Sitting Tight

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Sitting Tight

Sitting Tight

American Express Manager M. J. Korpershoek, Jr., kept the Rotterdam office open, right up to the moment when the German bombers razed the heart of the city, and he bravely reopened it soon afterward. Korpershoek was not a man to live submissively under a conqueror's rule. At some later date he paid the price of patriotism as fixed by the Nazis. He died in a prison camp.

Meanwhile Vice-Presidents Bergeron and Boyce were at 11 Rue Scribe. As Holland and Belgium surrendered and the small valiant British Army escaped across the beaches of Dunkirk, they, like everyone else, realized that Paris was doomed. When the French Government ordered all Paris financial institutions to prepare to evacuate the city, Bergeron rented two ch�teaux in what he thought would be unoccupied France, but he and Boyce kept the flag flying in Paris.

The German Army regrouped swiftly and began the last drive through France. Against the uncoordinated resistance of the demoralized French it advanced almost as swiftly as its motorized transport could move. Then, from the southern gates of Paris, streamed the refugees. First those with money and few responsibilities, then panic-stricken people of all classes, and finally the government of France itself fled the city. But American Ambassador William C. Bullitt remained in his Embassy, and the doors at 11 Rue Scribe stayed open.

On the next to the last day Bergeron and Boyce decided that they could no longer risk American Express funds. Boyce loaded £4,000,000 worth of Travellers Cheques and securities into the famous French pie wagon and started on the long traffic-choked road away from Paris. No one guessed the treasure that ancient vehicle contained as Boyce drove slowly southward through the heterogeneous mass of transport, from donkey carts to Rolls-Royces. This was extremely fortunate for as the Nazi planes howled hideously over the long straight roads, strafing the helpless, inchoate crowds, Boyce was forced temporarily to abandon his impromptu money wagon and take refuge in a field, where he sought concealment for his two-hundred-pound bulk amid the frail, golden wheat.

Bergeron remained in Paris one more day. A few hours before the heavy boots of the Nazi troops beat ominously down the Champs Elys�es he, too, started for the first ch�teau in central France to which practically all the employees who had elected to stick with the Paris organization wherever it went, had already been transported in sight-seeing buses Within a few days the invaders overtook them and the trek was resumed to the second ch�teau near Bordeaux, where the books and records and their custodians were already located There they were joined by Gerald Berkey, who had been providing special mail service to the Spanish frontier and who characterized himself as "the highest-paid messenger in Europe.

Again the invaders came on, and the second chateau was found to be within the expected zone of occupation fixed by the Armistice. Boyce provided for this new complication by negotiating for the use of a small schoolhouse in Free France, unused because it was summer. Books, records, and employees were taken over the line just in time, and business "as usual" was conducted in the schoolhouse and on its lawn.

Marshal Ptain surrendered France in the Forest of Compi�gne on June 22, 1940, and the American Express office at 11 Rue Scribe was reopened on July 6. It remained open throughout the occupation until June 1941, when the Germans peremptorily ordered the closing of all American Express offices within German-held territory and the expulsion of all their American officials and employees.

Inter-American Affairs, Nelson Rockefeller, to handle Latin-American travel to the United States for technical education. This was no simple job. For example, one large group of Latinos arrived in New York Harbour on a January day, dressed in tropical clothes. Rundle had them held in the ship until heated buses could be procured. Then he rushed them to Macy's and outfitted them with winter woollens, suits, and overcoats. The bill was paid by American Express, which was later reimbursed by the United States Government.

Bert White, who became a lieutenant colonel, advised the Transportation Division of the United States Army and planned the troop movements within the United States. Gerald Berkey became a foreign economic adviser to the Service of Supply. Clyde R. Merrill, Olaf Ravndal, John P. Wagman, and John Fuchs went to the State Department. Paul W. Bradford became an executive officer in the lend-lease agency, and perhaps fifty other American Expressmen took key positions in the government, where their specialized knowledge of transportation and foreign economics was invaluable.

To Learn more about Vice-President Paul W. Bradford - Click here

What next? The Second World War

The Second World War

The first days of war were comparatively tranquil. Most of the work of preparation was done, the people sent off, the Cheques called in, the office shipshape. That first Sunday, Merrill cruised around Berlin in an ancient limousine, sizing up the situation. On his trip he accumulated a curious collection of anxious people. There was an aged United States senator and his wife, a jittery isolationist congressman, and a worried little British newspaperman from the London Chronicle. Merrill succeeded in getting the politicians out of the city, but he could do nothing for the journalist, who was broke and strangely apathetic. The man drifted around Berlin, seemingly in a pathetic daze for months, finally taking a job with a broadcasting studio. Much later Merrill learned that he was a crack British spy.

The Berlin office remained open, and most of its German employees were amazingly loyal to American Express. Early in September the porter, a huge fellow... see: The Second World War

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