Narimasu (Grant Heights) High School, Japan 1952-1954
Heidelberg American High School, Germany 1954-1958
After teaching in Iowa for eight years, I applied for a music position with the Army School for Dependent’s children, hoping that I would be assigned in Europe. After filling out many forms, I finally had a personal interview in Cedar Falls, Iowa, where approximately 25 other music teachers were interviewed that same day. The interview went extremely well and I was pleased with it, but didn’t expect to get accepted. However, on May 5, 1952 I received a letter stating that I had been accepted … but for Japan. I knew so little about Japan, only three words: Mt. Fuji, geisha, Ginza. This was not the time for me to say no” to learn more about another part of our world so I sent a telegram saying that I accepted the position … somewhere in Japan. (One was never given a final assignment until you were actually in the country).
What a busy summer that was. My sister got married on July 14 and she asked me to be her maid-of-honor at her large church wedding. Everyone knows what a wedding entails. Friends kept telling me that I hadn’t seen the United States yet; why would I want to go to another country. My answer was always, “The opportunity is here and I want to take advantage of it.”
A small booklet from the Civilian Personnel, Dept. of the Army, told me how to prepare for an overseas assignment: “You have been selected for a specific job overseas. Some of your friends and most of your family may think you are a little bit out of your mind but others envy you the privilege of serving in the important overseas program and at the same time having the opportunity to travel. There are many applicants for the overseas positions and you have reason to feel proud that you have met the selection requirements. No matter where you are scheduled you must be prepared to accept conditions as you find them … You will be quartered with other people and will have to adjust your habits and make the best of situations which may be trying. Keep your sense of humor working full-time and you may have some interesting anecdotes to tell later about your companions and experiences.”
“In addition to the two pieces of hand luggage you may take 350 pounds of baggage which will be stored in the hold of the ship and will not be accessible to you. Your baggage must be sturdy, durable and securely locked. Do not leave home until you are advised to do so by your processing station. They will receive your port call and will arrange for your travel to the proper pat of embarkation. All reservations will be made for you and tickets will be furnished.”
“You are not allowed to take more than $50 in U.S. cash into most overseas commands, you will be wise to convert $100 more into travelers checks or postal money orders. This will give you $150 to carry you until your first pay, which may not be for approximately 3 weeks after you arrive overseas. Also have sufficient funds to pay incidental expenses enroute.” (There were many more instructions but these few were the gist of the brochure).”
The day I was told to report, Aug. 5, finally arrived and my parents drove me to Omaha, Nebraska. A new kind of life began for me. I took the Oath, was told of the seriousness of the situation, and was fingerprinted. I waited from 3:30 p.m. until 1:40 a.m. when I boarded a Pullman on the City of Portland train for Seattle, my port of embarkation. The ticket cost $73.81 … paid by the Army. Two hours later our train stopped for a long time. Later I was told that at 3:30 a.m. the train had run over a woman near Grand Island; we had to wait 11/2 hours for the coroner to arrive before the train could continue. A rather sad beginning for my new adventure.
After a sleepless night with much bouncing around in the upper berth, morning finally arrived. Breakfast made me feel like “Mrs. Astor” and I wondered what I had done to deserve all this! The day was spent finding others on the train also going to Japan, getting acquainted, watching the scenery go by … Wyoming seemed to be covered with sage brush, Utah had so many sand hills, the Columbia River Gorge had people fishing salmon with spears from the dam, later we saw the results of the timber and lumber business and the logs rolling into the river. At Portland we had to change trains for Seattle. We got aboard the “Train of Tomorrow” where each coach was different. There were four Dome cars, one was a restaurant, and each was unusual and beautiful.
Seattle at last. The brochure told us to proceed to the New Richmond Hotel via a military bus. This hotel was near the railroad station and pier so it was not in a good section of town with characters around. That same night there was open house on the General Gaffrey, the Flagship of the Pacific. Rumor had it we might go to Japan on it. We went aboard and saw troops quarters, the mess hall, the engines, radar, etc.
The brochure said: “You are responsible for having your hold baggage delivered to the port. You will have three days (I was there five days) in Seattle and your expenses will be app. $3.50 a day for room and $4.50 for food.”
Part of each day was spent in orientation and the rest for our shots (I had to have a tetanus shot) and immunization papers had to be in order. Then we could tour the city, visit friends there, and attend movies or concerts in the Civic Center. The orientation sessions contained information about conduct on the ship, living in a different country, etc, etc. Terms were explained that were new to me: off-limits, script, billet, PX, etc.
August 12… our sailing day. Up at 5:30 a.m., luggage in the lobby at 6:15, breakfast at the Olympic Hotel at 6:30, 8:15 each one waited in the lobby until her/his name was called. We had to walk in a certain order and sit in an assigned seat on the military bus. The bus filled and we drove off toward the pier. We saw the troops also moving but we still didn’t know if we would go on the Gen. Howzie or the Gen. Gaf. At 9:30 we went aboard the ship and it WAS the Gen. Gaffey! Hip Hip Hurray! As we departed a band was playing as the troops, wives and children of men already in Japan, officers, and the civilians milled around, each with their own thoughts… sad to be leaving our country and wondering what new experiences awaited us in the Orient. We were finally on our way.
Ship travel was not new to me since I had gone to Europe on ships the summers of 1948, 1949, and 1951. I was happy that the movement of the ship on the ocean waves never made me seasick, but our first night on the Gen. Gaffey was rough and rocky; many others became ill. I find ship travel very relaxing because I can spend the time as I choose… sitting on the sun deck, reading, talking to friends, playing shuffleboard, sleeping, eating, whatever. I did get involved in directing the choir and played for the church services aboard so there were rehearsals. On Sunday there was a service for civilians at 9 am and at 9:50 am an M P led the 12 choir members and myself down through a maze of stairs, and men and crew, to the recreation room on C deck for their service. The troops were wearing fatigues, some were sitting on chairs, some standing, and others were sitting on the floor. Our choir sang two songs; “The Heavens Resound” and “I Would Be True” and Chaplain Spence led the service. As we left, all the men had risen on both sides of the aisle as we filed out and up. Later Chaplain Spence told us many of the men had said they didn’t know the choir would be that good. For me, this was an unforgettable experience!
Crossing an International Date Line is a time for breaking the monotony of a voyage. That day we went from Sunday-to-Tuesday. Whatever happened to Monday that week? (Later this was a good question to ask young nieces and nephews). One rule for the day was that the left pant leg must be rolled above the knee. At 2 p.m. the ceremony was held on deck for King Neptune’s Court, with a Queen, Mermaid, and a Royal Baby (a huge fat man). Twenty-five officers, troops, and teachers had received summons for the ceremony. They were blindfolded and walked on mustard, eggshells, and spaghetti; catsup and mustard was rubbed into their hair, they got the hot seat and finally walked a plank into a tank of water. Two of my teacher friends had received summons and had gone through the line of “torture”. Everyone was enjoying the entertainment and laughing and joking with those in the line when all of a sudden water came from all directions and everyone got soaked! Yes, 40-plus years later I still vividly remember the first time I crossed the International Date Line!
Part of the entertainment was a variety show. I accompanied several soloists and sang in a women’s quartet. It was so hot and humid that the floor of the lounge and dining room were wet, but we kept on rehearsing in spite of the heat. Again, the show was given for the troops down in C deck. It was so hot down there that all the men were naked to the waist. A spotlight was on the performer, a Captain acted as M.C. Performers sang songs such as: “The Girl that I Marry”, “Walkin’ My Baby Back Home”, “Basin St. Blues”, “You Made Me Love You”, “All My Love”, “Pagan Love Song”, and “Wunderbar”. There was jokes of all sorts; one was about a 3 year old at 9 p.m.: “Come det me I’m fru, Come det me I’m fru, Who took me out of my nice warm cot And put me on this cold, cold pot to make wee-wee whether I want to or not. Come get me I’m fru (noise) I thought I was fru.”
We also did the variety show for the civilians and another for the children aboard. The last night aboard we had the Captain’s dinner: shrimp cocktail, delicious steak with vegetables, French pastries, nuts, and the works. The meal was excellent but the heat had been almost intolerable for the last days. Finally, at 10:30 we saw a lighthouse beacon. Land, at last, after 11 days on the Pacific Ocean. August 23. We were awakened at 5 a.m. and saw that fog surrounded our ship. After breakfast at 6 a.m. we stood on deck and watched two pilots, boats, freighters, steamers, a junk far in the distance, other fishing boats with sails, and finally the breakwater and a lighthouse. (We had been told that there would be no picture taking here and if anyone tried, their camera would be confiscated). One time I counted 12 huge ships; never had I seen such a harbor with so much activity. This was Yokohama, Japan.
We finally pulled into the pier where an Army band was playing. All the wives aboard were looking for their husbands; children were trying to find their daddies. Those of us who had no one to meet them just looked at all the soldiers on the pier with corsages and presents for their loved ones. I finally left and went into the lounge where all the teachers were. Soon, three people called roll; one female Major yelled, “Sound Off and called us in various size groups. I was called in the last group of app. 25 and told we were assigned to Tokyo (from the beginning I felt that was where I would be teaching). I was busy with my things and carefully listening to words from those in charge, when I looked in another direction and there stood a friend from the states. I couldn’t believe my eyes. I walked over and said, “What are you doing here?” He told me he had been stationed in Korea for a year and was now in Japan. He had pulled strings to get on board to meet me. (This was the first of seeing many former friends in Japan … many were in Korea and would come to Tokyo on R and R. They would call and we’d go to dinner or a concert or show. Once I was in a line to cash my paycheck and a former student of mine was in the same line. Even though I had crossed a wide ocean, I never felt far from home because of these chance encounters).
The newly arrived civilians walked to the military bus headed for Tokyo and a most interesting ride. My eyes were glued to the window where I saw strange and curious sights. People were everywhere; I had never seen so many crowded together. There were shacks along both sides of the road that we wouldn’t keep animals in. None of the houses had been paint. Special gates were in front of each shrine. Even though the road was very bumpy we could hear the tap-tap-tap and clopping of the Japanese wooden getas (shoes). Most women were wearing kimonos; many had children tied on their backs with a wide sash. Whenever the men had the urge to urinate they just stood with their backs to the traffic and relieved themselves. The multitude of impressions came as our bus rapidly sped towards Tokyo. It seemed I was observing a circus or carnival and at the end of the day everyone would disappear. Inside the bus we laughed, we talked, we pointed, we whispered, we shed tears, we were silent … this country was to be my home for at least two years, the length of my contract.
Traffic became heavier as we finally arrived in Tokyo and the Osaka Hotel, a very large building used for housing 600 DAC’S (Department of Army Civilian) women, not far from the old Imperial Hotel, the Palace, and Hibiya Hall (concert hall). I found the room assigned to me but inside were 2 Oriental women eating food with chopsticks. I quickly went to my friend’s room and said in a disgusted voice, “I thought this was housing for American women”. She told me, “They are American women, probably from Hawaii or California”. Yes, that was the case. After getting settled I wanted to go to the Ginza to see what Tokyo at night was like. Down to the lobby to the information desk where I said, “Where is the geish?” I meant Ginza. What a confused beginning day in the Orient.
I finally got to bed but the overpowering heat and humidity made sleep difficult, even with two floor fans moving the air. Then I remembered the photos in newspapers during World War II of Japanese men with a sneer in their face and the flaps of their caps pulled down over their ears … and I was scared. Something told me that I would never live through the night; someone was sure to take a long sharp sword and decapitate me … Then, outside I heard the soft quivering sounds of a flute playing a song over and over. With these delicious sounds the tension and stress of the day disappeared and I slept. Next morning I asked about the music and was told it was a “sobs” (flute) player announcing his arrival on his night route selling hot soup from his cart. If a Japanese was interested he or she went out and bought a bowl before retiring. What a great idea!
For two weeks I had to wear the few clothes from my carry-on suitcase because my 350 pounds of baggage had been taken to the city of Osaka instead of the Osaka Hotel in Tokyo. I tried to purchase a few blouses in the Japanese market but that was impossible, they were too small. A friend of mine had a worse story to tell. She was packing to go to Japan; her daughter was packing to go to college. When Mildred’s luggage arrived in Japan it was her daughter’s and her daughter got hers. Many months passed before the correct luggage arrived. How about that surprise halfway around the world?
Our first high school meeting was held on Sept. 5, 10:00 a.m. The school, Grant Heights, called Narimasu American School, was approximately one hour by military bus from the center of Tokyo where I lived. The bus arrived at the Osaka Hotel at 7 am and in one hour we were at the housing area where the school was located. Our duty hours were from 8 -4; we had to be in the classroom at 8:30. School was over at 3:15 and we again took the military bus at 3:30. Teachers’ meetings were held before school began; we had no after school activities because of our traveling back into Tokyo.
At the combined Tokyo Teachers’ first meeting, Major Spreng, the school superintendent, told us, “We are workers here to carry out his thoughts”.. His, meaning the Commanding Officer of the Far East Education. We were introduced to the school nurse; the Assistant Director of the Tokyo Schools; the one in charge of Civilian Personnel who talked about the correct channels and the chain of command, to notify the Red Cross in case of an emergency, and our annual leave would be 13 days per year, etc. All the speeches presented made me realize how different teaching within the Army framework would be from my previous teaching experiences. One statement was, “If you ask something unreasonable, you will become aware of it.” Another said, “I will be truthful without being too revealing … telling you the bitter with the better.”
Registration for the high school students began. Since I was the high school Choral and Band teacher, I told those in charge of registration that any student who wanted to sign up for music to go to the music room so I could hear them sing if they wanted to be in the chorus; to find out the instrument played, how long, etc. Hours went by and no students came. I finally went back to the registration desk realizing that in the Army one did not get choir and band students that way. What a big surprise for me! As the year progressed I found out that a student could be in class today and gone tomorrow because fathers were often transferred or their duty would be up and they would go back to the States. When I realized this, I taught what I could each day; I never knew for sure who would be in my class tomorrow. When one is training trios, octets, sextets, and choirs and a band to perform for an audience you, the reader will begin to understand my problem. Somehow we managed. The letters quoted here tell the story better than I.
American Red Cross
Tokyo Army Hospital
8059th Army Unit
26 December 1952
Dear Miss Nelson:
On behalf of the patients at Tokyo Hospital Annex, we wish to express our appreciation for the very fine singing done by your Narimasu choral group at the Annex Saturday, 13 December.
The patients’ first taste of caroling for the Christmas Season was a refreshing and stimulating one. All the aspects of your program for the Christmas Story, in narration and in song, to the informal octet numbers were a success with the Annex patients.
Please extend to all the members of the choral group our sincere thanks for their generous contribution of time and enthusiasm, so necessary for the morale of boys far away from home during the holiday season.
A Happy New Year to all of you!
Field Director, Margaret M. Ryan
Office of Field Director
Volunteer Services Headquaruis
Tokyo Area APO 500
16 January 1953
Miss LouCelle Nelson
Music Teacher Narimasu High School Grant Heights
Dear Miss Nelson:
Reports from the three hospitals in Tokyo and American Red Cross staff in hospitals in Korea are that 1952 Christmas was truly Christmas! Some of the patients have joyfully expressed amazement over all the good cheer and gifts brought their way during the holidays. We are proud of you and your group and wish to convey heartfelt appreciation for your contribution to the success of this program.
As you perhaps know, the Military and American Red Cross are responsible for providing only the basic comfort items for U.N. Servicemen patients. It is Community Services’ job to coordinate the efforts of individuals and groups on a volunteer basis to furnish the gifts and warm human interest to make the boys feel less far away from home and family.
We decided that there was no more convincing proof of the wonderful spirit of the Tokyo Community than the December monthly report which is prepared for the Tokyo Field Director’s Office and Red Cross Theatre Headquarters. We hope also that you will accept it as many, many thanks for your part in a job well done!
Mrs. Tristan E. Beplat, Chairman Community Services to Hospitals
Headquaruxs Camp Tokyo
Tokyo American School Division
30 April 1953
Dear Miss Nelson:
May I again congratulate you and your fine choral group on the splendid program, which you rendered, to our children on 28 April 1953? The choir evidenced fine points of choral technique and enthusiasm for singing. I can appreciate the time, effort, and training which you have given to make such a program possible. Please extend to your students our compliments and our thanks.
Very Sincerely yours,
Ruby Ruth Bartley
Specialist in Music Education
American Red Cross
13 May 1953
Dear Miss Nelson:
We wish to express out thanks again to you and to the students of Narimasu High School for providing the patients at Tokyo Army Hospital with entertainment. Your program was one of the best performances we have had in our lounge. Many of the patients have expressed wishes that you will soon return for a repeat performance.
Thank you again for thinking of the patients at this hospital is such a wonderful way.
Filed Director – Margaret M. Ryan
Tokyo American High School – Narimasu
Headquarters Camp Tokyo
3 June 1953
Dear Miss Nelson:
The Senior Class of ’53 Narimasu High School wish to thank you for helping to make our baccalaureate and commencement exercises a wonderful occasion in our lives.
Raymond D. Gay President of Senior Class Narimasu High School
But this is getting ahead of the story.
Soon after I had been assigned my music room, I wanted some changes in the room. Several Japanese custodians (I don’t remember what they were called) were cleaning the room; I told them where I wanted the furniture placed. Immediately they all stopped working and stood like statues. They would not continue until the head custodian came and I told him what I wanted done; he then gave the orders to the others. My mistake – I had neglected to use the chain of command.
Several months later the music room was moved to a Quonset hut in the courtyard. This was a better place for our small band rehearsals, which were sometimes loud. There were two other Quonset huts nearby, one used by the 6th grade class. The teacher of that class came to me at lunchtime and said, “I wish you would stop practicing the “Star Spangled Banner”. I couldn’t imagine why we should stop so I asked her why. She said, “Every time you practice the song we have to stop whatever we are doing and stand up until you finish.” I said, “You only stand up if you are in the same room when it is performed.” I couldn’t believe a teacher wouldn’t know that! The brochure from the Army had said, “Keep your sense of humor working full-time and you may have some interesting anecdotes to tell later about your companions.”
The teaching-for-a-day with not too many plans for long-range goals became easier for me. The students were industrious, bright, talented, studious, traveled, and wonderful to teach. The weeks went by rapidly as though I were still in America, however, the two hours each day on the military bus made me realize this WAS a very different culture and way of life. What sights I saw: people opening their small stalls, babies tied to the backs of grandpas or grandmas, rag men beginning their collection for the day, priests with their begging bowls, groups sitting around hibachi (charcoal burners), men pulling honey-bucket carts, shrines with activities, markets, the scenes never stopped. For two school years I had the privilege of seeing ordinary people’s daily lives. Almost four decades later these scenes are still etched in memory.
Many of the staff learned the Japanese language; my interests were with music opportunities. I joined the Tokyo Madrigal Singers. The Japanese director had studied in England and was excellent. We rehearsed often and sang at many functions. The most impressive was the Coronation Service (for Queen Elizabeth II Coronation in England) at St. Andrews Church. We sang “Zadok the Priest” by Handel; the same song was sung in London at the actual event. The Englishmen wore their uniforms, many medals and ribbons, some with a sword in the scabbard. This was at 11 am. on May 31, 1953. At 2 p.m. the same day the Baccalaureate service for the senior class was at St. Luke’s Chapel with some of my groups singing. What a busy day in most unusual circumstances.
For special performances I sang in the Tokyo Chapel Center Choir. In December 1953 we performed “The Messiah” by Handel. Many of the singers were Japanese. Thoughts were vivid when I remembered that on December 7, 1941 in Fort Dodge, Iowa I was also singing in the chorus of the same work when news of the bombing of Pearl Harbor reached us. During intermission that was all we could talk about; we could hardly believe it. Now, l1 years later, here I was in Japan singing in the same great oratorio. Strange…
Because I lived in the middle of Tokyo, near the Imperial Hotel (recently torn down and a tall Imperial Hotel was built) designed by Frank Lloyd Wright and earthquake proof, near the Hibiya Hall (a concert hall), it was possible to attend concerts, recitals, and shows often. Russian Ballet, “Elijah” (oratorio) by Mendelssohn sung by 500 voices (Japanese), famous operatic stars such as Helen Traubel, piano recital by Walter Geiseking, Princeton Seminary Choir, Horace Heidt show, “Madame Butterfly” opera (what a perfect setting), Isaac Stern violin concert accompanied by the NHK Symphony Orchestra, International Ice Show, Louis Armstrong Show with Oscar Peterson and Gene Krupa, DePauer Infantry Chorus (I attended all four of their performances), Budapest String Quartet, Tagliavini (tenor), Josephine Baker show, Jascha Heifetz violin recital, Globe Trotters, and Aqua Show with Mickey Rooney and Margaret O’Brien, Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt narrating “Peter and the Wolf’, Xavier Cugat Band… only a few examples of the great variety in programs available to us.
There were the traditional Japanese productions to attend: KABUKI begun in the latter half of 18th century, the most popular drama for Japanese reflecting contemporary life. Only men performed in Kabuki and some did the female impersonations. The 2-3-hour play includes music, dancing, elaborate costumes, sometimes masks, heavy make-up, and superstars. The audience would shout the name of a favorite actor; there was nothing “shy” about those Japanese who attended Kabuki! Often people ate lunch during the play. During the Kabuki season I attended as many Saturday performances as possible and was fascinated with each one.
NOH plays reached perfection in the 14th century and survive unchanged from an ancient culture. The actors wore a carved wooden mask and a beautiful brocade costume. A very, very slow lifting of the foot and placing on the floor could symbolize a long space of time. Everything about NOH seemed so slow and deliberate; I did not have the background to understand or enjoy it … NOH was a “no”. BUNRAKU or Puppet Theater began in 794 and was raised to dignified dramatic art in the lane 17th century. Three men, heads covered with black cloth, acted in unison for each puppet One man controlled the expression on the puppet’s face and right arm and hand; one controlled the left arm, hand and any props it carried; another moved the legs of this very large puppet, perhaps the easiest job. It takes approximately 30 years to become an expert. Each puppet is 2/3 the size of a human being. Talking and instruments told the story.
SUMO wrestling began app. 200 AD and is steeped in tradition. The 200-365 pound professional wrestlers wear only loincloths; their hair is slicked down with linseed oil in a topknot. With much ceremony they try to push each other out-of-bounds or down. A most unusual entertainment, but enjoyable.
TEA CEREMONY is very formal, usually held in a teahouse surrounded by landscaped gardens. In this demonstration on preparing and serving green tea only the most beautiful equipment is used by the hostess as the guests watch each slow and careful move. Fodor’s Guide, 1989 states, “An aesthetic experience designed to help achieve a profound understanding of life’s basic tenets through serenity and harmony.” The first time I was invited to a tea ceremony we were all given small cakes as well as tea, however, one of the guests accidentally dropped her cake … we were all so embarrassed. This was a formal-formal occasion and one did not do anything to detract from that, even accidentally. In 1985 my husband and I were in Tokyo. A tour of the city included a tea ceremony. Many were already in the teahouse when we got there so I sat next to the tokonoma, a special place of beauty in the room. After the tea was made, whisked into a frothy drink, and poured into an exquisite teacup, she brought it to me … because I was sitting in the place of honor beside the tokonoma. I thought what a lovely bonus for the help I had given to the Japanese during my teaching days 35 years earlier (The other guests drank tea which had been made in another room.)
The PUBLIC BATH HOUSE was typically Japanese, a form of relaxation and pleasure, and communal like a social gathering. The huge pool was for soaking only, not for washing. Before getting into the bath one washed with soap and rinsed oneself. Usually the sexes had separate areas or pools. Yes, of course I tried the public bath and found it very relaxing.
Japanese did not often invite friends to their homes but rather entertained them at a restaurant. Usually shoes had to be removed and slippers were provided. Once I was invited by a teacher to visit his Japanese artist friend and Korean wife. They had recently moved into a new, small charming home with a metal roof. Soft rain was hitting the roof making a pleasant sound as we four sat on the floor around a low table and ate tempura kotus root among other foods I had never tasted. What a memorable evening of friendship, conversation, and delicious Oriental cuisine.
Again, in 1970 I found myself in Tokyo and my dear Japanese friend from my teaching days there invited me to spend the weekend at her home in Chofu, a suburb of Tokyo. As we got closer to her home via public transportation, she told me she had to phone her mother to tell her the time of our arrival. After meeting her charming mother, I was told the ofuro was heated for me so I could bathe … that was the reason for the phone call. The ofuro was a round wooden “barrel” filled with water. I soaped myself, rinsed off, and climbed into the delicious hot water to relax after a very busy day in Tokyo. What an experience! Because I was the first guest they had had in their home, both mother and daughter were afraid that something was not quite right … that I was too cold or too hot, etc. Such tender loving care I received in that home. My gift from them was a cotton (yakata) kimono made by mama-san. I still have it and often wear it. My friend, Mary, has often visited me … in Long Island, in Miami, even on my family farm in Iowa when relatives from Norway were also visiting. It was a perfect time for an “East-Meets-West” party….all because I had been a teacher in the Army schools in 1950!
I shall never forget June 13, 1953, a very special day for me when I shook hands with one of America’s most distinguished citizens, Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt. She was traveling in Japan for some days and a Garden Party for invited guests was included in her itinerary. She was seated beside her daughter-in-law in the receiving line. What a thrill for me to take a photo of her and actually shake her hand!! Franklin Roosevelt had had polio, yet he became the President of the United States. He was my role model and I told myself that if he could attain such heights, I, who also had had polio as a child, could accomplish any goals I set for myself. He was my inspiration; his wife was his eyes, and ears, as she traveled around the world for him. How happy I was that our paths finally crossed.
MUSIC ACTIVITIES OF NARIMASU ARMY DEPENDENTS
HIGH SCHOOL, TOKYO, JAPAN.
1952 – 1953
MISS LOUCELLE NELSON, DIRECTOR
Dec. 13, 1952 One-hour concert in the recreation room of the Army Hospital Annex. Fifty students participate in giving the Christmas story in narration and song. We also caroled in the halls and some wards.
Dec. 17, 1952 Junior High Chorus caroled in the halls and some wards at the 8167 ARMY HOSPITAL from 7:30 – 8:30 p.m.
Dec. 19, 1952 Music Christmas Program at the Grant Heights Theater at 2:00 p.m.
The Boys’ Octet, Girls’ Trio, trombone and trumpet soloists performed at the Camp Drake Service Club.
Small group performed at a School Assembly
The Boy’s Octet, Girls’ Trio, trombone and trumpet soloists and a baritone solo by Bill Fleming presented a program at the Tachikawa Air Base Service Club at 7:30 pm.
Boys’ Octet, Village Band, and Trio performed at the PTA program.
Girls’ Triple Trio presented a 15-minute program at the Christian Women of Tokyo Retreat at the Grant Heights Chapel.
Twelve members of the school band furnished the music for the Red Cross Western Sock Hop.
The Boys’ Octet and Village Band performed at the Far East Principal’s Banquet in Yokohama.
The Mixed Chorus of 70 students, Octet, Trio, Triple Trio gave a one-hour concert at the TOKYO MAIN HOSPITAL at 2:00 pm.
The Village Band, Boys’ Octet, Trio gave a one hour program for the elementary students at 1:00 pro in the elementary auditorium.
Junior High Variety Show to pick the 3 best acts for the Senior High programs. Twelve acts were performed.
Boys’ Octet sang between acts of the Senior Class Play at Grant Heights Theater.
Mixed Chorus gave an hour concert in the TOKYO ARMY HOSPITAL ANNEX at 2:00 pm. Because of bus trouble from the bases only 30 students were present.
Boys’ Octet and Girls’ Trio made a tape recording at the NHK Building from 12:00 – 1:30.
Boys’ Octet sang at the Lettermen’s Banquet at Grant Heights at 7:00 pm.
The tape recording made on May 20 was played over the air on Bessie Gray’s program at 9:45-10:00 am.
Senior High Variety Show for the entire student body at 1:00 pin. Eighteen acts appeared.
Massed Choir sang at Baccalaureate at the St. Luke’s Chapel.
Girls’ Chorus and Boys’ Octet sang at Commencement at the Grant Heights Chapel
End of School Year 1952 – 1953 Musical Events
The music events for the school year 1953-1954 were the same as those listed for the previous year. I felt there was no need to list all of them.
NEW YEAR’S DAY, 1954
On New Year’s Day the Imperial Palace grounds were open to the public; people could cross the moat and see the Emperor and family standing on the balcony of the Imperial Household Building. I decided to join the crowd but first I had to walk to the Main Army Dispensary to have a doctor check my very bad sore throat and prescribe medicine for the pain. After finishing with the doctor I sauntered back to the Imperial Plaza filled with people … Japanese, old men and women, young women and a few young men, babies tied on the back of their mother or grandmother, some Americans soldiers and civilians.
I walked a few steps into the plaza. Very soon I was carried forward by the crowd; my feet were not touching the ground! This was extremely scary for me since I had polio as a child and my balance was not very good. The throng kept moving toward the narrow Nijubashi Bridge over the moat. Finally someone stepped on the back of my shoe and off it came. What a dilemma I was in then. Somehow I got over to the wall trying to catch my breath as I stood on one shoe. Then I saw an American soldier and yelled to him, “I lost my shoe, if you find it, please bring it to me.” When the crowd crossed the bridge the plaza near me was nearly empty. I noticed many kinds of Japanese footwear on the ground; it was reassuring to know I was not the only one to lose a shoe. Soon, the soldier came running toward me with his arm held high clutching my lost shoe. What an act of kindness; I hope he knew how grateful I felt.
What to do now? There was no way I could retrace my steps because the next wave of humanity was fast approaching the bridge. I was weak and on the verge of tears from the experience but knew I had to continue forward. As I stood there thinking about the mess I was in, there came a teacher from my high school making his way to the bridge. I shouted to Bill and he came over. I told him my problem and asked him if he would help me through the Palace Grounds. What a relief to take the arm of this 6’2″ strong American who escorted me the rest of the way! I was much too worn out to enjoy the landscaping, trees and bushes but we did pause in front of the balcony where the Emperor and his family were standing. (Before the war he was considered divine and no one dared look at him; after the war this changed and Japanese came from all over Japan to show their respect and see him.)
We arrived safely at the other gate of the palace grounds and I was none the worse for my “shoe experience”. An hour after I had been in the Plaza, the people thought the guards were closing the bridge for good so there was stampede to cross the bridge. In that rush, some Japanese stumbled and fell. Others fell on top of them. It was our American soldiers, also sightseers, who saw the impending disaster so they surrounded the pile of bodies by stretching their arms and linking hands so no one else would fall and get trampled. When the plaza was finally cleared there were 16 Japanese dead from that stampede.
How grateful that I had only lost my shoe for a short time. A very important lesson was learned that day. Never go where there is a huge crowd. No repeat experience of “walking-on-air” for me!
Two special music festivals occurred while teaching at Narimasu. We invited the Seigakuin High School Chorus to join our chorus and spend the day at our school. Dr. Nakada was the guest conductor.
Our chorus learned three Japanese songs in Japanese and they learned three American songs in English. The day of the festival we rehearsed these in the morning. Our Home Economics classes had prepared American food for the lunch and I remember watching the Japanese students trying to eat with a fork instead of the usual chopsticks. That was only one of the many firsts that festival day. In the afternoon the assembly program for the entire school opened with the singing of both National Anthems, followed by each school chorus singing two numbers. The assembly program ended with the combined choirs singing in Japanese and English. It was a beautiful day integrating two cultures and learning about each other through music.
The other festival was on a Sunday… International Music Festival of Yokohama. Many Japanese groups performed; the Narimasu Boys’ Octet was entered from our school. What a day of music making! Commodore Matthew C. Perry had entered Japan in 1853, which opened Japan to the West. Yokohama became the foreign trading post. One hundred years later, to commemorate this event, the Yokohama Music Festival occurred. “My” boys’ octet won one of the beautiful prizes, an embossed bronze vase on a wooden stand. Under the base of the vase is Japanese writing in gold telling of this event. There were eight boys in the octet and one teacher so they graciously gave me the prize.
Every Friday Japanese teachers had made arrangements with the Japanese Education Office to visit our American school and learn more about American teaching methods. A group of 10 or so would come to the classroom while we teachers went right on with our regular class work. I was always glad to see them and hoped they received ideas for their own teaching. There seemed to be few libraries in Tokyo at this time and I remember Japanese students reading books as they patiently stood in line, for hours, to finally be admitted into the library for an hour or so. Such diligent students.
Japan has earthquakes and we often felt tremors. One late evening when I was in bed in my room at the Osaka Hotel I could hear the rumble in the windows and felt the bed move. I quickly turned on the light (we were told never to do that) so I could see the time on the clock and watch the swinging light hanging from the ceiling. This was a strong quake and lasted longer than most. When it subsided many of us went into the communal bathroom to talk to others about the experience. Some carried a favorite item they didn’t want broken, but one woman, a secretary, said, “I knew my time had come as I had been drinking so I came to brush my teeth. I didn’t want to be caught with a whiskey breath”. What an interesting and revealing gabfest…. in the middle of the night. … in a communal bathroom….in Tokyo….
The music activities in school and away from school were many and kept me very busy but I still had time for lessons in flower arranging from Mrs. Tamara. She taught a group of us in a room in the Osaka Hotel bringing with her the flowers we should arrange usually in a low flat bowl. In Japan, flower arranging (Ikebana) is a fine art with the arrangement symbolizing heaven-man-earth. We would spend much time in placing the uppermost twig at just the right spot; the blossom as man; the lowest twig or leaf as earth. Often there was only one flower or bud in the arrangement. Mrs. Tamara was a talented and kind teacher and we became good friends. (When I was visiting Japan in 1970 she invited me to her home. Later she visited me when I lived on Long Island and she was on an Ikebana Tour in Europe and the U.S.).
I was so contented and happy and felt I could stay in Japan forever. My teaching was going so well, I was involved in so many different parts of the Japanese culture, and I had many interesting Japanese and American friends. However, several teachers had asked for a transfer to schools in Europe but their transfers hadn’t come through. I decided I better ask for a transfer when my two-year contract was up, knowing I would probably have to stay in Japan for another two-year contract. To my surprise, on February 4, 1954 Mr. Hoffman, high school principal, walked into my classroom saying I had been accepted to teach in Europe. My answer was, “But I don’t want to leave Japan”. He said, “You don’t have to”. Now what? Decision-making time. If I don’t accept, perhaps it would be years before I would get another transfer. I didn’t really want to leave this fascinating country. I knew being in Europe with all the operas, symphony orchestras, etc. would be better for my career in the future than staying here and learning more about the Koto, Samisen, and Kabuki. After much soul searching, the answer came to me, yes, I would transfer. I still had almost 5 months before departing Japan. I would use my remaining time wisely.
It was Samuel Johnson who wrote, “The use of traveling is to regulate imagination by reality, and instead of thinking how things may be, to see them as they are.” Often on Saturday several teacher friends would take a train to a nearby village and spend the day exploring. If I didn’t do that, I would spend the day in a Japanese department store looking at the various departments: brocades, kimonos, dishes, bamboo items, whatever. One Christmas holiday I flew by CAT to Hong Kong and Thailand with other teachers. An Easter holiday four friends flew to the South and visited Hiroshima and Nagasaki: I also visited Kyoto, Nikko, Sendai, Gifu, Kamakur. Teachers seemed to make the most of working in another country and taking advantage of all the opportunities for travel and learning. I am forever thankful for the privilege of teaching in the Army Dependent’s Schools.
In 1954 the Senior Class of Narimasu High School dedicated the school annual to the Crown Prince Akihito. The Foreword states, “During the past year, His Imperial Highness toured North America and Europe. He toured countries as a gesture of friendship, and in the theme of our annual we represented in symbols some of these countries: America, France, Switzerland, Italy, Japan, Spain, and England”. The actual dedication reads: “To His Imperial Highness the Crown Prince of Japan because he has done much to promote goodwill and friendship between his own and other countries; because of his interest in the academic pursuit of youth in other parts of the world; because his thought and ideas on international affairs are much the same as our own; We, the Senior Class of Narimasu High School in 1954 dedicate this annual to the Crown Prince Akihito.”
Now, 35 years after the dedication to a young Crown Prince, he has become Emperor Akihito of the new imperial era of Hei Sei, or “achieving peace”, after the death of his father, Emperor Hirohito in February 1989.
The closing of a school year is very busy and when one is leaving a far-away country it is even more hectic. There was last minute shopping, many farewell parties, and packing (even though the Army did the final packing in huge crates, we had to have all our items ready by a certain time.) The Junior Senior Banquet was on Friday evening, June 4; Baccalaureate was Sunday, June 6 at St. Luke’s Chapel and Commencement was Wednesday, June 9 at Grant Heights Chapel Center-music groups sang at both events; school ended on June 11. On Saturday, June 12, my Hold Baggage was sent; Tuesday, June 15, I had to get clearance from school, TAS, Camp Drake, Payroll Section, Hardy Barracks, OPS, and the Dispensary. Wednesday, June 16, at 8:30 am I got on an Army bus at the Osaka Hotel where I had lived for two years, and drove to Yokohama and the port; at 11:00 am I was on the USNS Mitchell. We sailed at 3:00 p.m. What a frantic 12 days it had been. Many tears were shed as we left Japan knowing I probably would never return and waving to many friends who had come to see me off.
We soon found out the USNS Mitchell would sail to Korea to pick up more troops. Several of us decided when we got there we would rent a car with a driver and tour Pusan for a couple hours. That was not to be. We docked at Pusan on June 18 and left on the 19th but no civilians were allowed to get off the ship. (I finally got to Korea in 1970). On board I was again involved in helping with shows for the troops and civilians. On July 1 we arrived in Seattle after a relaxing and smooth voyage. A train trip to Iowa to visit my family, unpack the many crates that finally arrived, go by train to New York and spend a few days doing the necessary Army routines at Ft. Hamilton before embarking on the ship for Europe.
We arrived in Bremerhaven, Germany and were told our new assignment. I was to teach in Heidelberg! I realized then I had hoped I would be assigned to Munich where so much was happening in the music world. I said to myself… after all, I had already spent a weekend in Heidelberg in 1951 and felt I knew all about Heidelberg. (What a stupid thought. After four years there in this beautiful University town, I still didn’t know all about Heidelberg).
First I was given a room in a small hotel downtown but later was moved to the BOQ very near the American High School on Mark Twainstrasse. The BOQ was comfortable with one kitchen on each of the four floors… with two stoves and one refrigerator, or was it one stove and two refrigerators? There were so many restaurants in this quaint town by the Neckar River we often ate out
Since I had taken flower arranging in Japan I wanted to have flowers in my room. I found a florist shop and chose a couple blossoms and some interesting leaves for the heaven-man-earth arrangement When I went to the clerk she said no to what I had selected and said, “Ein bunch”. I decided then that East is East and West is West and never the two would meet! Forty years later her words still ring in my ears.
The school building was large and new (1950). My music room was spacious, sometimes used as a small assembly room, with windows on two sides. There was one problem … it was next to the railroad tracks. After several weeks of teaching I decided to count the trains that chugged by in one day. Yes, the number was high …65. Imagine getting interrupted that many times while teaching music classes or choruses. Somehow we all survived.
Heidelberg was the Headquarters for the Army, therefore we had many children of high-ranking officers. The caliber of students was excellent which made teaching most rewarding. Some of my memories teaching at Heidelberg American High School:
Besides boys’ chorus, girls’ chorus, and mixed chorus, several small groups were organized: Nonettes, Eight Teens, Heidelettes, and Four Counts. These ensembles were often asked to perform at various clubs and organizations connected with the Army, as well as German schools and clubs. It was such a joy working and making music with these talented students.
Army personnel inspected the school including the auditorium where they found wooden risers on the stage. Wood was against the fire regulations so they took away the risers. The next week was our big concert with a chorus of app. 60 singers. What would we use for risers? Benches, chairs, and stools were used instead. During the concert we were singing “One World” and just as we got to the words, “One world built on firm foundation” students began to wobble as the benches almost gave way. What a scary moment. The program finished without a total collapse.
The chorus was singing a Christmas concert for a German school audience. We had been on stage quite a while and it was hot. One boy in the front row began getting glazed eyes as I watched him, still conducting, I mouthed the words, “Are you alright?” He didn’t respond. Soon he stiffened and fell on the piano keys in front of him; he had fainted. I continued conducting the song, “Silent Night” in German, until the end. Someone came and took him off stage. Later when I phoned his home to check on him, he was on the second phone and said, “Is that why my nose is sore.” No serious damage; only a memory.
I felt students could learn much by attending performances by professionals. Since I had to go to the ticket office for my ticket, I would buy several other tickets for faculty or students. The most tickets were 99 for a concert by the Vienna Boys Choir. One teacher friend always tells me now (40 years later) she remembers me as the teacher with an extra ticket. Through the years many students have told me they attended their first opera with me.
USAREUR American High Schools presented an Annual Music Festival each year, usually in Frankfurt, Germany. Choruses and bands came form various schools in Germany: Berlin, Bremerhaven, Frankfurt, Heidelberg, Kaiserslautern, Munich, Nürnberg, Stuttgart, Wiesbaden, Würzburg; one chorus came from Paris, France. We had a guest conductor for band and one for chorus, rehearsing during the day with the concert in the evening for the public. This festival was the highlight of the music program in the high schools.
Graduation was held in the Heidelberg Castle, begun as a fortress in the 13th century, ruined by war in 1689 and 1693, restoration slowly continuing since them. This castle on the hillside overlooking the Neckar River is one of the most beautiful and historic in all Europe. What special memories come to mind for students and faculty of the Heidelberg American School!
Musical opportunities were so abundant in Europe I wanted to take advantage of them all. I was a member of ISME (International Society of Music Educators). Music educators belonged to this organization from 40 countries. In 1955 the weeklong conference was held in Lindau, Germany and Zurich, Switzerland. Since I lived only five hours by train from the places it would be held, I asked my “chain-of-command” if I could leave school a few days early for ISME. The request went from one to another but the answer was “no”. They felt I was needed at graduation since some of my ensembles were performing. Of course, I agreed with them, but felt very badly I had to miss this world music conference…only five hours away. (Finally, I did attend ISME at Interlochen, Michigan -1966; Perth, Australia -1974; Warsaw, Poland -1980; and Eugene, Oregon-1984).
I became a member of the Heidelberg Bach Verein rehearsing one evening each week. Everything was sung in German, as well as all directions from our conductor, Herr Hubner. Several times a year we gave programs for the public. Singing German as it should be was a real challenge for me but most rewarding.
A friend and I had German lessons once a week from a wonderful teacher, Frau Gassner and the three of us became very good friends. One year when I came back from a Christmas holiday, she had had the piano from her home moved to my BOQ room to use during my stay in Heidelberg. What a thoughtful gift! (When she came to the United States later to visit her “students” in many states, she came to Iowa to visit my parents and me.)
Germany had concerts by orchestras, organ concerts, and recitals and opera performances in most towns. Schwetzingen, the former summer residence of the Palatinate Prince Carl Theodor, near Heidelberg, had a festival of music each spring. (When Mozart was a little boy giving concerts, he played in the lovely theater here). Several of us went there to see “The Turn of the Screw” by Benjamin Britten. Before the opera we ate at the outdoor cafe near the theater ordering the specialty of spring spargel and schinken (asparagus and ham). At the next table were the English composer, Benjamin Britten, and the great English tenor, Peter Pears, who had the lead in the opera. How we wanted to talk with them; we decided not to disturb them since they were involved in the evening’s performance.
Farther west of Heidelberg was Mannheim. The opera house had been bombed during WW II and a new one had been built. I was one of several teachers lucky enough to get tickets for the opening performance. That was a most memorable evening for this American music teacher teaching in Germany.
We often went to the Mannheim Opera because the productions were excellent. Once I attended a Sunday afternoon opera there and went backstage to talk with an opera singer I knew. He said, “How did you get your tickets? This performance is for German children?”. My answer… I had gone to the ticket window and bought the ticket.
I bought a Volkswagen for $1500, a new VW, and could attend performances in nearby cities such as Wiesbaden, Stuttgart, and Frankfurt, taking friends who loved music as I did. Several times I attended Bayreuth’s Festival to witness Wagner’s operas. Wagner had designed the Opera House and I was surprised at the wooden seats we sat on even though everyone was dressed formally. During intermission once, I got to say a few words to Richard Wagner’s grandson, Wieland Wagner. (When in college many of my reports were on Wagner and his music.) Yes, it was with much pleasure that I finally got to Bayreuth.
Europe had many travel opportunities for me too. My favorite jaunt was getting into my VW (now named Mel-D-Ray for three very special students) after a busy teaching day and driving for an hour or so on a “wood chopper’s road” over the hills, through small villages, beside narrow brooks and back to Heidelberg. This was peace, quiet, and relaxation.
During the last winter holiday I joined a group for a tour of the Holy Land and Egypt. Yes, I rode a camel “Telephone” around the pyramids; rode a donkey going from one tomb to another in the Valley of the Kings. When I was resting on the terrace of a hotel in Luxor with the Nile flowing by, I decided I would retire to that very spot and give piano lessons! Aren’t those silly thoughts and dreams precious.
I invited my parents to visit so that we would drive to Norway to visit the many relatives my mother had written to in Norwegian. A good friend, Mary Clemons, a 4th grade teacher, joined us and the four of us drove the VW through Norway, Sweden, Denmark, and back to Heidelberg. My parents were absolutely thrilled with the trip, a life-long dream come true.
Other tours were to Yugoslavia by bus, the first bus trip allowed. Often all passengers had to get out of the bus because they didn’t know if the bridge would collapse or not with a loaded bus. Unusual experiences, but that is another story.
In 1956 I was invited by a friend to a party at the German-American Women’s Club in Heidelberg. Present were also 60 Hungarians who had escaped during their revolution. I talked with a young man who had planned the activities at the University, and a young woman. I invited them to a dinner in my BOQ room for the next evening. Three of them arrived; I had also invited some of my friends. What an evening of conversation about their recent activities. One needed a dictionary of German-English words (I bought it the next day and gave it to him). After our meal I was so pleased to be able to serve them mints shaped and colored as a Christmas tree, red stars, etc. When the Hungarian from the University saw the plate of mints he said, “You mean they have red stars here too?” The mints suddenly lost their beauty and taste!
New worlds were opened to me when I accepted the teaching position in the U.S. Army Dependent Schools in Tokyo, Japan and Heidelberg, Germany. I am forever grateful for the excellent students, for the friendships of other teachers, and for the many opportunities to learn the cultures, tradition and beauty of our world.
HEIDELBERG HIGH SCHOOL
Arvo E. Lohela, Principal
LouCelle Nelson. Choral Director
John Alder, Instrumental Director
Ruth S. Minn
Leon Hawkins – Bass
Betty Meaders – Clarinet
Jean Carson – Clarinet
Betty Brandon – Clarinet
Betty Kelly – Clarinet
Betty Allen – Clarinet
Sandl Johnson – Clarinet
Sandra Reynolds – Clarinet
Marsha Rider – Clarinet
Barbara Siler – Clarinet
James Sloat – Clarinet
Charles Ackembom – Cornet
Larry Banks – Cornet
Theodore Cannon – Cornet
John Delk – Cornet
Fred Diercks – Cornet
Marilyn McKay – Cornet
Douglas Mickolson – Cornet
David Schubert – Cornet
Cherri Bowers – Drums
Karen Heinlein – Flute
James Richards – French Horn
Richard Martindale – Trombone
Lewis Clements – Trombone
James Crews – Trombone
Joan Dickson – Alto Saxophone
Marshall Hammer – Baritone Saxophone
Michael Sordelet – Tenor Saxophone
John Rider, Band Conductor
Edwin Willson, Choral Conductor
13 May 1955 20.00 hours
Light Cavalry Overture Fran’z von Suppe
Deep River Rhapsody Harold L. Walters
March: Normal Harold Bennett
Gloria in Excelsis Wolfgang A. Mozart
Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring Johann S. Bach
Bless Ye the Lord Ippolltof-Ivanof-Wilhousky
Beautiful Savior Arr. by F. M. Christiansen
Ave, Maria Vittoria-Scott
Come to the Fair Easthope Martin
New World Symphony Anton Dvorak
March: Event of the Day G. E. Holmes
Teddy Bear’s Picnic Bratton-Yoder
Il Relicario (Paso Doble) Padilla-Walters
Brothers, Sing On Edvard Grieg
Kentucky Babe Adam Geibel
Ole Ark’s a-Moverin’ Arr. by Noble-Cain
Holiday Song William Schuman
No Man Is an Island Whitney, Kramer-Ringwald
Soon-Ah’ Will Be Done William L. Dawson
Cindy Arr. by Harry R. Wilson
Band and Mixed Chorus
Battle Hymn of the Republic Arr. by P. J. Wilhousky
The Dependents Education Organization is Indebted to Major General Richard W. Stephens and his staff for making this Music Festival possible. The excellent facilities that have been provided are greatly appreciated.
The interest and cooperation of the American Forces Network in rebroadcasting this program is likewise appreciated.
The students and teachers are indebted to Miss Gay Long, Art Teacher of the Frankfurt High School, for the fine decorations at the Music Festival each year since the first concert in 1951.
Copyright 2004 American Overseas Schools Historical Society
“Germany: 1952 – 1954: Wiesbaden”