Major Robert F. Burns

90th Division, U.S. Army

 

War Letters from Europe

Normandy to Germany

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Letters from France

June 22, 1944
June 29, 1944
June 29, 1944 (2nd)
July 6, 1944
July 17, 1944
August 10, 1944
August 14, 1944
August 25, 1944
September 1, 1944
September 2, 1944
September 3, 1944
September 3, 1944 (2nd)
September 14, 1944
September 16, 1944
September 16, 1944 (2nd)
September 17, 1944
September 28, 1944
October 2, 1944
October 14, 1944
October 22, 1944
November 2, 1944
November 12, 1944
November 24, 1944
December 2, 1944
December 27, 1944

Letters from Luxembourg

January 9, 1945
January 16, 1945
January 20, 1945

Letter from Belgium

February 7, 1945

Letters from Germany

February 9, 1945
February 21, 1945
February 23, 1945
February 26, 1945
April 5, 1945
May 5, 1945

Letters from Czechoslovakia

May 10, 1945
May 16, 1945

Letters from Germany

May 19, 1945
May 20, 1945
May 24, 1945
June 3, 1945
June 22, 1945

Letters from France

June 30, 1945
July 3, 1945

Letters from Germany

July 14, 1945
July 27, 1945
July 30, 1945
August 3, 1945
August 14, 1945

Letters from France

August 26, 1945
August 28, 1945
August 29, 1945

Letters from Germany

September 9, 1945
September 11, 1945
September 13, 1945
September 15, 1945
September 17, 1945
September 23, 1945
September 27, 1945
October 1, 1945
October 9, 1945

Letters from France

October 13, 1945
October 15, 1945
October 22, 1945
November 5, 1945
November 17, 1945
November 17, 1945 (2nd)
November 23, 1945
November 30, 1945
December 17, 1945
December 17, 1945 (2nd)
December 18, 1945
December 26, 1945
January 2, 1946

Letters from Belgium

January 14, 1946
January 15, 1946
January 17, 1946
January 17, 1946 (2nd)

Letters from France

January 21, 1946
January 24, 1946

France

September 1, 1944

Dear Pudge,

Your letter of August 21 came today, and also one from Margaret Landers. I enjoyed the article on Pat Dolan. We weren't there, but I had heard several of the incidents. I might say we had a notable lack of success with the same device. We find lots of artillery and shooting is more persuasive. Ever since we captured some 800 in two days we've had trouble finding many to capture.

The piece of tri-color ribbon which is included is a souvenir of a fascinating morning I once had. In a town some miles back when the people first became enthusiastic about American troops we had a platoon from one of our companies outposted. With it was a platoon of anti-tank guns and an artillery forward observer.

About ten in the morning on this particular day I drove out with our S-2 to see how the platoon was faring. To our surprise the whole population it seemed was gathered in the town square. They were dressed in Sunday best and a little band was present playing with all their might. They were singing the "Marseilles", perhaps for the first time in four years. After this they sang very slowly for their soldiers who were dead. Then, definitely for the first time in four years, they hung the French Tri-color and the United States Flag from the balcony of the town hall. "Viva la France!" "Viva le Amerique!" shouted the crowd.

On the steps of the building were gathered a knot of town personages: the rotund, perspiring mayor, anxious that all go well; the town doctor; the professor; the village cure', whose day old beard echoed the glint of his gold rimmed glasses. With them were two young lieutenants, sole representatives of our Army - the anti-tank platoon leader and the artillery forward observer. Into the hands of the latter, who was senior, the Mayor pressed a large bouquet of flowers amid more frenzied cheering.

During all of this we were on the rear fringe of the crowd, for we had arrived late. Now in the ripple of excitement which followed, we were seen and beckoned to the steps with the others. There we were presented to the rest by the tall, quiet-faced doctor, who was the only one who spoke English. With the town at our heels we flowed into the building and up the stairs to a large room where wine was to be served. At the stairs I had an Alphonse-Gaston interlude with the cure' as to which of us should go up first. We finally settled by linking arms and going up together.

The throng pressed until the reception room bulged with the presence of men, women and children. The tall gendarme in dress blue uniform spoke authoritatively to those who continued to push at the door. The mayor waved his chubby hands and shouted, bouncing the beads of sweat from his forehead onto his dark suit. Finally, a reasonable facsimile of order was restored.

Meanwhile, several women were busy pouring champagne into large goblets which came to us as principals, and into smaller glasses for the rest. As senior I received the first glass. I plucked our driver, Sgt. Shirette, a French Canadian, from the midst of the crowd and asked him to express our thanks. This he proceeded to do.

The crowd in front quieted instantly and the rest of the hubbub died as the mayor shushed the rear, all except one squalling baby, which the mother must finally have throttled for it stopped abruptly.

I shall always remember the tense silence of that moment. Shirette spoke in a light voice, charged with emotion, and the crowd leaned forward as one the better to hear him. All eyes were focused on him, except the mayor, who was distracted by watching fearfully lest anyone interrupt.

We stood there in our war-worn clothes, feeling awkward and out of place in the presence of so much finery, and the babel of a foreign tongue. We could not tell what Shirette was saying, but it became apparent that he was having difficulty, not with the language, for he speaks it fluently, but with whatever ideas he was endeavoring to put across. He stopped, floundered about, while the crowd leaned forward murmuring sympathetically. Then he would start again and they were still, intent on his every word. Only the baby, unmindful of the historical significance of the moment, began to squall again, causing no little distress to the pudgy mayor, until quiet was restored.

I watched the faces of those French people as they followed every word Shirette spoke. From time to time they nodded in assent and clucked to themselves as something particularly moved them.

Then to our utter amazement, Shirette burst into tears, and huge drops splashed to the bare table on which he was leaning. The crowd lost no time in following suit and every eye I saw welled with water. It was our first experience with the extreme emotionalism of the Frenchman. Shirette spoke on in a blur of tears to a halting, but brave, conclusion. Then there were viva's! The tears disappeared and the champagne was consumed. The room buzzed with animated conversations. Shirette was swallowed by an admiring audience, eager to talk, while the doctor, who apparently felt more or less personally responsible for us, came to make conversation in his slowly-spoken English.

He had a quiet dignity, this doctor who hid and treated two American parachutists in his home for four days until they could be got back to their own lines. Like most other men of the town he had been a prisoner of war of the Germans for a year before being released. He recalled with evident pleasure how they taunted the retreating Germans that they soon would be our prisoners and would know how the French prisoners felt.

We spoke favorably of the champagne. It was eight years old, he said, and had been hidden from the Germans who drank everything in sight.

He asked about automobiles. When did we think he could get a car? Soon, he hoped. He explained that he had some six towns to cover every day, a matter of about 25 miles on his bicycle.

He introduced us to a retiring little man who was president of the prisoners when they were all in the same camp.

The crowd was thinning and I had my helmet on to leave when the doctor's wife came in, a very attractive woman. He introduced us, saying that she spoke English, but she made no attempt to do so. Her one remark, in fact, was a request to her husband in French that I put my helmet back on, which I had removed.

"Your elections are going on now, I believe" he asked. As I nodded, he went on, "It will be Roosevelt, of course, I hope." As our S-2, an Ohio Republican, was standing alongside, I could only say that not everyone thought so and sidetracked the issue.

"How do you think of our collaborationists?" he queried. As I did not at first grasp his meaning, he added, "They should be punished." I agreed, but side-stepped by telling him that the troops to follow us would handle that. This town had only three collaborationists and I was afraid he might expect us to do something about it, which we could not. Some towns later were less hesitant. A shot in the woods, or a hair clipping and social ostracism as a milder form was swift retribution.

As I again prepared to leave, a French woman pinned these bits of tri-color on us, which I enclose. This, followed by much handshaking, and another glass of champagne, ended the episode.

(The French are enthusiastic hand shakers. If you are unfortunate enough to be along a curb while passing through a town, the little children will wear your arm out.)

Outside, I asked Sgt. Shirette what all he had said. He was a little embarrassed. "I shouldn't have done it, sir, I know I shouldn't have done it. But after I told them what you said I felt I should tell them more. I told them how sorry we were to have to bomb some of their towns." (This was one of the nods of assent.) "And I told them how my people came from France and how much at home they made me feel. And I spoke of the "Marseilles" and how we used to sing it so much at home. And then I got to thinking of those other songs and all and I started to cry."

We said no more about it.

Love,

Bob

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