Sunday, August 16, 2009
(Photo from the George C. Marshall Foundation)
August 25 will be the 65th anniversary of one of the happiest days in history: the liberation of Paris after four years of Nazi occupation.
We've all seen the newsreels showing millions of deliriously ecstatic Parisians swarming around the Allied tanks, with pretty girls showering bouquets and kisses on the G.I.s.
In the crowd that day was an American intelligence agent from Berkeley named Tito Moruza, who had already been in Paris for three weeks, waiting in hiding for the troops to arrive.
He landed in France with the 82nd Airborne the night before D-Day, riding in a flimsy glider made of canvas and plywood. When the glider landed, its belly was ripped open by one of "Rommel's Asparagus" - wooden logs driven into open fields along the Normandy coast.
The three soldiers sitting next to Moruza were mortally wounded.
"The youngest, who was only 18, cried for his mama," he says. "The second called for the medics, and the third cussed. That was when I lost my religion. I still haven't gotten it back."
The paratroopers immediately went to work fighting Germans. But Moruza had a different assignment.
His job was to change into civilian clothes - which would have gotten him shot as a spy if had been caught - and make contact with the French Resistance, who would smuggle him into Paris.
Then, as soon as the city was liberated, he was to go to Gestapo headquarters and seize all the files before the retreating Germans could burn them, so they could be used as evidence after the war at the Nuremburg war crime trials.
And that's exactly what he did.
"I found only three Germans there, and they were just clerks, not SS," he says. "They'd made a half-hearted attempt to burn some documents, but the most they did was singe them around the edges."
He has nothing but admiration for his comrades-in-arms in the French Resistance - especially an extremely brave couple named Paul and Marcelle Dufour, whose farm outside Beauvais was a safe house not only for Resistance fighters sneaking into Paris, but also for escaped Allied prisoners going the other way, making their way via a network of safe houses to neutral Spain and safety.
He admires the Dufours so much, he named two of his children after them.
But he has nothing but contempt for the Johnny-come-lately "patriots" who were nowhere to be seen when the fighting was going on but came out of the woodwork after the liberation to "prove" their patriotism by shaving the heads of women who had slept with German soldiers.
"We hated them, and they hated us," he says. "It doesn't take much courage for a mob to torture and humiliate a defenseless woman."
His greatest honor was being chosen to deliver certificates of gratitude, each personally signed by General Eisenhower, to the French and Spanish families who smuggled escaped American prisoners to safety.
And what was his greatest blessing?
"The fact that I never had to kill a single person. I'm not belittling those who did have to kill; that was their assignment. I'm the lucky guy."
He narrowly escaped capture and death many times, but he bristles when anyone calls him a hero.
"The real heroes," he says, "are lying in the 9,000 graves at the American cemetery above Omaha Beach."