I clearly remember reading a sign on the bulletin board, about the first part of July, at George Peabody College in Nashville, TN, where I was working towards my Master’s Degree that summer. It stated that Major Bell, from the Military, would be interviewing teachers for the Overseas Military Schools which were being organized to start school that fall. If we were interested, we were to come on a certain date at 9:00 (I think it was).
I had wanted to go overseas in Red Cross work for some time, but this seemed better. I was there on that date, as were about 75 others. Major Bell was there looking very peppy and pleasant. She began by saying that if we weren’t 35 or over, nor had a school for next year, we were to leave. We were also to have half or more hours towards our Master’s. She said that they didn’t have time to get references and felt if we had a school, we were OK; and if we had taught for some time and were over 35, we would know how to organize schools. She also said we must be able to get a leave of absence” from our school. She said we were to be able to get a reference by the next day. I told her I couldn’t because I was from Kansas. She said if Dr. Southall, my professor at Peabody, would give me one that it was OK. Dr. Southall gave her one that day so I, along with several others, was hired. She told us we should be ready to leave for Europe by the 3rd week of August. We had a number of papers to fill out and we were told we would be expected to fill them out so we could get papers to take care of expenses going to Europe. We were told we should bring about $700.00, as I remember, in case we didn’t get paid or get vouchers right away.
When summer school was over, I rushed home to get ready to go. That was about August 20, and we were to be ready to go by the 1st of September. I had to go to Hutchinson to pick up what I had where I’d roomed, and pack my school things. We were told to bring over some of our school things to be used in our teaching, because there might not be so much time to get what was needed for all the schools since the number of schools and children weren’t known, because the families had not begun to come over at that time but would be there by the end of August and September. I filled half of my footlocker with school material. The things I wasn’t taking, I had to take to my niece in Emporia.
I was ready to go by the first of September, but I didn’t get orders from the Military in Washington. I would call some of my friends that were going, and they hadn’t either. We waited and kept calling those from Peabody that were chosen, and they had heard nothing. We finally found out at the end of August that some had gone over, but those from Nashville would not get their orders until Sept 22nd, as their papers were lost.
When all of us arrived in New York, we were put on the ship “George Washington”. We were told that it had been a German ship that the U.S. had captured during World War II. I believe they said it was the “Kaiser”, or some other German name. We were told that all of the other teachers were already over there and were waiting for us to start schools. They were having meetings waiting for us.
There were eight of us in our cabin, as I remember. The first few days were smooth and I enjoyed it. Then we had some rough days and not many from our cabin made it to the dining mom.
As I remember, after 11 days we landed in Bremerhaven. It was very early in the morning. We were met by Major Bell and we were glad to see her. She got all of us (about 30,1 believe) and we had become acquainted. Major Bell had eight of us in one compartment with her and she told us our assignments and about the meetings that the others had had, and plans were made. She gave us our assignments to the cities where we would be.
I was so pleased to find I was to go to Heidelberg as first grade teacher. Several others on the ship were assigned to Heidelberg and we were glad, since we had become acquainted. She told us also that we were going to be given our breakfast in the station at Frankfurt and then get on a train to go to Wiesbaden where we would get on a boat to take a ride on the Rhine River in Hitler’s yacht. All the others who had arrived 4 or 5 weeks earlier were already on the yacht. Our group came on very friendly with one another and were enjoying the trip up the Rhine, seeing the few castles along the way and all the hillside covered with grapevines and the Germans picking them. We could see the big baskets full of grapes as they were carried down the hills. We, who had just arrived in Germany, enjoyed watching them.
Those who had been in Germany a month or six weeks, had received their assignments and had become acquainted with others going to the same city or town, and they seemed to get together planning their work. We were supposed to start school on Oct. 14 and this was not too far away–just about 5 days, I believe.
All of us just arriving had a hotel in Frankfurt the first few days. The people who had been there several weeks were at the town of Bad Homburg, not too far from Frankfurt. We had meetings about a week out there and were taken to Bad Homburg each morning to attend the meetings, and went back in the evening. We met by primary and elementary groups, and Jr. and Sr. High School groups.
What I remember most was watching people in the fields cutting or harvesting their cabbage. You could smell it. Then when they started cooking the kraut outdoors in the big kettles, that really was an unpleasant odor to me. After a few days they had rooms for us in Bad Homburg, so we stayed there and could smell much sauerkraut.
I was very happy when our group was taken to Heidelberg, a very beautiful city, and there had been no bombing of it, so we were told. It had been declared an open city. However, we soon learned it wasn’t. They had put their records in a church, at almost the edge of the city, and it had been fired upon or bombed to destroy the records, so the Armed Forces coming in wouldn’t find it had secret records stored there. I can’t remember what day we were taken to Heidelberg, but it was on the Saturday before school opened on the 14th of October. I think it was the 12th.
Four of us were assigned to a former German Colonel’s home. He was confined, as we were told, some where in Germany. His wife and maids were allowed to stay and we were housed there. It was a beautiful home on a hill or mountain overlooking the Neckar River and the mountains beyond. We were on the side of a hill, with the Schloss Hotel and many other nice homes on the side of a mountain. The two other women assigned to the house had been in the first group to arrive overseas and had learned their way around. Another teacher and I, who had arrived later, were also assigned to that home. The first two took the large front bedroom with 2 beds. Chris, my roommate, and I took the only other bedroom, on the second floor. The German Lady of the house had a nice bedroom on the third floor and her maids had smaller ones there, too. There was a bed made up and Chris took it immediately, because she said she couldn’t sleep on a couch, which was at the foot of her bed. I slept there, but not too well, because Chris wasn’t a sound sleeper and was up and down. We had the big down puffs like Germans used for covers and they were good to keep us warm.
Chris always went home earlier than I did after school. She often found the Lady of the House, a very sweet lady and a very talented pianist, having company and entertaining. Chris thought that there were too many Germans coming and going, and complained to the School Officer, a Lt. Col., who said the Lady wasn’t supposed to have German company. So she and her maids, who had been so good to us, were ordered out and had to live in not so good housing. I felt sorry for them, for often she had played the piano for us and her maids were so good. The Army sent us maids and we were to contribute something to the Army from our monthly rent. They were very poor workers and went through our things, even when we kept things locked. They were very adept at picking locks.
The Heidelberg Castle was up the hill a short distance from us, and the Schloss Hotel was a little above that, where we could eat our dinner. We were given a driver and a station-wagon-like conveyance and we were taken up there to eat at night. We had excellent food and service. There were the four of us to use the car, but Chris took it for so many things, that we were glad if we got to go up there for dinner at night
I enjoyed my school children. I had twenty-eight first and second graders and they were very interesting. They had been to so many different places. One, a very nervous little girl, had been in Pearl Harbor when it was bombed and was easily frightened. She improved much during the year. The parents I had were very good to me, as most all of the teachers found. I had a little boy named Ben Wheeler in first grade. His Mother had me at their home for dinner once a week. She would also buy groceries at the Commissary for me, so I could cook at home. Her husband was Col. Wheeler and he later became the top General in the Pentagon. I know he was there in 1960, in Washington, D.C. because several times he came to Frankfurt and called me to find out how everything was going, and brought me greetings from his wife and son. I was very sad to hear of his illness and death. I wrote his wife and she wrote a time or two, but her friends that I met while in Frankfurt told me she was still grieving over his death.
I went home from Heidelberg after the first year. I had wanted to stay, but Hutchinson had given me only one year of leave, and since I was the last to be granted leave, I felt I should go. I went back to Hutchinson and checked in with the Superintendent who had granted the leave. I thanked him for the leave. He said, “We didn’t give you a leave, we just rehired you.” I had the letter saying I was granted a leave, but I was very disgusted and decided then that I would go back overseas.
I wrote and told them I was ready to come back in 1949, which I did and was sent to Nürnburg as a teaching principal for a school with 3rd graders. I was to teach 3rd grade. There were eight of us, two for each grade from Kindergarten through 3rd. In 1951, after Christmas vacation, I was asked to trade with the principal at Bad Godesburg. It was the State Department School and we had some very bright students. I was teaching 3rd grade in Nürnburg, and up there the principal was teaching 7th and 8th grades. I was told that the teachers and pupils wanted the change so much, so I went. I arrived the day they were having P.T.A. at night. The former principal was already gone. I went to P.T.A. and was introduced by the president as the new principal and 7th and 8th grade teacher. I couldn’t say I was told I could have my choice of grades, so I appeared at the school the next day and took over as principal and 7th and 8th grade teacher. I had a very interesting group of children. There were 13 or 14 and all but one was quite bright. Never having taught above third grade, I spent the night and next morning getting acquainted with the books, especially the arithmetic. It was done entirely different than I had learned, so every night I worked the problems my way to get the right answer as provided in the answering book then the next day, I would call on Hans, the brightest boy, or Martha, the brightest girl, to put the problem on the board and explain it to the class. Then they would check their problems and check wrong ones and hand them in. I did this until I found out how the problems were solved.
This school was situated on the bank of the Rhine River. It was such a beautiful view. One day I saw one of the newer students looking out the window daydreaming. I said “John, don’t you have anything to do?” He replied, “Yes, but I’m sitting here looking out the window at the Rhine River with the mountains behind, and my friends in the states are having to study about them!”
We were not too many kilometers from Cologne and very close to Bonn. The U.S. State Department was located on the banks of the Rhine, not far from Bonn, where the German government was located. We took many field trips to all the prominent places near and some not so near. We always took a trip every late spring up or down the Rhine River. All these children had lived in so many different countries, so they had much to tell and they shared many interesting experiences.
Dr. Conant was High Commissioner at the time of this year’s 8th grade graduation and we asked him to give the graduation speech, which he did. He gave a wonderful talk and all the students were very impressed. Four years later one of the boys that graduated from the eight grade that year graduated from high school in Frankfurt. I was Principal at a primary school in Heidelberg and went to his graduation. When I went up to congratulate Bruce on his graduation, he remarked that we’d had a better Graduation Address at his eighth grade in Bad Godesburg.
In Bad Godesburg, the parents were very interested in the school and only a few were behavior problems. Those few weren’t behavior problems long, because the parents were very cooperative. I was given a nice apartment just like the single people in the State Department and Foreign Service were given, which I enjoyed very much. All of the teachers were given apartments. Some wished to have single apartments, but some liked to have a roommate, so they enjoyed this type of living.
I was sorry to leave there, but I liked the offer of being given a primary school in Heidelberg in 1955. I hated to leave the “Knight in Armour” at Bad Godesburg. A man who had bought it the second year I was in Bad Godesburg, called me one day and said he’d bought one and his wife wouldn’t have it in the house. He didn’t want to leave it on the balcony in rain or snow, and asked if I would accept it in the school I said “Yes”, so he brought it and it was put in the library. After a few weeks, it was put in the hall where everyone entered and it could be seen from the street. I hated to leave it there when I left, but I knew it was a part of the Bad Godesburg community. I hope it is still there.