Memories of Dreux

Memories of Dreux
By Ron Maroney

Ron Maroney Dreux Story

Let me begin by saying, I thoroughly enjoyed the 3 years and 4 months spent at Dreux AB. The relationships, (both military and civilian), some of which have lasted over 50 years, The opportunity to travel and experience Europe, would cost you a fortune. It was the best education! Four years in the Air Force and never stationed on a base with active aircraft.

We, (four of us on the flight) arrived Paris Orly Airport January 27, 1964 on a TWA charter flight out of McGuire AFB. It was the "flight from hell", 180 military and dependents, (100 of which had the croup)! Too excited to sleep anyway! In those days military flights and charters taxied to the end of the runway and a series of Quonset Huts to disembark and process. We were met by A1C Joe Reder, 7305th Support Squadron Air Police, who was assigned by the Base Commander, Lt Col Nathan Stern as our sponsor. Joe drove us to the base and began the process of introducing and breaking the "jeeps" into life on Dreux AB. We, (A3C George Hutson, Bill Bryan, Ron Slaughter and myself), were assigned to A1C Phinney, Air Police Training Instructor, who took us through the process and after about three weeks assigned us to a duty flight.

First impressions, the AB was in the middle of nowhere, approximately 20 miles from the city of Dreux, farms for as far as the eye could see, NO aircraft on the base, NO mission. High School with dormitories for live in students.Thus, we learned what a Dispersed Operations Base (DOB) meant. It appeared the base was experiencing downsizing, we were the first replacements to be assigned (unexpectedly), for a long time. The only additions we had to our group were NCO's, TSgt Dunlop and MSgt Bourgois. DeGaulle had already pulled his naval forces out of NATO in June of 1963, so Washington was preparing for him carrying out his intent to pull out of NATO. At the time the base consisted of the 7305th Support Squadron, HQ Detachment 106th Signal Group, 246th Signal Co., 7650th Aerial Chart and Information Squadron, Dreux American High School. Eventually the Air Force 2nd Mobile Communications Group (2nd MOB) transferred in from England.

Lt Coles

1st Lt. Louis B. Coles was the base Security & Law Enforcement Officer. Air Police Flight duty consisted of four flights, approximately 7 - 10 men, Air Police and Military Police, three shifts, 4pm - midnight, midnight - 8am and 8am - 4pm, then 72 hours off. Each tour of duty consisted of, Gate Duty, Main and Back Gate, base patrol with Security of applicable buildings, and of course Accident Investigation, on and off-base. At that time, there was a midnight curfew for all Army enlisted, so off-base Bar checks were required, "Mickie's Bar, Dampierre, Madame Olga's, Mallebois, Charley's Bar, Chateauneuf and many more, these being the most popular. 

At some time in late 64 early 65 the Base Commander, instituted a "non-fraternization" policy between military personnel and students attending Dreux High School. Monitoring this policy fell on the Air/Military Police. Needless to say it kept us busy.

Additionally, Air Police handled Pass & Registration for entry to the base, issuing drivers licenses, vehicle registration and liaison with the French Gendarmes d'lAir assigned to the base. We were required to have a French Gendarme and the base interpreter, Bill Piwowarek, (Monsieur Bill), accompany us to accident scenes off-base. We kept them busy. We enjoyed great friendship with these men, Joseph Ducros, and Bobbi (second name escapes me), if these names mean anything to anyone. I exchanged Christmas cards with both men for a number of years after returning to the states. Both men lived in Chateauneuf, Ducros moved to
Aix-en-Provence when he retired. Monsieur Bill lived in Crucey Couve and we remained good friends and visited right up to his passing in the mid 80's.

Monsieur Bill Piwowarek

For those that knew Monsieur Bill, he was the consummate gentleman, with an unbelievable history. Married to a beautiful french lady, a teacher, (who may have taught French at the High School). Bill was a member of the Dreux Rod & Gun Club. Born and raised in Poland, he was in the Polish Air Force when the Germans entered Poland. He and others escaped to England, joined the RAF, as Free Polish Forces, shot down and captured in Germany. If you remember the movie, "The Great Escape", with Steve McQueen, well Bill was in that camp in line to escape when the Germans caught them. According to Bill, when the movie came to the Dreux AB theater the Captain played by Steve McQueen was still active duty in Germany and was flown in as a surprise for Bill. You may recognize him as a Soccer Referee for the Dreux HS soccer games. I was privileged to be invited to Bill's home to watch the major soccer matches on television, my intro to what is now my favorite sport. Bill was the interpreter on the Base right to the closing, at which time he took an excellent position with John Deere at their facility in Senonches. During the base closing Bill asked me if we could donate items, i.e. toilet paper, mattresses etc. to a large orphanage not far from the base. With Lt. Davis' OK, we delivered a couple of pick-up trucks full of useful items. That was Monsieur Bill!

Although the duty was repetitious and at times boring, we had a great group of people on the base and many opportunities. The Community Services Center, managed by Mrs. Horne, (sorry no pictures), had a number of clubs, art room, billiards/table tennis contests and tickets for events, including the World Cup Final at Wembley Stadium in England in 1966. We could also sign up for "Operation LOOK SEE", which the Air Force set up to visit Berlin, Germany. TDY orders were cut for a 3 day visit, flying out of Evreaux on a C-130 early on a Saturday morning and returning Monday. A number of us took advantage on a few occasions. Thanks to Joe Reder and the guys in our unit, I made my first visit in May 1964.

Madame Hoquetis

Thanks to Madame Hoquetis, who managed the Base Library, I was able to work part time at the Library. Also worked nights at the Airman's Club as a cashier. My goal was to purchase a car, accomplished in 1966. Additionally, we took advantage of University of Maryland extension courses on base using the High School classrooms. Many of the professors held high degrees and taught these courses while on sabbatical visiting Europe. Thanks to Paul Francis, a highly degreed teacher at the High School and a professor at night.

Assigned to Dreux Air Base for me was more than anything I could have dreamed. The history of the area alone, 30 minutes to Chartres or Dreux! From the time I was in High School I, had/have, a fascination, with the Normandy Invasion, so to have the opportunity to visit the beaches, towns, battlefields and everything in between was incredible. Visit we did! Fortunately a couple of the guys had similar interests. A2C Ray Turcotte and I would leave the base on a Sunday and travel the local area looking for those small road signs, Cimetiere Militaire, (Military Cemetery) fascinating history. By pure chance we discovered a German SS cemetery, all monuments in black marble, impeccably kept by the French. My understanding is all German cemeteries in Europe are currently the responsibility of a German war graves commission.

Boissey Maugis August 1965 Dedication Far left: Unknown 2nd: Maroney 3rd: DeHart 4th Bryan

For this reason I have included photos taken in 1966. A very small village, Boissy Maugis, near l'Aigle, requested an honor guard from Dreux AB. I volunteered along with SSgt DeHart, A2C Bill Bryan. Base Commander, Colonel William Riddling also attended.

Boissy Maugis D day 1994 Memorial Plaque

The ceremony was a dedication of a plaque honoring 7 American Airmen that crashed in the village after a bombing run over Germany. Two of the Airmen died of their injuries, however the other five were spirited safely out of the village with the assistance of the French Underground and returned to England. That was special enough, but it was all done while the German troops took reprisals on the town in an attempt to have them turn over the airmen. The townspeople refused. It was a celebration of a somber moment in history! 

I took the liberty of including follow-up photos from my visit on D-Day the 6th of June 1994, when my wife and I attended the 50th Anniversary of the invasion. We scheduled our visit to her family in La Loupe that year, so we could attend the festivities in Normandy. Saturday June 5th, 1994, 150 of our young paratroopers jumped from C130's just outside of St. Mere Eglise. Approximately 10 to 20 of the original paratroopers, (ages 67 - 70+) also jumped, several out of an original C-47. On the 6th because we didn't have tickets for the celebration in St. Mere Eglise, we visited Boissy Maugis. While I was taking pictures of the monument, the parking lot started to fill up with french veterans and townspeople. Of course they were having a memorial service and when my wife told the organizers I was at the original dedication in 1966, they were shocked and insisted I lay the flowers at the monument. It was an overwhelming experience, both years!

Let's jump to 1967 and the CLOSING! DeGaulle declared in June of 1966 that all foreign NATO troops must leave France. We believe the closing date was set for December 31, 1966. Prior to that date the 246th Signal Company loaded their trucks for Germany. The 2nd MOB transferred back to England. The High School closed over Christmas break. Barracks and offices, (Security & Law Enforcement, Gendarmes and Base Interpreter, worked out of the Pass & Registration offices next to the Main Gate), were consolidated as personnel were transferred. Air Force personnel being transferred or rotated stateside were transported by AF vans and station wagons to various Train Stations or Evreaux AB., Orly Airport, etc. At no time did any aircraft arrive at Dreux to transfer anyone! HQ remained open, 1st Lt Davis in charge, with a skeleton crew from each dept., including French workers, i.e. Transportation, Maintenance, Fire Dept., Security & Law Enforcement. French Gendarmes, etc. One last personnel inspection held in the Base Ops, (Fire Dept Bldg), Flags were lowered for the final time. NCO/Airmen's Club one last party, thrown by the Base Commander. The Base also threw a party for the team that ended up moving the base at one of the best restaurants in France at the time, La Foret Hotel & Restaurant in Senonches. My wife and I celebrated our wedding reception there in 1968!

Then the confusion set in! It seems the French wanted all buildings stripped bare, (including the urinals, Lt Davis was not having that), however, everything not attached had to go. Not sure of the specific weekend, but all base personnel were called out broken down into groups and assigned to moving, equipment, furniture, 100's of 55 gallon drums of de-icing fluid, etc. and loaded onto trucks, railroad cars, etc.That weekend was a disaster, broken legs, crushed hands and feet! Lt. Davis decided to designate a small group of ten/fifteen men who did nothing else but move the equipment. Interesting note, many years later I read in the New York Times, an article about the French finding railroad cars abandoned on side rails all over the country, full of 55 gal. drums of de-icing fluid and equipment. It took a little over two weeks, 7 days, 10/12 hours a day for this crew to finish the job, "no injuries"! They were great and I hope they read this. Any additions or detraction's accepted, it's been 50+ years. At this time personnel remaining 1st Lt Davis, MSgt Bourgeois, and five Air Policemen, one Military Policeman were housed off base. I believe Lt Davis had his own apartment in Mallebois, as did Sgt Bourgeois. A1C Bill Bryan, George Hutson, Spec 4 Gene Maravalo and two Airmen from Evreaux were housed in a small pension, Hotel Cheval Blanc in Brezolles.

Chevel Blanc

Chevel Blanc Today - An Apartment Building

We were paid a reasonable Per Diem, per day, The only catch? We had to drive to Evreaux each month to draw a portion of our pay, as our pay records were, "accidentally", forwarded to McGuire AFB. That did not deter from enjoying our stay with our hosts Monsieur Robert and Madame. We had breakfast and dinner at the hotel, very inexpensive, Madame did all of the cooking, "and she could cook"! Funny story! While Airman Hutson was patrolling the base, he "accidentally", (sure?), hit two pheasant. He threw the pheasant in the back of his truck headed for the hotel and we had the most incredible dinner that night with our hosts and their family. Madame also did our laundry, for a small fee. On weekends we went to Motocross races locally and even managed to attend a Five Nations Rugby match in Paris, between France and Wales.

Hutson, Bryan and myself left the base at the end of April, driven to and flying out of Orly Airport on a commercial flight, to JFK Airport. To the best of my knowledge and I have discussed it recently with George Hutson, within a couple of days after we left, Lt. Davis and MSgt Bourgeois finalized the closing. At that time all base facilities were shut down.

We have been asked many times; "How did the local French react to the closing announcement and what was their reaction during the process?". Obviously, this was a disaster for the local economy. My personal experience, interacting with many of the French workers on the base, namely the drivers from the Motor Pool, Monsieur's, Massy, Callewaert, Krol and others. They drove the 40 foot trailers to Evreaux with the abandoned cars from the base, (A1C Ben Powers and myself, loaded them, tied them down). They expressed embarrassment because of what the Americans meant to France. We often stopped at small cafes for early morning coffee and calvados, lunch on our return. Since I was in fatigues, I was often approached by locals expressing their apologies and embarrassment. Many told me stories of the experiences with GI's during WWII, most of them were in tears. This was the response I had from many French I met over the years, specifically, the older generation. We did not experience any  protesters or any negativity at all.

In closing, I would like to say, from 1968 to the early 80's, I visited the base and despite a number of rumors, I can only confirm the hangers were used for storing hay, Renault the French auto manufacturer used a number of buildings for parts storage and distribution, French special forces did some kind of training for a short period of time. I never saw any aircraft activity. In all my time at Dreux, the only aircraft experience were C-130's dropping an Airborne group from St. Andre army base north of us. They also tested and trained dropping oversize loads, i.e. Tanks, Jeeps at low altitude with oversize parachutes. We understand these drops were used in Viet Nam.

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