When Morris Dennis returned to Nashville, Tennessee, from his time in the Navy during World War II, his seabag contained a “slightly burned” German flag, a 40 mm shell, a newspaper with the headline “Germany Quits,” his uniform, a pair of work pants, and a pair of wooden shoes.
In a profile in The Tennessean, Dennis, 90, recounted that soon after landing at Normandy on D-Day in 1944, he encountered a young French girl who waved him over and spoke to him in perfect English.
“My grandparents are starving, and I’m trying to take care of them,” the little girl said, according to Dennis. “The Germans have taken all of our food and everything we had. Do you have any food you can give me to take to them?”
He returned to his transport ship and explained the situation to his commander. The other members of his detachment contributed, and Dennis had a pile of rations and assorted food to take back to the little girl.
Initially, she refused. She said she wouldn’t take the food unless Dennis took something in return, telling him that’s how she was raised.
So she took off her shoes — made by her grandfather, a wood carver — and offered them to Dennis. He could always make more, she reasoned; “He’s good at it,” she explained.
The Navy shipped Dennis to Memphis when the Japanese surrendered and the war ended. He’d been given $196.95 in discharge pay and $11.90 for travel, but opted to hitchhike home to Nashville. Eventually, he started Dennis Paper Company and remained a Nashvillian for life. And the little girl’s shoes he carried with him through his deployment and in various cars from Memphis to Nashville have never left him.