End of the War: Back to France

By train and truck, back we went to where we started Normandy France. The grand concept was, I believe, to have the 89th run or at least start up the old cigarette camps that would process the freed-up divisions to return to the States. There the troops would be given 30-day furloughs while the outfit was refitted, and then sent on to the Pacific theater as reorganized divisions or as individual replacements. At first we believed the 89th would then follow itself but it turned out that this was not in the High Commands plans. This information was withheld from the troops to prevent demoralizing them or some screwy idea like that. The 563rd, or at least my Battery, ended up in one of the smaller camps cigarette near Rouen (I think it was Old Gold) and close to our old "friend", Lucky Strike. I didn't realize it at the time, but this marked the beginning of some good and memorable times for me.

We were fairly close to Paris and transportation and passes were readily available, the major restraint being money for peons like me who didn't steal or gamble. I remember one trip in particular where we were introduced to the pleasures of Place Pigalle, a must tourist stop for every serviceman. Given my lack of funds, one of my favorite pastimes was to sit at a sidewalk café on the Champs Elysees, sip a glass of vermouth (it was cheap) very slowly, and watch the pretty French girls walk and bicycle by me. A real and innocuous pleasure. Paris is a beautiful city, even at its worst, and over the years I returned many times.

Not long after we settled in, one morning I picked up the latest Stars and Stripes newspaper and most of the front page was filled with a drawing of what appeared to be a large and puzzling mushroom. This accompanied the startling news of the original atomic bomb being dropped on Japan, the first knowledge any of us ever had about such a miraculous weapon and our first inking that World War II might soon be over. Welcome as the news was, most of us could not make ourselves believe it. After all, "Golden Gate in "48" had been our motto and hope for so long. There have been many heated debates over whether the United States should have dropped the first nuclear bomb but I can assure you, not one of them was a service man, then and I suspect to this day.

I don't remember having much to do in Old Gold. I might have been working in our camp PX, but in a short time I get very sick with a chest cold and high fever. I stayed in the sack in my tent for several days asking our mess cook to supply me with my mother's favorite treatment for the grippe, a mustard plaster application. It never failed in the past but it did this time. Finally, a medical officer came to see me and diagnosed me, correctly, as having pneumonia. It turned out to be atypical pneumonia, whatever that meant. I was immediately transported to the Army Hospital in Rouen, located in an old but spacious French hospital building and completely staffed by American medical personnel. Penicillin was in scarce supply in those days and the usual treatment was some sulfa concoction (sulfamethoxasole, my MD son-in-law tells me). It was a recovery slow process and, as I improved with treatment, not an unpleasant one as the nurses and others were very kind and occasionally took us outdoors on little outings, but in two weeks or so, I was ready to go back to my outfit. Upon return, I received a very pleasant surprise. I had been given an R&R (rest and recreation) furlough of seven days in Nice. I sold my watch and every carton of cigarettes I could buy at the PX to get some spending money for the trip.

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