James Adams got his fill of devastation blasting through Cherbourg and St. Lo with the 5th Armored Division. When he got to Paris, he saw what he was fighting for.
"I was amazed. I saw the Eiffel Tower, all the beautiful things that were built," said Adams, 74, of Florence, Ky. "It really got you wound up."The party Paris threw to greet the Americans on Aug. 29, 1944, four days after the liberation, "was like a ticker-tape parade, only a thousand times louder," he said in a telephone interview. "There was screaming and yelling. It was just a cacophony of noise."
"There were millions" of Parisians on the Champs-Elysees, he said. "They yelled, `Vive l'Amerique!' We would yell, `Vive la France!' "
But the party was tense as well, he said, because Paris "was still full of snipers."
"After we got north of the obelisk, it turned into a war again," Adams said. "We knew where we were headed, and we got right down to business."
Later that day, American soldiers who had marched down the Champs-Elysees were fighting Germans north of Paris.
Three days earlier, Gen. Charles de Gaulle's historic walk from the Arch of Triumph down the capital's grandest avenue to Notre Dame Cathedral was hampered by snipers believed to be former collaborators.
"I was around Notre Dame when they took some potshots at de Gaulle," said Russ Meyer, an Army cameraman who became a moviemaker.
The general, who had set himself the mission of resurrecting a shattered nation, did not break stride.
"De Gaulle was a cool cat," Meyer, 72, said by telephone from Palm Desert, Calif.
Being a war cameraman "was the best time I ever had in my life," he said. "We were risking our asses and having a good time."
The party was short-lived for Meyer, Adams and other GIs, whose commanders kept them on the march.
"After that, they said, `We've got a war to win,' and we kept on going," Meyer said.
It would be nine long months before Germany surrendered.