Instructions for American Servicemen in France during World War II

December 2, 2020
Instructions for American Servicemen in France during World War II

"You are about to play a personal part in pushing the Germansout of France. Whatever part you take—rifleman, hospital orderly,mechanic, pilot, clerk, gunner, truck driver—you will be anessential factor in a great effort."As American soldiers fanned out from their beachhead in Normandyin June of 1944 and began the liberation of France, every soldiercarried that reminder in his kit. A compact trove of knowledge andreassurance, Instructions for American Servicemen in France duringWorld War II was issued to soldiers just before they embarked forFrance to help them understand both why they were going and whatthey'd find when they got there. After lying unseen in Armyarchives for decades, this remarkable guide is now available in anew facsimile edition that reproduces the full text andillustrations of the original along with a new introduction by RickAtkinson setting the book in context.Written in a straightforward, personal tone, the pamphlet isequal parts guidebook, cultural snapshot, and propaganda piece. Acentral aim is to dispel any prejudices American soldiers may haveabout the French—especially relating to their quick capitulation in1940. Warning soldiers that the defeat "is a raw spot which theNazis have been riding" since the occupation began, Instructions iscareful to highlight France's long historical role as a major U.S.ally. Following that is a brief, fascinating sketch of the Frenchcharacter ("The French are mentally quick;" "Rich or poor, they areeconomical") and stark reminders of the deprivation the French haveendured under occupation. Yet an air of reassuring confidencepervades the final section of the pamphlet, which reads like astraightforward tourists' guide to Paris and the provinces—like apromise of better days to come once the soldiers complete theirmission.Written by anonymous War Department staffers to meet the urgentneeds of the moment, with no thought of its historical value,Instructions for American Servicemen in France during World War IInevertheless brings to vivid life the closing years of World WarII—when optimism was growing, but a long, demanding road still layahead.