This write-up is not intended as an in depth description of the American Dependent Schools in Europe. Mostly they are my answers to questions I was asked as I replied to the request, “Tell us like it was.”
The American Dependent School System Overseas is probably the most unique school system in the world; it certainly is the largest, geographically, encompassing about 90,000 miles.
This school system is today as modern as any in the United States and offers a good many advantages not possible over here (in the U.S.). One of the most important of these is the inter-cultural activities in which American students and teachers participate in activities of the nations in which they live. They take advantage of every opportunity to travel or visit or work with local students and teachers in such activities as the exchange of art work, science projects, the visit of a class for a day, a combined athletic event or music program, attending together a concert or play, etc. There are also the more dramatic programs such as the “ski school” where every year the American sixth graders from schools in northern Italy move to an Italian mountain resort with the same number of Italian students, where they spend half a day at their lessons and half a day hiking or learning to ski. A like program is carried on in a mountain resort in Germany. Also in Germany is the Schullandheim program (Schullandheim meaning schools in a country home). This program is open to all German students every year. It is a program in which the students live at homes in the country for a two-week program of outdoor ecological and conservation education. American students in Germany join with their German counterparts in this program.
Another excellent successful inter-cultural program is the School On Wheels in Crete where children from the local school join the American children for a week-long bus tour of the island’s fascinating ancient architectural ruins. In Norway, American children join Norwegian youngsters for a week at a resort hotel on an island in a fjord where they study classical music and drama. At one time, American students and teachers spent a day a Sabratha in Lybia (which to me is the most beautiful of all ruins) for an art show and a musical program. Sabratha —pink marble against green sea, white sand and blue sky – breathtaking! A longer trip was to the island of Silt, one of the North Frisian Islands. At the end of the school year of 1949, eighteen girls, nineteen boys and two counselors boarded a private railroad car attached to a German train for a night and day ride to the coast where we boarded a boat for a short sail to Silt Island. The island was mostly sand dunes; a restaurant about a mile from the youth camp; and a nudist colony, about three miles from the camp.
Ibis was a rugged experience with fleas in the straw mattresses, lard for butter on our bread, turnip and lard soup in which occasionally a cockroach appeared, and more! We were given the very best that the German youth camp had. And much was learned; friendships were made; and real understanding of other cultures was developed with the German, English. Italian, Danish and American students. I felt great pride in the American students, who accepted it all with truly wonderful, gracious, friendly, cooperative spirit!
The development of this Dependent School System was fraught with some severe growing pains and some quite fascinating, exciting, sometimes frightening adventures for the pioneering souls who started it all.
My 27 years experience with the Dependent Schools overseas began in 1946. I was teaching Art Education at the University of Denver when I received a call from Mr. Richard Meyering, one of the recruiters for the overseas schools. He was looking for an Art Supervisor and thus I became one of the five teachers flown over to Germany in August, 1946. My orders stated that I was to help set up and supervise the art program for the American Dependent Schools in the U.S. Zone of Occupation in Europe. I flew commercial air from my home in Denver, Colorado to Washington D.C. where, at Andrews Air Force Base, I joined the other specialists. We five were specialists in Science, Music, Home Economics, Elementary Education, and Art. Only after the next group of teachers arrived in October were we told that there would not be enough money for special subject supervisors and we would have to teach in the classroom as well as directing the program of our specialty.
We took off on a C54, a 4 – engine propeller plane with bucket seats (metal benches across the sides) which were occupied by GI’s, as soldiers were known in those days. There were six airline type seats that were assigned to the five specialists and Mr. Richard Meyering, one of the early planners for the overseas school system.
We were 36 hours to Paris including a short stop over in the Azores. We did not know until weeks later that we were accompanied by many thousands of dollars of Scrip – – the new money to be used by the military instead of the German Mark which was being used on the black market. I had an odd feeling when the Scrip was distributed and the name of the plane it had been on was announced, and I realized that the box on which I sat in the C-54 to watch the sunrise was one of the money boxes!
We spent one night in a hotel in Paris, too tired to do any sight seeing of that fabulous city, but had a few hours the next morning to drive in an open top taxi to see the Arc de Triomphe and the Eiffel Tower on our way back to the airport. We flew to Frankfurt, Germany in a small two-engine propeller plane. I did not know that day that in ten years, as Art Specialist for the Air Force schools I would fly thousands of miles on these small planes, the C-47, DC-3, known with real affection and respect as the “Gooney Bird”. My brother, an Air Force officer, told me later when I fearfully said, “It has only two engines”, “The Gooney Bird is the work horse of the Air Force. Fear not!”
Frankfurt was an 80% kaput city. I don’t think we have a word really equivalent for kaput – shattered, broken, destroyed, desecrated, mutilated – all words together might describe that shell of a city and many others of Germany in 1946. The word kaput says it best. Nothing, no pictures, no words, nor newspaper reports had prepared us for the horror, the agonizing devastation, the horrible, appalling destruction and dreadful smell of the aftermath of war in Frankfurt! This was the atmosphere in which we lived and in which we worked to prepare curriculum, order supplies, inspect possible sites for schools and billets for teachers, and so on.
The so-called “compound” housing the American Base was completely surrounded by huge rolls of barbed wire, which was later, replaced by a high strong fence and later removed altogether. There were three gates where we were admitted after showing our ID cards. After two weeks, in a half bombed out hotel, we three female specialists moved into our first billet which was the whole half of a duplex. The other half was a shell and our wall next to the kaput side would get damp when it rained. Later, shortly before the other teachers arrived, those of us assigned to Frankfurt moved into a large, four-story apartment house that was all in one piece except for the top floor. The top floor was repaired much later so that three teachers who came the second year could move in. The other floors had four rooms, one bath, and four teachers each. It was a comfortable place to live until the Rhine and Main rivers froze over in the coldest winter in fifty years, and the coal barges could not get through. When our furnace died for lack of coal we would go around the compound and scramble fearfully down into the basements of kaput houses where there might be coal. We had nothing to carry it in but devised “sacks” from aprons tied around our waists and stretched out at arms length to hold the coal. Though not quite as dangerous as scrounging coal, I dreaded more going down into the black cavern of our basement and stuffing a few sticks of wood (probably broken furniture) and “scrounged” coal in the black hole of that furnace to start a fire. There was a so-called fireman, but he seemed never to be around when we were freezing.
In October116 classroom teachers arrived at Breamerhaven after a rough sea voyage and were put on an unheated train with wooden seats for an all-night trip to Frankfurt. From the train they were transferred by bus to a beautiful yacht, Hitler’s, where we five early arrivers joined them for a trip down the Rhine River between the steep banks covered with vineyards and dotted with picturesque villages and fascinating remains of medieval castles. We had thought this would be a grand adventure for new comers, but I’m sure most of those teachers were too weary to see anything at all! At the end of the cruise, everyone went by military bus to the once lovely spa of Bad Homburg to a resort hotel for a three-day orientation conference to prepare teachers to teach without supplies, to understand the military, to be placed in isolated bases throughout Germany, France, and Italy, and last but not least, how not to get along with the Germans. There was no fraternization at this time.
There was no heat in the hotel anywhere. We wore our coats and boots to meals and we sat huddled in our coats and boots while the military officials told us about their staffing structure and the procedures for military protocol. The school administrators told it “like it is”. You probably won’t have books, may have to use liquor crates for desks, probably won’t have a real school building, certainly won’t have much heat, but you will have children, and you can teach. None of this seemed to phase anyone. We were all too excited and motivated and enthusiastic to worry about what we didn’t have – we were ready to go!
The teachers in Frankfurt were very fortunate in having real school buildings requisitioned from the Germans. Many other schools were held in residential houses, military barracks, BOQ rooms, Quonset huts, and other strange places. I remember the class in the bar of the Aster Hotel. Erin related that she tied her first, second, and the third graders together with Alpine rope and led them across the Champs Elysesse to the Bois de Boulogne for recess. (Ask Jane how she finally got her school out of the bar and into a reasonable building). Some teachers had old German-type school desks; many made desks and chairs firm the wooden boxes from the liquor store. Those boxes made wonderful bookshelves also. I remember my first few weeks when I had fifty-two junior high students working, standing around long metal-top tables from a former science room. Eventually, we acquired field tables and wooden folding chairs.
It seems that these Dependent Schools were authorized by the Army to exist, but at “no expense to the Government.” That meant no appropriated funds could be used. So the schools were supported by the Class VI (liquor store) profits. We teachers had fun thinking up posters we would like to have used at the PX and commissary such as, “Buy your liquor and Educate your kids” or “A Drink a Day Gives a Teacher Her Pay,” and so on.
I started teaching with a big wooden box of colored chalk, period. It is surprising how much imagination, creative activity and beautiful results can come from one big box of colored chalk! We discovered we could even make a kind of tempera paint by crushing the chalk and mixing it with egg white. The problem with that was getting egg white. We had only dried egg at that time, and that didn’t work. Now and then some child would come to school clutching an egg, and great would be our delight with the beautiful paint we could make. Of course, we had no paper, but I encouraged the students to ask their fathers to liberate typing paper, I asked the mothers to donate flour and newspapers for paper mache, and flour and salt for modeling “clay”; I encouraged students to look at everything loose and unclaimed, even a bent nail on the street, with an eye to see what it could become; I carried on an endless effort to get the military to provide tools, stools, tables, paper, pencils- – anything for us to work with until our supplies started to come in. I had it made when I located the printing plant where, in spite of rules about dealing with “the local economy,” I was able to get jeep loads of beautiful paper! That was black marketing, a process of exchanging American goods (usually cigarettes) for German goods. Strictly verboten! I became somewhat famous for the rather dubious honor of being the best scrounger in the school system. I don’t think I had ever heard the word before, but it means getting what you need; in my case, for my students, begging, borrowing, liberating. My begging was quite artful, I thought, “But sir, it is your children who need this – – they are being cheated!” Also, I gradually learned that, contrary to military protocol, it was faster to start at the top – – not to the G.I. to the sergeant, to lower ranking officers and finally to the general, but to start with the general!
As supplies began to come in, my art students were well supplied. The craft classes fared well with some scrounging. I discovered several sources for acquiring anything that with a bit of imagination and ingenuity could become an artistic or useful creation. One was a kaput airplane dump several miles outside of the compound. After finally receiving authorization to have a trailer attached to my jeep, permission to go into that dump of crashed airplanes, and a key to open the gate, I made several trips to find what could be salvaged. Four or five of my students and I would splash through half-frozen mud from plane to plane with the few tools we had acquired, climb over and into, cutting, sawing, pulling bits and pieces of leather, cloth, wire, metal, plywood-anything that might be useful for the craft or shop classes. The students became as adept as I was in imagining and visualizing possible uses for useless bits and pieces!
The Military Surplus was another source of useful materials such as parachute silks, silk cord, small tools, etc. I later had to discover other sources due to the increasing enrollment in the schools which was the result of the Berlin Airlift that began in the summer of 1948. The Russians closed all entries into Berlin, an island city in the Russian zone of occupation. The American solution was the Berlin Airlift: all supplies, from coal to diapers, needed by the Berlin Germans and the Americans stationed there were flown into Berlin. The number of Air Force personnel and their dependents increased greatly at that time and as more dependents were sent to Germany, the enrollment of the schools increased.
One solution to a student’s need for a credit in a subject that was not offered yet in our high school was to assign him to art class – no matter if the child turned pale at the sight of a camels hair paint brush! It was difficult to interest these students in art or even crafts, which had soon developed into quite a credible program, so I needed equipment and material for a manual arts type of program.
Then came my discovery of the furniture dump! Furniture, dumped from the windows of a five story apartment building to clear the building for offices made a pile two stories high spreading out over about 100 feet! Here again, with at last the necessary permission, and with my trusty jeep and trailer and my willing students, I collected jeep loads of broken furniture. Heavy carved wooden table legs made beautiful lamps and we even found electrical stuff to go in them. Sometimes chair legs under a solid oak chair seat made a fine coffee table – such a lot of beautiful and useful things! The wood working program was going well, but was not the shop class that I had dreamed of for my students. I wanted power tools and especially a wood lathe so once again I began the begging process. “Please sir, I want some power tools, especially a lathe.” The first answer was, “We have no lathes, and why do you want a lathe anyway?”
Often when dealing with military, the teachers had a mournful complaint: “Why should I have to spend time justifying what should be in my hands now?”
I had almost despaired when one day I took particular notice of an old wooden shed in the elementary school courtyard that I passed everyday. Something urged me to peek in the cracks between the boards, and inside I saw three huge crates just the right shape to hold lathes. I just knew they were lathes! After school with a hammer and chisel, I approached the shed cautiously – somewhat fearful of breaking and entering into military property. I pried my way into the shed and then into one of the boxes far enough to see that sure enough, there was a lathe in one crate at least. I was petrified that someone else might discover the lathes before I got to the Base Commander beg for them. It turned out that there were two wood turning lathes and one lathe for turning metal. Probably I had been successful with my begging and the lathes had been delivered to the elementary school instead of the high school, but no one at either school knew about them (that is what I thought – I liked to feel successful).
Three days and about ten officers later, the two wood lathes and the one metal lathe, which I had found (or materialized) were officially the property of the American Dependent High School. And two days and five sergeants later, I had a truck and derrick outfit which would deliver them to the high school. And then much begging later and with the help of my wonderful German assistant, Carl Wargel, the lathes were set in cement in my classroom and the proper wiring installed. I don’t remember where I got the turning chisels, but I know we had broken tables and pieces of chair legs to turn on the wood lathes and later we were able to get some beautiful seasoned wood. It seemed impossible to find anything to turn on the metal lathe until one evening at dinner at the Officers Club, I mentioned my problem to an officer he turned out to be in the Artillery, and he offered shell casings. I had no idea what I’d be getting, he said they were brass, and I said I’d take all he could give me! Was my principal ever furious when the Artillery delivered hundreds of huge brass shell cases and neatly stacked them along one side of the school building in a stack about four feet high, twenty feet wide, and thirty feet long. We used them all – – nut bowls, candy boxes – – with lids even – – lamps, ash trays, etc., beautiful things! The metal lathe was in use all day long. Fortunately, I had learned to use the wood lathe and most other power tools when getting my Master’s degree at Columbia (my boyfriend was taking a shop class, so did I!) Also fortunately for us all, my excellent German assistant, Carl Wargel, was proficient on the shop equipment including the metal lathe, and I also soon learned to produce some attractive useful objects on the metal lathe! Soon, we acquired a band saw and other power tools.
In 1950, the Department of Defense authorized appropriated funds for the operation of the Dependent Schools. Reparation funds from the German government were used to build schools, and a tremendously improved supply system was developed. The schools began to look strictly Stateside with many changes, improvements and innovations. It was a great thrill to help design the art and craft room and the shop in the fall of 1953. Our first school had been a very fine, modern German school originally. It had been cleared out to be used by the German SS and then cleared out and requisitioned by the American military and then cleared again for our high school. It was four miles from our compound and we were driven to school in a small bus or jeeps with a Polish, “displaced person” driver. For sometime, I was assigned a jeep to drive to my schools; but later a regulation was made prohibiting American civilians to drive military vehicles, so I was assigned a driver for my jeep. Later, as the enrollment of the high school increased, I had to drop the elementary schools and give my time to the Frankfurt American High School.
Also during my ten years of teaching in the American Dependent Schools, I continued to work on curriculum, and on the supply list of the equipment and facilities. As chairman of the Art Teachers’ Committee and the Art Curriculum Committee, I prepared the agendas and directed meetings for the teachers’ conferences and the teacher training sessions. Also, I was the coordinator for the combined high school yearbook which grew from an annual including five high schools to a 400-page publication combining the records of activities of 16 high schools. Duties involved included writing directives and specifications to meet the requirements of a German printer; preparing training aids and directing conferences for the guidance of inexperienced student staffs and teacher sponsors and working directly with the Germans, proofreading all printer’s copy of the $10,000 to $30,000 publication.
That first high school was also the dormitory for the students who lived too far away to be bussed in daily. Two rooms at one end of the school housed the girls and a small room nearby gave the female supervisor her home. At the far end of the school was the same arrangement for the boys and for the male supervisor when it was his turn. Only one teacher at a time stayed at the school. The teachers were the dormitory supervisors. When it was our week, from Monday 8 am to Friday 4 pm, we did not leave the school. After a few months we were able to arrange Wednesday night out to dinner at the Casino and to a movie. After the first month of the second year, dormitory supervisors were employed and a proper building was requisitioned.
In these first years, there were such a lot of unusual things to do that we had never done before, and we did them because they were there to do. I’m sure that today the NEA would think us teachers out of our minds for some of the duties we assumed, such as spending alternate weeks, all week, at the high school supervising the students who lived too far away to be bussed in daily. But it was fun! Those kids were super people. We were “squares” all right, but we were filled with the excitement and enthusiasm of being pioneers. And there was the challenge, the appeal of the wonderful, cooperative students who shouldered responsibility right along with the teachers, helping to make a going concern of our schools!
SECTION II: A FRIGHTENING EXPERIENCE
One of my most frightening experiences occurred during spring break in 1947 on a train trip for Americans from Munich to Vienna. This should have been a very safe, well-protected, comfortable, overnight journey in a train car reserved solely for Americans. My two friends and I found a train on the track in Munich with a big WIEN sign on the side, so we climbed into a comfortable compartment and settled down to doze and dream of our actually being in VIENNA in the morning!
Some hours later, our happy doze was interrupted with demands for tickets, passports, passes, etc. Out came all the tickets, papers, ID cards and passports we had, but nothing seemed to satisfy the rough demands by first, the German train officials, next, the East German Police and then, some Russian soldiers – all of whom insisted that we must leave the train. This we were not about to do, as obviously we were in the Russian Zone. As far as we were concerned, we were in the middle of absolutely nowhere, and we didn’t want off there! We could understand enough of the language to know that they wanted us off. They were all insisting that we pick up our bags and leave the train and walk out into the absolutely black, sub-zero night.
We tried being dumb and innocent, smiling and fluttering our hands and trying to look helpless and appealing. When a Russian soldier who spoke English came along and said, “You must get off this train. This train cannot go on until you get off,” we could no longer pretend that we did not understand. But we still resisted. We began to try the hysterical female stance at this point, “What have we done? What is wrong? Why must we leave the train?” with voices rising hysterically and tears streaming! (The tears were not completely forced for we were thoroughly panicked at this point.) To the Russian soldiers, we said, “Bring American Soldat here, bring American Soldat here, American Soldat here!” The words became a kind of chant for us and were somehow comforting – they sounded so safe and brave. But, over and above our chanting, the Russian soldiers continued to insist that we must get off the train and go with them into that black, cold, winter night – WHERE?
We continued our comforting little chant – “American Soldat here, American Soldat here” and sat tight – up tight, though we didn’t know that expression then. Suddenly, the entire doorway of the compartment was filled with the great bulk of an absolutely enormous man from whose uniform and insignia we immediately recognized a Russian officer. We knew instantly, with one look at his angry, face, that we’d had it! We knew we would have to obey even before the order came with one word which seemed to start rumbling in his boots and come rolling up from the depths to burst out of his mouth in a roar, “RAUS!” (Get out!)
So we did. We picked up our bags and “raus-ed” right along and off that train, more panicked then ever. We continued to chant, and in fact, increasing the tempo and the volume of our “American Soldat here, American Soldat here.” Single file, sliding and stumbling in the heavy snow, we followed the officer along-side the train toward a narrow gleam of light showing from the partly open door of a very small wooden building. My friend, Laverne, was in front, and as she reached the lighted doorway, the officer gave her a shove inside and started to close the door. I dropped my bag and ran screaming, “Mary, hurry – run!” My friend, Mary, and I reached the door in time to plant ourselves against it – open – and there we braced ourselves, all three of us chanting our hopeful little chant to give us courage and to cover the sound of the harsh harangue directed at us which we couldn’t understand anyway.
At last, the Russian officer handed our passports to a Russian soldier who took off at a fast pace into the dark night. Although we thought we were too petrified with fear to move, we snatched up our bags and followed single file behind the soldier. I began to feel a weird, dizzy detachment – as though completely off balance and somewhat out of the normal world. Telling myself that this was no time to pass out, I suddenly realized what was wrong. I was walking on a two-foot wide plank looking down at a rolling, roiling, black surface far beneath me. For a moment, I was completely, and dizzily, disoriented; and then I realized that we were walking over a railroad bridge, over a river which later I discovered was the Danube – the “Blue” Danube. I somehow managed to keep going, and at solid ground my dizziness seemed to go away suddenly, and I could look ahead instead of straining to see the edges of the narrow “path” that I had been walking on. Ahead of us was another small, wooden guard house; and as we came near, the door opened and a long, wide ribbon of warm golden light seemed to come right to our feet; and down the path walked an AMERICAN SOLDAT!!! We dropped our bags and ran to hug and kiss him like a long lost brother and to get him between us and the Russian soldier as we cried and babbled away that the Russians had us, had taken our passports, made us get out of the train, and we didn’t know the why of anything!
As the Russian soldier handed our passports to the American soldier, the world began to return to normal, and we realized that we were shaking and crying, and I felt the tears freezing on my face. We stumbled into the guard house and gathered around a little, round, hot stove. One of the three American soldiers got out a bottle of revival medicine from the back of the bottom desk drawer, and we passed it around until the trembling and tears stopped, and we could laugh at our ridiculous panic.
With returning sanity came the awful thought that we were a long way from Vienna and how to get there now! Our American soldiers reassured us. They made half a dozen phone calls to find and persuade the “Man who had the passes” and the “Man who had the stamp” to meet us in Linz so that we could catch the Mozart Sleeper – the train we should have been on in the first place. There was about half an hour to go until the time when one of the American soldiers bundled us into an open jeep, equipped with a machine gun, which gave us a quiet sense of security, and took us off on a mad, bouncing, bitter cold, ten mile run across the snow-covered country to the nearest “bahnhof.”
We made it! The train was in the station, the “Pass Man” and the “Stamp Man” were both waiting, having also made a frantic dash across country to reach the station by train time! As the “Bo- – ard” sounded, we were clambering on the train calling back our exceedingly grateful “thank you’s” to those very wonderful, never to be forgotten, “AMERICAN SOLDATS”. And we rode the rest of the night in a cold train car on wooden seats to Vienna!
In 1956, I began a new pioneering job. Back in the summer of 1948, the Russians closed all roads and railroads leading in and out of Berlin, an island city in the Russian Zone of Occupation. The American answer to that was the Berlin Airlift – all supplies, from coal to diapers, that were needed by the Germans of Berlin in the American Zone, and the Americans stationed there were flown into Berlin. Every five minutes, round the clock a cargo plane took off from Frankfurt Airport and from airports in England at a cost of one million dollars per day.
The number of Air Force personnel and their dependents increased greatly at this time and continued to grow. Schools for the Air Force dependent children were somewhat haphazard with each base operating its school as it wished. Often the Base School Officer would order the texts and other school supplies without the advice of an educator. Finally in 1956, the Air Force centralized the administration of their schools with the 7135th School Group, situated in Wiesbaden, Germany. a beautiful spa (resort city) that was scarcely damaged during the war.
As Coordinator of Art in the Air Force schools, I was again writing curriculum and ordering supplies. In addition, I was evaluating teaching, not only in art but in elementary schools as well. Another assignment, which I enjoyed for seven years while teaching in the Dependent Schools, was coordinating the combined high school yearbook which grew from an annual including five high schools to a 400-page publication combining the records of activities of 16 high schools. Duties involved writing directives and specifications to meet the requirements of a German printer, preparing training aids and directing conferences for the sponsors; and working directly with the German publishers in preparing the contract for printing; and in proofreading of all printers copy of a $10,000 to $30,000 publication called,
Also, for five years, I prepared the Teachers Handbooks, a publication giving information to assist teachers in adjusting to the overseas environment and the military community. Each year, I prepared a survey questionnaire on this publication and with the replies was able to keep this publication pertinent and up to date. However, the most important part of my work was providing in-service training in art through workshops, classroom demonstrations, bulletins, etc. for the teachers in this far flung school system.
The 7135th School Group started with about 17,500 pupils and about 1,000 teachers, administrators, and specialists. Soon there were over 200 schools in twelve countries on three continents – England, Germany, France, Holland, Belgium, Italy, Denmark, Norway, Turkey, Greece, Lybia, Morocco and Crete. This, of course, meant many thousands of miles to travel to our in-service programs, conferences, and school evaluations; and so our mode of travel was mostly by plane. Those enticing, far away places with their strange sounding names became places to go to work rather than places to go on long vacations, as they once had been.
By having a pilot as the military head of the 7135th School Group, we were able to take off most any time we needed to. The Commander would simply check out a plane, and off we’d go into the wide blue yonder, sometimes all the specialists, sometimes only 3 or 4, with occasionally a “hitch hiker”, – an officer, or a GI who wanted to get back to his Base. There was a lot of hitch hiking in those days!
When one of us was traveling alone to a school, we could, with our orders, get on most any military aircraft – even one of the huge cargo planes, though we did try to avoid that. Once I sat along side a huge tank, scared the chains wouldn’t hold! Our pilot would sometimes be able to check out a nice, big four-motor propeller plane, a C-54 that might even have seats and possibly even a bunk. However, usually it was a Gooney Bird, a C-47, DC-3, 2 engine job, (propeller, of course), usually with bucket seats, that is, a metal bench along the wall and sometimes the walls would not be insulated – just metal. That could be pretty cold. We were never hungry though.
Never knowing for sure where we’d land or when we’d eat, we developed a system of taking turns as airline hostess, being responsible for buying the food – the lunch meat in cans, bread, cheese, fruit, cookies, soft drinks – and then serving the passengers and crew on the trip. The crew always had a huge coffee maker aboard and kept us all supplied with coffee.
A Gooney Bird to Turkey meant over 2 days on the plane and two nights layover, RON, (remain over night), usually at Naples and at Athens. Morocco was a long two days with RON in Naples. If we had trouble, we would land (hopefully) most anywhere, (preferably at the nearest airport), like one over Malta when the plane had an electrical blackout and everyone feared the plane would be shot down because the pilot could not communicate with the ground. The plane was surrounded by soldiers with guns when it landed! Or the time we lost an engine over France and had to wait at a weary little airport two days for one to be flown down to us. That was the time that it was my turn for the bunk and I was sleeping peacefully when someone woke me and said, “Gay, we lost an engine.” I studied that a minute, said, “Oh,” and went back to sleep. There really was nothing else I could do, but I never heard the last of it. Then there was the time we needed gas and had to land on the Rock of Gibralter.
There is a German word that describes our group in those days, and I don’t know any English equivalent. It is gemuetlich, that is happy, friendly, fun, loving, real togetherness – and so we were – as well as hard working, conscientious, squares – if there was a job to be done we’d do it – no thought of can’t do, or of overtime, of holiday, or weekend – just do the job.
Our workshops and/or in-service programs could be for one in a one-teacher school or for many more teachers in Turkey, when all the teachers came in to Ankara from Istanbul, Incerlik, and all the little listening posts with unpronounceable names. There might be as many as 200 when all the teachers in Germany came together for several days of learning, sharing, doing, seeing.
Certainly life with the Air Force Schools was the most interesting imaginable – teaching, learning, traveling, doing, seeing, writing, being ready always for instant change – one week trudging through the snow in Norway and the next sweltering in the hot classrooms in Nouasseur, Morocco, or Tripoli in Lybia. I might be going strong on writing curriculum, get the buzzer from Dr. Mason’s office and have him ask, “Can you be ready to leave for Turkey or England or Italy in an hour?” The answer was always, “Yes.” I would leave my secretary to stack my paper, hop in my trusty Borgward, skim through the Wiesbaden traffic, stop at the PX for lunch supplies (if it was my turn as airline hostess) dash home, pack a bag and be waiting at the door when the staff car arrived to take me to the airport. Always I kept a bag packed with the usual necessities so I had to add only the outer clothes needed for the temperature of the country where we were to go.
Though we were so often going to fascinating places with strange sounding names, we were on no boondoggle, and whatever sight-seeing we did was riding in from the airport or sandwiched in between the end of a meeting at 5:00 and the command occasion of the Base Commanders cocktail party or the principal’s dinner given to honor us, the visitors from Headquarters. Even when we came in on an inspection and evaluation visit to a school, the teachers welcomed us as old friends, and insisted on every kind of social occasion that could be sandwiched in between our long hours of work. It meant a rather rugged life sometimes with dinners lasting until all hours at night and duty starting early in the morning. It was a gemuetlich time. What a joy and honor it was to be welcomed at a school with, “I’m so glad you are here. You helped us so much last year in England or five years ago in Copenhagen or sixteen years ago in Istanbul! What a vital, exciting, fascinating, stimulating life it was with the Air Force. I loved every minute of it.
In 1966 came another reorganization of the American Dependent Schools which placed the schools in the European area under the administration of the Army, the schools in the Atlantic area under the administration of the Navy, and those in the Pacific under the Air Force. I preferred to stay in Wiesbaden, so I was assigned to District VIII where most of our trips to schools were by car to Holland, Belgium, Norway, Denmark, Italy, England, France, and to the many schools in Germany, with now and then a flight to Turkey, Greece, Crete, to be scheduled in military flights or commercial planes. This school system, known as USAREUR then added schools in Baharain, Ethiopia, and Pakistan, to be supervised by District I.
My duties were much the same. I was responsible for the establishing, monitoring and directing of the art program in District VIII. This included the supervision for art instruction of 650 teachers of 16,000 children in the elementary schools and for the Art, Crafts and Industrial Arts teachers in the secondary schools, a total of 15 teachers working with about 1300 students. As always, I worked with individual teachers and/or with all teachers in the school, in workshops, with materials and techniques, often with demonstration lessons, teaching children to work creatively with art materials and techniques, always with teacher participation.
In 1973, I decided that I wanted another change. The hills of Tennessee and the mountains of Colorado were calling. So, I decided to retire after 27 years of growing with the American Dependent Schools in Europe – in the most exciting, satisfying job that I can imagine. It was certainly a privilege to have had a small but vital part in the development of that fantastic school system.
SECTION IV: AN UNPLEASANT EXPERIENCE
A very unpleasant experience while working in this program has been a continual irritant since my fourth or fifth year overseas. I find that I am too often required to justify my having stayed “over here so long.” “What! You’ve been here five years?? Ten years?? Twenty Years??” At twenty-five years, the question probably came as a shriek of shock! I find it highly irritating! One doesn’t have to justify staying on the job more than five years in the United States. One isn’t called a “homesteader” or accused of “going native” if one is born in Colorado and works for 20 years in Washington, DC.
No one could have a more “State-side” job than mine, nor live more “American” than I do. “So l like my job, so I stay with it – so it happens to be overseas! So what!” Thus, go my irritable thoughts, but seldom do I speak them. Instead, when questioned about the reasons for my length of stay, I find myself babbling, “Well, you see…, I …, we…, a ” My family have been over here so much of the time, starting with my mother, who came for six months in 1947 and stayed to teach kindergarten for eight years in Frankfurt and then to supervise the Wiesbaden Kindergartens for twelve years until she retired in 1968. And, while we were in Frankfurt, my twin brother, an Air Force Colonel, had two three-year tours in Wiesbaden. In fact, he was here on his first tour when I came in August of 1946, and his wife and children were among the first dependents brought to the “theater.” Years later – I can’t believe how many – his son was back over here for three years as a guest of the Army in Kaiserslautern; and, of course, he came quite frequently to Wiesbaden to spend a weekend with his grandmother and aunt. And my sister lived for seven years in Ankara, Turkey, where her husband was stationed with the State Department, during the time that I was with the 7135th School Group and traveling to Turkey to visit schools several times a year. My sister’s son, who is one of the world’s leading laser specialists, came every year to an international science conference somewhere in Europe, (three times to Russia), and always spent some time with us, sometimes bringing his wife. Also, my niece’s husband stopped by every summer on his way to Africa for the Swahili study he is doing for the government and my niece often came this far with him. After his retirement, my twin brother, as a retired Air Force Colonel and his wife, managed to come back to their beloved Germany almost every spring on leave from his civilian job.
And so on… and so on! By the time I have babbled on about the visits of other nieces and nephews and friends, I am breathless – and furious with myself for attempting to explain an almost twenty five years??!!!” Well, personally, I don’t believe that it’s been that long either! But just don’t question me about it because I happen to like my job and that is why I have stayed with it for TWENTY-FIVE YEARS! (Total was 27!). What I could and should have said when so often asked, “How can you stay so long over here?” Why did I stay with the USDESEA Program? For a multitude of reasons!
In the beginning it was probably the never-ending challenge and exciting adventure of helping to build a school system “from scratch.” Makeshift buildings, few and often inappropriate books, no desks, or perhaps, field tables and folding chairs, no equipment for special areas such as art, shop, science, typing, home economics, little or no supplies for anything. In fact, not anything but people, willing, eager, excited, earnest, hopeful, happy, ingenious people – – students, teachers, administrators!
It was a challenge greater than any of us had ever known before and a continually changing challenge to all of us; for as one problem was solved, a new one presented itself, or an old one nudged and nagged to be improved on until there was just never any place to stop – to go away and leave it all unfinished. There was always something – great or small – to work toward, to go on to, to see finished; and, therefore, just no place to quit. How could anyone leave and miss any of the great, exciting adventure?
Then, there was always the tremendous satisfaction out of even the smallest success – like finding a handful of nails in an old kaput house and presenting them, with great pleasure, to the students in the craft classes who could now put together a few more pieces of their scrap wood projects.
… Or like discovering two wood lathes and a metal lathe in an old shed, and finding the right person and saying the right words to get permission to have the lathes brought to the school as the first piece of equipment with which to start a shop class.
… Or successfully begging a kaput parachute from some now unknown surplus source and helping the students cut the sheer nylon material into blouses to be stenciled or block-printed or embroidered.
…Or talking everyone from the Sergeant to the General into giving me permission to take a group of high school boys to pillage the airplane dump for such craft goodies as scraps of leather, copper wire, plywood – – anything that struck our imagination! (There was one day at the airplane dump, my imagination became very painful, I remember standing ankle deep in mud at the edge of a great heap of kaput airplanes, ripping some wire from a smashed panel and keeping an eye on the three boys at the top of the monstrous pyramid busily hacking and cutting away at the carcass of one of the planes. I remember their young faces silhouetted against the gray sky and their eager voices, “Hey look, this will finish Janet’s leather guest book cover!” “Here’s some plywood Harold can use for his in-lay coffee table.” But, suddenly, to my eyes, that mass of twisted wreckage was no longer a marvelous source of supply for the craft and shop classes. It became in my mind what it really was, and I felt compelled to call up to the boys, “Could we say a little prayer for the guys who went down in these?” (There were tears for a moment in the boys’ eyes too.)
What a lot of imagination we had in those days! And on this we survived! “There must be something we can do with this. Or this? Or this? Something useful? Creative? Instructive? There must be some place we can get wood to turn on the lathe? … Some way to get more equipment for the shop class? …Somewhere that we can find some decent watercolor paper? …Some way to make a paint out of colored chalk? There must be a way, and we will find it!”
Such assurance! Never a thought but what we could, together, improve any given situation! That assurance made everything such a tremendous adventure in those early days. The exciting joyous conviction that the students and teachers and administrators together could, and were actually creating from imagination, ingenuity, boundless energy and effort, a SCHOOL! Together we were doing this! There was great joy in working toward such a goal with the students as imaginative, creative and stubbornly determined to learn, to achieve, to build, to grow as were those students!
Another lure of the overseas life was the feeling that there was always so much more to see – – to do – – to learn – – to hear – – to go! There was the breathless thrill of actually seeing the famous, exquisitely beautiful head of Nefertiti and standing before the fabulous masterpieces of Da Vinci, Michaelangelo, Rembrandt, El Greco, Cezanne, Matisse and always more beckoning! There was the “pinch yourself, it can’t be true” feeling of seeing my history books come alive as I walked around the Parthenon in Athens, or explored the Roman ruins at Saalberg or Trier, or the beautiful Greek remains of Ephesis, or as I looked at the Crown jewels in the Tower of London, or walked on the beaches of Normandy and in the garden of Versailles! How could I leave this historically flavored, exquisitely beautiful country-side where a Sunday afternoon drive was through the beech forests to the Kronberg Castle, or to the old walled town of Idstein, or along the fabled Rhine River with its terraced vineyards and medieval castles. Perhaps our drive would be a swift run down the autobahn to the ancient university city of Heidelberg for lunch at the Rot Ochse Inn where university students still gather to talk and argue and sing as they have done for more than 200 years. How could I think of all the castles, cathedrals, museums, art galleries, ancient walled cities, the countries, mountains, rivers, the tapestries – – how could I think of all these and leave them all unseen? How could I not see, when the Romer Platz in Frankfurt was finally cleared of rubble and restored again to all its lovely elegance? How could I not stay long enough to drive across the new bridge being built over the Rhine? How could I not stay to see firsthand if the great dream to the united Europe really could come about? How could I possibly go away and leave this fast growing, wide spreading, ever improving school system to fend for itself without me? How could I leave when next year the budget for art supplies was going to be increased by 25 percent, and who would make the order? How could I miss moving my classes into the art room I had designed for the new Frankfurt High School building? How could I not be around to guide all the students through the art museums and art galleries nearby and to see that they visited the cathedrals and Roman ruins and other ancient monuments on family trips? I couldn’t possibly be spared from supervising the combined yearbook of the 12 high schools! I must see to the exchange of student art work with the German Hochschule near our high school! Who would sponsor the junior prom to be held next year (and covered by Life Magazine!) at the Kronberg Castle? How could I not see Pat through her senior year and help her to get her dreamed of, worked for, scholarship to the Chicago Art Institute? There was just no place to stop! So, I stayed.
In 1956, there came a change in the challenge, the adventure, and the lure of life overseas. With the separation of the Air Force schools from the Army school system, a USAFE school headquarters was established – 7135th School Group, under the dynamic and farseeing leadership of Dr. Joseph A. Mason. The professional educators and the administrative staff of this organization faced the colossal task and exciting challenge of welding into one cohesive school system, 108 far flung schools in twelve countries on three continents. And, as the Curriculum Coordinator for Art in this new school system, my particular challenge was to bring the world of art to more than 35,000 children through helping over 100 teachers to plan a vital, creative, integrated art program for their students.
The exciting, far-away places with strange sounding names became places to go to work rather than places to go for spring and summer vacations, as they had been. What a glorious “boondoggle” that sounds like! Certainly there were abundant opportunities to travel with the 7135th School Group, but time to visit the castle or wall, or museum or cathedral, or to savor the flavor of the locale were few and far between. An hours’ exploration of the Medina at Marrakesh (I’ll never forget the evening. I was lost in that walled city) or the covered bazaar at Istanbul, or the “Louvre” in Paris, might be squeezed in after a day of work in a nearby school, but more likely, the end of the school day would mean a command occasion by the Base Commander or it would mean a rush to the local military flight line and a “Gooney Bird” flight to the next school. Now and then Sunday would be the travel day and Saturday would be free to explore Ephesis and Sabbath or Pompeii or Venice, if it weren’t a workshop day.
These brief adventures in far away places, even “Gooney Bird” style, were highly intriguing, but do not account for my length of stay with the program. This has been especially true since 1964 when the “Gooney Bird” travel through the skies became the Dodge 1964 style of travel down the endless autobahns and over the winding country roads to schools in Germany, Holland, Belgium, Norway, Denmark, France and England with only occasional travel to those places with the strange sounding names. This change was due to the reorganization of the school headquarters when the Army and Air Force schools were again combined in 1964 under a new director, Dr. Robert O’Kane. Two years later, again under Dr. Joseph A. Mason’s dynamic leadership, USDESEA was once more reorganized and the travel pattern for the curriculum staff was somewhat widened.
However, the lure of travel has not been the major motivating element in my length of stay overseas. It seems (after all these words) that the main reason for my long stay with the Dependents School program in Europe is simply that I like my job. It is a vital, dynamic, intriguing, demanding, on-going way of life – – of work. It is full of such endless opportunities! The most exciting of these is the opportunity to work with teachers from every state! What a wealth of ideas, knowledge, and ability these teachers bring to this program and share with me at every opportunity. Almost every contact I have with teachers is a “sharing” situation in which I can feel, not only the immense satisfaction of having helped teachers to improve the school art program, but, also, the pleasure of knowing that the teachers’ contributions of ideas and suggestions have given me new ways to carry the world of art to other teachers and children. There are many other satisfactions in my job, but the greatest is this giving-sharing relationship with teachers. And how grand it is to be welcomed into a school with the teachers saying, “I am so glad you are here – – I remember how you gave us so many new ideas and helped our art program fourteen years ago in Nouasseur,” or “…last year in “Spang,” …”six years ago in Ankara”; and as we finish a workshop, to hear them say, “Thank you – you have really helped.”
So, I like my work! It is a job with a future! It has such a completely awe-inspiring goal – – to bring the world of art for their entire lives to all the children who pass through the Dependent Schools! Imagine! Never another adult who doesn’t “know a thing about art ” – – “can’t draw a straight line!” Imagine! Everyone with a life enriched with an awareness and sensitivity to the visual environment – – with a life quest for beauty! Imagine! People who know art for the expressive language it is and who have learned to use it for their own individual enrichment and personal expression! Imagine! Imagine! Imagine! I do and I realize that there is still too much to do to quit just yet.. Maybe next year… and so the challenges go on and so do I!