U.S. Army Life

Heidelberg Memories

There’s a German song, “Ich hab’ mein herz in Heidelberg verloren,” which means:“I left my heart in Heidelberg.”  I lived there for about eight months in the mid 1960s, and I can vouch for those words. It’s fun to reminisce  about those days now that there are very few American military personnel left in Germany.

Heidelberg is a picturesque and ancient German university town on the Neckar River. On a hill above the town stands the ruin of an old castle from the 1600s, which overlooks the small river and a beautiful old bridge. In the summer the town sponsors a special celebration, which was called the “Burning of the Castle” in the 1960s. The lights all over town were turned off and fireworks set off from the castle and the bridge. The effect was dazzling for the town’s residents and the tourists. The best place to see it is from the river, and I was privileged to view it once from a boat my brother’s Cub Scout troop had rented.

The cobblestone streets are narrow and because the town is known for its famous University of Heidelberg, there are many small bars and restaurants frequented by students, like the celebrated Sepp’l and the Roten Ochsen (Red Ox). I still have a glass boot, a favorite and unusual drinking vessel for beer. Students would order a boot full of Germany’s renowned beverage and pass it around their table. The last one to drink from it pays the tab. Air gets caught in the toe of the boot and beer will often spray onto the face of the last drinkers, a good reason for hilarity.

Most Americans stationed  in Germany lived and worked in American facilities, built in a German style by Germans. When entering these American enclaves, it was always obvious it was a piece of Americana just by the name. I lived on the outskirts of  Heidelberg  in Patrick Henry Village. While in Mannheim, my folks had spacious officers’ quarters in Benjamin Franklin Village.

Secretary to Manager, Heidelberg Officers Club

Secretary to Manager, Heidelberg Officers Club

My first job after college was a brief but fascinating position as secretary to the manager of the Heidelberg Officers Club. I took dictation, wrote letters on a typewriter, and created the monthly newsletter that informed members of all the social activities of the club. During the Christmas holidays I got to sample the special punch for the New Year’s Day party, a unique and tasty recipe from the commanding general’s wife. It was appropriately named London Fog: equal parts coffee, vanilla ice cream, and brandy. It tasted so good it was easy to get fooled, and you’d be drunk before you knew what hit you.

Since I worked with several German women, I got to polish up my German as well as learn something about their culture. They also advised me on romantic matters. One of the perks of working at the Club was the reduced price of food and all the free coffee you could drink. I was a novice coffee drinker, but it smelled good and I felt very grownup. Trouble was, I liked it with cream or milk and I overdid it. Didn’t take long before I was home in bed with a rumbling stomach or on the toilet.

I had my own mini-home just across the street from the Club: a bedroom and bathroom combo on the second floor of the BWQ (Bachelor Women’s Quarters). The BWQ was home for the most part to American secretaries, female Air Force or Army personnel, and schoolteachers. I remember celebrating a new friend’s 25th birthday in the BWQ.  Lois was a California native and bought a green MG when she came for a European vacation and decided to stay in Germany for awhile. She found an American job in the area and ended up living across the hall from me. I still have a beer mug from the 1964 Oktoberfest in Munich; Lois drove us in her MG.

 

 

 

 

THE MED–ON TO ITALY & POMPEII

Seeing ancient culture was educational and enjoying the voyage was exciting, but socializing with other teenagers during our Med Cruise was the highlight for most of us military brats. The two-day cruise fromTurkey to Italy gave ample time to hold a teen dance in the Aft Lounge of the General Rose and a chance to get to know the nine teenagers who’d embarked in Turkey, plus the thirteen who’d come aboard in Istanbul. I was diligent in putting down first and last names of almost every teenager. My early newspaper experience must have influenced me! It’s unfortunate those skills didn’t extend to using my fairly simple camera. I took plenty of black and white photos but the lighting is off in most of them, or it was too overcast focusing from the ship and the backgrounds look blurry. Coming into Naples, we sailed past the island of Capri, which my photos depict as lumps in the mist.

We would only stay a night and day in Napoli but it was time enough to explore after dinner aboard ship and then again the next day. A small group of us, including two mothers and three teenage boys, walked from the ship to a nearby downtown area and bought a few items. I was evidently slightly disgusted and wrote in my scrapbook, “Charles (an Explorer Scout) was paying too much attention to me and I ignored him. He’s a slob. He bought an icky gray tie. We went in about every store. The boys were very bored with it all.” So much for my teenage opinions and the basic writing skills of a fifteen-year-old!

A Pompeii Street

A Pompeii Street

The next morning there was a bus to take us to famous Pompeii and a guided tour, although at the time I compared ancient ruins and thought that Leptis Magna, the Roman city in Libya, was much better. Apparently, the continuing excavations have since made Pompeii more outstanding.

I was annoyed when our tour guide took us to an almost completely restored house in Pompeii, but as a young female, I wasn’t allowed to enter. It was an ancient whorehouse with explicit graphic paintings and ceramic tile artwork. Some of the younger fellows who’d been able to go in told me the pictures on the walls were obscene, but they were too embarrassed to explain. This old postcard photo shows a Pompeii street.

One of the Explorer Scouts from Tripoli was my companion for the Pompeii tour. David was a couple of years younger and very entertaining and energetic. When we lagged behind the tour guide by stopping to buy postcards, we had to run to catch up. In my scrapbook I commented, “If we didn’t look a sight running through the streets of Pompeii.” I must have borrowed that phraseology from my Southern mother.

After the tour, our group was taken to a nearby restaurant for lunch. After all the exercise, we enjoyed the spaghetti. Many of us got up to leave right after we’d finished what we thought was lunch. The waiters hurried to usher us back to our tables: the pasta was just the first course, they were already beginning to serve the second course of filet mignon. Unsophisticated military personnel and their dependents, especially in the 1950s, weren’t used to the two-course meals served in Italy, especially ones starting with spaghetti. When my mother served spaghetti, she only added salad and bread.

 

 

FROM ATHENS TO ISTANBUL — 1958

A Mediterranean Cruise on a luxurious floating city isn’t such a special experience these days when everyone seems so used to world travel. Back in 1958, we military brats were excited by the prospect of visiting exotic ports, buying souvenirs, and enjoying the teenage social activities aboard a Navy ship like the General Rose. When we–my mother, sister and I–embarked in Tripoli along with about 100+ dependents, the Rose headed for Athens (I described this part of the voyage on June 25). A couple of days later, the Rose left Greece and headed east across the Aegean Sea to Istanbul. That night there was a teenage farewell dance since the families we had recently met, who had boarded in New York long before we had gotten on, were getting off in Istanbul to travel inland to their new homes in Ankara, Turkey. We sailed through the famous Dardenelles at 10:30 p.m., but since that famous narrow strait is 38 miles long, I’m sure it took us a while. The ship’s daily report probably informed us that the ancient city of Troy is near the western end of the strait and we would be sailing along the peninsula of Gallipoli (site of a famous WWI battle) until the ship entered the Sea of Marmara and kept going east to the port of Istanbul.

On Monday morning, we woke up in the harbor of Istanbul. Greece and Turkey weren’t on good terms and my mother was concerned we’d be caught up in it somehow. She’d also heard that Turkish cab drivers were erratic and drove too fast. Rumors about driving talents were rampant in the Middle East. The British, for instance, were considered dangerous in Tripoli. Despite being an enterprising and usually fearless Army wife, Mom did worry, probably more so because she was in charge for this trip, not my absent dad.

Beyazit Square

Beyazit Square

Mom, my sister Tupper and I were meeting up with Army friends who lived in Istanbul, and we had to catch a taxi to take us up to the main city from the harbor. Listening to the angry Turkish voices on the cab driver’s radio didn’t assuage Mom’s fears, but we did make it without incident. Our friends made sure we hit the hot spots in that large bustling city: the Sultan’s Palace, the Blue Mosque (we had to remove our shoes), the Topkapi Palace (the home of Ottoman sultans for 400 years), and the exotic Bazaar filled with hundreds of shops.  I bought a Turkish towel at one of the Bazaar shops. There was nothing terrycloth about this so-called towel: the material seemed like linen. Through the mists of memory, I can still see the fancy embroidery depicting a frog highlighted with shiny pieces of metal.

Istanbul was very large and beautiful; it was  a bustling  modern city with all the exotic accents of the Middle East.

The ship left Istanbul that night and by the next morning, we had already sailed back through the Dardenelles and south to dock in Izmir, in ancient times it was called Smyrna. Per usual, military passengers and dependents departed while new ones embarked. Years later I had a next door neighbor, Omar, who had lived in Izmir (another one of those “the world is a small place” examples). Wanting to document everything about this voyage, I kept track of all the teenage passenger names. It’s no wonder I later became a newspaper reporter.

Diana Darling, a friend from Tripoli, and I hung out together during the cruise. I documented my remark that her brief shipboard romance was getting off the ship in Izmir, and that the new kids, who’d gotten on in Istanbul, weren’t very friendly. According to my next scrapbook remark, it didn’t take long for all of us to get acquainted. One of the new fellows, Bill, was the ripe old age of 18, and he and I got very friendly. He didn’t seem to mind that I was only 15.

In Izmir, Diana and I ventured out on our own. We took a tour of the city and saw a Roman fort, a market and Kultur International Park. “We met two cute American sailors who bought us a Coke at the snack bar after the tour,” I wrote in my scrapbook. From the ship, I had taken two blurry photos of the mountains bordering the city and two clearer ones of the harbor area but didn’t take the camera on our excursion. My camera skills in those days were pitiful.

The two of us didn’t understand the Turkish currency, or the language, but managed to figure it out enough to take a gharri ride. The familiar horse-drawn carts had two horses here; in Tripoli they were pulled by a single horse. The ride was quite bumpy over cobblestone streets but we made it back to the ship safe and sound. The ship pulled anchor that night and headed west to Naples, a two-day sail.

 

A MILITARY MED CRUISE 1950’s STYLE

Wandering back in memory gives a different perspective, a look through rose-colored glasses. In this case, I was on a cruise, with my mother and nine-year-old sister, on the US Navy ship General Maurice Rose, through the Mediterranean on our way to New York City. It was a full ship with a contingent of about 160 passengers who had gotten on in Tripoli. Military personnel and military dependents would be embarking and debarking as we sailed to Athens, Istanbul, Izmir, Naples, Livorno and Gibralter before docking at Brooklyn Navy Yard a couple of weeks later.

Williams Family Passport - Tupper, Viki, Darby, Garnette

Williams Family Passport – Tupper, Viki, Darby, Garnette. Little brother flew to Florida with our dad and didn’t join the cruise.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s a different and insular world aboard ship. Getting one’s “sea legs” is important in case there are any storms. We had a tumultuous one off the coast of Italy about halfway into our trip, but I managed to stay upright with all systems go. My family was lucky our cabin (narrow bunk beds and a private toilet, as I recall) was on boat deck and not subject to as much rocking and rolling as all the lower decks. The smells aboard ship are definitely distinct: a pungent combination of oil, metal and seawater. There’s also the mysterious aroma, to me, of adventure: new vistas, new people, new places.

All the newness was mixed in with old friends from high school at Wheelus Air Force Base who were also coming back to the States. We teenagers had our own teen club in the Aft Lounge, in the back of the ship, with rock and roll music and all sorts of social activities. The ship had a small theater—a room with a portable screen and folding chairs—and was stocked with movies: Missouri Traveler, Wild is the Wind, and The Careless Years, for instance. The only one I still remember, because I’ve seen it again, was Anna Magnani and Tony Franciosa starring in Wild is the Wind.

There were three seatings for meals in the formal dining room. As a reminder, a seaman would walk the ship’s corridors with a small xylophone, using his mallet to hit three or four notes. We had the third seating and joined three American teachers traveling home.

The Rose passed out old-fashioned mimeographed copies of the Rose Report every day. It listed the movie being shown that day, a few tidbits of world news, something inspirational from the Chaplain, and even a little history. According to the Master’s Morning Report for 28-29 June, 1958, we had traveled 167 miles since the previous evening at an average speed of 12.9 knots. This was Voyage 102 for the Rose.

The first day’s sail brought us from Tripoli to Piraeus, the port of Athens, and that evening we were offered a 3-hour tour on a large bus, modern for its day. After being on the continent of Africa for almost three years, it was a bit of an eye-opener to see people wearing Western clothing and to see stoplights for the first time. We walked around the rocks and the ruins of the Acropolis, but I’m sure the fifty years since have produced many changes, and I know a museum has been opened.

USNS Rose Montage

USNS Rose Montage

 

THOUGHTS OF MEMORIAL DAY

Memorial Day reminds me of cemeteries and the fact I’m a proud Army brat. I’ve been to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington National Cemetery and watched as a trained soldier walked his special pace back and forth in front of the memorial. It’s a very moving ceremony and reminds me even more of my connection to the US Military. Because of modern technology, the Vietnam War unknown soldier has been identified using DNA. It seems unlikely now that there will be another unknown soldier.

 

Brigadier General Victor W. Hobson, Arlington National Cemetery

Brigadier General Victor W. Hobson, Arlington National Cemetery

 

My birth father, Brigadier General V.W. Hobson is buried at Arlington National Cemetery; the stepfather who raised me, Colonel A.D. Williams, is buried in a military cemetery close to Provo, Utah. My mother, who died too young at Brooke Army Hospital in San Antonio, was first laid to rest in the Ft. Sam Houston cemetery in Texas and over 20 years later buried on top of my dad in Utah. Both fathers had military funerals with gun salutes, etc.

My son Hans found the grave of his grandfather, Brigadier General Victor W. Hobson at Arlington National Cemetery last year. He and Jen, his wife, were celebrating their first year wedding anniversary with a short trip to Washington, D.C. They had been there some years ago, but this trip as a couple was a special one. Their hotel overlooked the infamous Watergate complex and was near Memorial Bridge. Arlington Cemetery, with its thousands of military graves and the eternal flame from the Kennedy graves, was just across the Potomac. It was Hans’ idea to check out the historical graveyard and look for my birth father’s grave. I’d never seen it, since I wasn’t able to travel across country to his funeral. I had luckily connected with him for the last time a few years before he died in 2000, hours shy of my 58th birthday. The photo my son took brought sentimental thoughts, especially since I had not grown up with my father–World War II and a divorce stood in the way. I did not meet him “officially” until I turned 21. Using the excuse of family history, I looked him up when he was stationed at the Pentagon.

There were no guns for my mother’s funeral but lots of tears and laughter as we remembered her. Fittingly, because of her love of music, the famous jazz musician Duke Ellington died on the day of her Texas funeral. My sister and I had our own private ceremony when we decided her coffin needed to be moved so that her grave would at least be close to family. After all, an Army wife is used to moving without being asked her opinion. I thought it was fitting that she was in the top position of the grave this time, with her husband on the bottom. As a matter of fact, she would have had a good laugh. Military wives learn early on to see humor almost everywhere.

Here’s to all those who have died for the good old USA, all those still protecting us, which now includes plenty of women, and to all the wives and families who support our military.

 

 

INTO THE PAST–AUTOGRAPHS & MEMORIES

I save things from the past; somewhere, deep inside, I must have known they would interest me when I grew older. Or perhaps they helped me make sense of my gypsy life. They were fodder for my writing, if nothing else. I recently ran across my Autographs Book, which was popular in the 1950s. They were small: about 6 inches by 4 inches and filled with small sheets of colored paper. The front of the brown fake leather cover has already come off, but the autographs, many in now faded pencil have lasted.

Autographs

Inside, I wrote that Viki Williams, my name at 11 years old, lived at 1460B 5th Avenue in Ft. Knox, Kentucky from 1954-55 and my 7th grade teacher was Mrs. Wright. Cindy Brackett, who lived a few houses away in this area of typical two-story Army brick houses for officers, was my first signature. She and I had something in common besides our ages: our mothers had both given birth to little boys about the same time. We were still occasionally playing with dolls, but live babies were much more fun. I remember taking my brother, whom I gleefully nicknamed Doodles, in his stroller down to Cindy’s house. We fed “our” little boys together.

My Baby Brother
My Baby Brother

 

Cindy wrote that I was “the sweetest girl” she knew, along with typical poems like, “Roses are red, violets are blue, I know a bulldog that looks just like you!” In those simpler times, it was largely assumed that girls would get married and have babies shortly after high school or college and several autographs had the poem, “When you get married and have twins, don’t come running to me for safety pins.” (no disposable diapers in those days!)

I had a crush on a boy who played baseball, Ward Morton. Our first date was for a movie on the post, and my dad insisted it had to be a double date. Ward brought a friend and I brought a friend, and we all paid our own way, probably no more than 25 cents. In the summer of 1955, things must have heated up—Ward signed my book very simply, “I love you, Viki.” And he listed his Ft. Knox address! He sent me postcards when his family went to the family home in Wisconsin for vacation. Young love doesn’t last long in the Army; a few months later my family flew off to Tripoli, Libya, for a few years.

In 8th through 10th grade at Wheelus Air Force Base, we were so much more sophisticated! My friends wrote longer messages in the book to remind me how we had had fun together or to tease me, like Steve Gaynor, that I pronounced donkey as “dunkey.” William Maguire said I was a “real swell gal,” and Tom Henderson hoped we’d be within shouting distance when our parents were transferred to the Washington, D.C. area. I found autographs from Tanya Thomas, who reminded me of a hayride, Kay Ray, Sue Wisdom (who remembered us taking algebra together), Gail Carlson (who said “yours until Lassie marries Rin Tin Tin”) and Marla Bush among others. Karen Gamel recalled our climbing the wall around our villa one evening to spy on the British general’s party next door.

I had gotten to know a few Italian teenagers in Tripoli and they signed my book in Italian. I couldn’t read it then or now, but Enzo, who was half British, penned, “Ti voglio tanto, tanto, tanto bene…remember me.” Sounds romantic! I wonder how his life’s turned out. Stefano, Enzo’s good friend, wrote a message in German, which I can barely translate– something about being a good friend. As a footnote, Stefano visited my parents when they were stationed in Germany in the 1960s, and Enzo got my address and wrote me a few times when I was in college. The Internet has connected many old friends and classmates, but it’s not quite the same as looking at a friend’s written message and signature.

AN ARMY BRAT IN LIBYA

Americans living in foreign countries, especially those in the military or other government service, tend to keep or renew their ties over the years. At least that’s been my experience with the “kids” I went to high school with at Wheelus Air Force Base just outside Tripoli, Libya, in the 1950s. And since I’ve included experiences of living in Libya in my blog, students from  many classes, anywhere from the early 1950s to 1970 have gotten in touch to share their memories. We’ve all aged but the spirit of those long-ago days holds on and there have been many reunions of these students over the years. The most recent was last May in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

In the middle 1950s, Tripoli was a bustling, cosmopolitan city inhabited by  Libyans, Italians, British, Americans and an assortment of other European and Middle Eastern nationalities. Both the British and the Americans had military bases, and international oil companies were drilling for the oil that would eventually make the country rich beginning in 1959. Libya, for the first half of the twentieth century under Italian rule, had only gained its independence in 1951, and that auspicious occasion had been marked by the renaming of a main thoroughfare, to be forever after known as 24 December Street.

Like many major events in the life of an Army brat, I wasn’t sure I wanted to uproot from the States and travel to such a strange land. I was shocked when my father received orders in 1955 to report to North Africa. We were stationed at Ft. Knox, Kentucky, at the time, and Africa couldn’t have been more distant from civilization as far as my twelve-year-old mind was concerned. Morocco was our first assigned destination, specifically the peculiarly named Nouasseur. Orders were changed when Morocco had violent political problems and a few Americans were killed. My dad was reassigned to Wheelus Air Force Base just outside Tripoli.

My Army Corps of Engineers father, a lieutenant colonel, would command a military group that had something to do with maintaining the strategic airfield, the closest large American location to Russia, an important fact in those Cold War years. He would also be traveling to mysterious places such as Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, and Saudi Arabia.

 

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Our little family, which included Darby, my two-year-old brother and  Tupper, my six-year-old sister, boarded a military prop plane at Maguire Air Force Base in New Jersey the week before Thanksgiving, 1955. We left a snowy landscape and headed southeast over the Atlantic, our circuitous flight path leading us first to the tiny Azores Islands. Propeller-driven planes, not as efficient as jets, required refueling stops. We landed on the islands about 3 a.m. Azores time, were roused from sleep, and dependents and military personnel were herded off the plane onto waiting buses for a trip up a windy mountain road for breakfast in a non-commissioned officers club. A couple of hours later we were jammed back aboard, but mechanical difficulties kept us on the ground several more hours. When the plane was deemed airworthy, we were flown to Nouasseur Air Force Base in Morocco for another stop and finally on to Tripoli. Military planes, whether carrying troops or dependents, weren’t on fixed schedules. You landed when you landed.

What seemed like days but was more than likely some thirty hours later, we reached our new home. It was 9 p.m. in Tripoli, but after so many hours and so many time zones, who could tell? No snow on the ground here: the weather was temperate and probably no colder than 55 degrees. Only after a good night’s sleep would we regain our land legs and clarity of hearing – the noise and vibration of prop planes had a habit of disorienting the body, which included sight and hearing, for hours.

We lived in the Garden City area of Tripoli, not far from the King’s Palace, from 1955 until 1958. I loved all the contrasts that life in an ancient Arab city brought–camels and sheep, British Morris Minor cars mixing with American Fords, sandstorms called Ghiblis, the museum in the old Barbary Pirate fort, the lovely beaches at Georgimpopuli and Piccolo Capri, the vegetable man shouting out his fresh food, and the braying of donkeys and camels growling at night.

For more stories about life in Libya, order my book on Amazon. While you’re on the site, check out my other books.

POSTWAR GERMANY – 1947-49

World War II and its aftermath offers a never-ending supply of stories and is especially interesting to those of us old enough to have been affected in some way. Since I was born during that war and spent a few years of my early life in Germany, I’ll always be fascinated with the subject.  The “Monuments Men” movie starring George Clooney, about an Allied effort to save historic buildings and works of art during the war and after, will be released in February and I will be sure to see it.

 My first vivid memories date back to postwar Germany. Memory is an odd thing; as you age, you start to wonder if the memory is truly yours or what you were told by a parent or family member. Does it make any difference?

Mom, new dad and me - Munich train station

Mom, new dad and me – Munich train station

The 1940s was a tumultuous and tragic time.  Before I got to know my US Infantry officer father, he shipped off to Italy to fight. At the end of the war, my family dynamics quickly changed: my father had met an Italian woman he wanted to marry in Trieste, and my mother had met and married a Corps of Engineers officer.

The shift in couples was accomplished shortly after the war, and my mother and I joined her new husband in Murnau, Germany. I don’t remember our voyage, but I do recall the long train trip from Bremerhaven to Munich because a sliver of coal flew into my eye while I sat at the window. I was only four years old but I do remember the bombed-out city of Munich. Several still-standing single walls from apartment buildings continued to hold  feather comforters the occupants had hung out the window to air out before the building was destroyed. Some enterprising Germans were living in makeshift homes put together from destroyed buildings.

The victorious American Army  took over the best German housing. My dad was stationed in Murnau, south of Munich, which had been and still is a vacation town bordering the Bavarian Alps. Physically undamaged by the war, it was a picturesque town; most homes had window boxes filled with red geraniums in the summer, and there were plenty of places to ski in the winter. We were only 18 miles from Garmisch and the Zugspitze, the highest mountain in Germany, once the site for a winter Olympics in the 1930s.

Young and in love, my parents started married life in an idyllic situation. Although my dad was only a captain, we lived in an 18-room house on a large piece of property where my dad planted tomatoes in the spring. We even had a maid and a houseboy, an older couple who were kind and hard working. The American major next door had two children and their “borrowed” home had a swimming pool, which we all used in warm weather! Army people keep in touch and my parents reconnected with them years later when both couples had retired in Texas.

Before my sister was born in the Munich Army hospital, my folks had a terrific time: besides photos as evidence, my dad’s German secretary illustrated a picture book diary for them before they left Germany in 1949. They traveled to postwar Paris and saved a booklet from the somewhat scandalous Folies Bergere. Americans weren’t used to seeing total nudity on stage! Skiing at a local hillside and on the nearby Zugspitze was a regular family activity. There were also plenty of parties–we’d won the war, after all!  I remember the Chinese theme party illustrated in the secretary’s book, which I now have. Perhaps it was Chinese New Year.

I don’t think there was an Army school for me since I recall that my mother taught me first grade from the mail order Calvert School in Baltimore, Maryland. It was so advanced that I skipped second grade when we got back to the States. Another advantage for me was learning German, an easy accomplishment when young and surrounded by Germans. I had made friends with two German youngsters, Seeki and Uti, whose names I remember but not the proper spelling. When my folks needed a translator, I was their first choice!

I have photos of myself in ski boots and a ski outfit holding my wooden skis. My mother told me later I was a fairly decent skier but I didn’t know how to stop myself after coming down a hill.  In the photo below, I can see my mother liked to use bows for my hair and I even had a purse! I wonder how typically American my outfit was. I have no idea what this concrete structure is–maybe it’s some kind of bicycle stand. Apparently, I’m standing on a rug but it might be an addition especially for the photo, which was taken by my dad.

Posing in Murnau

Posing in Murnau

 

 

MILITARY GRAVES AT ARLINGTON NATIONAL CEMETERY

My son Hans found the grave of his grandfather, Brigadier General Victor W. Hobson at Arlington National Cemetery this month. He and Jen, his wife, were celebrating their first year wedding anniversary with a short trip to Washington, D.C. They had been there some years ago, but this trip as a couple was a special one. Their hotel overlooked the infamous Watergate complex and was near Memorial Bridge. Arlington Cemetery, with its thousands of military graves and the eternal flame from the Kennedy graves,  was just across the Potomac.  It was Hans’ idea to check out the historical graveyard and look for my birth father’s grave. I’d never seen it, since I wasn’t able to travel across country to his funeral. I had luckily connected with him for the last time a few years before he died in 2000, hours shy of my 58th birthday. The photo my son took brought sentimental thoughts, especially since I had not grown up with my father–World War II and a divorce stood in the way.  I did not meet him “officially” until I turned 21. Using the excuse of family history, I looked him up when he was stationed at the Pentagon.

Victor W Hobson, Brigadier General

Victor W Hobson, Brigadier General & wife Maria Luisa

 

I planned my meeting for the break between semesters my senior year of college, a turbulent time since President Kennedy had been assassinated only three months earlier.

Looking back now, I am amazed at my courage  and self-confidence to walk into his office without any prior notice. It was easy to get into the Pentagon in those years, but finding locations in a five-sided building was confusing.

Was this white-haired, slender man truly my father, I wondered as I walked into his large office? Did I even resemble him? Wasn’t he too old? My step-dad was scarcely gray. But this man’s hair was thick and wavy, similar to mine, and his slightly pug nose looked like mine. He looked at me inquisitively as I stood by his desk, my heart racing in my chest.

“Col. Hobson, I’m Viki Williams,” I introduced myself as he stood up with a smile. I noted he was taller than my dad. He maintained his outward composure, though I could detect the astonishment in his eyes. He knew who I was immediately. Calmly and politely, he told the adjutant in the office to leave and close the door behind him. He then directed me to sit in the chair in front of his desk.

“Now, what can I do for you?” he asked hesitantly, still smiling at me, the bomb who had dropped into his life.

What thoughts were rushing through his mind? I wondered as I kept my cool, though I was quaking underneath. Tension and unease hung in the air.  I quickly told him I was in my senior year of college and looking for careers, and I needed information for my CIA personnel form, such as where exactly he was born. As he gave me the information about his Alabama birth, we both relaxed a bit.

“I guess you think I’m about the worst man alive,” he offered with a hint of regret in his voice after we had finished the required questions.

“No, I don’t,” I replied evenly, too shy and uncertain to explain feelings I wasn’t even sure of. Even though in my experience Army officer fathers weren’t easygoing and jovial,  I had harbored no resentments through the years. I was simply curious and reaching out for clues to my origins.

“I’ve thought about you a great deal all these years,” he added softly. “You look very much like your mother, except taller.”

This whole story is told in more detail in my short book, Discovering the Victor in Victoria on Amazon.  http://amazon.com/author/victoriagiraud

There was an amazing synchronicity about our reconnecting. Three days afterward, Colonel Victor Hobson was promoted and became Brigadier General Victor W Hobson.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Victor Hobson promoted to Brigadier General

Victor Hobson promoted to Brigadier General at age 47.

MEMORIES OF MANNHEIM–US Army in Germany

Being born a military brat was an amazing gift for me: I like people in general and having the opportunity to experience various world cultures was an education I’ll never forget. Home is where you are living at the moment, which makes relocating so much easier. When I recently received Christian Fuhrer’s brand new book MEMORIES OF MANNHEIM – Die Amerikaner in der Quadratestadt seit 1945, I was delighted. Even though it was written in German, I could still remember a few words (I spoke it fluently as a child), and there were plenty of wonderful photos that had been donated by Americans connected to the US military since 1945.  I contributed two photos of my dad, Col. A.D. Williams, who had commanded the 521st Engineer Group in Mannheim in the early 1960s. One of them depicted Dad and a few of his officers in the German woods practicing “war;” the other one shows him handing out certificates of appreciation to German and French employees who worked for the U.S. Army. This American practice of appreciation was new to the Germans and they later adopted it for business.

A German professor from Duale Hochschule Baden-Württemberg Mannheim,  Dr. Christian Fuhrer, contacted me in 2011 when he saw the photo I’d posted of the Officers Club at Benjamin Franklin Village in Mannheim.  He was in the midst of writing his “memorial” book then because the US was essentially closing the military facilities in the Mannheim area. “The book will be a tribute to the thousands upon thousands of Americans for whom Mannheim has served as a temporary home,” Dr. Fuhrer said and added, “It’s also a personal way of saying thanks for a job well done. Postwar Germany owes the American servicemen much more than simple words can ever impart.”

Wasserturm Landmark in Mannheim

Dr. Fuhrer’s interest in Americans started when he was sixteen and was curious about the odd license plates on American cars. He rode his bike into Benjamin Franklin Village (BFV) and ended up getting involved in the American community as: a translator at the USO, a member of the BFV church choir, and an attendee and volunteer at American events.

He knew about American generosity from his mother, who was three when World War II ended. “American soldiers shared their rations with my mother and her family. The mentality of Americans seems to be—‘We’ll weather through it all, as long as we stick together.’”

Some of the history he shares in his book includes the fact that Gen. George S. Patton had his fatal 1945 car accident in Mannheim. In 1982 an American soldier “borrowed” a tank from Sullivan Barracks and drove into downtown Mannheim. He destroyed a streetcar and several cars and injured a couple of people before he backed the tank into the Neckar River and drowned. It made headlines, needless to say.

Doctor Christian Fuhrer

Doctor Christian Fuhrer

 
The Mannheim American school system served my brother and sister in the 1960s; in the late 1950s, my ex-husband, Hans Giraud, and even actress Faye Dunaway attended Mannheim American High School. I recently discovered that Michael Strahan, former professional Giants football player and now co-host of ABC-TV’s “Kelly and Michael,” was an Army brat and his photo also appears in the book, a few pages from my dad’s photo. 
Dr. Fuhrer’s book is divided into sections that cover a wide range of topics, from WWII history, which brought the US military to Germany, to how Americans stationed there,  soldiers and dependents, lived their lives. The military took care of schooling, shopping, health care and religious worship of all kinds. There were always groups to join, classes to attend (like learning German, for instance), sightseeing excursions, sports clubs and competitions, and entertainment at clubs for both enlisted personnel and officers.
This photo of Dr. Fuhrer was taken of his recent interview on German TV. His book is perched on the floor. His face shows his enthusiasm for this book of remembrances and tributes.

Americans have left Mannheim, but they’ll always have their memories, and so will the German community, thanks to Dr. Fuhrer’s book.

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