Foreign Correspondence

More letters from the battlefield: A Phoenix soldier witnesses the destruction of Europe in 1945

He told of attending a Mass "in a little Catholic Church filled with people who had survived the recent fighting, and a marble plaque on the wall said that this church had been erected on the ruins of the one burned and destroyed by les Allemands in September 5th, 1914. On the wall of this room is a German calendar advertising 'Eutra,' a canned milk, and the month designation is Februar, so you see we have reminders that the enemy was here. In the darkroom adjoining we are using captured photographic supplies... all recently property of the German army, taken in battle by the 42nd Division."

Coming through the Rhone Valley, "We passed through hundreds of little villages and several large cities," he wrote, "and everywhere, at all hours, school children, little boys rolling hoops, peasants trimming their vineyards, old men in wooden shoes driving two-wheeled oxcarts, women young and old riding bicycles, all of them looking up, smiling, waving and signaling the 'V.' Some of the men, who doubtless fought in the last war, straightened and gave us the French salute, palm of the hand out. One old fellow pushing a heavily loaded bicycle grinned and gesticulated wildly, pointing toward the front, and going through the motions of 'mowing 'em down.' I'm afraid I must confess that all this attention -- almost adulation -- made us feel almost like 'heroes.' Made us feel proud, and realize that we had come here for a real and worthwhile purpose."

For Creasman, the serenity of the surrounding landscape -- "neat fields, nearly always small, with tall poplars green against the sky along the fences as windbreaks" -- seemed disconnected from the roadside wreckage left by the war.

Creasman, right, prepared Spanish-language broadcasts for the Voice of America in 1942 and 1943.
courtesy of Dorothy Creasman
Creasman, right, prepared Spanish-language broadcasts for the Voice of America in 1942 and 1943.
Jimmy Creasman left New York for Marseilles shortly after New Year 1945.
courtesy of Dorothy Creasman
Jimmy Creasman left New York for Marseilles shortly after New Year 1945.

The highways, he wrote, "are invariably lined on both sides with sycamores, precisely pruned, beautifully spaced with a ruler, it seems. One can imagine how lovely these roads will be when all the trees have their leaves and touch in an arch overhead for hundreds of miles. And the vineyards! Just now putting out long tender new shoots which the keepers are busy trimming, and right behind them are women bundling up the twigs to be used as firewood, I suppose. The French waste absolutely nothing. In one field I actually saw an almost perfect reproduction in real life of the famous painting of 'the Gleaners' -- women picking up little branches in a wood and putting them in baskets...."

On the road itself, "we saw wrecked German equipment, strewn for miles, thousands of trucks overturned and burned, huge cannons, deadly 88's with stripes around the barrels indicating American tanks knocked out, now hopelessly smashed and abandoned, wicked looking tanks with the black swastikas still showing, German helmets on the ground, one hanging on a little wood cross."

Every so often, to jam memorable scenes into his letters, he simply scribbled out snapshots with words: "a woman herding geese with a stick; a little boy shoveling snow with a wooden shovel; beautiful lace curtains in windows, draped and stretched very tight in many different fashions... everywhere rivers running brim full because of the spring thaw. France is full of rivers and everywhere the bridges have been blown up, beautiful old stone bridges with fine arches lying in heaps; and gruesome reminders that war has passed through here -- dead cattle and horses still lying where they fell, recently uncovered by melting snows...

"At night... French villages are closed up tight; not a light shows. The people simply vanish from the streets and close their shutters. The only people moving about are American soldiers, in black villages...

"Most of the boucheries (butcher shops) are closed, with signs telling when they are to be open for business, a few hours each day or week. Often there are knots of people with their milk cans waiting outside a dairy shop.... The only place I saw fresh meat for sale was in Lyon, large silk industry city. In most other places, the people seem to exist on bread and wine. We did see a few bunches of celery being carried home from market, and some huge green onions.

"Everywhere the children call to us and wave, then stick out their hands and ask for 'shoong gawm.' That's about the way Martha Dee [his daughter] says it, and I always think of her when I hear them say it.

"One woman innkeeper was talking and gesturing about how hard it is for her to change her language so often. She said she speaks 'half German, half French and half English!' All of these different troops have stopped at her inn and ordered service. She has to stop to think which language to use! Where we spent the night once there was a sign Brot ausgabe... German for 'bread is given out.' And just a few feet away there was a new sign reading 'Bread issued today.' Today I passed thru a little town that now has a French name. A short time ago it had a German name. And so it goes."

The second week of February, Creasman was reassigned from the ordinance company to the headquarters of the Rainbow Division, where he put his writing skills to use banging out citations, reports and press releases about the division's fighting. As the Allies moved closer to victory, he prepared information about what troops should expect as the occupying force in Germany.

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