As an aerial photo interpreter with the Army Air Corps, we had been photographing southern France for weeks, so we had known what was coming when we were ordered to move on Aug. 10, 1944. That Aug. 15, southern France was invaded with Operation Dragoon: paratroopers, vessels and combat ships, American, British and French troops, commandos and rangers. Prime Minister Winston Churchill was there observing the landings.
Our job was to transfer information found in our aerial photographs to the ground troops and planes.
Due to the success of this difficult invasion — the Germans had had considerable strength in the area — the Nazis were forced to retreat up the Rhone River Valley with the Allies in hot pursuit.
After participating in Operation Dragoon, we were kept on the move.
Every time we established ourselves in a former Nazi air base, we were asked to move again in order to stay close to the fast-moving troops driving up the Valley. They wanted us as close as possible to the front lines because we were a tactical corps, supporting, primarily, ground troops.
It was at the small town of Vienne that our convoy stopped for a brief rest. We found adorable children. I cannot forget this one little girl — blue-eyed, blonde cherub, maybe 6 or 7 years old. As she approached me, she was asking for chocolate. Anything we could spare — chocolate, candy, coffee, chewing gum and a few other such items were always greatly appreciated by the people we encountered in the former German-occupied areas.
The whistle was blowing, the signal for us to get back as soon as possible to the trucks. I searched for anything to give her and found some candy. I also had one of my K-rations left. I gave it all to the girl. As I ran back to my truck, she waved and I could tell she was saying "merci."
Several months later, our intelligence unit was ordered back to Italy. We left Dijon, following the same route south that we had taken north. Again, we stopped at a small town to take a breather. Before I could realize it, a pair of little arms were clinging to my neck and I was being kissed on the cheek.
At that moment I came to; I realized we were in the same town we had stopped at on the way north. That angelic face with blonde hair and blue eyes that had impressed me so much clung to my neck, saying, “Je t’aime” (I love you). Tears came to my eyes. She smiled, kissed me again and ran off with other children. I had not given her anything this time. She hadn’t asked.
It was a moment in the middle of the war that something positive happened to me. Since then I’ve loved kids.
After being honorably discharged in 1945, I became a teacher and spent the next 35 years with the children I loved. I taught history and Spanish in Florida before becoming a school psychologist for Dade County schools.
Branch of Service:
Dr. Horatio L. Villa