Understanding a brief background history leading up to my early years in Germany and Austria and now my voyage evolved might be necessary at this point.
My father, Major Chaplain Mert M. Lampson, spent his entire war service in The United States Army during WWII in the China/Burma/India theaters of operation. Immediately after the war, and a months leave with his family in California, he received orders to report for military occupational duties in Europe, specifically Germany, where he was to be part of the large military controlling forces that occupied various countries in Europe.
Dad was the first to leave for Europe and the Lampson family, (our mother Freda, myself age 14, brother Les age 16 and sister Linda age 10) were to follow approximately two months later. Fortunately, the War Department encouraged the servicemen’s families to join their spouses for their extended occupational duties and we were one of the first shipload of military dependents to be sent to Europe following WWII.
In November of 1946 we boarded our ship the USNS General Simon Buckner, which had been utilized as a troop transport during WWII. The vessel was loaded to capacity with dependent women and children headed for many ultimate destinations, new homes and lives in a number of different European locations where military personnel were stationed.
We traveled by train from San Francisco, CA. to New York’s Grand Central Station and then to Fort Hamilton, NY. The entire trip from San Francisco to Bremerhaven, Germany took approximately two weeks, which included processing time at Fort Hamilton and the sea voyage, which took about seven days.
As a 14-year-old boy, the experience was new and exciting, although it was considerably less glamorous than it might seem. On the ship there was a shortage of fresh water and it had to be rationed, therefore lukewarm salt-water showers were the norm. We slept in bunks stacked three or four high. Seasickness was prevalent and a number of the passengers were quick to express their displeasure to anybody that would listen! The north Atlantic was rough and the weather was colder than expected as we neared England and the magnificent White Cliffs of Dover.
In spite of a number of non-major adversities and lack of a few conveniences, many friendships were made, and I might add that the majority of complains came from the adults on the ship and not from the younger dependents. We had a great time, and parting to go our separate ways once reaching Bremerhaven, Germany was difficult.
My first impressions of Germany after boarding a coal burning malodorous older passenger train in Bremerhaven in route to Munich and on to our final destination, Murnau, located about one hundred miles south of Munich, were remembrances never to be forgotten!
The immediate obvious destruction from the aftermath of a country ravaged by war is difficult to explain. Germans of all ages -men, women and children – lined the railroad tracks when the train would pull in and out of stations and cities along the journey hoping that we would throw cigarettes, candy soap, etc. from the train windows. I’d learn later that items such as cigarettes and sugar were high priority items on the black market”. At this point in time, I was just learning how war-torn the population and countryside had become during the war years. This was difficult to fathom for a very young teenager from the United States and I’ll admit that I was in a cultural shock and somewhat apprehensive about what life was going to be like at our destination.
From Munich, where we met our father Major/Chaplain Mert M. Lampson, and traveled by army jeep to Murnau. The farther we traveled into southern Germany, namely Barvaria, the less destruction was apparent.
Our welcome to Barvaria was the heaviest snowfall and coldest winter the area had experienced for a decade. I didn’t think there was that much snow in the world!
Our assigned and “emancipated/liberated” new residence was an exquisitely beautiful older home located close enough to the German side of the Alps, which gave us an outstanding and breathtaking panoramic view of the natural elevation.
Shortly after our arrival in Murnau we were treated with a trip to the famous Zugspitz resort located near the resort city of Garrnisch-Partenkirchen. We spent several days at this large and grand hotel located near the summit of the mountain. It was here we had our much anticipated first experience with skiing and sport sledding. It was very relaxing, great fun and the scenery was absolutely beautiful!
After seeing such magnificent landscape, I, as a very young teenager, couldn’t quite or fully understand how or why the German population was duped/coerced or perhaps forced into initiating such a devastating war that so ravaged their country.
My Freshman Year: The Munich Dependents High School 1946-1947.
This was the first year of existence for the Munich HS. Since Murnau was quite a distance from Munich commuting was out of the question, so we were billeted in separate boys and girls dorms fairly close to the High School.
The dormitories were older large office or residences fully independent with their own laundry, bathing and facilities for cooking. The housekeepers were Germans employed by the military. The actual rooms were quite cramped, four or five students to a room and only one desk but this was a new adventure for all of us so there was very little complaining.
School had officially begun sometime in October so we were a little behind some of the earlier students, but new dependents arrived almost daily and, looking back, the instructors were very patient and understanding, not only for my freshman year, but all through my four years.