sleep.
I don't think we got very much sleep. The Charge of Quarters came through, turned on the lights and yelled at us to “Hit the floor, then the door!”
I learned Harold and I were part of a small, separate platoon made up of the lieutenant, platoon leader, a warrant officer shop officer, the platoon sergeant and two specialist fives who only acted as squad leaders – we weren't organized like combat units. Every single one of them had Southern accents as this as anything I'd ever heard before in my life.
Everyone seemed quite happy to see us and went out of their way to welcome us and show us around. The mess hall was operated by the engineer construction battalion we were assigned to support and I quickly noticed our little group separated themselves from the others. We might have been in the land of “alimentaires magnifiques", but the mess hall food tasted exact like Army food everywhere else.
After breakfast, we joined all the other members of the platoon as they walked – not marched – from the battalion area to a gate allowing us to leave the confines of the base to cross a highway to another fenced-in area where a huge variety of large construction machines were parked. There was a very large building with bays where equipment was being worked on. Another bay lay at the very far end of the building and that was our destination. A big sign over the door said, 1st Platoon, 581st Engineer Company (Field Maintenance). Our Orderly Room was actually a small office in the back corner of the bay and that's where Harold and I reported in to the lieutenant.
It didn't take long until Harold was led off to have his work clothing issued. I had to stay behind to have a “small discussion” with the lieutenant and sergeant. They were not exactly pleased with the Record of Summary Courts Martial contained in my sealed personnel jacket. Both listened as I gave my side of the story. I only remember the lieutenant saying something about anything like that in his platoon and I would find myself in the stockade [confinement facility or military jail].
Not exactly an auspicious start to my stay in Southern France.
[And, sorry but photos of those days and place are very hard to come by.]