A few days later, we were all called together and informed that arrangements had been made for us to be transported to another place and that we should be ready to move out the next morning early. We had nothing to pack so we could leave on a moments notice. We had been able to bathe but we had not been able to wash any clothing, including our underwear, so we were all a little ripe.
The next morning, after breakfast, we were told to go to the road and wait. We did. After a short time, a truck came along with a load of logs. They were piled high and tied down with ropes to keep them in place. This was our ride out of there. Not first class, but better than walking, so we climbed aboard and off we went. We had two more to our group at this point--a young couple--but who they were or why they came out with us I never knew. Because they were Spanish, we were not able to talk to them. The ride was not the most pleasant trip I have ever taken, but in that rugged terrain it sure beat walking.
We rode most of the day, passing men at work in the fields, and sighting quite a few wrecked vehicles, tanks and trucks just abandoned in the ravines. These were left from the Spanish civil war, left to rot and rust as a monument to mans inability to get along, even with his own people. The truck was old, very slow, and the road was quite steep both up and down. The day was most pleasant and not too hot, even though we were right out in the sun. We proceeded in this fashion until late in the afternoon finally, arriving at a place with a wall around it. Some people came out, ordered us down and into the walled area. We sat on the ground or walked around to stretch our legs, waiting for the next episode to unfold. Each time things seemed certain, we were faced with a new situation and our nerves would begin to get raw again.
It wasn't long until a man appeared and ushered one of our people into the building. In about five minutes our man reappeared and another person was taken inside. We all crowded around the first man, asking what was going on in there. He said he had been questioned as to his identity and why he was in Spain. He said he explained that he was an American airman and was escaping the Germans and wanted to rejoin his unit in England. This presented no problem, he said, until they had him turn out his pockets and discovered his French identity book. This, of course, had his picture but another name, place of birth, and occupation. They did not seem happy with this but kept the book and told him to go back into the yard. His advice to us was, to get rid of the books, and fast. We all, that is the military people, got our books out and heaved them over the wall. I really hated to do this because it would have been a beautiful souvenir to keep for remembrance. Soon enough, my turn came, and I was taken before a man at a table in the house. He spoke very good English, questioning me as the first man had said as to why I was in the country in an illegal fashion. I also explained why I was there and having nothing in my pockets to contradict my story, I was quickly returned to the yard.
When everyone had been interrogated, the military personnel were directed to the gate, and we left the walled area to find a bus waiting along with a small dark-haired man who proved to be a Spanish fellow who worked for the American Council in Madrid. Our other companions were left behind to their fate and even today, I often wonder what happened to them. It would be painful even for a moment to consider the possibility that they were turned back and into the hands of the Germans. We were well aware that Spain had leaned toward Germany all through the war because of the aid Franco had received from Hitler during Spain's civil war.
The bus started up and off we went, in style this time. We were taken a short distance to a town by the name of Lerida. The bus went to the center of town, stopping in front of a large store of many floors. It was, in fact, a department store. Our man from the embassy told us we were to get new clothes and, because it was so late in the day, all the clerks were gone but the store was being held open for us. Unbelievable! We all went in the store and up to the men's department. We were instructed to pick out a suit, new shoes, two pairs of socks, two sets of underwear, two shirts, and one tie. A man in the store listed our selections and we were ushered back to the bus for another short ride.
We were taken to a spa-type resort that had hot-springs baths with high sulfur and the odor to go along with it. We were given nice clean, albeit small, rooms. The view of the surrounding area was beautiful. We could come and go as we pleased, but again had to be in at dark and stay within the confines of the spa. How we forget the small pleasures of life. What a treat to take a bath and get into fresh clothes. My shoes, which were G. I. issue but dyed black, were held on by a series of small pieces of shoelace. The only laces we could get to replace the brown laces were made of rayon. Now, rayon, when wet, gets weak and breaks, so I wound up with small pieces to hold the shoes on. You think this was a problem? John Katsaros was walking in shoes a couple of sizes too small for him. He had big feet and the people who helped him did the best they could. Imagine walking for weeks in shoes a couple of sizes too small. At last he had a pair that fit. I must tell you here that at no time all through the trip, from Paris to the spa, did John ever complain that his feet were killing him. I guess the poor guy was so shot up he hurt worse elsewhere. The food was good and there was plenty of it; the only problem was, they used oil for all their cooking. Have you ever seen fried eggs, beautiful to look at; sliding around on the serving platter in a sea of oil? We tried to get them to cook the eggs and other stuff with butter but they acted as though they couldnt understand what we wanted. I'll tell you this, between the oil and the beautiful big red ripe cherries and other fruit we could get, we were in a bad way. Our systems could not handle all this, and we more than paid the price.