It is relatively late on Tuesday March 18th, 2014 and i am thinking of my Dad, who was born on this day in 1921.
I am thinking of his stories to me of growing up in a relatively rural area in the town of Ippling in Lorraine about 50 miles from Strasbourg, France.
He told me only a few stories before World War II came, but he told me of his family fermenting and then distilling plums and how an inspector would come with a special device to determine if it was the correct type of alcohol so it could be consumed. He told me (and i have a pilots license, in French of course) that he learned to fly at the age of 13.
He told me that he had begun to go to a technical school for engineering and that in school he learned French, German and English and that he loved math.
He told me that when war came, he became a spy for British Intelligence and that he was captured twice, but escaped each time.
The first time the Germans wanted to make a poster child of him, because of his looks.
He told me that he would not go back to France because neighbors had "ratted" him out and therefore threatened his family.
He told me he was held prisoner once with a Russian soldier and learned Russian from that man. His final escape was in the bed of a coal car and he just barely escapes.
The British wanted him to go back again, but he refused because he feared for his family. He made his way to Spain and there became disillusioned with the Catholic church because they were siding with Franco and the Nazis. He learned Spanish and stayed for 6 months with a family in the southern part of Spain where he became close with the families daughter.
He made his way to North Africa to join with Charles DeGaul and the Free French air force. He flew what they had, which was mostly Spads. He spoke of a favorite dish that they ate of raw liver mixed with red wine and onions.
These were the details, but he talked little of any fighting. I found a book about a pilot in the Free French Air Force "Wind, sea and sand" and gave it to him. It turned out that he knew the man, but he had "disappeared" after a mission, I have never seen the book again, anywhere, and he never spoke more of it. I know that he came to the United States to an Air Force base in South Carolina where he was taught how to fly more modern aircraft (I have some of the pamphlets from this) and when the war ended before his training was finished, he decided to stay in the United States.
He moved to Washington DC and worked with the French consulate because he knew a number of languages and picked them up easily.
He decided to become a citizen and was sponsored by a US senator.
He had to leave the country to apply and lived in Cuba for 6 months, where his knowledge of language saved several times. Once in a cantina, the table next to him of several men were talking how they would rob him when he left the cantina - they were unaware that he spoke Spanish and he did not let it be know until he was ready to leave. He walked over to the table and drew his service revolver and spoke to them in fluent Spanish that if they left there table and tried to hurt him, he would kill them.
He returned to Washington DC after 6 months with no serious problems and began working in a Jewelry store. I have some of his work still.
He married an Argentinean woman, but before a year was out, she left and went back to her country. Shortly after that he met my mom, who was working as a nurse in Washington DC. As she tells the story, she needed to have a watch repaired and saw him and then began going there daily. They married and then decided to move to Houston.My dad did not like to talk about the war much, it affected him greatly and there was not a lot of detail, but it was wonderful to hear any part of it.