INVASION OF FRANCE BY OLLIE STEWART

Liberation of Paris

The first time I saw Paris her heart was old, and she was not very well fed, but oh, how gay! The heart of France, in fact, was mad with joy because Americans had arrived.

I entered along Avenue de Fontainebleau in September, 1944, at eleven, with Cecil Carnes of the Saturday Evening Post, Tom Henry of the Washington Star, and Dave Baylor of Radio Station WGAR, Cleveland, Ohio. Our jeep was driven by Pvt. Arthur Holton of Lee. Mass.

Our arrival concluded three days and nights of camping on the outskirts of the city waiting the mopping up of the last pockets of German resistance.

Along the broad boulevards, we saw many vehicles overturned and sandbagged which the enemy had used as barricades in their last stand but in a few places where road blocks had been, we saw workmen already making repairs.

Dummy Germans were hanged in effigy in two places, but all signs of organized resistance had disappeared. Americans in armored vehicles were in control of certain areas, in others FFI (Fighting French of the Interior) were in charge.

Beautiful women dashed into the streets to kiss dusty GI lads, to throw flowers and to offer wine and fruit.

I, Ollie Stewart, of sound mind and fairly sober character, so solemnly give my word that I have never been kissed so much in all my life. Almost every woman I meet on the street stops and kisses me on both cheeks. It is a beautiful custom.

Rudolph Dunbar and I were walking along the street yesterday, and at least a dozen women brought their babies and children up to us to be kissed. I felt like a small-time politician running for Congress--and if I ever run for any office, I will be rather experienced in this kissing business.

Thousands of bicycles filled the boulevards and crowds lined the streets to wave and shout welcome.

We had set out to enter Paris on Wednesday, but were held up about fifty miles away and slept

Wednesday night almost in the laps of the enemy. Thursday we tried again but had to turn back, so we took over a deserted chateau, bought chicken, eggs and had a feast. Friday we reached the Seine south of the city but 88 shellfire forced us to retreat to the rear of an armored column storming strong-points outside the city, and just ahead of us 200 Nazis were captured after having been shelled into a daze. Friday night, we slept in the open country with our rations almost gone.

Early Saturday, we headed for Versailles but were cut off and rode into Paris without an escort. We rode behind General de Gaulle up to the Arch de Triomphe as millions of people cheered, sang and applauded the Allies. It was like New Year's Eve, Fourth of July, and the Mardi Gras at New Orleans rolled into one.

The streets, houses and rooftops were lined for miles along the route with happy people. General LeClerc also rode in triumph, but deGaulle was the center of attraction. Returning to the hotel, we were waving, bowing and shaking hands as the throng surged into the street literally crazy with excitement.

As our jeep stopped, a stuttering machine gun on the roof sprayed the street, and on the opposite corner another opened up. We were caught in the middle of the intersection in a traffic jam as the bullets began screaming back and forth.

Pinned under a jeep for three minutes by machine gun fire, I crossed several open corners that were being cris-crossed by fire coming from the rooftops and windows.

I finally crawled under a tank at an intersection where a girl was bleeding and a baby crying as rifles, pistols and grenades took up the refrain that echoed through the city.

To contrast this with the scene an hour before was almost unbelievable. We scampered out and under and later saw a crowd with a German prisoner captured on the roof.

Throughout the afternoon, the hunt and fight went on, and when this correspondent reached his hotel, he was gasping and trembling.

But the crowds continued celebrating into the night. My hotel room was just vacated a few days ago by a German officer who took the key with him. Signs in German still remained in many parts of the city but the gray Nazi horde is fast retreating toward Berlin, which is the last stop on the liberation parade.

I met the first four American soldiers to enter the city of Paris. They were members of a company of drivers who has been especially chosen on this occasion to drive General de Gaulle's party into the liberated French capital.

They are Cpl.Arthur Russell ,NYC; Cpl. Lawrence Dixon, Detroit; Cpl. Leonard DeMary, Chicago, and T/5 Freddie Brown, New Orleans.

Said DeMary,"We were assigned to French troops entering Paris. Two of us drove the de Gaulle party and the others drove American liaison officers. Bitter street fighting was in progress, but none of us was hurt."

This morning on the outskirts of the city I saw a lone truck driven by a colored lad who waved at me as he passed our jeep. I wish I knew his name but maybe I shall see him again, maybe in Berlin.

 

Whispering Death

We were about three miles from the German lines. Heavy gunfire was continuous and German ack-ack was spattering mushroom bursts of flak as our planes dived over their lines and our observation grasshopper planes sailed placidly along, spotting the Germans guns and radioing back their positions.

When a white colonel saw colored troops in the midst of all this, he said: "This is the first time that I have ever seen quartermasters up so close to the front line."

Sgt Eugene W. Jones, of 1611 W. Butler Street, Philadelphia, replied: "Sir, we are not quartermasters, we are field artillery and we have just been given a firing mission. Want to watch us lay one on the target?"

That was my introduction to the first colored 155-mm. howitzer outfit in France, one of the best groups of artillerymen in the army, white or colored. Two battalions have been in action for weeks and had a big part in the taking of La Saye du Puits. Another unit operating 155-mm. Long Toms has just arrived.

These hard-working gunners will tell you frankly that they know they are good. Their officers told me that they are good. White infantrymen who won't budge unless these guys are laying down a barrage say that they are good, and German prisoners ask to see our automated artillery that comes so fast and so accurate.

Late in the afternoon, I was conducted to a cleverly concealed gun of one battery engaged in shelling a target miles away by First Sgt. John Clay, of Louise, Miss.

As we arrived, S/Sgt. W.G. Gaiter, of Seaside Heights,, N.J., had a field phone in his hand and said quietly "fire mission," and all twelve men jumped to alert. "Base deflection so and so," said Gaiter, and the men automatically twisted dials causing the big gun to swerve to the described position. "Load with charge so and so and fire," Gaiter snapped.

It happened so quickly that I had no time to put my fingers to my ears. Boom, went the gun, and you could hear the heavy projectile whispering on its way. "Cease firing, end of mission," said Gaiter, and the men had the gun open and clean even as he spoke. End of mission means that the target has been demolished, which usually comes after one shot from these boys.

Gunner at this post was baby-faced Donald Moore, 21, of New brunswick, N.J. He was at Rutgers when drafted. The kid is known as one of the best gunners in the army. The boys tell a story of another outfit firing at a German observation post in the church steeple during the fight for La Saye du Puits. They missed several rounds, but Moore and his gang blasted the steeple at first shot. I saw what was left of the church.

Others in the gun crew are: Cpl. Ozzie Jones, Birmingham, Ala.; Cpl. George Hood, Pvt. Perry Cockerell and Pvt. Eseasy Redmond, all of Lexington, Miss.; Pvt. Willie Allison, Columbus, Ga., Pfc. Lester Dobson, Patterson, Ga.; Pfc. Allan Davis, NYC; and Pvts. Jefferson Stockard, Oxford, Miss.; Nathaniel Davis, Chula, Miss.; and Eddie Scott, Reddick, Miss.

The Germans call our artillery whispering death because the shells don't whine and they all sit at the guns day and night, ready for the phone to ring. Before arrival of the Long Tom the group had two colored battalions, but now it has three colored and one white battalion, with white officers except two chaplains, Capt. H.C. Terel, Birmingham, and Lt. Carranza Holliday, Longview, Texas.

On the roads nearby and all around the gun crews are signs of bitter fighting. Our boys entered the area before the mine detector crews and found dead Germans and Yanks and many cattle. I saw dead swollen live stock all around that perfumed the neighborhood; also much discarded equipment, German and American. I saw one American helmet, still full of clotted blood, where a sniper has scored a direct hit on the helmet.

Snipers were still around, and I approached hedgerows cautiously. That first night, I wrapped a blanket around me and slept in a foxhole without undressing. The gun crews had their shoes on for five days. There was no laughter or loud talk as every man realized that this is serious business, with death stalking all day and hovering in the air at night.

As I crawled through the brush to a camouflaged position, a message came over the field phone that enemy planes were approaching the area. I was already nervous and dived into a foxhole dug by the Germans, but these men stayed at their posts, some manning machine-guns, others cursing Jerry as they calmly scanned the sky overhead.

Elements of at least three colored combat outfits last week took part in General Bradley's assault north of Coutances which unhinged Nazi lines around Lessay and Periers and resulted in the capture of over six thousand prisoners within the week.

The push began with gigantic air pounding by three thousand bombers. I watched fortresses and marauders pass overhead for more than an hour; the sight made all of us feel better.

Over the rough train, littered with carcasses, blasted tanks, guns, cattle and horses, I trotted with a guide who led me to some hidden gun positions where our boys were sounding off.

As they fired, lines of dazed, dirty German prisoners trudged back to the stockade. The bombing and shelling was so terrific that the Nazis mumbled incoherently and had guns still filled with dirt.

At Cherbourg, the greatest gathering of colored war correspondents in history could be seen. There were Randy Diaxon, Courier; Edward Toles, Defender; Roi Ottley, PM; Rudolph Dunbar, ANP; Allen Morrison, Stars and Stripes, and Ollie Stewart, AFRO.

We visited Nazi subterranean forts which still smelled of slaughter. Nearby was the supposed launching ramp for pilotless planes the Germans have sent over southern England. It is almost unbelievable in size and ingenuity.

In the Cherbourgh area there are actually more colored troops than white. No one hesitates to give full credit to our lads for the prominent part they have played in France.

"It's all in a day's work," says Sgt. Robert Huntley, Auguilla, Miss., who dug up two thousand mines in two weeks. Huntley says the Germans always plant mines in patterns and that when he finds the first mine, the rest are easy to locate.

 

Super-Duper Highway

Now that the Army admits that the man behind the wheel of a truck kills more men than the man behind a gun, Hitler can be told what gives the Allied Armies the impetus to tear his divisions to shreds at such a rapid rate.

I can tell der Fuehrer in detail because I have for three days been riding super-duper express highways from Normandy to supply dumps near the front.

As I changed from convoy to convoy and watched thousands of tons of food, ammunition and gas being deposited at rear boundaries of the American First and Third Armies, I was amazed at the daring and successful operations of the Motor Transport Corps which insures a steady stream of vital war material to the fighting men.

It is typically American. Drivers from more than a hundred companies highball day and night along the Redball route and a large percentage are colored. There is two-lane, one-way traffic all the way to the front and back, with rest stations where drivers are changed, where vehicles are serviced and cargo inspected.

Medical aid centers are available, also ordnance repair shops along the route which is forbidden to civilian traffic. I began the grueling trip with a gas convoy of thirty trucks bound for the Third Army. The drivers then had been on the road for four days and were bleary-eyed. Most of them were out of cigarettes, hungry, sleepy and thirsty, but were still rolling.

After three hours, when the convoy stopped for a rest, I changed to a ration convoy and rode in the lead vehicle for the next twenty-four hours. Pvt. Louis Dones (called Fox) of Beaumont, Texas, was driver, and the first thing he did was to give me a huge sandwich of cheese and jam.

With the chill wind whipping around my knees, I rode in the cab until night when the convoy stopped for cold supper. Afterward, we shoved off with our truck in third place and then we discovered that the truck ahead had no tail light. As it grew darker, Fox blew his horn to attract the lead driver;s attention, but to no avail.

So we had to stay close enough to see, but not too close. If we fell too ar behind, we couldn't see at all. This was near the front and no lights were allowed. Finally, when the lead truck missed the road and almost ran into a destroyed bridge, we caught up and had the lights fixed.

In darkness we passed the dump near midnight and drove fifteen miles before discovering our mistake. It took us half an hour to find a place to turn the convoy around and get back to the dump where white railhead groups unloaded in two hours.

I was freezing and dying for a smoke, but cigarettes were forbidden. Finally, Fox and I rolled into our blankets in all our clothes and slept in the back of the truck.

Before going to sleep, Fox asked how long I thought the war would last, but I couldn't say, and he told me he usually drove ar least twelve trips per day, had bad kidneys and constant constipation. "Most truck drivers will have no health left," he said.

Next morning we rolled out and left without breakfast on the return trip, arriving at a rest station at ten o'clock where I ate three fresh eggs, bread, bacon, and coffee.

Here I met Second Lieut. William Biers, white, of Midland, Pa., who spoke seriously of post-war problems. Said he: "I hope like hell that these guys in my outfit get a better break when we get back home. I have seen them go through hell to help win the war and nobody can say that truck drivers haven't done a marvelous work."

After breakfast I got a haircut by Cpl. James Moore, Cleveland, Ohio, who was worried about having to stay in the Army of occupation. Hundreds of others are concerned about having to go to the Pacific after Germany is defeated. Moore wanted cards for a bridge game, so I paid for the haircut with the only deck I had, which made the group happy.

 

Barrage Balloons

I was in New York on D-Day, but on the Normandy beachhead in France a group of men struggled ashore with barrage balloons--despite raging surf, despite enemy gunfire and despite mines too numerous to count.

They went ashore at H-Hour, which was THE hour, and were the first colored combat troops to set foot on the shores of France in this war. They are still on the coast of France.

And today, they have the proud distinction of being the ONLY barrage balloon outfit used by the Allies in this invasion. No other came with them; no other has come since they landed.

I talked to hundreds of these D-Day warriors recently. The stories they told me in calm voices made me marvel. German defenders were a mere 300 years away and fighting like hell when these men began stringing up their silver sausages to protect the hordes of American lads that were to follow them.

And so good has been their defense that not once has any beachhead sprouting their balloons been strafed by German planes!

Commanded by Lt. Col. Leon J. Reed, white, the battalion (anti-aircraft, very low altitude) operates hundreds of baby blimps, with four men living with each one. I mean they stay with it day and night--eating their meals on the site and sleeping within a few yards. The balloons are bedded down in the day and sent aloft at night.

However, if enemy craft appear in daylight, the balloons can be shot up within a matter of seconds. They not only are used from stationary sites like beaches and airstrips, but are mobile and can be attached to boats and moving land vehicles.

The primary objective of the blimp is to keep enemy planes high, where automatic ack-ack guns can pot them; also to prevent strafing and dive bombing of ships, docks, airfields or troop personnel. Some operate in tandems--with a second blimp attached to and flown above the first one.

The men in the balloon unit make their own gas for the blimps, and maintain a repair section. They are experts in matters pertaining to weather and wind currents. they keep many spare blimps on hand and can substitute a new one for a lost one in a very short time.

If inflated too much the sausage explodes. The men have to adjust air pressure in accordance with heat and cold. They lower the balloon with a hand winch, operated by two men.

Heading the list of recognized heroes are the three men who have been awarded Purple hearts. They are Cpl. Richard J. Thomas, 1545 Sixth Street, Northwest, Washington; Cpl. Waverly B. Woodson, Jr., 1235 N. Fifty-eighth Street, Philadelphia; and Pfc. Hollis B.F. Briggs, 712 Charlotte Street, Norfolk, VA.

On D-Day, Sgt. Israel W. Hughes, Middletown, Ohio, helped to capture eleven Germans a few hundred yards from the beach. He and a white soldier found them cut off from the main body of Germans and rounded them up.

Cpl. Jesse L. Sumlin, Fruitdale, Ala., was on guard on D-Day when he saw a German crouching nearby. He fired and the Nazi threw up his hands and came forward to surrender. He is in the platoon that lives underground in a concrete dugout captured from the Germans, that has sleeping quarters, kitchen and large storeroom.

I was fed and entertained beneath the ground in this dugout, and it is still almost a miracle to me that we ever routed the enemy from such strong points.

Cpl. George B. Alston, Littleton, N.C., got a Junkers-88 plane with his balloon. The big aircraft hit the cable. This happened during a Nazi attack.

This outfit can truly be called a Baltimore and Philadelphia group. Every other man hails from either one place or the other, it seems, with Washington and Richmond running neck and neck for second place.

There are seventeen colored junior officers in the outfit. Fifteen white officers hold all the rank from lieutenant to lieutenant colonel. The one exception is the chaplain, Capt. Albert M. White, 1233 Melon Street, Philadelphia, who formerly pastored St. James AME Church, Miami, Fla.

As a matter of fact, the only colored officers I have seen since coming to France with rank higher than first lieutenant, have been either chaplains or medical officers.

Even the company commanders have been first lieutenants. Such a remarkable coincidence. Like at the big headquarters where we sleep and eat; no colored officers at all happen to be stationed in the immediate vicinity.

 

Copyright 2001-, Terry Muse
Revised: December 30, 2001
URL: http://black_and_hispanic.tripod.com/blackhistory/
Contact: Terry Muse