A 75 Year Old Christmas Story
On this day in 1944, a 21-year-old Army Private pulled his Jeep into the tiny farming hamlet of Cutter, France. He was assigned to Headquarters Company of the 87th Infantry Division of Patton’s Third Army. The temperature was around 5 degrees. He was grateful that tonight he would finally be sleeping under a roof. But not before attending Midnight Mass in the local church. PFC Francis (Frank) Williams, my Dad, drove a Jeep as a Reconnaissance Specialist (Scout). He was the guy who would drive across enemy lines to report their movements. Many times, in the middle of the night. He dubbed his trusty
Jeep the “Last Chance.” Most of Cutting, France had been evacuated by the Germans in 1940 but the local priest and a handful of residents were allowed to stay. The rest went to the south of France until the end of the war. Upon arrival to the town, Chaplain Timothy Doody, a Catholic Chaplain, met with his civilian counterpart asking for permission to conduct Midnight Mass services that evening. Permission was granted. On this day and the next, PFC Williams played the role of chauffeur of Chaplain Doody to visit nearby companies that were scattered throughout the neighboring countryside. As a devout Catholic, PFC Williams wrote that he “went to confession on this day as they drove.”
Here in his own words is Chaplain Doody’s memory of that day as told to me in a letter dated July 31, 2001:
One of our battalions entered a French village late in the afternoon. I was with this group. I met the beloved Cur[ate] and he offered me the use of his church for Midnight Mass. The church, of course, was blacked out. He gathered several children to sing at Mass as he played the organ. The only lights were candles in the choir loft and two on the altar. The church was packed with GI’s. Many were Protestant – and even a few Jewish. The men passed helmets around and brought in a very generous collection for the pastor and his people. This Christmas, of course, is a well treasured memory.
Chaplain Doody goes on:
From there, I went out to offer Holy Mass at two other small villages; in one place, a large barn, the other, a common hall. My normal devoted assistant got sick. Now here is where my good friend, your Dad, came to my rescue (something he often did on our ‘tour of Europe’). You refreshed my memory of his ‘convertible’s’ designation ‘Last Chance.’ Often, for many, it was just that…Late on Christmas morning, we were moving again, heading for the huge, historical Battle of the Bulge. Our Regiment moved in, through the deepening snow, freezing temperature and desperately responding enemy.
In April of this year (2019), we paid a visit on the village of Cutting, France with permission to visit the little church forever linked to my Dad and Father Doody. The local custodian of the church gave us the keys, and as I slowly unlocked and opened the door, I was flooded with emotion. My Dad passed suddenly when I was seventeen years old. Of all the places I could visit in all of Europe, this is the place I wanted to see most … just so I could be with my Dad and breathe the same air that he did all those years ago. So for me, Christmas came in April. I’ll always remember my visit, freedom to plant my tripod on the floor of the little church and document this wonderful place in family history. Wishing all of you wonderful Christmas memories of your own.
Submitted by Paul Williams as it was written by his brother Dan about his son’s experience in WW2. Published here with only minor edits.