From Where He Sits, Le Mars Looks Like a Swell Place

By Joel Shepherd, Red Cross Field Agent

I should type you a letter but we are all packed ready to move. And I am sitting here on an old German bed waiting for a truck to haul my things to my new location. So this can not be very legible.

There is too much that censorship rules do not permit me to say, but I will try to tell some things of interest. Our trip across was uneventful. We were all excited when we came to Straight of Gibraltar. But it was night and we could not see much. The lights of Tangiers looked most cheerful, off in the distance.

The Rock itself was not lit up and all we saw was a mountain. An eerie sight was the Zeppelin flying around with red and green lights—apparently to give us guidance.

It was cloudy the next day and we could only dimly see the African coastline as we steamed along many miles off shore.

Finally, we turned to the north and headed for our port. We landed at Marseilles on Friday, Dec. 8, two weeks exactly from boarding time. And two weeks without seeing land is long enough for me. I did not get seasick and think I would very much enjoy a luxury liner. But a troop transport—no.

We landed at Marseilles about 10:15 a.m. but did not get unloaded until noon. Then under full pack we walked a mile, dragged another mile, then I hardly know how we made the last mile. Anyway, we made it to a motor pool where we were loaded into trucks and driven about 22 kilometers out to our staying area.

The country is nice around there for scenery—resembling some of our western desert areas. Mountains in the distance and some nice valleys. The port area of the town was badly damaged by shells, but the rest of the town was not bad.

Distinctly foreign, it was most interesting to me. All buildings are of stone or tile, tile roofs, yards enclosed with stone walls or steel fences, winding, dark narrow streets—almost no real modern buildings. Hotels and buildings are cold, as there is little coal or wood around. The Americans and their allies have taken over the town—second largest in France.

So many uniforms—all nationalities. Being a port town, it is a tough place. Reports are that 1000 soldiers per month disappear there! Some are found in the bay, many never found, some are AWOL’s. There are 43,000 licensed prostitutes—no one knows how many others. Army gave very strict rules as to soldier’s conduct.

The Army maintains a splendid billeting service throughout France. Due to the shortage of foods and blackmarket—all eating places are off limits to uniformed men.

Civilians have to have ration points to buy food—or anything. We sometimes talk shopkeepers out of it and eat. I stayed in two hotels in Marseilles—neither was good. But it was free, furnished by billeting service.

This service also gives you a mess ticket and you may eat there by presenting your ticket. Meals are good, supervised by Army, and cost you 15 francs or 30 cents. That is all except for service men who eat for 10 cents.

Red Cross people are civilians. Most of the time in Marseilles, I stayed in staying area—out on a hill in a tent. Cold, and inconvenient but we got by. Food was good but standing up, holding a mess kit, when you have to wear gloves to eat—well, it is a field soldier’s lot. We were thankful we only had one air raid alarm. Ack-ack guns barked but the plane was too high—observation.

When we left Marseilles, we did not know whether to be glad or sorry—combat is not pleasant to most people. I have now traveled close to 1000 miles in France. And I have been in German territory between Metz and Saarbrucken. Can’t say that I was a sufficiently hardened soldier to enjoy the “thrills.”

The French people in central France were most happy over their liberation. They almost “ate up” the first American troops who were driving out the Germans. And no one could pay for meals or wine. The soldiers would exchange K-rations for a hot meal and wine.

Where the British and U. S. air forces caught the Germans in convoy north of Marseilles—have never dreamed of seeing such destruction. Thousands of wrecked vehicles—strewn all along the sides of the roads where our bulldozers had pushed them.

And the villages were, some of them totally destroyed. But the people were not embittered—they waved cheerfully at us as we drove by.

French roads, I imagine, were beautiful until American vehicles tore them up. Trees all along—in southern France all the roadside trees were similar to the eucalyptus. Farther north it is a tree similar to the walnut. In one battle area, I saw live stock, dead, still unburied.

We came up the Rhone valley, and in some places it is beautiful. I would love to see those terraced mountain sides when fruit is in full bloom. Mostly vineyards, however, thicker than the wheat fields of Kansas.

In Alsace it is mostly meadows and, potatoes, cabbage, turnips, etc. The people live mostly in villages and go out from early to late to work in the fields. I have seen two tractors in all France, but horses, oxen, burros and goats and dogs hitched up to carts. And more bicycle—tandem and 3 wheeled—ridden by old men and old women, miles and miles out in the country.

DiJon and Nancy have huge, beautiful Red Cross clubs. At Nancy they feed coffee and donuts to thousands daily. Then the hot showers—how the GI loves it.

Christmas Eve was bad for me. I did miss my family so much—and the friends in LeMars. I was in an old theater and tried to enjoy the Russian girls dancing with GIs. Much gaiety but the GIs had been on the line for 135 straight days. And we were relieving them—so the release was noisy to say the least. We had one alarm which caused some excitement but the windows and doors rattled at only one blast.

Soon we were in full blast again. I received no mail from Dec. 15 until Jan. 1. And have never seen a Globe-Post. I had some letters and one package yesterday and two letters from my wife today. I am so sorry about Clarence Roseberry—a great loss to LeMars. Also Bill Lynch.

The coldest weather we have had is zero. Believe this climate is similar to Iowa’s.

My work is unorganized as yet. I plan to work much with Army’s special service officer. I have my own jeep now furnished by Red Cross. So I can at least—get around—when the MPs tell you where to go. We move so often I never get oriented so I can find my own way around.

We get little news—were discussing the Rose Bowl and realize they would be playing January 2—our time.

Go give my regards to everyone in LeMars. Sometimes I think I would give a small fortune to see my worst friend, if I have one.

Gee, but LeMars looks great in retrospect. I sure hope to see them all soon. And I hope the Globe-Post catches up to me soon.

Source: LeMars Globe-Post, January 29, 1945