Minnesota's Greatest Generation

Betty M. Olson: V-E Day in Paris

When Germany surrendered on May 8, 1945, Betty Magnuson Olson was stationed in France as a member of the 29th Traffic Regulating Group, where she served as secretary to Major General Frank S. Ross, Chief of Transportation for the European Theater of Operations. In the midst of the joyful celebrations taking place outside the hotel headquarters, Betty found time to pen a letter home to her family describing in detail all that she was experiencing.

Letter Excerpts

8 May 1945

Dear family,

"This is it" - the phrase I've heard over and over again. This time this is Victory in Europe day. No one is exactly wild, everyone has bought French papers for souvenirs, and tho' all the papers have the news, it still is not to be officially announced till this afternoon. But, still, it's over, regardless.

Nobody seems to be planning on getting drunk as they've been threatening to do on V-E Day. Everyone goes around saying they don't feel a bit different.

The Air Corps is really going to town and C-47 cargo planes, fighters, and even fortresses and other bombers are flying back and forth and buzzing the city. We're all dashing out on the balcony – it's a warm, warm day and the French windows are wide open. Everyone confesses to feeling a bit unable to concentrate.

I, actually, knew yesterday morning about it 'cause we'd seen the radio message from SHAEF [Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force – General Dwight D. Eisenhower's headquarters], but it was confidential so we'd just go around grinning like cats that swallowed canaries, and did a few hippity-hops in the privacy of the office.

Frank had come in Sunday evening so I got yesterday afternoon off, and I noticed at noon that some of the French papers had "fini de la querre," so I thought they'd jumped the gun again. Frank and I went up to the Montmarte and up to the Sacred Heart church. It was really hot out and it's quite a climb to the top, but the view from there is worth it. Then we went to Napoleon's Tomb and walked around town, I with my hat off. A jeep of MPs pulled up and called to us. I thought, "oh, oh. And me with no pass to be with an officer." But all they said to Frank was, "Tell the Sergeant to put her hat on." And then as they drove away, "One bit of news – SHAEF just announced the war is over."

Well, even after that we couldn't find anyone who'd heard. More and more French papers had headlines about it, but when I came back to eat, no one seemed to have heard. As I was going back into our hotel, the manageress was standing at the door so I called to her – "Have you heard anything?" Of course, all the while I knew it was true, but I couldn't say that, could only say what the MPs had told us. As I asked her that, an officer going by turned around, so I said, "Have you heard anything, Sir." He said, "don't call me that today!" I figured that meant something. The lady in our hotel was so excited. She said when war broke out her hotel was full of Americans – they left quickly. Now that it is over, it is full of Americans again.

Frank and I wandered through half of Paris even as far as the Montmarte. I'd never been there at night before and I'd heard so much about it. It was interesting but not as gay as I'd heard.

When we got off the metro by the Arc, then we knew it was for sure. People were milling around the Étoilé, up and down the Champs Élysées, and they were shooting off fireworks while planes dropped flares. I was really excited then and said I wasn't going to be in at any 12 o'clock. But when I asked the CQ if we couldn't stay out, she said no – bedcheck as per usual. But there were about 6 of us kind of stubborn that she had to wait about ten minutes for. There was celebration up and down our street and up on the corner by the Arc people were singing and fireworks were still going on.

As a matter of fact, they kept on all night. At three A.M. when Dorothy went on guard duty she said it was still noisy and about 5 [A.M.] I woke to hear a few "yippees" up and down the street. But on the whole, it wasn't as bad as we'd expected. But maybe that will be different tonight, but I guess, if so, I'll stay in. Frank is off for a leave on the Riviera – Cannes, no less.

Last night in a café in the Montmarte three combat GIs sat next to us. They looked at my uniform, off-duty dress, and wondered if I were an American and what service, etc. Finally, when one said, "Do you think she's an American," Frank said, "Dog-gone it, yes, she is an American." So then we started to talk. They'd just come back from around the Elbe River and they'd never seen WACs in our dresses before, and they were so sweet. They gave me the German mark and the Dutch coin I've enclosed.

I got the box of clothes the other day – in exactly a month. We love the caramel corn – I'm saving the peanuts – haven't opened them. Golly, yesterday some packages came in that were all burned and had been wet – what messes. I'm glad that didn't happen to mine. I don't know if this letter makes sense or not what with parades of people going up the street we dash out to see, or a plane skinning the roof, or the pile of stuff on the desk in front of me. I'd better close and write later.

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Olson, Betty J. Magnuson, A WAC's War: Reminiscences. Minnesota Historical Society Manuscripts Collection, 1965.