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Archive for September, 2011

With all the exciting news going on in WWII at this point in time, my Dad’s life was consumed with winning a ping pong tournament! I can’t imagine a more bizarre contrast! I just googled May 1, 1945 and discovered a fascinating link http://mysteryhistory.tv/may-1-1945-germany-announces-hitler-is-dead/ which explores the announcement of Hitler’s death, and many theories about his escape to Argentina. It also includes a fascinating video clip detailing various theories on Hitler’s disappearance. Meanwhile, Dad and his buddies are obsessed with sports!

3 May 1945 V-Mail
Germany

Hello, Honey, Still no mail and still cold, but otherwise we’re doing all right. We are in the midst of a ping-pong tourney. We are now down to the semi-finals and the finals which will be settled tonight.There are five guys left, so it means that the guy who finally wins tonight must play three games (and being the cocky guy I am, I expect to be a bit bushed at the end!) I start off playing my pal Spalding in the 1st game. My toughest opponent came the very first one on the list. The special service officer (Lt. Roe) and I are conceded to be about the best in the outfit and we were drawn right off the bat. I beat him the first game, he won the 2nd and I won the 3rd dripping wet!! They were all 3 very tough games, both of us playing ultra-cautiously and driving only occasionally. Result was long volleys all over the table. Lots of fun but very sweat provoking. We will be having a horseshoe tourney any day now, but haven’t played much yet, so don’t know who is any good.

Our work has slacked off quite a bit and is now pretty routine. We do very little after supper anymore, and in addition to our Wed. afternoon of athletics, we each have a different morning off to sleep! The war MUST be damn near over! Personally, I’m pretty skeptical about Hitler’s reported death. Looks to me like a fine way to sneak away somewhere and be forgotten. Strangely, if they were to announce 5 minutes from now, that hostilities had ended – I would not think much about it. Except that it would mean one step closer to you, my darling – Pappy


4 May 1945 V-Mail
Germany

Hello, Cutie –Finally got a letter from you yesterday. April 10, and I got a big bang out of Karen’s “breaking the bathroom”. Golly, but she must be cute, and so honest! Or does Mercedes put her up to telling you the minute you come home? Anyway, pretty cute. I have just finished winning 4 out of 6 (seven, if necessary) games of ping-pong, to become the 79th Gp champion!! They were very tough games, as this kid has a terrific backhand — so I kept the ball to his forehand most of the time and came out all right. I understand I’m supposed to get a prize of some kind from Spec. Svc, but don’t know what it is yet. It is still cold, and raining off and on, and I go on guard again tonight from 9 until 1 AM, so I hope it clears off a bit. Did I tell you that we have a badminton set now? Yup, only two rackets, so far, but we’ll probably get more later. I’ve only played a couple of times, but it looks as tho the Col and the Spe Svc officers are going to be pretty tough. They’re really working on the athletic and recreation program now, and from what the boys tell me of the Col’s speech to the Bn officers, we have a guy up there who is really going to bat to see to it that we are kept busy with the kind of stuff we want while we’re waiting around to see what’s going to happen. They don’t want the men to go hog wild (like they did after the last war) when this is over, so they have a very elaborate program lined up to take care of us. Sounds fine to me, but personally, I’d rather just get on a boat and beat it right home to you, my darling — Rol

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Dad seems to be coming to the end of his rope. The only thing that he has enthusiasm for is volleyball and ping pong! Not what you usually think of soldiers doing during war duty! But he does make some interesting comments about the rumors of Hitler’s death. Tomorrow, I’ll begin posting his letters from May 1945 – count down to victory!

28 April 1945 V-Mail
Germany

Hello, Sweetie, Doggone, this mail situation is really acute!! No mail again today. It is cold and rainy again (NATurally, because I have guard tonight!) We have been having a hell of a lot of fun playing  volley ball and ping pong lately. Most, when my buddies Spaulding and Trombly are on the other side from me, because then we can really let go with the razzing dept. Spalding is also blessed with a big nose, and he comes out with such stuff “I’ll bet Floyd Collins isn’t lost in the Mammoth Caves at all, but is wandering around somewhere in Nei’s nose!” To which I come back with something like “A German farmer came in today who had lost all of his cultivating equipment and he wanted to turn Spalding upside down to plow with” Kind of forced, but it all gets laughs. Lt Col Bettman (who is really a GI at heart – a wonderful guy) has become my partner in the ping pong games, was overheard to remark to one of the other officers leaving the volleyball court the other night “Did you ever see so many wacks in one outfit before?”

We also have a Jewish boy from the Bronx (Kipperman —I’ll be sending you some pictures soon so you can see what they all look like) who does a terrific Irish brogue whom we call Pat O’Kipperman. All corny stuff, but with the right delivery it lays ’em in the aisles!!

Golly, but I’d cer’ny like to get a letter,,,,, did you ever stop to think how much I love you? and miss you? Well, give it some thought but you’ll never really know. All my love Pappy

30 April 1945 V-Mail
Germany

Hello, Sweetie, I finally got a letter last night!! A letter of April 9. Must be a lot of them still kicking around somewhere. You speak of Mickey’s probable arrival, and I still haven’t heard what the deal is yet. Hope that you were able to get together with your Dad in Chi.

My gosh, but it has been cold here lately! Last night we even had a wet snow! (Melted as it hit, of course, but still snow. Yes, we too hear all kinds of rumors (but nothing official, dammit) about Hitler being dead, in Berlin, dying in Norway, shot by Himmler, dying of syphilis — make up your own!! But, anyway, it shouldn’t be too long now. Sure would like to find out what is going to happen to us, though.

That garden of ours sounds like a pretty incredible place. The way I feel now, I (like Bar) would prefer just to loll around on the grass and watch you do all the work! I simply have no enthusiasm for anything except our volley ball and ping pong games. There is plenty of stuff around to drink, but I doubt if I’ve had a dozen drinks in the past two months (including Nice). Drink lots of beer, or course, but the darn stuff is little more than water (which I practically never touch because it’s so full of chlorine & junk that it smells and tastes like ditch-water) Oh, me. Here I am again — sitting here with a far way look on my puss — wondering what the hell to say .. Weel, baby, there is simply nothing more, except an attempt to tell you how much I love — you… Pappy

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Funny, my Dad always was very competitive in all aspects of life, but sports was his passion. This is the latest in a string of letters where he’s bragging about his team’s accomplishments in their volley ball games with the higher brass! Not much news about the war – but he is suggesting that Mary’s seriousness about her job at Reader’s Digest may have a negative future impact on her ability to be a mother to their family – and what if he gets a big break like a job in Hollywood!? (never happened) Also interesting in the second letter that he has sent her a box of guns, including German bayonettes!

20 April 1945 V-Mail
Germany

Good evening, honey — Have just finished several very swell games of volley ball, with mixed officers and EM. We are getting quite good, and getting back shots (and hitting shots) that would have seemed impossible a couple of weeks ago. Our Executive officer (Col. Bettman) is a hell of a swell old joe, and he gets out there and sweats like the rest of us, and you should have heard him singing at a bit of a party we had in our Rats cellar last night! (Officers were invited, if accompanied by a responsible EM!) We really have a swell set up with this outfit, and I was damned lucky to be picked.

You mention the fact, in one of your letters, that you are getting pretty serious about the Digest. It is quite difficult to discuss the whole business via mail (especially since it takes about six weeks to get an answer, which is maybe explained in a ltr you get the next day) so I would rather wait until I get home. However, a few big problems pop into my head. What about your writing? And how about additions to the family? And (it is barely possible) suppose I should get a very good break in Hollywood? The trouble with ltrs is; you never know if what you are reading between the lines is really there or not! I wrote you a ltr about Xmas time from Camp Crowder (Mo.) concerning you and Karen and Mercedes. I still feel the same way. I think it is swell for you to work at such a grand place as the Digest, but I also want you to be a complete mother for our kids. Ltrs are lousy for serious talk. All my love — Rollin

4 April 1945 V-Mail
Germany

Good evening, Honey, I’m getting off a box to you tomorrow that you had better put on your old clothes and take down into the basement to open!! Two shotguns and six Jerry bayonets. There is one 16 gauge (is that the right way to spell that?) and one 12 gauge gun, in case we ever decide to take up duck or pheasant hunting. Maybe someone will like to have a bayonet for a souvenir (anyway they were good for filling up the box) They are very heavily covered with oil, so maybe you could get Corny to come up and unpack them and put the guns together. And (this is silly) I would have sent them direct to the house, but I DON’T KNOW THE ADDRESS!! Big stupid us! Did you ever write it to me? I don’t ever remember of seeing it.

After having perfect weather for several weeks, it has turned cold on us the past few days and we’ve had considerable rain. I was on guard last night from 3 AM to 7 and it was pretty rugged. With all of this fast moving, our mail has been snafued again and it hasn’t been coming in worth a darn. I did get one of the boxes of dried fruit from Mom, however.

We got in a ping pong table today. Haven’t had time to see how the competition is going to be, but we can have a lot of fun, anyway. We have just had several games of volley ball with the officers, and for the first time, tonight they trounced us, but we only had two of our regular guys and the fill ins were pretty sad. But it was good exercise, anyway.

Isn’t a darn bit of news, sweetheart, except what the boys upfront & the Russe are making. Me, I’d prefer to make love to you —Pappy

25 April 1945 V-Mail
Germany

Good evening, my darling, this has been a very pleasant day. Beautiful sunshine and warm all day. This morning we all went outside and had our pictures taken by the Chaplain. So now I’ll have pictures of the whole group, which will be very nice to have. Then the colonel has started a new plan of letting everybody (except one man per section) off on Wed. afternoon from one to three, and from three to five we have games etc!!! Pretty darn nice. My two buddies (Spalding and Trombly) and I went out for rations and it was fine drive — and we have a hell of a lot of laughs together. We got back in time for several volley-ball games with the officers (and had our “first” team, soNATurally, we won! Our mail situation is really shot to hell. Had a letter each from Marge Grimes and Ellen yesterday, but none from you in  about a week now. No good. Well, darn it, the news keeps on being steadily good—but not sensation enough! I’m getting terribly impatient to know whether I’m going to go home, or what…

I can’t be too grateful for the set up we in the Group have. Good food, housing, recreation and people to work with. My gosh, but this is a stupid letter, ain’t it now? But there just isn’t anything that seems worth writing about. I’m getting pretty fed up with war.

Give ol’ Karen a tremendous kiss from daddy, and here is a huge, long one for you, my very darling  you-know-who
Pappy

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Dad’s unit has moved again and his descriptions of totally bombed out cities that used to exist are illustrative. He mentions Essen, Gladbach and Munster as being completely destroyed. And then, the cushy digs where they now reside – a former German officer’s club! I’m including a historical account of what occurred in the Ruhr region of Germany (Essen) at the end of the post.

18 April 1945 V-Mail to Mary
Germany

Good evening, honey, Received your Apr 4 quickie today and am wondering what the Chicago trip you mention is all about — evidently am missing a letter in here. My golly, but we have a swell set-up here. A Jerry officers club of some kind, I guess, and it’s a beautiful place! We have a big old-fashioned tap room down in the basement (for EM’s only – our dentist, who is a hell of a swell guy, is bemoaning the fact that officers are not allowed) and yesterday the colonel said for someone to go out and get some beer (and when the col. says something, it is done — and quickly) so some of the boys went out and came back with about 20 barrels of beer, or about 450 gallons for about 50 men. I think it should last us a few days, ANYway!  We have a huge green lawn (surrounded by shrubs, and with walks and little nooks with tables and chairs (and a tennis court in back which we have turned into a volley-ball court, where we have some fine games with the officers (who still haven’t won a game — heh heh heh). Did I tell you that we now have three crazy Russian gals for our KP’s? One of them is the original gravel-throat Girtie — what a voice! Don’t speak a word of English, of course, so we have a lot of fun. I’m on guard tonight, so must go up and try to catch a bit of sleep before I go on again from one till three. did I tell you that I had visited Essen and Gladbach? Criminy, what pounding those cities took!! Nothing but rubble, wherever you look. Me, I’d rather look at you and Miss K, whom I miss & love,
Pappy

19 April 1945 V-Mail to Frank Neibauer
Germany

Dear Dad, Well, here I am back in Germany again, only a lot farther than when I left. Golly, but there is some beautiful country through here and there were some beautiful cities — but no more!! Have gone through a few, such as Essen, Gladbach and Munster, and man oh man, if the German people never knew what war was before, they do now! It is strange, how you ride along in the country, fruit trees in bloom, farmers plowing (with oxen or old beat up horses) over rich, black soil, kids playing — you’d never know there was such a thing as war!! And then you come to a city and a whole house is a rare thing to see! It is not hard to see how these people over here lived — just ride along the street and you can look in at the whole place, with the side cut away neatly by a bomb or a shell. People with houses like that are the lucky ones — most of the houses are just dust that our trucks kick up to get in your eyes. We are now set up in a wonderful spot — a huge building that was evidently some kind of a German officers club. At least , it is built along the lines of that sort of place with a big ball room, which we use for a mess hall, a room in the cellar all decorated with cartoons and set up for a bar ( and which we use for a bar, after finding about 25 thirty gallon barrels of beer!!) and a tennis court out in the back, which we have made into a volley ball court (and the officers still haven’t won a game, but we have a lot of fun playing). It  may sound as though we are having a pretty soft time of it, and we are compared to some, but we still work about 14 hours a day. Love to all Rollin

Battle of the Ruhr

The “Ruhr Pocket” from the link: http://www.historisches-centrum.de/index.php?id=427

End of war in Rhineland and Westphalia in April 1945


Battle of the Ruhr
Part 2
Part 3
Ruhr Pocket
Part 1

The Rhine crossing


In St. Goar American troops set over the Rhine in a landing boat, 24.3.1945 (National Archives, College Park)

On 7 March 1945 troops of the First US Army captured the Ludendorff bridge at Remagen nearly undamaged. The immediate crossing of the Rhine and the establishment of a bridgehead at Remagen created the starting position for the US Army’s following operations against the German hinterland. The conquest of the “armory of the German Reich”, as the Ruhr area was called both on the German and the Allied side, thus came within reach.

In connection with the allied airborne and ground operations “Plunder” and “Varsity”, British-Canadian and American troops then crossed the Rhine on a broad front in the Wesel-Dinslaken area between 23 and 25 March 1945. After the Rhine crossing the British troops marched toward Elbe and Northern Germany. The Ninth US Army penetrated at the northern part of the Ruhr district. At the same time the First US Army advanced from the south out of the Remagen bridgehead over the Sieger – and Sauerland regions in the direction of the Ruhr area.

Training of “Volkssturm” members in Lüdenscheid, November 1944 (W. Nies, StadtA Lippstadt)

According to the Allied planning decided upon by General Eisenhower on 25 March 1945, the Ruhr area was to be enveloped in a pincers movement and the units of the German Wehrmacht remaining there were to be encircled. The Americans at first counted on heavy street fighting in the ruins of the Ruhr’s cities.

The defense efforts of the German military, however, turned out to be in vain. Beside regular troops numerous units of the “Volkssturm” und “Freikorps Sauerland” were present. It consisted of provisional trained men and young people. The “final victory” – slogans of leading National Socialists turned out to be hollow phrases in the last weeks of the war, more than ever before.

“Death Zone” of the Ruhr



Allied leatfleat WG 47, dropped on the Ruhr district in March 1945

Between 20 and 28 March 1945 there occurred for the last time especially heavy air attacks on northern Germany as well as on the Ruhr area and its surroundings. In leaflets the Allied high command warned the population against staying in the rubble of destroyed big cities that the Allied leatfleats called the “Death Zone of the Ruhr”.

German anti-aircraft guns and fighter planes the Allied bomber units hardly needed to fear in the last weeks of the war. The heavy four engine bombers flew in as if on parade and dropped their bomb carpets with a hitherto barely imaginable precision.

The military value of these attacks was doubtful at this time, however, actually equal to zero. This is clearly shown by the example of the old bishop city of Paderborn, the medieval old town of which had until then made it through the war relatively undamaged.

A heavy British area bombing on 27 March 1945 turned the medieval inner city into ashes and rubble. More than 330 inhabitants lost their lives in this last area bombing of a target in the Ruhr region. The actual target had been the railway installations, but at this time the railway traffic in this region was already completely paralyzed.

Collapse of the defense in the Ruhr



The war is over! A German soldier smashes its rifle, Mislpe near Hagen, 16 April 1945 (National Archives, College Park)

On 1. April 1945 the Ruhr area was encircled by American troops at Lippstadt. In the North of this region British-Canadian troops and in the south American units penetrated further into the hinterland. Inside the “Ruhr pocket” about 320.000 German soldiers of Army Group B as well as 4 million civilians had been encircled.

While the main battle events of the “Western Front” gradually became transferred to northern and central Germany (“… on the way to Berlin”), American troops compressed the Ruhr pocket to a few kilometers. On 12. April 1945 there finally began an operation for the splitting of the combat area.

From the south, coming out of the Sieger- and Sauerland regions, strong forces of the US Army split the Ruhr pocket into two parts in the Hagen-Witten area. The smaller easterly part in the area of Iserlohn had to capitulate on 15 April 1945. In Hagen and Limburg the fights lasted until 17 April 1945.


Surrender of the 1 Kompanie Panzerjäger-Abteilung 512 mit “Jagdtiger” in Iserlohn at the 15.4.1945 (StadtA Iserlohn; National Archives, College Park)


The partial pocket in the area of Düsseldorf only stopped fighting on 21 April 1945 because General Field Marshal Model had until the last (his suicide) stuck to Hitler’s orders. In the face of obvious defeat, he thus still sacrificed numerous German soldiers and civilians to the mad orders to hold out issued by his “Führer” and to his own “officer’s honor”.

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Dad’s back to work after his furlough and it sounds like a rough transition. How couldn’t it be? He mentions purchasing a carved picture and sending it to her and this is so exciting to me, as I grew up with these carved wooden pictures and thought my Dad had gotten them in the war, but wasn’t sure of their history. Now I know! I’ve scanned one and am sharing it here.

The second letter is really interesting, as he recounts seeing many German prisoners packed together in box cars and the backs of trucks, and many French and Belgian prisoners that have been released from Germany on their way home. The war is indeed winding down!

13 April 1945 V-Mail
Germany (typed)

Hello, My darling, Well, here I am back in the old stamping ground again. Arrived yesterday afternoon, after a long and dirty trip. Very tired, but worked until 11:00 last night straightening things around. Haven’t had time to get my personal stuff arranged (or even read any but yours of the stack of about 20 letters waiting for me) and the way it looks it may be some time before I do. But it was wonderful to get all of those from you!! Ltrs all the way from Dec 6 to Apr 1st!! Ain’t that crazy? Just to get off a few things that I remember of immediate note, Mom’s birthday is May 2nd! Means that you will be late, but I was thinking that maybe it would be nice to send your and my mas some perfume for Mother’s Day (and birthday, in case of my Mom). What do you think? It may be a little difficult to pick you up some more of the Dutch coins, but I’ll try. Golly, darling, the garden sounds really super. Isn’t it great that Mercedes and you get a kick out of that sort of thing? The picture of you on the porch also arrived, and as you say it is not too good, but you still look good to me even if you are an old hag!! You will be receiving another package from the Riv. I had eleven hudred franc left, so went down to get another one of those carved pictures, but they were closed, so Madeline (M’elle Madeleine Savary) is going to buy it and send it on to you. I think they’re darn nice, and are spots that I’ve seen, making them the more attractive. And now I gotta read my other letters, and write Mom a happy birthday letter. I love ya’ don’t I? Pappy


14 April 1945 V-Mail
Germany

Hello, cutie, It ‘pears as how I’m going to be busier than ever for a few days, so I figure that I’d better get in another letter while I can. Just got around to reading all of the other letters I had when I got back and have sent Mom a birthday greeting and told her to expect a present from you in due time. In case you didn’t get the other letter, I think it would be nice if you send a bottle each of the perfume from Nice to your mother and mine for Mothers day, or birthday or whatever you want to call it.

My gosh, but we saw a mess of Jerry PWs loaded on the old 40 & 8 French RR cars!! Trainload after trainload of them. And up here we passed truck after truck with them packed on the back. Also released Fr. and Belg. who were on their way home after 5 years in Germany! They all waved and cheered us as they went past. As in France, some towns are complete rubble, and others (such as the one we are now in) haven’t even been touched. The people go about their business and look no different than those in Holland or Belg, except maybe a little better. At least, the women look better. but don’t compare, of course, with those M’ellse in Nice!! Iee-yi-yi!!! I haven’t got around to telling you yet, my darling, but as everywhere else, I haven’t changed a particle since the moment I left you at Bill and Ellens (none of the guys here can understand how I had such a wonderful time without ever having been drunk or slept with any one the whole trip!) But I know, and you know! I love you, baby. Think nothing of it if letters aren’t too frequent. I’m BUSY!! all my love —Pappy

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By a stroke of good luck, no train showed up and Dad got an extra day of furlough! He had such a great time dancing and meeting girls in the south, it’s going to be tough going back to duty in the 79th! I’m including another photo packet called “La Cote d’Azur”. Some great pictures of the sites around Cannes, Grasse, Nice, Monaco, and Monte Carlo. I wonder how they compare to those areas today?

The second letter is obviously dated incorrectly, but I have to include it here as it clearly says “9 April 1945”. I’m guessing it must be August as it sounds like the war is over and they’re waiting to be discharged.
9 April 1945 V-Mail
France

Hello, Sweetheart – Ha, are we ever the lucky ones! We were supposed to leave last night, but there was no train, so we have an extra day! I was most fortunate, too, to get acquainted with a Mrs. Thomas, working for Spec. Svc. here. Born in US, now married to a Brit. Friday night she invited me to her birthday party – a dinner in her Mama’s apt. Very good time! Met a couple of awfully nice French girls engaged to GI’s in 7th Army, when they were here. So Sat night I took both of them to one of the hotel dances. Lots of fun. Then last night (Sun) they invited me to their apt for dinner (with still another girl!) So I took all 3 of them dancing!! Oh, me, what a time. By the time I walked them home, & then clear back here, I was crawling. This morning I mailed you box no 2 from here. Full of perfume, & a picture I think you’ll like (not me). Try to get a couple more pics to mail you this afternoon. Saw De Gualle this morning. Probably be a few days till I write next, honey. It’s going to be a long ride back to the 79th – I hope!! But I’ll be loving you & thinking of you all the time, Rol

9 April 1945 V-Mail
Germany (typed)

Good evening, sweetie. It has been a really swell day. Were supposed to be off this morning, but somebody had to be here to receive the stuff, and send the rest off to army, so being the ranking man (harrumph) I naturally took over (besides there weren’t many of us able to get up this morning). This afternoon was our regular day for sports, so we went down to a ball diamond and had our first game of soft-ball. We were pretty ragged, but had a lot of fun. I played third base and didn’t fumble around too much, and got on base three out of four times at bat so felt all right. The large doses f strenuous exercise the past few days has started to catch up to me however, and tonight after supper I was very happy to sit out in our flower garden with a few of the boys and just drink beer – what a life!!! It’s so damn peaceful and pleasant something is bound to happen, life in the army just ain’t like this! When they start treating us so damn nice it makes me think of the wonderful meals that we got at Camp Miles Standish – and then the slop we got on the boat for the next two weeks! We’re really sweating out this damn discharge plan now.

Doggone, I could cer’ney use some mail honey. Isn’t coming through worth a darn. Got a VMail from Freddie D today and that’s all. Golly darling, but I miss you and Karen. I think that it is worse now that it is all over than it was before. Nearer, but yet so far — and always the possibility of the CBI staring you in the face … Well, goodnight my love, give my best to Mer & Dol … and huge hugs and kisses for you & K, Pappy

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Another fabulous excursion to Grasse! LOVE this “Welcome to the Riviera” brochure the Army gave Dad. I’ve scanned in most of it and will share it at the end of today’s post.


5 April 1945 V-Mail
France

Hello, honey – what a perfectly swell day! Bright sun (I have the beginning of a tan) and up at 8 AM for 2 sunny side up eggs, and down to the Red Cross to catch the “bus” (an ordinary 2 1/2 ton GI truck) for “Le Tour de Grasse”. Grasse is back from the Coast, up in the mts, & it was a beautiful trip there. We had a fine lunch in a big hotel with view clear down to the Sea, then went up a bit higher to a garden where, among others, Napoleons sister, and Queen Victoria spent a lot of time (at different times – yes). Then for a visit at a perfume factory (bit of graft there, I suspect) where we were “allowed” to purchase. I didn’t go for much except some “solid” perfume in 5 small wooden dice, which I will send on to you (200 F for the 5). Then down to Cannes, and back along the coast road through Antibes, Juan de Pins, etc to Nice at 1630. A swell excursion – Peacetime $28.00, me, for free! What a time we could have here on bicycles with Karen in a cart behind mine! I love you guys!!!
Pappy

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