At That Moment in Paris
We Were the Finest of All

By John C. Ausland

OSLO - As August 25, 1944, dawned, the U.S. 4th Infantry Division found itself in a bivouac just south of Paris. Orville Schroeder, my communications sergeant, brought me out of a deep sleep by shaking me and saying, "Wake up, Captain Ausland, we are going to go take Paris."

A few hours later I found myself driving my jeep through throngs of civilians as we made our way to Choisy-le-Roi, a suburb of Paris. The mission of the 1st Battalion of the 8th Regiment, to which I was attached as artillery liaison officer, was to guard the bridge at Choisy.

The 12th Regiment of the 4th Division reached the center of the city around noon. It joined up with the French 2nd Armored Division, which had met heavy resistance when attacking from the west. Shortly after noon, after firing to preserve his honor, General Dietrich von Cholitz, commander of the German forces, surrendered and was taken into custody by the French.

Soon after, in a letter dated August 29, I wrote this account of that day in Paris to my parents.

* * *
Well, this division has now been in on three of the most important phases of the French campaign: 1) the landings on D-Day, 2) the breakthrough on the Saint Lo-Pieriers road, and 3) now the freeing of Paris.

This has been one of the most exciting times we have had since arriving in France. I won't go into the military details, but perhaps you would be interested in the purely nonmilitary points.

We started into the city late one morning. The infantry battalion with which I traveled was one of the first to enter the city from its particular side of entry.

It was a grand welcome the people gave. They lined the streets for mile after mile, thousands of them. All were shouting "Vive l'Amerigue" or "Vive la France," literally wild with joy. We were the first Americans they had seen, the first sign of freedom after four years of domination.

As we rode throught the streets, the crowd would surge about us until it was impossible to move forward. People would crowd about and onto our vehicles. Women, men, and girls flung their arms about us, insistent on kissing us on both cheeks. Mothers held up their babies for us to kiss. We were literally showered with fruit of all kinds, wine and flowers until our vehicle resembled a garden.

At street intersections the crowd was so thick it was impossible to move forward, with the street solid with people as far as the eye could reach. We moved only with loud use of the horn and insistent urging.

There were thousands of pretty girls, all dressed in their Sunday best. It seemed to me I'd never seen so many beautiful women. Until they spoke, one would think he was in America.

At last we stopped and set up our headquarters in an ex-German Army building. The people crowed the gates to watch the Americans. It was impossible to work because of the kisses, handshaking and shouting. Our men were having a wonderful time.

That night there was singing, drinking and dancing until the wee hours of the morning. The hardships of occupation were forgotten, though it was difficult to convince them that the Americans, unlike the Germans, would permit them to dance, collect in crowds and enjoy themselves.

It was a big moment in the city's history, and the French are the ones to demonstrate it. For the moment at least, the Americans were the finest persons who ever existed. Paris was liberated.

And so it has been for days as we move from one part of the city to the other. Crowds, kisses and celebration. A new kind of war. But the fighting will come again. There are many Germans between here and Berlin. They haven't given up and are not defeated.

In another letter I will tell you of the FFI, the French Forces of the Interior, and their fight to help free Paris. Also of the "little war" I got into at the Place de la Concorde in the center of the city.

Love, John

International Herald Tribune


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