When World War II was at its peak, U.S. Army Sgt. Ernie Kreiling fought in the battlefields of northern France. In 1947, with the hostilities ceased, Kreiling returned to France with his bride Jean to give her—and, by extension, the readers of LIFE—a tour of his days of combat.
“They traveled light and slept in haylofts, found the spot where the sergeant had heard his first shot, and the ridge where he had taken his first prisoner,” wrote LIFE in its June 2, 1947 issue. “They even discovered a French family who had never expected to see the quiet soldier from Illinois again. With Memorial Day approaching, they did not forget Ernie’s friend who never came home again.”
Ernest Kreiling served as a staff sergeant in the Army from 1941 to ’45, and was awarded a Bronze star for bravery in action. The Kreilings, who had met in high school in Peoria, Ill., were married for 62 years, until Ernie’s death in 2008. After the war he worked as a syndicated columnist and critic, and he taught communications at the University of Southern California. Jean, who died in 2010, worked as a real estate agent and broker.
Their tour through France is one worth revisiting, as a reminder of the enormous human cost of the war. During World War II 407,316 American soldiers lost their lives and another 671,278 were wounded. The global totals are even more staggering: for all countries an estimated 15 million soldiers and 45 million civilians died in the war, with Russia, China and Germany suffering the highest casualty totals.
This photoset was taken nearly two years after the end of hostilities, but the landscape is still littered with the wreckage of war. The destruction is still very much present. But the young couple also has their moments of joy. Look at Jean and Ernie goofing around in the foxhole where he heard his first enemy shell. He could laugh about it now.
Ernie and Jean Kreiling shared a laugh as he showed her the foxhole where he first heard an enemy shell.