Mireille's Reunion, June 2004
Mireille a war bride from Belgium, now living in USA.
I have just came back from Belgium, after a reunion with my family I still have three sisters in Belgium and many nieces and nephews. I had a wonderful time, visiting the place where I used to play as a child. My most touching experience was a visit to an American cemetery near Bastogne. We got there at 5pm as they were closing, but they let us in, we were all alone in that unbelievable place, what a powerful impression it made on all of us, the silence and those crosses, white, pristine on velvety grass. It was more inspiring than a great cathedral. I was told that 72,000 American soldiers died in the Battle of the Bulge. I still feel strange when I think about it.
I was 16 years old when the Germans invaded Belgium. Like most of the young people in Belgium we started right away to do anything we could to make life miserable for them. We used our meager ration of sugar to mess up German equipment by putting it in their gas tanks. We would listen to the BBC (it was against the law) printed newspaper and passed them along to our family and friends. Life was very hard, the German requisitioned every thing we had that was of value. My Mother was very wise, having lived during War World I, she would make trips in the country trying to glean some much needed food. She would do such things as grounding egg shells and mixing it with food to provide us with extra calcium. Making coats out of blankets etc.
I worked for the underground along with a lot of my friends for 2 years. Until things became very dangerous and decided to try to rejoin the Belgium army in England. In order to do that I had to escape to France, cross Spain, go to Portugal and from there was a way of getting to England. With the help of my friends I left home one morning and kept on going. I did make it to the Spanish border and then found out the Spaniards arrested people going over the Pyrenees and sold them to the Germans. That was the end of my great plan, and I stayed in France working for the marquis until liberated by the Americans in Normandy. I worked for them until Brussels was liberated, I returned home to my family. Worked for my then future husband, Allen.
Allen and I fell very much in love, my parents like him, he was kind, gentle and I think very handsome. We decided to get married in March, in Brussels, we asked our commanding officers for a leave of absence in plenty of time. Well March came and I got mine, but Allen did not get his. It turned out his Captain was an unhappy married man - to put it in his words, he described it as "getting hitched".
I worked at USFET HQ and managed to get Allen a leave. We were so sure it was going to be easy, but when we got in Brussels we found that the church would not marry us without the publiction of the banns, it took 6 weeks! So we went to the Town Hall, same story, except if we could prove that Allen was on the verge to be sent back to the States. But luck, we knew of an Officer in Antwerp that would certify that he was ready to go back to America. We had a simple wedding, both of us in khaki, with just my family, we had a catered dinner at my house, then my aunt and uncle who lived in Charleroi gave us the key to their house and we got to spend a two day honeymoon before going back to Germany.
Allen and I left Charleroi after 2 days, it was time to get back to Germany. It is so funny I knew getting married would mean I would leave Belgium and my family for some far away place, but I was not thinking about it. We went back to our regular job, since I was treated as an Officer it was easy for me to go and visit Allen. I was always very welcome by his friends because in my position I was allotted a good supply of beverages every month.
Allen was sent back to the USA in April. I received my travel orders in May, I would be able to return to Brussels and say my goodbyes, it was hard for my parents to see me go, I still remember seeing all of them standing on the platform at the train station, they cried and I cried and we promised we would see each other soon. From Brussels I went to Paris according to my travel orders. I had a chance to visit with some cousins who live there. From Paris it was on to Camp Phillip Morris in Normandy. We boarded on 19 May. Fifty percent of the war brides were sick before we started the voyage. I became the in between for about half of the passengers, some of them had babies. While we had nurses on the ship they would not ask for help, so we had to watch and see about their needs.
For some reason I always find myself being volunteered. I took care of the Catholic services because we did not have a priest on board. I produced a talent show, we had some talented people, musician, dancers, singers and it really helped us pass the time. It was a troop ship so the cabins only served to sleep. We arrived in New York on the 25th and seeing the Statue of Liberty for the first time was a sight to behold, some of those poor girls fell on their knees, the rest of us cried!
We finally made it to New York! I guess it was butterfly time, trying to imagine what was coming next. We had our papers checked, medical exam, they exchanged our army scrip our other foreign currency into dollars. We were tagged like small children with our name and destination, I assumed it was necessary for those gals who did not speak English! We were escorted to the train station, destination Chicago first. From Chicago to Lacrosse, Wisconsin, about 25 miles from Houston, our home. The Red Cross was in charge of the arrangements. Well they did not do so well, instead of having my husband meet me in La Crosse they had me take a train that had not served passengers for 10 years and sent me to a town 25 miles the other way! I had a sinking feeling that I had landed in the old west, you know with the indians and cowboys!
My husband was waiting for me with a member of his family, we stayed with his sister for a month. Because of the big influx of military men coming back housing was very hard to find. Houston was a small town, about 1000 habitants. What a change from Brussels, but I had made up my mind that it had been my choice and I would make it work.
We found a tiny cottage and we loved being on our own. People would stop by, some very welcoming, some curious, some ignorant i.e. did you wear wooden shoes, was Belgium an allie of the Germans? I missed but found friends, some members of Allens's family were not too happy about him marrying a girl from THERE.
Allen was not able to find work right away and we lived on a small pension from the army. I became pregnant in July and was very sick the whole time. The weather here can get very hot in summer and very cold in winter. It was a big adjustment. We then found an apartment. I became involved in Girl Scouts, joined a church, raised our son. Houston was a good place to raise children. We were later blessed with a daughter and one year after that another little boy.
The town got used to me and me to the town. I still miss Brussels once in a while.
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