US Army Retired

US Army Retired

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

The End of My First Army Tour of Duty

[I don't know for certain, but I vaguely remember something like this in Bordeaux.]

Buses ran daily from the camp into Bordeaux. The service increased on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. The weekday bus went to the train station but the extra ones dropped soldiers off at small square with Roman arches. We walked up cobble-stoned streets to the local Red Light District. The old, glaring district had been replaced with lots of bars catering to us American soldiers, not just from Camp Bussac but a couple of others in the area.

I always found it hypocritical that a female French politician had raised such a fuss that such establishments, once controlled and overseen, had been done away with – to be replaced by places with no control at all. The only censorship came from the U.S. Forces Military Police by making them “Off Limits.”

If one walked a couple of blocks further up the street, one entered a large square with a big pond in the middle filled with huge goldfish. That was to play a hilarious part in my memories.

A small Air Force station was located downriver. The boulevard ran directly from the square and we used to walk there to get cheap booze when we were close to broke. We couldn’t get the same stuff at the camp as they only sold cheap, weak American beer. The AF club had everything in the world, including Absinthe; the French called it a liqueur but I’m told it’s a spirit. At the time, it was outlawed in France and many thought it was a hallucinogenic drink. I remember drinking it once - but never again. It came out of the bottle clear and, when water was added, turned either light green or white.

One dare at the AF station was to pay $5 for a large beer stein in which they poured a half shot of every alcoholic beverage behind the bar. One had a 30 minute time limit in which to down the whole thing, then get up from the stool and walk across the bar to the dart board and back to the stool. If one managed to do it, they got to eat and drink for free the remainder of the month. I never tried it and never saw anyone who did that managed to get halfway back to their stool.

The last bus back to camp left at about two in the morning. If one missed it and didn’t make it back to camp in time for bed check, he’d be counted AWOL and would usually be restricted to camp for at least a month. Do it repeatedly and the GI would end up with Article 15 punishment. [I will never tell here how I managed to avoid this several times!]

In all the other units in the camp, getting an overnight or three-day pass was very difficult. In our small unit, it wasn’t that hard at all. And, as the unit clerk, the one who typed them up, I had no problem getting them whenever I wished.

One Saturday night, we’d been drinking pretty heavy at the AF station club and it got awfully close to time for the last bus. We left the station, I seem to remember six or seven of us, and double-timed along the boulevard to the square. We’d made such good time that we knew we’d have no problem getting down to the riverside square. Someone decided the night was too warm and wanted to wash the sweat of his face. So, he stepped into the goldfish pond, followed by the rest of us. Another then decided it’d be fun to try and catch one of the big fish. Apparently, someone took umbrage to our desecration of the park and called the Gendarmes. We made it just in time to pile onto the bus as it pulled out, leaving several Flics angrily waving their batons at us.

One of he things we did to pass the time in the bars was play a dice game using a cup and match sticks. I don’t remember exactly how it worked but the idea was to win the most match sticks. The one who lost first had to pay for the round, the second named the drink and the winner drank it. I seem to remember that it had the words four and twenty-one in it.

I was there when the French had a presence in Indochina and Algeria. Many of the ladies in the bars came from Algeria. There was also numerous Indochinese restaurants in the area and I found the food quite good. As Duple had been a missionary in China, she often took me to Chinatown in Los Angeles and I was rather adept at using chopsticks. So, every once in a while, I’d take my latest companion to one of the restaurants and found the cuisine quite tasty, although some of the dishes were beyond my delicate sensibilities.

Coming from Southern California where rain was rare, the time I spent in France gave me a completely different experience as it rained on a regular basis, almost daily. The day would start out with clear skies and by early afternoon., clouds began to appear. Then, about four or five, the rain would start. Sometimes it would pour down and others would be a simple drizzle. I loved the rain and would sit out on the barracks balcony to watch the lightning displays.

Rain storms and lightning displays are still my favorites – something I dearly miss living in Las Vegas.

In all honesty, after my nearly three years there, I could not (and still cannot) understand why some Americans seem so enamored with France. The food was okay and I found the best to be what was served in restaurants in small towns and villages or the garden variety café where our platoon had its monthly get-togethers.

As I’d never had wine before, the Bordeaux reds seems okay but I actually liked a couple of whites I found in St Émilion. I liked Cognac from that region.

I didn’t find French women all that glamorous and often backed away at the body odor their perfume couldn’t cover up, along with hairy armpits and legs. French men were generally sullen and rude. If I tried a restaurant with waiters, I’d leave to try and find one with waitresses - the men were insufferable and haughty.

I tried to learn French and could get by. But, I never became fluent and quickly forgot most of it within a short time of getting home.

The time came to leave and I looked forward to getting back to the land of hamburgers and cute girls. Harold sent his wife and car home ahead of time and we ended up getting travel arrangements together - again, it didn’t hurt that I was the unit clerk. The company had sent down a replacement so I didn’t have to do a lot to break in the new guy.

I shipped one box of things home, carrying only military stuff in my duffel bag. We rode the US Army train north, once again changing from the Gare Montparnasse to the Gare du Nord, going on an army bus. We were highly relieved when we got to the German border and they transferred our car to a German train.

I wasn’t about to go home in another troop ship and finagled a deal where Harold and I would fly, courtesy of the US Air Force. We got off the train in Frankfurt and were bussed to Rhine Main Air Base. I thought we were going to fly in an Air Force transport plane but were shocked when they loaded us onto a big Lockheed Constellation aircraft. It was huge to me and I couldn’t believe how many people it held - all military. As an air force charter, the stews weren’t exactly beauty queens but, after French women, those American women were movie stars to me.

We landed in Shannon, Ireland to refuel. The weather was cold and damp and we happily walked into the terminal, being free to roam until time came to get back on the plane. I loved the lilt of Irish voices and was able to drink one of their beers - don’t remember the brand. I also wandered through the gift shop to find something for Duple. Don’t remember what it was, but it didn’t cost that much.

Our next stop was Goose Bay, Newfoundland. There were also piles of snow on the ground and it was colder than I’d ever experienced before in my life. There was an air force mess hall and we had a wide choice of dishes as it remained open twenty-four hours.

I remember we landed at McGuire AFB in New Jersey and were never so happy to be back in the good old USofA. It didn’t take long to process us out of the service, giving us our discharge papers and final pay. Harold and I traveled with two other guys from Bussac and we’d arranged to buy a car not far away in Pennsylvania. We were picked up in a van and driven to a town filled with car dealerships. We’d arranged to buy a 1959 Chevy with the huge rear fins. It was a sporty two-door sedan. 

We’d pooled our funds and the deal was to drive it across country. One guy was from St Louis, Harold from Redding (we’d drop him in Sacramento where his wife and family met him), I was from LA and the last guy from near San Diego got to keep the car. I don’t know about any cross-country records but we only stopped to gas up, grab a bite to eat and use restrooms. I seem to remember getting to LA thirty-some hours from leaving the car lot.

It was good to be home and a civilian again.

[Maybe, in the not-too-distant future, I'll start posting various adventures/SNAFUs from the next 20 years]

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Military Life in The South of France

First of all, I continue my narrative with a bit of trepidation. It appears Lonnie Robinson has a far better memory of what took place so many decades ago than I have. I have totally forgotten our platoon leader's name – Lieutenant Rumbaugh – and CWO Bosze who was the man behind our shop. Hopefully, he will occasionally chip in to clear up a thing or two I have forgotten.

After all, it's only been 52 years!

Now, to explain the bottle of Four Roses in my last post. One night, it was my turn to sneak out of camp to get us some booze for an all-night poker game. Getting out was no problem as there were holes in the fence the Polish guards turned a blind eye to. Just across the field next to camp was a small huddle of buildings that included a bar where some of the well-worn “girls” hung out. In that particular instance, I had enough script to buy a couple of bottles of Four Roses. We had plenty of coca cola in machines in the barracks, in glass bottles. We spent that Friday night, all the next day and the night after that playing poker in the barracks drinking coke and whiskey. We took breaks to go to the mess hall to eat and a few short naps. We called it quits some time Sunday afternoon and I remember waking up well before reveille Monday morning in my cot, sick as hell with a hangover that didn‘t go away for three days. To this days, fifty years later, I can’t stand the smell of Four Roses.

Every month or so, we would have a unit party in a small village not far from the camp.
All military units have some discretionary funds – usually coming from shares of the earnings of the various entertainment facilities on the bases – to purchase items for the Day Room or other unit activities. Lieutenant Rumbaugh and our platoon sergeant – hopefully Lonnie remembers his name – would arrange for us to convene at a small restaurant. I remember it had lattice work all over the place loaded with grape vines. They even produced their own red wine. The food was actually quite good and I must admit that the French fries were delicious. Who would believe that a tuber from far away Peru would become a trademark of French cuisine?

Harold met a “nice” French girl and, after going through all the paperwork (which I, of course, filled out) married her. He then bought a Renault and I took a train to Paris to pick it up. After being cold-shouldered by every Frenchman I encountered – including many Gendarmes – I made it to the factory where they gave me maps and instruction on how to drive back to Bordeaux. Unfortunately, the factory was on the north side of Paris, meaning that I had to drive through the heart of the city to get there. I encountered incredible traffic in Paris, especially traffic circles. It was a case of the one with the biggest balls winning. Close your eyes and dive in. By the time I got out of the city, I was shaking like a leaf and had to find a place to stop and calm my nerves.

As I stated, it was my first encounter with Parisians. Leaving the train station, I stopped at a small sidewalk restaurant and tried to get a bite to eat. The waiter was one of the most insufferable people I’ve ever met and, I was ready to punch him in his arrogant mouth. But, he was not the only one. No matter where I turned, I encountered the same thing. I spoke little French and was treated like I was some third-class creature barely worthy of notice. Even the people in the Renault factory were snotty!

I was never so happy to get back to camp. Harold's wife found a small apartment near the camp and his wife would drop off and pick him up every working day.

I've spent a lot of time trying to remember where I me and became friends with another soldier and it just came to me – we worked together at the battalion personnel office. Teodore [Ted] Kleemann was a fellow personnel clerk who came from Holland. I remember who impressed we were that he spoke Dutch, German, Flemish, French – and English. He was drafted where he lived in New York City and his main goal was to become an interpretor at the United Nations.

I don’t remember why, but Ted invited me to join him on a trip home to The Hague. We caught the train and it was a lot easier to get through Paris changing trains with Ted’s help. We actually took the Metro subway system, the first I’d ever ridden. Wearing European clothes and with a Dutch accent to his French, he was treated far less disdainfully than I, even though he received some dirty looks for being with an American GI.

(Didn’t we free those people from the awful Germans not long before?)

We stopped at the World’s Fair in Brussels. If I had a hard time understanding French and Dutch, Flemish was even harder. However, the vast majority of people at the fair spoke more than reasonable English. There were good crowds and the only reason we were able to afford the prices was a center for American military personnel where we got special tickets and offers.

From there, we went to The Hague where I met Ted’s family -- truly friendly, generous people. We spent a couple of days, then went to Amsterdam. The canals were kinda neat but I must admit the most interesting part was visiting the area where storefronts held something other than scantily-clad mannequins.

There had once been similar locales in all major and some smaller French cities. However, a female member of the French parliament made such a fuss about the world’s oldest profession, that it had been outlawed. That didn’t mean the areas didn’t exist but were much harder to find.

Once again, the world grew gray and dreary when we crossed the border back into France. At least traveling with Ted was a most educational and interesting way to travel. As soon as we returned to camp, I headed back to the library to read up on the area we'd just visited.

Some more views of France in my next post.

An aside – some time during my tour of duty in France, two events occurred that our platoon became involved in. One was an earthquake in Morocco where the battalion was sent to clear the rubble. Some members of our platoon went along to repair the equipment. Another was a similar earthquake in Lebanon. For the life of me, I have memories of going along. I seem to remember the long, boring hours with the drone of airplane engines deafening us. I also can see a beautiful beach and hear the words calling it the playground of the eastern Med. A stop in Athens and somehow I picture the Parthenon. C'mon, Lonnie! Tell me I'm not imagining things.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Day Four of the Motor Scooter Trip

I set off to the east after breakfast, my destination the town of Narbonne. I wanted to see it as I'd read it had been founded by the Roman sometime in the BCs. Sure enough, I found a set of stones that were an old roman road.

It was still early, so I turned around and headed for Toulouse. I was situated towards the headwaters of the Garonne River that would lead me back to Bordeaux. Like every other town or city back in the late 1950's, the city was surrounded by farms and fields. I decided to follow the signs to the town square where I found a small cafe and, after parking my motor scooter, sat at a table to enjoy a snack.

The trip had become a bit tiring so I decided to get on my way and head back to Bordeaux, then Bussac. Instead of going to the city, I turned north at Agen on the highway to Bergerac. Who did not know of that town! The home of Cyrano de Bergerac. And they certainly let one know of their famous hero/lover. Heck! I had no idea that he was a real person.

However, there is was – a statue to the real person. Was I ever shocked to learn that his first lover was Charles Coypeau d'Assoucy, a writer and musician!!!
Back on the road through rambling hills with farms, little streams, and lots of woods. I still couldn't get used to how manicured and tended everything was. I never once saw a bit of wild landscape like we have here in the USA.

I know this sounds weird, but it was a bit of a relief to return to the communal barracks. It was “home” to me. I even enjoyed the ribbing from the other guys in the platoon.

As some who read this blog might now know, I just received a shock in a comment posted by a guy who was stationed in the same unit at the same time I was. How in the heck is that for coincidence. At the same time, I really hate to admit this, but I just cannot picture Lonny, no matter how hard I try. He remember Ralph and even the names of our lieutenant and warrant officer. Maybe he can even tell me the last name of Harold who came from Redding, California. We joked about it as I came from Redlands and the two always got mixed up.

Well, enough of this for now. There's only one little hint I'd like make for some of the upcoming posts. It is ----- 

See ya next time!

Sunday, December 18, 2011

My thanks to all!

I'm in the process of reviewing and editing my sequel to Sonora Symphony – and find myself enjoying the story and how it progresses.

Before, this process was a grueling and even boring process. But, due to lots of help and guidelines I've received from all of you in the online writing community, I no longer see it as drudge work. If I may say so myself, Tsalagi Tales is a fun read with lots of suspense and insight into those suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Add a bit of romance, American Indian traditions and lore, placing it in the Cherokee part of eastern Tennessee as well as the large military installation of Fort Carson, Colorado and it's tended to keep me enraptured, looking forward to what comes next. [I haven't looked at it for well over six months, so, in many ways, it's new to me.]

There are a lot of kudos to hand out. First is to the Absolute Write Water Cooler and the intensive library of tips, hints and guidelines for writing. Next is The Bookshelf Muse Blog which has and is providing descriptions of just about anything would want. Then, the most important of all, is the input one receives when sharing their works with others who are willing to take the time to review and make honest suggestions as to what works and what doesn't.

Finishing this and submitting it to my publisher will take care of what's been written. Following will be the also enjoyable effort of fleshing out and painting in words the final third of Father Serra's Legacy titled The Missions Bloom.

If someone would like to read and review any of the four, you are most welcome to. Just send me a PM and we'll work something out. Perhaps as I get involved in number three, I will have time to return the favor.

Muchas gracias y feliz navidad y prospero Año nuevo.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Day Three of My Motor Scooter Trip

My interest in Cathedrals came from having lived with Kit, an Irish Catholic from South Boston who had married Jack [the man who'd never adopted me]. I think it was due to her that I'd seen the 1940 move, The Song of Bernadette. With that in mind, my next destination was Lourdes, in the northern foothills of the Pyrenees.
I'd quickly become enamored with the Continental Breakfast and the hotel in Candanchú, France did not let me down. The crescent rolls still smelled and felt fresh from the oven. Topped with unsalted butter and marmalade, they went well with everything else.
An ESSO station near the hotel allowed me to top off the tank of my peppy little Lambretta. An aside, the current popularity of these nifty little things always make me smile and remember the one I had back then. I doubt very few Americans truly realize how much Europeans rely upon them to get around. I checked the map to ensure I knew how to get to my next destination. Some figuring told me it was about 120 kilometers or just about 75 miles.
No helmet. Actually having to back off the accelerator to keep the speed down. Riding the very edge of the highway while monster trucks roared past. What a great way to enjoy some spectacular vistas. Rivers and streams joined mountain lakes. Green ever greens covered the slopes.
I did not take long until I reached the village of Escot where the two lane highway wended its way east through the rugged foothills. It took a bit over an hour to reach Bilhères where I encountered an awesome switchback road over a mountain pass.
I reached Lourdes around eleven in the morning.
The town itself was quaint and the people did not seem all that upset by having an obvious American GI in their midst. I found a small café and settled in for a bottle of soda pop, a soup and a ham sandwich. It took but a brief look around to tell me the town had one main industry – tourism. Every where one looked were shops and stores announcing the grotto and the miracle of the appearance of the Virgin Mary to a poor, peasant girl.
Every sign pointed to The Grotto. I found a parking lot and secured the motor scooter, although an old man missing a leg with a patch over his eye clearly tried to tell me he would guard it with his life for a mere sou or two.
The story of Jesus and the money changers in the temple in Jerusalem instantly came to mind as I neared the grotto.
Everywhere I looked, some poor, cripple soul in ragged clothing held out relics and souvenirs for the faithful. Tiny vials of water offering miracle cures. I don't want to sound cynical here [which I am by the way[ but, it the water miraculously cured all ills, why where there so many sick and disabled? While I had often felt at peace while sitting in old churches and cathedrals, I left filled with disappointment – and even anger.
I could get away from there fast enough.
My next destination was a town I had read about that supposedly still had walls surrounding it – Carcassonne. It had been been originally built by the Romans and expanded into s city by the Visigoths. The map told me it was a little over two hours from Lourdes and I happily marked out side roads so I did not have to go through the city of Tolouse.

The view from a distance was awesome. But, what would it look like up close?
I had to remember that this part of the country had been controlled by the Vichy Government and thus escaped the bombing and fighting of the recent World War.
The first thing I did was find a small inn not far from the city itself and checked in. It had a courtyard for the motor scooter and I made certain breakfast came with the room. I would learn asking that question was unnecessary as breakfast ALWAYS came with similar rooms. It was still early so I walked into the city.
It didn't take long to learn one had to pay to enter the walled city itself. In 1958, the entry price was very cheap for an American. I think the conversion came to something like thirty cents.
It was worth the price.
They had done an outstanding job of hiding modern amenities like electric lights. I found a small bar and sat at an outside table to drink a glass of red wine. After an hour of watching the people – all clearly tourists – passing by, I got up and climbed up onto the parapets of the old fortress.
What a great view of the countryside.
Neatly maintained farms, appearing like sculptures far below. Here and there, wagons drawn by horses or mules. Lights showing here and there as the sun set over the hills to the west, head and tail lights marking roads. An old man came by with a strange instrument shaped like a long hook at the end of a pole. I quickly saw he was using it to light scones on the stone walls. I had already learned that visitors were to leave the inner city by ten o'clock, unless they had a room in one of the expensive hotels there.
I made it back to the inn, my stomach telling me I was going to regret having something to eat for dinner. Much to my happy surprise, the wife of the proprietor ran a kitchen for guests and was still open. Another discovery was that only we uncivilized Americans dined before eight or nine in the evening. The tables were covered in snowy linen and they served a very nice red wine. The opening course was a fresh salad followed by soup and the main entrée like the picture above. And, there was of course, coffee with thick cream and a very tasty pastry.
I took a walking tour of the area for an hour before returning to my room and collapsing into the atrociously warm and comfortable bed.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

It's in the mail!

What a relief. After editing, revising, reviewing, spell-checking, grammar checking, and reformatting. The King's Highway, El Camino Real, Book Two of Father Serra's Legacy is on its way to the publisher.
And The Sailor and The Carpenter will start the editing process in a few weeks.

It doesn't mean I'm through with writing as I've still got The Missions Bloom to finish. In addition, they want to take a look at Sonora Symphony, the one I've had so much trouble with.

But, it means I can get back to posts about my first tour of duty in France.

That means I'll be taking you all through the 3rd day of my motor scooter trip, leaving the Pyrenees to visit the shrine at Lourdes, followed by a stop at the Midieval walled town of Carcassone.

Right now, it's back to catching up on some forums I've been ignoring and catching up on some other thing.

Thanks all for your patience.