A Story from Menton, France

In April 2017, an e-mail message was sent to the 100th office in Honolulu by Alexis Hautefeuille of Menton, France who had discovered the 100th website.

Alexis introduced himself as a Frenchman, aged 70, and the son of Olga Hautefeuille, born Tchirikoff. Her parents were White Russian refugees, but his mother was born in Menton and spoke French, Russian and English fluently. Alexis said he recalled her telling him that she worked as an interpreter for American troops in and near Menton towards the end of the war. The only unit name that he remembered was the “One Puka Puka.” I gladly accepted his offer to send his recollections of what his mother had told him of this period. He also sent four photos that included soldiers from the 100th.

His mother told him that when the American soldiers replaced the German occupation troops what she noticed was that they walked silently, unlike the Germans who had hobnailed boots. She was also struck by the difference in what he called “social codes.” The Americans would address her as “Olga” or “Dear” or “Honey.” In France at that time, first names were not used except by family or close friends. His mother told him that when she was riding in a jeep from Menton to another city, enemy shelling was encountered along the way. The driver drove as fast as possible, and a sergeant asked her to crouch between the seats, saying “duck, honey.”

The most important difference with the arrival of the American military was the abundance of food and equipment. Food had been scarce for the previous three years, so Olga gladly accepted whatever food the Americans gave her. The soldiers noticed how much she ate and would give her food to share with her family. The next day she would again eat a lot, and one officer jokingly asked, “Who do you have for a family? Elephants?”

The American military was replaced by a Free French unit. Olga returned to the headquarters building shortly after their arrival to return something she had borrowed from the Americans. Alexis thinks it was a blanket. There she met the French commanding officer whom she later married. Olga passed away in 2012.

After I received Alexis’ message with his mother’s stories, I remembered that in his life story that appears on The Hawaii Memory Project (University of Hawaii, Kapiolani Community College), 100th veteran Moriso Teraoka recalled arriving in France at the end of 1944 and being assigned to Company D in Menton:

“One of my first impressions of war came not in fighting the enemy but after eating a hot meal. When I went to empty my mess kit in the garbage can, an elderly man thrust his container in my face, motioning me to empty my leftovers into his container. Hunger was prevalent among the civilians in Menton. After this encounter, I always had some clean leftovers to give to the hungry.

by Susan Omura, daughter of 100th veteran Kenneth Muroshige. Susan managed the Hawaii State Grant to create the 100th Education Center, including this website.