Remembrances: Raymond Kitchell--A Close Call

Recently, someone asked about recollections concerning the EM Club in Rouen. I have one I'll never forget and, for laughs, wish to share it with you all. As many may recall, the 563rd FA Bn was located in Rouen sometime after the war ended and converted into MPs - a transformation that was far from perfect. However, I think most of us enjoyed living in a large and historic city and, while on patrol, seeing many sights including friendly French girls.

I remember my time in Rouen as being very enjoyable, comparatively speaking. In fact, a huge, milestone event happened while there that affected the rest of my life. One early morning, while guarding a gas line outside the city, I kept myself awake by trying to decide what I wanted to study in college. I had three semesters at Oregon State College in ASTP but engineering was definitely NOT my cup of tea. The GI Bill was already law so I knew the opportunity would be there. What occasioned this attempt at self-analysis was a notice on yesterday's bulletin board that the division had been allocated spaces for qualified GIs to attend the American Shrivenham University in England. This "university" had been established as one of the means for keeping the troops usefully occupied while awaiting eventual deployment back to the States and discharge. During this guard tour I decided (tentatively at least) that I wanted to be a foreign correspondent and there were two slots for journalism so when I got back to the "barracks", I applied, not very hopefully I must confess. The reason for this digression will become clear in a moment.

Now back to the club. While I didn't frequent the place excessively, it was a fun place to go and particularly to take French guests. On our patrols and otherwise, we did have the opportunity to meet the public, many of whom were not yet sure how they felt about the Americans after the devastating air bombing that has destroyed so much of the historic part of the city. In any event, I met a young lady and invited her to come to the club with me. When I saw her again, she said she would be delighted but that her Mother wanted to accompany her, not a unique custom in Europe and very wise at the time. This isn't what I had in mind, but you have to start someplace. The club (or Battalion) provided a group transportation vehicle for guests so Mama, the girl (I forget her name) and I had picked up our transportation and off we went. Mama turned out to be the hit of the night, especially with the "older" guys whose will not be identified herein. She had a great time dancing, singing, etc., no doubt close to the first of such pleasant events since the war started.

It will come as no surprise that many GIs got polluted at the Club. Unfortunately, one of those was the driver (from my battalion) of the guest vehicle. He was absolutely sotted and couldn't have driven five feet. His friends were trying to coax him out but to no avail. After a long time, it became apparent that he had to be forcibly removed. The vehicle was one of those I and tons trucks (I think) where the spare tire was on the driver's side blocking his entrance or exit. Since I didn't want my guests to be injured, killed or scared (not to mention myself) after many and long exhortations I physically removed him (extracted would be more accurate), which required some manhandling and defense with little help from anyone else. This guy was known as a tough character (or at least that's what my buddies told me) and I admit to being somewhat concerned (to put it mildly).

The next morning at breakfast, this event was the prime subject of conversation and I was told that the driver (I don't remember his name for some strange reason) was out to get me - and I believed it and was damn scared. As I left the mess hall, out of habit I stopped and looked at the bulletin board. There were posted the announcements of the names of the GIs accepted for SAU and my name was amongst them. My elation was greatly magnified when I read on and was instructed to pack my A and B bags immediately and be ready to leave for Le Harve right after lunch. That relief is my principal memory of "Le Club", and I might add, a very positive one. Whoever you are and if you are still alive, I hope time has erased any unreasonable grudge you might have.

January 2001