V-E Day and Return to Normandy
I was assigned by the Battalion Commander to work as a Jeep driver, and French interpreter, for 2 Army Civil Affairs officers, a Major and a Captain, whose mission was to document and accept property damage claims, from the Norman farmers. These claims were against the US Army for damages that the Army had incurred to farm property during the many rear echelon ammunition and supply trucking logistical problems, etc. Anyway, I had to drive these 2 officers from one farmhouse to another, trying to cover about 6 farmers a day. The progress was rather slow because of the Norman farmers' custom of inviting us in, and before discussing any business, pouring a glass of Calvados (Normandy apple brandy!) clear-as-water, distilled about 3 or 4 times, and probably 160 proof (80% alcohol) Note that the G.I. slang for this drink was "white lightning"! One taste will tell you how the name was formulated! Of course, the officers' conversation was quite limited because their knowledge of French was inadequate, so that I had to do most of the talking while they did most of the drinking! Luckily the document forms were written in good French, probably in Washington, DC, and I had no trouble answering their questions and getting them to sign them. However, after visiting about 4 farmers I noticed that the 2 officers were quite stewed because even though I drank 1 shot at each farmhouse, the minimum necessary to avoid offending the farmer, and although I could still drive the Jeep, the 2 officers had each taken 2 or possibly 3 drinks at each farmhouse! Therefore, after visiting even 4 places they had each imbibed from 8 to 12 shots and could not stay awake! I decided to return to the 4th farmhouse and asked the farmer if he could give me a couple of short lengths of rope which he did, not asking why, and returned to the Jeep which I had intentionally left about 200 feet away on the road at the entrance to his land. Naturally, I didn't want the farmer to see what condition they were in. As they were sitting, asleep, in the back of the Jeep, I tied each of them to the seat to prevent them from falling out as I carefully navigated the Jeep back to camp. I parked the Jeep near their tent, untied them and shook each officer to wake him. I told them to wash up and go to the Officers Mess as evening Mess Call had just sounded. I also mentioned that I had driven the long way around to avoid passing Battalion HQ. I told them that if they needed me the next day to call me and we'd do another tour. I then went on to 2nd Battalion mess hall to eat dinner. Of course, my driver/interpreter job lasted about another 6 or 7 days, only because the Civil Affairs officers had learned to drink more moderately!
I was granted a post-combat R & R (Rest and Rehabilitation) furlough to Great Britain, about the beginning of August, as the furloughs to Switzerland had been suspended. We were trucked to the coast town of Etretat where we were issued individual passes for train and bus travel valid anywhere in England, Wales and Scotland by courtesy of the British Government (Ireland was attainable only if a soldier could prove he had close relatives, e.g., parents, in-laws, first cousins, etc,), our French money was changed to British pounds; every soldier who needed one was given a haircut; any soldier who needed it could have any article(s) of clothing replaced. including new combat boots. The only decoration infantrymen like myself wore on our "Ike" jackets was the "Combat Infantryman Badge", even some guys who had a Silver Star, wore only that badge! It immediately set us apart from all other US Army personnel! At Etretat we embarked on a "boat train", which was a train of railroad cars, sitting on track built on this large ferryboat. After we'd crossed the channel, and docked in Southampton, the train was hooked to a locomotive, which pulled us into a railroad station in/near London. It was already nighttime when we debarked from the train and took an "Underground" (Subway) train to the Hyde Park Station where our Red Cross hotel was situated. The next day I decided to visit Edinburgh, because Piccadilly Circus looked too much like 42nd Street and Broadway in New York City, which was my hometown, I guess I'd wanted to see something different!
On the return trip, I was cheated out of my musette bag, which contained some Celtic broaches which I'd purchased in the town of Stirling for my mother and sister, and a Dunhill briar pipe for myself, by the GI's running the check room of the American Red Cross hotel in Hyde Park (London). When I returned from having dinner in a restaurant outside the hotel and presented my claim check to the checkroom personnel to claim my musette bag, they said they'd mistakenly given my bag to someone else (?). Strangely enough, poetic justice must have been at work again because I noticed that the GI's had an MP insignia, i.e., Crossed Pistols, on the left side of their "Ike" jacket lapel and I thought it strange for MP's to make a mistake like that? I would have sworn they'd stolen my musette bag and kept everything that it had contained!