In 1955, I was six years old, and had lived in Phoenix, Arizona all of my life.
Dad was stationed at Luke Field, and received a PCS assignment to Germany. Fortunately, it was an accompanied tour, so we were able to travel with Dad, rather than join him later. I had 3 sisters, and Mom was expecting, we were quite a caravan!
We left Phoenix by car in mid March, and drove from there to Baltimore, Maryland. As I recall, it took a week to get there. We stayed overnight in Baltimore, then went by train to Fort Hamilton. We spent a few days there, visited with Great Aunts and Uncles who lived in the area, and got to know the other families who were also being transferred overseas. I remember long lines, and waiting, and getting lots of ‘shots’, including the dreaded ‘shick test’, which was given in the forearm, and which totally terrified all of us ‘brats’.
Finally, in late March, we boarded our ship, the Darby, and headed out to sea. As we left, Mom pointed out the Statue of Liberty, and the tugboats, all of which was fascinating to us, since we had never seen the ocean before. We were fortunate to have a cabin to ourselves, as many others had to share quarters with virtual strangers.
The cabin had 6 bunks, a sink, a dresser, a desk and two chairs. Each day, Mom would take us up on deck so that we could see the ever-changing colors of the ocean. On sunny days, the ocean was a deep blue, on cloudy days sometimes an almost metallic gray; sometimes an incredible green. We also went to the theatre, at about ten o’clock every morning for kids’ movies and sometimes sing-alongs.
All was not idyllic, however. We all spent varying amounts of time with our faces in ‘barf bags” when seasickness hit. On the second day out, the ship developed some sort of problem with the engine, and we limped back to port in New York, and spent a couple of days in dry dock until it was repaired. But we finally set out again, and proceeded fairly uneventfully except for some rather rough weather one night. The seas were so rough, that a clock on the dresser flew across the room and crashed into the opposite wall. Of course, we all woke up frightened, and Mom and Dad had to calm everyone.
We were all up on deck as we passed Dover, England, and the famous white cliffs. The sun came out as we traveled past, and I remember the changing colors of the sea as we neared land. We finally docked in Bremerhaven, Germany, left the ship late in the afternoon, and traveled overnight by train to Augsburg. The train trip was wonderful! We had a room to ourselves. The seats were burgundy-colored velvet, which to our childish eyes was terribly elegant, if somewhat threadbare. And best of all, the beds let down from the wall, which seemed almost magical.
After an overnight trip, we finally arrived in Augsburg, on Easter morning. We were taken to a hotel, and staff of the hotel had delivered Easter Baskets to all of the rooms with children. Those Easter baskets meant so much to us! I remember feeling welcomed, and that no matter how strange and different things were, some things were still the same. I still remember the kindness of the hotel staff.
One morning, while still in the hotel, my sisters and I were looking out the window, and we somewhat indignantly told Mom that the people upstairs were throwing pieces of white paper out the window. We were surprised and embarrassed to discover that the ‘paper’ was actually snow, which we had never seen before!
After a week or so in the hotel, we moved to Hahnstetten, which was near the Army post at Augsburg. Near our apartment, were a bakery and a confectioner’s shop, which was the favorite place for all of us ‘brats’. At the playground behind the apartments, we met the local children, as well as other ‘brats’. The things I remember most, were that we all played together, and that the language barrier was minor. Somehow, we were able to communicate without problem.
In October, we moved again, this time to Starnberg. We lived in a huge house which was surrounded by apple orchards, had iron gates at the end of a winding drive, and had various gardens and other trees. I’m not sure how we ended up in that particular house, since Dad was a S/Sgt. at the time, but I think it must have been that we had such a large family! While we lived in Starnberg, we became close friends with a fifteen-year-old girl, Ingrid Zettlemier. Ingrid spoke excellent English, and spent many rainy afternoons with us on the sun porch, teaching us to draw, and making wonderful Christmas ornaments from gold and silver paper.
Starnberg was approximately 20 km. from Furstenfeldbruck AFB, so my older sister and I had to ride in with Dad each morning to the school on base. The base school was excellent. My first grade teacher was Miss Furness, and I still remember her encouragement, especially on the day I realized that I could really read . . . I joyously told her that I had read an entire book, and she insisted that I stand up at the front of the class, and read it to the class. After I had read it aloud to the class, she told this class of first graders just how important reading would be to all of us, and how we needed to be able to communicate via the written word.
Just before Christmas, we finally completed our journey from Phoenix, and moved into an apartment on Furstenfeldbruck AFB. We made many lifelong friends at ‘Fursty’, and my parents still correspond with many of them. The travel and constant moving were not always easy, but I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything: at age six, I was already a world traveler!
Editor’s Note: This article first appeared in Military Brats Online in 1997.