APRIL 2017 - The idea of a return visit to Dreux Air Base, France after 26 years away began in the summer of 1984. I secured my passport with visa and began to arrange my trip in the last quarter of that year. I really believed I would head out in 1986 but it didn’t come about until August of 1987.
When 1987 rolled around I began to nail down all my needs. First thing I did was to get my plane reservations with Delta Airlines. A flight from Louisville to Atlanta on a 737 with a layover there then a nine hour nonstop L-1011 flight to Paris Orly Airport.
With that in hand the other things needed I arranged. First was a French Rail Pass which I purchased from their office in Chicago.
Next was a trip to K-Mart where I purchased two small over the shoulder bags. One bag was a brown looking leather and the other bag was a waterproof two tone blue plastic looking something. When I got to Paris I found out I should have only taken one. It’s hard to travel with a bag in each hand. (When I found a Paris hotel I began to unload items that I really didn’t need, they were not hard to give away.)
I put items in gallon zip-lock bags and pressed all the air out so as to save space. That really helped a bunch. A waist length hooded zip up light blue French water resistant rain coat, a red lined wind breaker, light sweater and shirts, sox, underwear and a t-shirt or two, one blue jeans, Rebock black sport shoes were all packed with a small folding umbrella, camera and lots of film. There were other things to take along but nothing large just small stuff. With what I would wear I would have enough, maybe too much.
The day of the flight was uneventful just check in at Louisville’s airport and wait to board the flight to Atlanta. I saw my dentist and his wife on the plane to Atlanta. At Atlanta I caught the tram way to the international side of the airport and found the gate and just waited to board the L-1011 for Paris. I had not flown since January 1979 and not on a large jet like an L-1011 only on a DC9 from Louisville to Pittsburg. Flight 18, the L-1011 for Paris was boarded, and what lovely Delta Air Lines ladies helped find me my seat.
My seat was mid way back on the right side of the plane going toward the rear and I had the window seat. The aisle seat was taken by a lady in her early 50’s I would say, with an empty seat between us. She said she lived in Atlanta and was to meet an exchange student in Paris.
At 5:15 pm on August the 26th 1987 the L-1011 built by Lockheed, lifted off on its way toward Paris. Somewhere over New England at some 30,000 ft the landing gear was lowered to cool the tires as a warning light had came on in the cockpit. The plane shuttered somewhat but the tires were cooled rapidly and all was back to normal shortly.
Just then came our dinner, steak, baked potato, salad, green veggies, rolls & butter, & iced tea with a great desert of pecan pie. What a great meal eaten at 34,000 ft flying over the atlantic ocean on my way to Paris, France.
I moved into the empty middle seat after dinner to stretch out and sleep on the journey to Paris. The flight attendants seemed to hover around at all hours of the night asking if you wanted a snack or something to drink. The restrooms were found at the rear on a L-1011 some five to seven were at the very rear next to each other left to right. I made that trip a few times during the flight. I had to step over the lady in the aisle seat but didn’t wake her.
We were flying from night into day and around 7:25 am Paris time, after we had had our breakfast, we felt the plane start to descend. Of course the flight attendants had already gone thru their safety rules for landing. What a smooth landing the tri-engine L-1011 made that morning at Orly airport. I noted that it seemed like the taxi to the terminal took at least 45 minutes. What a very big and busy airport it was that day. The taxiway seemed very uneven and as I looked out my window the huge wing was bouncing up and down. I guessed we were doing at least 35 mph toward the terminal.
The plane stopped, doors were opened and in just a few minutes passengers were streaming out into the sunlight. Well, here I was in Paris again, where on April 1st 1961 I left France for the USA to be separated from the USAF. As part of my French rail pass there was a free bus ticket to the RER(Réseau Express Régional) railway station and a free railway train ticket to go on into Paris. So after the customs inspection I took the bus to begin my journey into Paris. After a short bus ride I took the RER train on in to Paris proper.
I wanted to get off the RER train at the St. Michel Metro station and shortly we were getting close. The train stopped there and I stepped off at the Metro station. I looked at my directions showing which way to go and went down into the station. Soon I was on the subway heading toward the Arc de Triomphe de L’Etoile. I got off at my stop and walked up to the street level then I walked across the bridge that goes over the Seine River. On the other side of the bridge a taxi stopped and I showed him an address & away we went.
In preparing for the France trip I looked at hotel prices and came upon a small hotel located on Rue Brey not far from the areas I wanted to visit. When in the taxi going to the hotel I watched the taxi meter and knew just how much to pay the driver when we got there. We stopped in front of the small hotel and I paid the driver in French money with a tip, got my bags and went inside. I checked in and was given room 18 and the window overlooked the front of the hotel. Like I said I was on a budget trip and meant to stay on it. This hotel served my purpose and I was a happy camper.
Now I was a hungry camper and I found where to get some grub. After that I walked over to find some Paris streets that I recalled and visit the Parc Monceau and paid visits to places I remembered from my time at Dreux Air Base. The automatic pay toilets found along some streets were a very good idea. I made plans to go to Dreux City the next day and took a shower, shaved and got some sleep. Up early I repacked and ate a continental breakfast downstairs. Now I would find my way to Dreux City and the old air base.
Page Three I checked out of the small hotel and found the Metro line that would take me to the Montparnasse train station. From this train station trains could be taken to Dreux City. This station was opened in 1840 and completely rebuilt in 1969. Here I took a SNCF(Société Nationale des Chemins de Fer) train to Dreux a 90 minute commute. Although the train was a newer one my mind flashed back to the 1960’s when I had gone to Paris and returned on this route. Cars still had seats on one side only and the walkway was on the other side.
Here came the Dreux train station in view and soon I would be getting off in Dreux City. With my luggage I moved thru the lobby and stood outside just looking at the old city. My first time here was in January 1960 on my way to the Dreux Air Base from Incirlik Air base, Turkey. Did I stand at the same spot then I wondered. What next son, I said to myself ? I asked a French man where the Hertz Rental Car office was located. He pointed me down the street and away I went.
I had rented a car from Louisville Hertz ahead of time and wondered if it would be here. I entered and asked the lady at the counter if my rental car was there. She responded after looking on her desk that it was indeed there for me. I paid the prescribed fee, signed some papers, showed my state side license and she showed me where the car was parked. I asked her in French about the gas and oil and she said it was full. It was a light blue Peugeot two door standard shift auto. Now with a ride I looked for a hotel for the night.
I drove around the Dreux City for a while just looking.
Around the corner and up the street toward the train station I found the Hotel De France at 24 Rue St-Martin. There was a lovely dining room and I had a wonderful meal for only 115 Francs. The service was just great. Back to my room I planed my trip for the next day to Dreux Air Base.
I was up early and had breakfast downstairs, said goodbye to Renee, fired up the Peugeot and headed toward Brezolles a village just north of the base. Cruising along at 95 Ks in fifth speed it wasn’t long till Brezolles was in view. I headed out on road d-939 toward Chennevieres and took the cross road on the right d-11.1 which ran over to road d-20. With a right turn here soon I passed the old “Open Gate Bar & Restaurant” on my left. Not far from the base entrance road I encountered a French man in the road waiting for his postman. The perfect spot to use what French language I knew, I thought. I pulled over off the road somewhat and got out and began to converse with Raymond Boulguy, yes that was his name. He stated that he had worked at the old air base. Well a funny thing happened as we talked more. The postman came and gave Raymond his mail.
Raymond read his mail and laid it on the hood where I had spread out many photos from my days at the old base. We looked at all the photos talked some more and I said I wanted to look around the old base. He said he would go with me to look. I put all the stuff in my large envelope and we headed out in the Peugeot to explore the base. We just drove right in past the red and white front barrier poles. He knew the two middle aged French men who were on duty in the old Pass & ID building. After we talked and had a glass of red wine with them they gave us their pick-up truck to use.
Here we go with Raymond driving past the old gas station, & the Airmen’s club and with my old barracks number 168 coming into view. We went around to the east end of the barracks near the NCO club and went up the outside stairs. I recalled how I used to lock my Moped to those stair poles. The doors were locked but we just pulled them open and went in. After photos and a look around of my old bay, latrine and shower room we went down the inside stairs for a look see. Things were in good shape after being closed up for 20 years. Satisfied with what we had seen, we left to explore the rest of the base.
Back on California Ave we went north past the old football field turned to the right and stopped at the base control tower. I had never been up the stairs to the control tower. Well here I went and took me a long look around inside the control tower. For some dumb reason I didn’t take any photos of the control tower while I was inside ?
After an hour or two of photographs and sight seeing we made it back to the front gate to drop off the pick-up truck.
After a look see in Senonches and Pontguion I drove over to the Marguerite 6 area. I traveled around a farmer’s field to get close to the perimeter wire fence. I could see the buildings but I had never been in them before. Carefully going thru the barbed wire fence I took photos and looked inside the old structures. Most of the stainless serving and cooking tables were still in the mess hall. There was a beautiful mural painting on the mess hall wall and although it had been painted there in 1956 it looked fresh. The steam heating plant still had the large engine in place that moved the hot water to all these buildings. Another large engine was on a platform just sitting there outside the heat plant. Maybe I was there snooping around for a good hour. The weeds were very tall but the driveways were fairly clear. Back thru the wire fence I called it a good day and headed back to Dreux City.
I was hungry now. What a great time I had had and things could not have gone better. The drive back was good and I found another good place to eat and all was well. A good shower and shave and I hit the sack. Tomorrow was to be another adventure as I would travel to La Mans to see my state side French friend’s mom.
Up early to eat downstairs, check out and thank Renee for the great stay at her hotel. I even said I would return soon which I did in December 1990. I had checked the train schedule to La Mans when I arrived in Dreux City. I turned the car in at Hertz and just walked up the street to the station to get the train for La Mans. I was going to see Madam Renee Bordier my friend Jacques Bordier’s mother. Soon I was on the train and it wasn’t a long ride. In La Mans I got a hotel room across from the train station. Then I got a taxi ride out to her house. Jacques had given me her address and I showed it to the taxi driver. Next in her little village I found her hanging up clothes in the back yard. We had a nice meal, talked a lot, took pictures and recorded her message for her son. Later she called for me a taxi and we said goodbye with a hug and kisses.
The next morning found me on the train to Bayeux where I stayed at the Notre Dame hotel and toured the Normandy WW-II beach landing areas. The next day I was on the train to Paris where I found the East train station and headed out for Basel Switzerland.
Nelly’s man friend Felix got me a room at the Commerce Hotel and the next day we were off to Germany to eat at a restaurant in the Black forest. The next day we went to visit the Martin’s and had a swell time. All these folks spoke good English. The next day I was headed by train back to Paris. I got a room at the same small Paris hotel.
The next day was the 8th of September and I was up and headed to Orly airport before sunrise. A subway ride to St Michel station, then the RER train and a bus ride and I was checked in for my plane flight home to the USA. The L-1011 flight 21 was scheduled to depart Paris at 1:50 pm so I was ready and all prepared just sitting in the waiting room. Flight 21 to Atlanta now boarding was the call I wanted to hear and I was up and on board rapidly. My seat was on the opposite side this time about middle ways back on the aisle. We landed at Atlanta at our scheduled time of 4:55 pm, and now all I had to do was wait for three hours for my 8:42 pm flight back to Louisville. As tired as I was a nap was in order. Get food and take a nap I surely did. I was on the MD-80 for Louisville taxing for take off when a severe thunder storm overtook us. We sat on the taxi way for a good hour before operations would let us leave. The plane was late leaving but once airborne I heard the engines rev up and some of our lost time was made up. We landed somewhere around 11:50 pm in Louisville. I placed a phone call and got a ride home.
The journey had been completed successfully and I had lots of photos and memories. I had trouble getting to sleep that night and the next day took rolls of 35 mm film to K-Mart to get developed. Over the next few weeks I had all the pictures developed and in their booklet covers. I had met new friends and wrote letters to them as soon as I could. I made a copy of the Dreux Air Base photos and sent them to Bill “Hoppy” Birdsong. We both left Dreux Air Base together on April 1st 1961.