Manuscripts/Mixed Material Interview with Peter J. Skoufis
Paris was a great experience. I went to France by ship—a converted troop ship. On the same ship, was a VA team that was going to open the Geneva office—John Hays, Randy Dickens and Frank Harris. The Paris office had already opened several months earlier. Share, his secretary and others were already in place. We sailed at the end of April. Hays had been in the Army's military government—G-5—and had been in France and Paris from right after the invasion. He was coming from the Richmond, VA office as did his whole team. He had with him a convertible Cadillac which was unloaded at Le Havre. He was going to drive to Geneva through Paris and asked me if I wanted to go along. That was a trip! Every town we went through, brought back some memories to John of his war campaigns. He would visit a French family here and one there; he would see mayors with whom he had worked. Everywhere we went he was greeted like a long lost friend who was returning home. We got our fill of Calvados. It took us three days to get from Le Havre to Paris.
When I got to Paris, Share wanted to know where the hell I had been. He said that the Embassy had been looking for me. So I went there and found that it was the Budget and Fiscal section who was looking for me because I was on their payroll. That section was run by Larry Daimond; Joe Dagenhart was the Finance Officer—he was the one who signed the checks. The Veterans Program was actually a part of the Consular Section because it had been determined that our functions were more akin to that of the Consular section than any other embassy office. So we reported to the chief Consular officer. Physically, we had separate offices in the Hotel D'Iena off the Champs-Elys�es. We shared space with the Office of the Foreign Liquidation Commission, which was an Army operation aimed at getting rid of all of the Army's surplus equipment in Europe. Paris was the headquarters. We ate in the Embassy cafeteria. The Embassy assigned us an old Chrysler for transportation purposes which we used to go to the Embassy for lunch. There were no other restaurants in Paris at the time—food rationing was still in effect.
I also remember a long May weekend. My birthday was May 7 and on this particular year, it fell on a French holiday which made it a long weekend. During the next week there was another holiday—the day the Allied troops liberated Paris in 1945. The following week, we had another holiday. So it seemed to me that for the first few weeks I was in Paris, we only worked four-day weeks. I just couldn't get over that. I thought it was a great deal. That of course was sheer coincidence, but I won't forget that introduction to French work habits. We had a lot of work to do because we found that the French schools—primarily the University of Paris—had not been paid at all even though it had accepted ex-GIs as students. They had sent bills to the Embassy for tuition and books and wanted reimbursement. There were about 2,000 American students who had taken their discharges abroad and were attending universities in France. Then there were another approximately 1,500 claims, mostly coming from French dependents of soldiers who had been killed in the war. We also had to work on claims by World War I veterans whose benefits had been interrupted by the war and who wished to be reinstated. So the office's workload was heavy.