In honor of Veterans Day, here is an excerpt from one of the 500+ letters my father sent my mother while he was posted in Europe, a meteorologist in the Army Air Corps. The war was over and he was, understandably impatiently, waiting to go home. In the interim, he befriended a German woman whose husband was a POW, and her little boy. Perhaps it’s more of a peace letter than a war letter. It is followed by a letter he received a year later from the German woman.
December 4, 1945
My Darling —
I left my fountain pen at the office this afternoon, so now I’m forced to write on this thing. The punishment is not mine, but rather yours. You must blush with humiliation when you look at my typing. Maybe you’d like to teach me to type – but before you say yes, I’d better tell you that I am not a good pupil. I lack the required patience.
Well, I did my first fraternizing last Sunday. There is a woman (what are you thinking at this point?) who has been to the weather station a couple of different times to see if I might be able to do something about getting her husband out of PW camp. He was the German weather man at this station during the war. I couldn’t do anything, but I did send his name and address to Hq. They are trying to find former weather men in order to get the German weather service rehabilitated. Well, she was grateful for what little I had done, and the last time she was here she asked if she might see me personally outside. She asked me to come down to her house Sunday if I wasn’t too busy. Said she’d be delighted to see me. Sunday afternoon was one of those times when I was feeling so badly , that I decided even that would be be better than lying around and moping. So I walked down there. She lives in an apartment in a housing settlement right near the field that was used for the families of men who worked on the field here.
She used to work in the States – about seven years in New York and Cleveland – returning to Germany just before the war started. So she speaks nearly perfect English. I did enjoy myself and figure that it was a good experience. She has a little boy, 3-1/2 years old, of whom she is very proud. She had a very attractive Christmas centerpiece on the table with little figures around the base – porcelain angels, the Christ child and such. I have a vague remembrance of having seen decorations like that before, a long time ago, in German homes. But what I wanted to tell you was that she insisted that I take one of the figures to send to my wife. I tried to refuse without success. But her little boy didn’t like one bit her giving the angel away and he started to cry and took it right away from me. She still insisted that I take it, if for no other reason than to teach him a lesson. She claimed he was selfish since he is an only child. So I pulled some candy and gum out of my pocket and bartered with him. I soon had the glass angel. And he was the most tickled little tyke you ever saw. Did me far more good than it would if I had eaten the candy.
They seem to be living not too badly, though we would probably complain no end if we had to be without some of the things the Germans don’t have. Perhaps this woman has sense enough to realize that they brought it on themselves and so had no kick coming; or maybe she’s clever enough not to complain, whatever the cost, in front of an American. She served me some coffee without sugar and some very good homemade bread without butter. They happen to be lucky in this particular settlement and so have enough coal – mainly from last year’s stock. The apartment, though not elaborate, was very comfortable and certainly as neat as a pin. If I were to reenlist, no doubt you and I might be living there next year, since a number of the homes have been requisitioned to house the families of Americans. But I don’t expect to reenlist.
When she first came to the station to talk to me about her husband, she gave me the same story that all Germans tell – now. Her husband was a professor at a university in Stuttgart and very much opposed to “the party.” But he had to join and ended up as a weather man here at Ansbach. He was taken prisoner last April.
When I told her that my name was German, she said she thought I had German blood in me, being blond and blue eyed. But she said she realized that was no compliment now.
That’s the story of my first visit to a German home. She claims that she wants to repay the hospitality that was shown her in the U.S. No doubt she is also interested in seeing her husband released. When she finds that anything I can do is really of very little consequence, she may have to charge it all to hospitality.
No more news on going home. I surely wish that I could tell you that I’m going to leave here soon. Even more than you do, I’m sure. I get so discouraged, and even homesick, I guess.
I guess you know I still love you. I guess you know all the things I’d like to be telling you tonight. You must know all the things I’d like to do. Things where you are a partner. Patience is all it takes. I hope it doesn’t run out.
All my love
Stuttgart, January 10, 1947
Dear Mr. Staebler:
Thomas is talking of you ever so often and it might amuse you to know that he is bragging quite a bit about you: “I have a friend in America and that is Mr. Staebler!”
The kindness you have shown us will always be in his mind. After we had to leave the settlement and were waiting in vain for our Daddy, he grew for a while awfully resentful and began to hate all Americans. Now it is rather impossible to reason out something like that with a barely four years old child. Therefore, it was such a good thing, I could refer to you and to your kindness. That worked instantly, and I was so glad of it. It’s terrible when children grow up bearing a grudge toward others and other nations.
As the man who knows everything predicted, in November 45 already, it was May when my husband came back to us. And it was such a lovely incident how we met that I have to tell you about it. Being nervous and restless from waiting, I packed my suitcases and wanted to travel to Ravensburg via Stuttgart. When we came to Stuttgart to my father-in-law’s, my husband had just arrived about an hour before. And it happened to be our 5th wedding anniversary! You can imagine how happy we were and thank God, our Daddy came in a fairly good condition. Soon afterwards we moved to Stuttgart, and I am glad we are settled again and, let’s hope, now for good. My husband took his work up again as geograph and started teaching in the pedagogical institution here and is planning of going back in the university career. He is getting much satisfaction out of his work, though it is rather strenuous for him to make up for the 10 years of intermission in this work.
Thank God Thomsy is healthy and happy! We are having a lot of fun with him, and he is certainly living up to his name: The unbelieving Thomas! He is asking questions from morning to night and he won’t rest until everything is clear to him.
Conditions haven’t changed much in Germany since you left. Unfortunately they seem to change for the worse, instead for the better. It is partly due to the coal shortage and the current cold period. We all are glad when spring comes around. We are sneezing and wheezing and coughing, because the coal and calories rations are so high! Life isn’t as pleasant as it could be, but we have to make the best out of it and we are hoping to keep fairly well and fit to be able to do our best. Perhaps we can work out slowly a better future for our children.
My husband as well as I are thanking you once more for the efforts you made to get my husband back. It was awfully nice of you and we always shall gratefully remember that. It would be lovely if we could meet again. My husband would like to get acquainted with you. Did you not say once, later on you would like to come to Europe with your wife? If you should realize this plan once, we would be happy to have you as our guests; please, keep that in mind.
With the kindest regards and best of wishes from all of us to you and your family, I am
(Mrs.) Elsie Butz