Liberating the City of Light: Dispatch from an American Journalist

The first American soldiers entered the recently liberated city of Paris 75 years ago on August 25, 1944. They were accompanied by the renowned war correspondent Ernie Pyle.

Ernest Taylor Pyle was 44 when he set foot in liberated Paris, almost twice the age of the soldiers he was with. Originally from Dana, Indiana, he was bald and weighed less than 110 lbs., but was a hero in the United States. Since 1940 he had reported on the horrors of war, London during the bombings, the fight for North Africa, and the Allied landings in Sicily and Normandy, painting a picture of soldiers’ daily lives with humor and empathy.

He wrote some 40 articles from the frontlines and received the prestigious Pulitzer Prize before he was killed in April 1945 during the Battle of Okinawa in the Pacific. With the kind permission of the Scripps Howard Foundation and Indiana University, who hold Ernie Pyle’s archives, we are republishing his article on the Liberation of Paris.


Ernie Pyle in Normandy, July 1944. © Bert Brandt/Acme Newspictures/AP

Liberating the City of Light

PARIS, August 28, 1944 — I had thought that for me there could never again be any elation in war. But I had reckoned without the liberation of Paris — I had reckoned without remembering that I might be a part of this richly historic day.

We are in Paris — on the first day — one of the great days of all time. This is being written, as other correspondents are writing their pieces, under an emotional tension, a pent-up semi-delirium.

Our approach to Paris was hectic. We had waited for three days in a nearby town while hourly our reports on what was going on in Paris changed and contradicted themselves. Of a morning it would look as though we were about to break through the German ring around Paris and come to the aid of the brave French Forces of the Interior who were holding parts of the city. By afternoon it would seem the enemy had reinforced until another Stalingrad was developing. We could not bear to think of the destruction of Paris, and yet at times it seemed desperately inevitable.

That was the situation this morning when we left Rambouillet and decided to feel our way timidly toward the very outskirts of Paris. And then, when we were within about eight miles, rumors began to circulate that the French 2nd Armored Division was in the city. We argued for half an hour at a crossroads with a French captain who was holding us up, and finally he freed us and waved us on.

For fifteen minutes we drove through a flat gardenlike country under a magnificent bright sun and amidst greenery, with distant banks of smoke pillaring the horizon ahead and to our left. And then we came gradually into the suburbs, and soon into Paris itself and a pandemonium of surely the greatest mass joy that has ever happened.

The streets were lined as by Fourth of July parade crowds at home, only this crowd was almost hysterical. The streets of Paris are very wide, and they were packed on each side. The women were all brightly dressed in white or red blouses and colorful peasant skirts, with flowers in their hair and big flashy earrings. Everybody was throwing flowers, and even serpentine.

As our jeep eased through the crowds, thousands of people crowded up, leaving only a narrow corridor, and frantic men, women and children grabbed us and kissed us and shook our hands and beat on our shoulders and slapped our backs and shouted their joy as we passed.

I was in a jeep with Henry Gorrell of the United Press, Capt. Carl Pergler of Washington, D.C., and Corp. Alexander Belon of Amherst, Massachusetts. We all got kissed until we were literally red in face, and I must say we enjoyed it.

Once when the jeep was simply swamped in human traffic and had to stop, we were swarmed over and hugged and kissed and torn at. Everybody, even beautiful girls, insisted on kissing you on both cheeks. Somehow I got started kissing babies that were held up by their parents, and for a while I looked like a baby-kissing politician going down the street. The fact that I hadn’t shaved for days, and was gray-bearded as well as bald-headed, made no difference. Once when we came to a stop, some Frenchman told us there were still snipers shooting, so we put our steel helmets back on.

The people certainly looked well fed and well dressed. The streets were lined with green trees and modern buildings. All the stores were closed in holiday. Bicycles were so thick I have an idea there have been plenty of accidents today, with tanks and jeeps overrunning the populace.

We entered Paris via Rue Aristide Briand and Rue d’Orléans. We were slightly apprehensive, but decided it was all right to keep going as long as there were crowds. But finally we were stymied by the people in the streets, and then above the din we heard some not-too-distant explosions — the Germans trying to destroy bridges across the Seine. And then the rattling of machine guns up the street, and that old battlefield whine of high-velocity shells just overhead. Some of us veterans ducked, but the Parisians just laughed and continued to carry on.

There came running over to our jeep a tall, thin, happy woman in a light brown dress, who spoke perfect American. She was Mrs. Helen Cardon, who lived in Paris for twenty-one years and has not been home to America since 1935. Her husband is an officer in French Army headquarters and home now after two and a half years as a German prisoner. He was with her, in civilian clothes.

Mrs. Cardon has a sister, Mrs. George Swikart, of New York, and I can say here to her relatives in America that she is well and happy. Incidentally, her two children, Edgar and Peter, are the only two American children, she says, who have been in Paris throughout the entire war.

We entered Paris from due south and the Germans were still battling in the heart of the city along the Seine when we arrived, but they were doomed. There was a full French armored division in the city, plus American troops entering constantly.

The farthest we got in our first hour in Paris was near the Senate building, where some Germans were holed up and firing desperately. So we took a hotel room nearby and decided to write while the others fought. By the time you read this I’m sure Paris will once again be free for Frenchmen, and I’ll be out all over town getting my bald head kissed. Of all the days of national joy I’ve ever witnessed this is the biggest.

  • Un jour inoubliable pour nous Francais sous l’occupation Allemande depuis 4 ans. Mon vilage dans le sud de la France pres de la frontiere espagnole etait occupe par une douzaine de soldats allemands. Paris libere par la 2e DB commandee par le general Leclerc a qui s’etait rendu le general allemand Von Choltitz commandant la garnison de Paris, un de ses colonels Pierre Minjonnet etant de mon Pays Basque se retira dans son village et maire du vilage nous maria en 1960. Merci les Americains et les Russes pour avoir libere la France et le reste de l’Europe de la barbarie nazie. Mon oncle, frere de ma mere, soldat du general Clark entra en territoire francais d’Italie pour rejoindre l’armee d’Eisenhower.

  • Ancienne Parisienne, j’ai vécu la guerre à Paris avec ma famille et je n’oublierai jamais la libération de Paris. Très émouvant de lire l’article de ce grand journaliste américain !

  • My uncle marched into Paris on this day, too. He remarked how the people were giving bottles of wine and they would just pass it on to the next soldier.

  • Je suis nee a Paris et j’y ai vecu jusqu’en 1968, quand je suis venue vivre aux Etats-Unis. J’avais huit ans a la liberation de Paris. Mes souvenirs du temps passe en France pendant la guerre sont un peu lointains et pas tres clairs, mais celui que j’ai garde le plus, c’est celui ou mon petit frere qui avait trois ans et moi avons vu les chars americains. Il y en avait un arrete tout pres de notre appartement. Nous sommes descendus tres vite sur la place et nous avons participe a la joie de voir nos sauveurs. Pour le reste de ma vie je n’oublierai jamais ce que les courageux soldats americains ont fait pour mon pays d’origine. Mon coeur est plein de gratitude pour eux.

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