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Liberating the City of Light

by Ernie Pyle
Reprinted with the generous permission of the Scripps Howard Foundation



PARIS, August 28, 1944 - I had thought that for me there could never again be any elation in war. But I had reckoned without the liberation of Paris - I had reckoned without remembering that I might be a part of this richly historic day.

We are in Paris - on the first day - one of the great days of all time. This is being written, as other correspondents are writing their pieces, under an emotional tension, a pent-up semi-delirium.

Our approach to Paris was hectic. We had waited for three days in a nearby town while hourly our reports on what was going on in Paris changed and contradicted themselves. Of a morning it would look as though we were about to break through the German ring around Paris and come to the aid of the brave French Forces of the Interior who were holding parts of the city. By afternoon it would seem the enemy had reinforced until another Stalingrad was developing. We could not bear to think of the destruction of Paris, and yet at times it seemed desperately inevitable.

That was the situation this morning when we left Rambouillet and decided to feel our way timidly toward the very outskirts of Paris. And then, when we were within about eight miles, rumors began to circulate that the French 2nd Armored Division was in the city. We argued for half an hour at a crossroads with a French captain who was holding us up, and finally he freed us and waved us on.

For fifteen minutes we drove through a flat gardenlike country under a magnificent bright sun and amidst greenery, with distant banks of smoke pillaring the horizon ahead and to our left. And then we came gradually into the suburbs, and soon into Paris itself and a pandemonium of surely the greatest mass joy that has ever happened.

The streets were lined as by Fourth of July parade crowds at home, only this crowd was almost hysterical. The streets of Paris are very wide, and they were packed on each side. The women were all brightly dressed in white or red blouses and colorful peasant skirts, with flowers in their hair and big flashy earrings. Everybody was throwing flowers, and even serpentine.

As our jeep eased through the crowds, thousands of people crowded up, leaving only a narrow corridor, and frantic men, women and children grabbed us and kissed us and shook our hands and beat on our shoulders and slapped our backs and shouted their joy as we passed.

I was in a jeep with Henry Gorrell of the United Press, Capt. Carl Pergler of Washington, D.C., and Corp. Alexander Belon of Amherst, Massachusetts. We all got kissed until we were literally red in face, and I must say we enjoyed it.

Once when the jeep was simply swamped in human traffic and had to stop, we were swarmed over and hugged and kissed and torn at. Everybody, even beautiful girls, insisted on kissing you on both cheeks. Somehow I got started kissing babies that were held up by their parents, and for a while I looked like a baby-kissing politician going down the street. The fact that I hadn't shaved for days, and was gray-bearded as well as bald-headed, made no difference. Once when we came to a stop, some Frenchman told us there were still snipers shooting, so we put our steel helmets back on.

The people certainly looked well fed and well dressed. The streets were lined with green trees and modern buildings. All the stores were closed in holiday. Bicycles were so thick I have an idea there have been plenty of accidents today, with tanks and jeeps overrunning the populace.

We entered Paris via Rue Aristide Briand and Rue d'Orléans. We were slightly apprehensive, but decided it was all right to keep going as long as there were crowds. But finally we were stymied by the people in the streets, and then above the din we heard some not-too-distant explosions - the Germans trying to destroy bridges across the Seine. And then the rattling of machine guns up the street, and that old battlefield whine of high-velocity shells just overhead. Some of us veterans ducked, but the Parisians just laughed and continued to carry on.

There came running over to our jeep a tall, thin, happy woman in a light brown dress, who spoke perfect American.

She was Mrs. Helen Cardon, who lived in Paris for twenty-one years and has not been home to America since 1935. Her husband is an officer in French Army headquarters and home now after two and a half years as a German prisoner. He was with her, in civilian clothes.

Mrs. Cardon has a sister, Mrs. George Swikart, of New York, and I can say here to her relatives in America that she is well and happy. Incidentally, her two children, Edgar and Peter, are the only two American children, she says, who have been in Paris throughout the entire war.

We entered Paris from due south and the Germans were still battling in the heart of the city along the Seine when we arrived, but they were doomed. There was a full French armored division in the city, plus American troops entering constantly.

The farthest we got in our first hour in Paris was near the Senate building, where some Germans were holed up and firing desperately. So we took a hotel room nearby and decided to write while the others fought. By the time you read this I'm sure Paris will once again be free for Frenchmen, and I'll be out all over town getting my bald head kissed. Of all the days of national joy I've ever witnessed this is the biggest.

Ernie Pyle