Alvin waits out the end of the war in Paris
Published 12:00 am Thursday, November 14, 2013
Last in a series.
Even Paris can be a lonely, miserable place.
Lt. William Alvin “Andy” Anderson spent a blue Dec. 31, 1944, in Paris, thinking about his wife, Faye, and how they had spent New Year’s Day the past four years.
In 1942, he was at Camp Blanding, Fla., and had just met Faye Walker.
As the calendar turned to 1943, they already were married but apart, as he finished jungle warfare training in Panama.
They spent New Year’s Day 1944 together in Colorado, attending an Officers’ Club party at Camp Carson.
Now it would be 1945, and Alvin was alone in Paris, sitting in as a juror at court martials for the Judge Advocate General’s office and mending his feet, still sensitive from trench foot at the front.
He and Faye had now been apart for six months. As he spent New Year’s Eve back at a hotel reserved for the Army, Alvin decided he would tell Faye about his close calls in the Hurtgen Forest and around the German town of Schmidt.
“On Nov. 4 … “ a paragraph in his letter started, but the rest of the page was torn away.
“The censor didn’t tear that sheet off,” Alvin wrote on the next piece of paper. “I did it. Darling, it was just a small fragment from an artillery shell.”
Alvin swore the fragment didn’t even cut a hole in his trousers, and that was it for his full disclosure of what happened behind German lines.
For more than a month in Paris, Anderson didn’t hear anything from Faye or home except for another cablegram through the Red Cross which said his son had been born Dec. 4, 1944, at Lake Shore Hospital, Lake City, Fla.
Mother and baby were well, living with her parents, the cable added.
But Alvin was going crazy. All the guys around him were receiving letters from home, but he hadn’t seen a letter or package since late October or early November.
He didn’t even know his son’s name.
In England, when Alvin had come back from the mess hall the night of Dec. 12, 1944, he spied a cablegram on his hospital bed.
All it said was “Son Both Fine.” Alvin went up and down the hospital ward spreading the news and accepting congratulations.
“I am so happy right now I could just cry,” he wrote Faye that night. “There is no way in the world to explain how I feel. The cable was very short, but yet it said lots.”
The rain and snow in Paris during January 1945 didn’t help bring Alvin out of his depression over the lack of mail.
Only his repeated trips to the Red Cross had led to the second cablegram. His regular mail could be going to the front, or England — Alvin nor the Red Cross had a clue.
“I’m not going to tell you any more about my mail situation,” Alvin said. “I know you are so tired of it you’ll be glad I don’t, (but) there really isn’t much to write about when I leave that out.”
When he ate a big meal, such as the Christmas dinner he had roast turkey, potatoes, peas, asparagus and cole slaw, Anderson couldn’t help but feel guilty.
“I thought about the boys at the front who only had maybe a can of C-rations,” he said.
Anderson also thought he had it easy, sitting in on the court martials. But he was disgusted by what he heard.
Some soldiers were selling their brothers in arms down the river for money, he said. He considered them gangsters and was embarrassed they wore the same uniform he was wearing.
“They steal supplies that are supposed to go to the men at the front and sell them to the French people,” Alvin said of the black market for food, gasoline and cigarettes.
“There is no difference in doing that than there is taking a man’s blood out of his body. It is just like murder.”
The Army wanted officers such as Anderson, who had been at the front, to sit in on the court martials because they knew the situation the men in trenches were facing.
“I shall do everything I can to see these people get the maximum punishment for such crimes,” Anderson said.
In Paris, Anderson first lived on the sixth floor of a hotel taken over by the Army. The elevator was out of order.
But he soon moved across the River Seine to what he considered a cleaner place, though the men had to travel a long way by subway to eat their meals.
When his feet could stand it, Alvin walked a lot, taking in the beauty of Paris. He and four other lieutenants from England often hung out together, but their touring was stifled at first by Paris’ 8 p.m. curfew.
Lights out also came at 9:15 p.m. Alvin secretly started taking his baths at midnight, however, because it was the only time the hotel’s water was hot.
Anderson took in plenty of movies and shows. He attended a Glenn Miller concert Jan. 2 at the Olympia Theatre and noted for Faye that the orchestra played their two favorite songs: “I’ll Be Seeing You” and “I’ll Walk Alone.”
Alvin praised a production of “Hamlet,” but was hardly a big fan of a French stage show or the nights of taking in ballet and the opera.
Once was enough for the ballet and opera.
In Paris, Allied forces had three or four movie theaters where they could attend for free. Anderson couldn’t help it, he said, when tears came to his eyes on seeing the films, “Till We Meet Again” and “Going My Way.”
Anderson’s weight increased to 181 pounds, meaning he had gained more than 20 pounds since coming from the front. He was seeing a doctor every Saturday, “and, of course, he tried to tell me there was nothing wrong with my feet,” Alvin said.
“But I asked him, ‘Who in the hell did these feet hurt, him or me?’” he added.
Back at the hotel, Alvin played a lot of pinochle and cribbage. Every night, he was having trouble sleeping, unable to dose off before 1 or 2 a.m.
“I have tried to forget it all,” Alvin wrote once of his experiences at the front, “but that will take longer than I ever will live.”
On his personal excursions through Paris, Alvin often bought bottles of perfume for Faye and sent them out with the next mail.
Everything else was too expensive in Paris, Alvin explained, noting the $168 nightgown he had passed in one store window.
The Stars & Stripes reported that a million Christmas packages to the troops were lost in a German counter-offensive.
“I guess mine was in that million,” Anderson lamented in one letter.
Anderson’s personal nightmare with the mail ended Jan. 28, 1945, when two letters from Faye came to him. One was dated Nov. 18; the other, Jan. 15.
This would become a pattern. As late as April, Alvin would still be receiving letters written by Faye when she was pregnant, followed immediately by others when their son was, say, four months old.
In mid April, he received a package with cookies his mother had mailed to Co. K, 112th Infantry, in October 1944. “They were still good,” Alvin reported.
It was in the Jan. 28 letter that Alvin learned the son he kept calling “Rusty” was really named “Stanley.”
“Darling my heart just went apart in little pieces, and in this letter, I shall send you the pieces,” a joyous Alvin wrote.
Alvin also learned Faye had suffered with typhoid fever during her pregnancy, not the mysterious “Brill fever.” Alvin acknowledged it had scared the hell out of him.
“If I had known that, I would have been out of the Army by now,” Anderson said, “because they don’t keep crazy people in the Army long.”
Alvin actually thanked Faye for hiding the truth. Back in October 1944, when he had received the letter telling him she was sick, “I was in a tight spot,” he said. “I mean, the going was plenty tough. We were right up on the Siegfried Line. I might have gotten careless.”
Over the days and letters to come from Faye, Alvin would learn she was in labor for just two hours, reaching the hospital with only 45 minutes to spare.
At birth, Stanley weighed in at 5 pounds, 61/2 ounces. Mother and son stayed in the hospital for seven days before going back to Faye’s parents’ place.
In her letters to Alvin, Faye would sometimes trace Stanley’s feet or hands onto one of the pages.
“I think he is just about the sweetest and cutest little boy I’ve ever seen,” Faye said. “He looks just like you.”
Faye described the routine of her days to Alvin. She talked of doing the wash in the mornings or pulling weeds in the tobacco field in the afternoon.
By her estimates the couple had saved $1,025 in bonds. She said her brother Jamie was headed to the show in Ocala with his prize steer. He had paid $70 for him and hoped the steer would bring at least $200.
Her sister Imogene was going on dates now. Yes, Faye said, she had received Alvin’s Purple Heart. And yes, she would send him cookies and a bottle of Vitalis, since he could not find his favorite hair tonic in Paris.
Anderson eventually was sent to the 203rd General Hospital in Paris for a final checkup and clearance to be assigned elsewhere.
While he was in the hospital in England, a doctor wrote on Alvin’s physical record he was not fit for service and should be returned to the United States.
“I didn’t tell you because I didn’t want you to be disappointed if it didn’t go through,” Alvin told Faye March 8, 1945. “Well, all the time I have been in Paris, I’ve been sweating that out.”
At the Paris hospital, the doctors examined Alvin again. “The major did everything he could to send me home but failed … They gave me limited service, so now you don’t have to worry one bit about me going back to the front.
“My fighting days are over.”
Anderson toyed with the idea of joining a captain friend’s Transportation Corps, working at a French port, but ended up instead at an engineering depot on the outskirts of Paris.
He had a Jeep but no place to go.
Alvin also was the only infantry officer among the engineers and hated it. He was serving as an administrative officer for a stockade.
By April 20, Anderson decided to make the best of the job he had. He worked all the time and eventually became temporary company commander.
He would have prisoners at the stockade press all of his clothes.
By June Alvin was helping a 27-year-old soldier in one of the companies to learn how to read and write. “He thinks there is no person like me,” Alvin said proudly.
Day by day, the end of the war in Europe drew closer. On May 1, Alvin saw a fortune teller at the Red Cross Officers’ Club in Paris who told him he would be home soon.
In Branford, Fla., Faye’s Ouija Board told her Aug. 31.
“The news sure was good today,” Alvin said on May 3. “I don’t see how it can last another week. I’ll be so happy when it’s over.”
Alvin received a letter May 5 from one of the two sergeants who had escaped with him in the Hurtgen Forest. Both of the men had been sent back to the States to recuperate at Camp Butner, N.C.
“I wish I were an enlisted man sometimes, maybe I would get a break,” Alvin said.
When the end of the war in Europe finally came in early May, Alvin told Faye most everybody celebrated for several days.
“I didn’t feel like going out and getting drunk,” Alvin said. “I think it was much more appropriate to just thank God for the great blessing.”
For the next several months, Alvin’s focus turned to getting home, while hoping he would not be sent to the Pacific.
“If I have to go to the Pacific, I will go with an infantry division,” he said, adding it would be at his own request. “I’ve never been so disgusted with anything as I am this rear echelon.”
In the points system to go home, Alvin figured his at 96, and men only needed 85 for a discharge. “See, if I were an enlisted man, I’d be all set,” he said.
But priority was going, of course, to the sick and wounded and men who would be redeployed to the Pacific.
Alvin cautioned Faye not to become too optimistic about his getting home. He forecast his arrival by Christmas, when Stanley already would be a year old.
His prediction proved to be spot on — quite better than the Paris fortune teller’s or Faye’s Ouija Board. Alvin was home for Christmas.
“Nothing greater ever happened in my life than when we were married,” Alvin said in one of his last letters of World War II. “Maybe sometime I can show you some happiness, when the Army no longer has me under its control, and I pray that time will come soon.”
Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263.