by Donald M. Jones
(Editor's note: The members of the 440th often enjoyed relationships with the people of the towns near the troop carrier airbases. These friendships were highly valued as cultures mixed the new friends found a diversion from the war that affected each in profound ways and made many special memories. Cafť Vert was contributed by the family of MSgt Donald M. Jones, 95th Squadron.)
Memories of war years fade from our minds, perhaps many of which we want to remember and others we wish to forget. For me there is a special memory that lingers in my mind of a Frenchman and his Engish wife.
One sunny day in Orleans Bill Kinches from communications and I borrowed bikes and pedaled along the paved area along the river. We saw many buildings which apparently had been a part of a prestige shopping area. We noticed one small shop which was called "Cafe Vert". Noting that the cafe was open, we decided to check it out. Upon entering, a middle aged lady attendant approached us. Realizing there was no menu we asked for coffee knowing it could not be much worse than the mess hall coffee.
We tried to tell the attendant what we wanted. She said, "Je ne comprends pas." We got our French language book out and kept saying, "Coffee." The attendant laughed at us and kept saying that she did not understand us. We thought we werenít welcome so we decided to leave.
As we started to the entrance the lady, at a table with her husband, who were the only people in the cafe, spoke in perfect English, "We do know what you were asking. When we saw you fellows approaching I said to the attendant - letís have some fun with these Yanks."
We were invited to their table to have our coffee. Our hosts were Lillie and Henri Dozias. We learned that Henri had been a chef in England and had married Lillie. Henri was now confined to a wheel chair. Because of a WWI disability the French government told him he had to return to his homeland if he wanted to collect his pension. The two settled in Orleans. During the conversation both asked about our lives in the U.S.A., about our families and what we did before the war.
Lillie had two sons who were in military service in England. She had received no information about them since the war began and this troubled her. She said since she had not seen her sons she was happy to see some other motherís sons.
As we were leaving Lillie asked us to meet them again at the cafe. I was impressed with this ordinary couple and wanted to see them again.
In subsequent visits I learned about their lives under German occupation. She being English was looked upon as an enemy and was sent to a prison camp in the mountains. Light air hindered her breathing so she was permitted to return to Orleans where she was watched constantly. This infuriated Henri. He showed his dislike for the Germans every way he could. This did not help Lillieís dealings with the Germans. The occupation years were cruel.
Eventually, Lillie invited us to their home. Since the fellow who went on the first visit could not go, I went alone. Their modest home was a small three room cottage, probably a former "care takers" home. After each visit, Lillie would walk a distance with me. It was then that she felt she could tell me about her problems.
I tried to visit with them occasionally. Lillie would talk about her sons. She told me how difficult life had been during the war and how they had struggled to survive. She was waiting for the day when she would see her family in England. She was planning to go back to England as soon as passage was available. It was then that I felt I was filling a void in her life. I was happy to know I could at least listen to her problems and bring joy to her life.
Subsequently, I was invited to their home for dinner. I wondered what the menu would be. It was fried green tomatoes and bread. the tomatoes were grown in two small plots outside their house.
Food was very scarce, however, the two didnít appear to be malnourished. When I would visit, I tried to pick up some food items at the PX. When my mother learned of my friends she started sending food packages which I took to two most grateful people. In one package mom had included a package of oatmeal and canned milk. This really made their day. In another package my aunt included a pair of ladies nylon hose. Lillie went ecstatic and said she would keep them to wear the day she was able to go home to England.
On one visit Lillie had good and bad news. Her eldest son had been able to pay her a visit and how happy she was to see him. She was saddened to learn that her younger son had lost his life in the war. She was more determined to go home.
Several weeks later Lillie told me her son had made arrangements for her to go home. That evening she told me that she would never return to Orleans and that she didnít want Henri to know she would never return. That was the last time I saw her.
I continued to see Henri, a poor old broken-hearted man. He now was resigned to the fact that Lillie would never return.
I continued to take food packages for Henri. It was a weepy departure when I told him our Air Force Unit was returning to the States.
Correspondence continued with Henri. I asked for Lillieís address. He never gave it to me, so I figure he either didnít know or didnít want me to have it.
When our daughter was born in 1950, Henri sent her two St. Christopher Medals which she cherishes today.
A letter mailed to Henri, sometime in 1951, was returned "deceased" and thus ends a relationship that I will remember of a French and English couple who had nothing to give but their friendship. I have recorded this story for my children and grandchildren and for anyone else who might be interested.
So! Henri and Lillie wherever you are I thank you for befriending this Yank and giving me a chance to do something good for two old people.