Note: Letter continued from yesterday. Also, “Secondus” is what they were calling my uncle who was born a few years after my dad.
On the cheriun de fer, Monday evening, Jan. 7.
After making sure of our reservations we adjourned to Rainbow Corner, the main Red Cross recreation center on Rue de Madelaine. And right here let me say that I don’t regret one cent of my two last annual contributions of $25.00 to this grand organization after seeing something of the job it is doing for the G.I. over here. Everywhere that the soldier may drift he finds a doughnuts and coffee canteen; the best coffee I’ve found any where and crisp, light, scrumptious doughnuts, often still warm from the cooking, free for the asking and in the full quantity desired. Combined with this are a large variety of other services, from free fuel for one’s lighter to maps & information of any sort, all located in comfortable quarters with a club atmosphere. Most of the employees are French, with a liberal sprinkling of American girls. We have made frequent use of these centers and – here and elsewhere – I have consumed more coffee per day than I ever imagined I could get away with. But, between the irregular hours, lack of sleep and almost universal chill everywhere, which strikes through to the marrow even with the quantity of wool clothes from the skin out which we are all wearing. I look forward to the day when I can develop a patterned regimen and get back to normal living.
But to return to my story. At Rainbow Corner we started a pilgrimage by “metro” (subway) and on foot to the left bank of the Seine and the Latin Quarter. We browsed among the book stalls on the Bank of the Seine in the shadow of Notre Dame, followed by a visit to a small book & picture store where I bought, oddly enough an old map (1755) of Maryland and Virginia which I want to frame for the walls of my future home in the U.S.A. Then through a lovely old Gothic church in the Quarter, pausing for a drink in one of the quaint cafés, and continuing on a tramp of several miles along the Boul’ Miche’ (Boulevard de St. Michele) and into the more intimate and curious little streets.
After dinner at the hotel we pretty well repeated the program of the evening previous, the party ending about 4:45 AM, and leaving little time for sleep. We had with us a different officer, an engaging young rascal (Lt. MacLeod) who is with EATS and who has been no end helpful to us in easing our procedural path and in providing us with free transportation around the city when we have needed it the most.
Up at 6:15 (AM!) and out through the cold dark of pre-dawn to Villacoutray Airport where all EATS lines start. We saw for the first time signs of Allied bombings of factories and airport structures which were being used by the Jerrys – some of the hangar skeletons still occupied by the wrecks of German planes. Our plane was due to pull out for Bremen & Berlin at 9:35 and we checked in and sat around in the officers’ lounge, a Quonset hut illy heated by a kerosene stove, and drank coffee (courtesy Red Cross) until 10:00, when it was announced that all flights were cancelled for the day on account of poor visibility. EATS started its transportation with a fine disregard for safety with combat pilots in charge of the planes – all old airborne troop carrying C-47s (Douglas DC-3s like the one you rode from the west but equipped with bucket seats. After cracking up a number of planes with some loss of life and burning of mail they established strict rules governing operation, – no night flying, no blind flying and no take-offs without a 1500 foot ceiling and 3 mile ground visibility.
Back to Paris and Rainbow Corner, where, after coffee and doughnuts, we took the sightseeing bus, operated under the Red Cross, to Versailles. It was a most interesting afternoon, and the palace, the Trianons and the gardens lovely, but enthusiasm was cooled a bit by temperature and we were glad to get back to coffee and doughnuts before returning to our hotel for dinner. In the evening we – you guessed it! – triplicated the two previous evenings but retired at the reasonable hour of 2:30. Among our flying guests was a young captain who was a graduate architect from Princeton and I had a long & interesting talk with him on subjects of common interests.
Sunday morning was a duplication of Saturday and we returned to the hotel for lunch, then all retired to their rooms for much needed rests and the accomplishment of personal responsibilities. After dinner and a short evening in the bar I retired to instant oblivion at ten o’clock and the others followed me an hour later.
This morning we repeated the round trip to and from the airport – and decided we would have no more of it. So here we are on the rail road, – a scheduled night run of 15 hours to Frankfort (in 1st class day coaches), a lay off for the day and then a similar run to-morrow night to Berlin. That’s the schedule, but we are told that is pure fantasy. We are going to try to get air passage from Frankfort to Berlin to-morrow, but have little hope of success. Our train is a special for military duty personnel and for the past ¾ hour we have been sidetracked to let more important trains through. Supper on the train was plain but good and ample. The girls are in a compartment in the adjacent car & Hal and I share one with some GIs, – Ah, we start in a tentative, hesitant way.
It seems impossible that a week ago this morning we were staring thru the rain and fog surrounding us at Washington Airport. It has undoubtedly been the strangest and most interesting week I have ever spent – and, all in all, a most happy one. I wish I had time and energy to share with you more of the host of new impressions I am storing up in my memory, but you have probably already cried Kamerad several times as a result of the foregoing scrawl. I shall be most pleased when my water borne baggage arrives with my typewriter safely enclosed.
I suppose that Secondus will have arrived by the time you receive this letter – that is my wish at any rate – and I am praying for an easy and entirely satisfactory delivery. The best of luck to you, little sweetheart.
‘Bye now, and more later – from Berlin, I trust. Love to you all