During my overseas military service in WWII, my Uncle Al and I visited several times in England where we had many adventures. The scariest of which was the time we had overstayed a visit with some friends of his in London and nearly missed the last train out to his camp where he was expected the next morning.
Just as we arrived at the station the air raid alarm sounded and almost immediately there was the sound of bombing and bright flashes in the sky.
Al had just gone through the gate and boarded the train and I had to beg the conductor to allow me through the gate. When he did, I rushed to the back of the train where uncle al was waiting. Luckily the train had not started yet and he helped me up onto the platform.
As the train left the station we looked back and could see bomb flashes in the general vicinity of where we were.
A more pleasant encounter occurred on another pass to London when Al and I, while walking on Oxford Street, ran into Elwyn Briones whose father was the manager of the children’s department in the Stockton Drygoods at home.
Later in France, Al being stationed in Rheims and I in Paris, were able to visit more often and along with the many historic and beautiful things including magnificent churches, cathedrals, palaces, and museums, we also visited the Parisians who had befriended me.
It was like a touch of home away from home having these visits.
I was surprised to learn when my cousin, Myron, paid me a surprise visit that he, being a pilot, was ferrying gasoline to General Patton’s army during the Battle of the bulge. I commented on how dangerous that duty was and he told me that, as long as you don’t get hit, all’s well, but if you do, it’s all over. Ironically, when he returned home after the war, he died of a heart attack on his way to work.
When my cousin Irv arrived in France he sent me a letter extolling the virtues of Lucky Strike cigarettes. I was shocked since I had never known him to smoke. I suspected that the Army had reduced him to that and heaven knows what else, so I dutifully collected all the cartons of Lucky Strikes I could, through swaps and buys, and sent them to him at his Army Post Office number. Later, when he came to visit me in Paris, he said he couldn’t believe how dense I was. He never did smoke but was trying to tell me in code that he was at Camp Lucky Strike, one of the receiving camps – named after cigarettes – for newly arrived GIs in Europe.
On his first visit to Paris, Irv went to the Red Cross Hotel and looked me up on the register. He found a Melvin Corren but when he went to the listed address it wasn’t me. Not one to give up, he went back and searched again. This time he found the real me and went to my billet. I was out at the time so he plopped himself down on my cot and took a nap.
When I returned, I was surprised to see him in my bed, but not wanting to waste a minute, got him up and took him out on the town.
Our first destination was the famous American Bar near the Bastille. It was run by an ex-Yankee left over from World War I. Being the only GIs in the place that night, we were celebrities. Everyone wanted to buy us a drink. Irv, who not only didn’t smoke but was unaccustomed to drinking hard liquor, chose Manhattans because they tasted so sweet. We had them lined up and drank them quickly in order to go on to the GI cabaret where we got a table, two dancing partners, and a bottle of champagne. After toasting one another, we escorted our two lovelies onto the dance floor, where we proceeded to trip the light fantastic. However, a few minutes later, when I looked around to see where Irv and his partner were, I spotted him alone at the table with his face in the plate.
I got him to his feet 0ut on the sidewalk and began walking him back to my place in the direction of the Etoile when a couple of French pompiers (firemen) came along. Noting Irv’s condition, they hoisted him between them and walked with us back to my billet to the beat of Irv’s constant exclamation, “Booooy. These guys are really, really great!”
That was the only time we went “out on the town” and in future years he would complain that on his visits to Paris I took him only to the museums and not to the likes of the Folies Bergere.
Mel Corren was born in Stockton in 1924, attended local schools, served in Europe during World War II, and after returning home joined his family’s furniture business, M. Corren and Sons. In 1961 he and his brother Hillard opened The Brothers, a home furnishing/design studio, which ran until they both retired in 2000. Mel, his wife Harriet, their two sons, two grandchildren, along with their respective mates, make up their far-flung family. His literary accomplishments are the memoirs “I’ve Live It, I’ve Loved It” and “Schoolboy, Soldier Boy”, both on Amazon, as well as a collection of short stories. At 96, he remains active in civic affairs, including his ongoing advocacy for the revitalization of Stockton’s historic downtown district. Mel was honored as Stocktonian of the Year for 2015.