Being confined to the camp wasn't as bad as I expected. While not a big place, it had just about everything one needed. Beyond the Post Exchange, something like Sears and Roebucks, there was a book store that sold all sorts of stuff and was operated by Stars & Stripes, the American newspaper for soldiers stationed overseas. The other amenities included the expected barber shop, a small snack bar, a theater, bowling alley, and a Special Services club with a complete library, recreation room, pool tables, lots of tables for playing cards and other games.
And, the on-base things were perfect for my meager paycheck.
The hardest part was watching the guys load onto buses Friday and Saturday afternoon for the ride into Bordeaux – that that were given passes, that is. And, when they returned to the barracks after an afternoon and evening of carousing, I had to listen to all their tales of beautiful French women falling all over them and the fantastic food and drink.
The next hardest thing was missing out on the local tours provided by the Service Club. Once a week, they provided free bus tours to a variety of places not too far from the camp. I promised myself, that as soon as I was free, I'd take advantage of them. As my Freedom Day came in the middle of the month – and I only had very little cash in my pants – one of the Service Club tours was my first outing away from the camp – and into the French countryside.
To be perfectly honest, after all these years, I really have no idea where the tour went to. I do know that during the next few months, I took one tour to Cognac where we saw the vineyards and a distillery where the “real thing” was brewed. And yes, we got a taste of it, along with some Pâté and fresh bread.
One of the other tours I remember was to the town of Saint-Émilion. I clearly remember the church carved out of the face of a cliff with the bell tower rising above it. And yes, we had a free wine tasting with Pâté and fresh bread.
And yes – the first Friday after payday, I was on that bus for the long ride into Bordeaux. There was a plaza facing the River Garrone with a large stone arch. I stopped to check out a discolored bronze plaque and saw it dated from some time in 150 or so AD and had been built by the Romans. On a later tour of the city, I learned that many Roman building had been rebuilt by the Franks and when were razed by the Moors in 732 AD.
But, with that tiny bit of curiosity taken care of, it was off to partake of the delights of France!
Following the file of clearly American GIs, we went up a cobble-stoned street and everyone turned into one particular side street. Two guys from the platoon had taken me under their wings and we walked directly to one particular bar – to find it filled with more GIs. And, of course, some ladies who worked there. They sure were not Brigitte Bardots! [If you're not old enough, she was a hot babe that every young guy in the world swooned over in the 50's – especially as she loved to wear the risqué new bikini bathing suits. The Queen of that particular bar was a well-worn woman from Algeria. The one think I remember about her was her mustache and tendrils of hair peeking out of her arm pits. Bienvenue en France !
I'd never been in a bar before in my life so I had no idea what to expect. Thanks to my friends, I managed not to make a total fool of myself. First of all, the girls crawled all over the guys trying to get them to buy a “piccolo” - a small bottle of what was supposed to be champagne and hugely over-priced. The first thing I learned was a dice game played with a cup and match sticks. Somehow the deal was that the first to lose named to drink to be ordered, the second paid for it and the winner got to drink it. I somehow stayed true to my religious up-bringing and spent the night nursing several soft drinks equally over-priced. As a wide variety of people might read this, I will completely skip over my introduction of French bars.
I do remember riding the bus back to camp wondering what the big deal about France was all about.