Early experiences with Dependent Overseas American Schools were most interesting, at times exciting and generally unpredictable. Each person had special unique experiences and I will list here some that have left a lasting memory with me.
Let’s start with my interview by Virgil Walker, the first Director of Dependent Schools, the summer of 1947 at University of Michigan where I had just completed a Master’s Degree in School Administration. As an experienced science teacher qualified to coach all sports, I was offered an overseas teaching position. My problem was Margaret, who had no teaching experience and couldn’t be hired. We planned to get married but regulations at the time didn’t permit teachers to take dependents. Virgil said we should keep in touch. Regulations did change and I was name requested for Germany in 1948. So we were off to Germany on the same ocean at the same time, but our military orders had us on two different ships.
I sailed on the Vance with Herman Search, Al Kyrios and about 250 teacher recruits headed for Lake Tegernsee in Bavaria for two weeks of orientation and assignment. At this time the Berlin Air Lift was underway and the administrator hired for Berlin Schools decided to return to the States. I went to Virgil and Dick Meyering and asked for the assignment. They both laughed and said, Harry, we have no problem getting school administrators but difficulty getting science teachers/coaches; you are going to Heidelberg High School to coach”. However, Margaret and I did get to Berlin the following summer (via an airlift plane) to set up a summer recreation program.
1948 was the year high school inter-scholastic sports started creating interesting situations. Among those was traveling with a high school baseball team on an overnight sleeper train to Bremerhaven to play two baseball games. The most unusual trip was taking high school football players to Vienna to play a game. More exciting than the game was the experience of seeing the Four Nation Jeep Patrol (USA, England, France and Russia) and the large ferries wheel in the Prater.
Do you remember seeing the movie I Was a Male War Bride with Cary Grant and Ann Sheridan? They were in Heidelberg the fall of 1948 making the movie. Of course, a high school football team had to have a football banquet at the end of the season so I asked Special Services to try to get Ann Sheridan to be our guest speaker. Instead, they sent Cary Grant who was a big hit – especially with General Gallagher’s wife. I even had my picture taken with Cary holding a football!
After serving one year as a coach, in 1949 I was given the opportunity to become a school administrator, as the protégé of Sanford Bale at Bremerhaven. After a year and a half, I was assigned as Supervising Principal at Wiesbaden with District Superintendent Herman Search as my mentor.
Margaret and I did manage to slip away the summer of 1952 to the Olympics in Helsinki. When we returned. I started my third administrative experience as District Superintendent in Frankfurt for schools of the Northern Area Command, Berlin and Bremerhaven. Assisting and getting an administrative start in the district office for a long and varied career with overseas schools was Paul LeBrun. Herman left for France and the many problems of organization there.
As early birds of the overseas schools know, this was a period of growth for the school system. I recall having to supervise eighteen building projects, both new schools and additions. It was interesting working with U.S. Army engineers who were experienced bridge builders and German architects with only knowledge of a German school program. To further complicate things, we had our own ideas of building for American educational programs. What a diversity of concepts. I think the educators won a few points by getting larger classrooms with moveable furniture, classrooms painted colors other that green, acoustical tile ceilings, running water in elementary school classrooms and planned rooms for special programs and activities.
The summer of 1955 was the time to return to the States for graduate studies and become better prepared to assist with improvements in a fast developing school system. With the encouragement of Dr. Earl Seifert and Dr. Lowel Fisher (North Central), I resigned (this was before the establishment of an educational leave policy) and entered Harvard University for a year of study. My rehiring as Stan Hergenroeder’s assistant in Headquarters was by Dr. Seifert. For the school year 1956-1957, there were many assignments involving both educational and building programs.
As part of the Harvard doctoral program, I was involved with developing interaction between American and German students. Those involved and assisting were Al Kyrios, Sidney Crowder and many principals of American and German schools. Schools developed individual programs, which were journalized and made available to all schools. One noteworthy and often repeated program was a joint music concert conducted by our own Paul Bowers, involving students of both American high schools and German gymnasiums. The concert was broadcast by both American and German radio stations. An especially helpful and inspiring part of developing American – German student programs was an appointment I had with Dr. James Conant, American Ambassador to Germany and retired Harvard University President. He expressed a sincere interest and appeared to have more concern about education than diplomacy even though he had just returned from a Munch conference on the uprising in Hungary.
Now for a very personal note. After having our first two children born the uncomplicated way in the Wiesbaden American Hospital, Margaret had our third child in an emergency delivery at the Karlsruhe dispensary, eighteen days after arrival in Germany. Of course, you weren’t supposed to fly in military planes if more than six months pregnant. This, I think, was the only time Margaret wasn’t too truthful with the military.
For the school year 1957-1958, I was off to France to be the District Superintendent. The rather large size of France became apparent. We had schools from the Atlantic to the German border and it was a long ride driving from school to school for one-day visits. Dorothy Weihe was the District Supervisor who made a lot of these helpful visits. Of course, I didn’t miss a chance to check on the two schools in Paris. However, they needed little supervision, with experienced Principals Mildred Linck and Evelyn Barren in charge.
In France, I recall planning for use as classrooms the large areas in newly constructed hospital buildings, built for emergencies. The master plan was for immediate conversion to hospital use if the Russians moved into Germany and cut off the ports at Bremen and Bremerhaven. The evacuation route for emergencies and the supply route to American troops in Germany was through France. For this reason, our schools were spread across France in established supply depots. Many of these schools were in temporary buildings. As teachers will remember, school classrooms frequently were quonset huts with pot-bellied stoves. In August, one entire school of twelve classrooms was built by Army engineers in thirty days.
My last memory of France before leaving for school superintendency in Pennsylvania was a visit with a lady French School Inspector. We were planning American – French teacher exchanges. She spoke excellent English but as she became enthusiastically involved, she would continue the discussion in French. When I held up my hand for her to stop speaking in French, she gave me a disgusted look and said, “You must learn French, it is a beautiful language”. I questioned the wisdom of starting to learn French at all, when after eight years in Germany, I still knew very little of the German language. “Wo ist der Bahnhof?” and “Merci beaucoup” were about all I could handle!