An American in Germany Sausage and Champagne
Als US-Soldat kam Perry Bullard 1956 nach Deutschland und verliebte sich prompt: in deutsche Lebensart - und in Gisela. Als er sie 1959 heiratete, wettete ihr Chef eine Kiste Sekt, dass die Ehe nicht halten würde. Zum 50. Hochzeitstag will Bullard die Kiste nun abholen. Für einestages hat er seine Liebesgeschichte in englischer Sprache aufgeschrieben.
I joined the Air Force in 1955 in Boston. I had just turned 17 years old. I took my basic training at Sampson Air Force Base in New York state. Upon completion of the basic training I was assigned to Keesler AFB, Biloxi Mississippi for six weeks of radio school. The school prepared us to copy morse code, 8 hours per day.
Graduation day finally arrived and our assignments orders were issued. I was assigned to the 6900 Security Service Wing in Frankfurt. This was a temporary assignment and my final station was Sembach Air Base in Rheinland-Pfalz. It was a beautiful summer day in August of 1956. I was given a bus ticket and hopped aboard a large Mercedes bus for the trip to my new home.
My unit, while assigned to Sembach, actually was located atop a high hill overlooking Grünstadt some 22 kilometers from Sembach. We were engaged in intelligence work and the hill was littered with antennae.
Awe and Wonder
My first impression Germany was awe and wonder. I was born near the coast in North Carolina and had never seen such a beautiful country. I immediately fell in love with Deutschland. It was not long before I made my first trip to Kaiserlautern, "the sin City of Europe" - or so said the "Stars and Stripes" military newspaper.
There were more than 55.000 military stationed in the greater Kaiserslautern area, and the bars and nightclubs flourished back then. Military Police patrolled the city and if they gave you an order to do something, you had better obey. These guys were big - huge- and had no sense of humor.
One of my friends played in a band at Sembach. The band had just been formed and played in a wild Gasthaus just outside the gate, The Flamingo Bar. I visited the bar one evening, had a few beers and was invited to get up and sing. After singing two or three songs, the bandleader asked if I could play guitar. I told him that I did not. He said, "If you learn to play guitar, I will give you a job". So I bought a cheap guitar, and with the help of my friend, learned to play. Three weeks later I was singing with the band.
Going to the pool without a swim suit
We played different military facilities in the K'town areas: Sembach, Ramstein, Einseidlerhof and Miesenbach, as well as private clubs. Along with our regular jobs, that kept us very busy.
Several of the guys in my unit discovered that riding the bus from Sembach to Grünstadt was tiring and boring. They found rooms in private homes in Grünstadt and were allowed to live there. It didn't take me long to find a room in a room and I quickly moved in. Frau Fess was an elderly widow and was like a mother to me.
On a beautiful summer's day in June of 1957, I was in Renners Eiscafé in Grünstadt and decided to drive up the hill to the Schwimmbad, an olympic-sized pool built in the late Twenties for the local burghers. To this day I have no idea what made me go there - I did not even own a swim suit. But it was the luckiest day of my life.
Don't get into a car with an American
As I was walking around the grassy area I spotted three girls sitting on a blanket. I had seen two of the girls in Grünstadt, but the third girl, a striking beauty with jet black hair and a bathing suit to match. I struck up a conversation with the girls and was inquiring about a dance later that evening at the local Turnhalle in Grünstadt.
I spoke hardly any German and the girls spoke hardly any English. Then the brunette said, in English: "They want to know if you wish to go to the dance this evening." I was surprised at her command of the language and asked where she had learned English. "Why? In the school, of course."
And so I met Gisela B. I was barely 18 years of age and, although she appeared much older, she was actually only 15 ½ years old. I asked if I could drive her home, and she said she would not get into a car with an American. So we both walked into town.
A birthday card from Helmut Kohl
Gisela and I went together for two years, during which time I was not allowed to go to her home. Her father, Erich B. had been a truck driver in the Wehrmacht and, along with hundreds of other soldiers, was captured in their drive to Stalingrad. Erich spent six years in a Russian prison camp just outside Moscow. Later, when I met Erich face to face, he told me that he had nothing against Americans, but, having been in the military himself, he knew how soldiers operate.
Years later, Erich and I became the best of friends. When we would visit Germany he and I would sit on the terrace on a warm Summer night and tell war stories. On his 80th birthday I wanted to do something special for him. I sent an email to the office of Helmut Kohl and asked if perhaps the Chancellor could send a little card for Erich's birthday.
The day before his birthday the postman arrived with a large Manila envelope. It was addressed to Erich B. and had the senders address as Office of the Chancellor. Erich and his wife Meta were shocked. Helmut Kohl? Impossible. Inside was an autographed picture of Kohl along with a letter of appreciation for Erich's duty to his country. The letter said that the Chancellor was contacted by Erich's son in law and what a thoughtful act it was. The funny thing is, both Erich and Meta were SPD voters.
Sausage and champagne
Gisela and I spent many happy moments going to the different winefests, Fasching and the Wurstfest in Bad Dürkheim - all this without her parents learning of it.
In 1958 two friends and I attended the Grand Prix of Germany at the Nürburgring. What an exciting time that was, seeing the worlds best racers compete for first place in this classic challenge. In that same year, 1958, several of us visited the World Fair in Brussels.
When Gisela and I married at the Martinskirche in Grünstadt in 1959, we were given a less than stellar chance of having a successful marriage. Peter M., owner of a large factory in Sausenheim where Gisela worked, made a bet with her that the marriage would not last more than six months. Peter bet a case of champagne that he was right. I intend to collect the case of champagne this year.
Americans who worked on the hill in Grünstadt married a number of girls in the town. Some of the marriages lasted while others were not so fortunate. Next year, 2009, we celebrate 50 years of marriage. She is a wonderful woman and I still adore her. We have lived in Texas since 1980 and return to Germany almost every year. Germany, "my Heimat".