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Coming to Colorado

Coming to Colorado: A Young Immigrant's Journey to Become an American Flyer

Wolfgang W. E. Samuel
Copyright Date: 2006
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  • Book Info
    Coming to Colorado
    Book Description:

    In his acclaimed memoirGerman Boy: A Refugee's Story, Wolfgang W. E. Samuel relates his experiences as a child surviving war and its hellish aftermath in occupied Germany. On January 24, 1951, exactly six years after his traumatic flight from Russian tanks, Samuel finds himself standing at the railing of a ship taking him to the land of his dreams--America.

    Coming to Coloradois the story of a refugee from war and deprivation, who at age sixteen, not understanding a word of English and with barely an eighth-grade education, leaves behind all that is familiar. Scarred by the violence, rape, and death he has seen, Samuel must first learn to be a boy again. But every relationship he tries to build must overcome the specter of his childhood experience in World War II and the chaos that followed.

    Shortly after his arrival in Colorado, Samuel spends what little money he has on a pair of second lieutenant's bars that he finds in a Denver pawnshop. These bars, just like those worn by the American pilots he idolized during the Berlin Airlift, remind him of the airmen and the planes that instilled in him a dream to fly.

    That aspiration, however, faces long odds. Struggling to learn the English language and American customs, Samuel begins to lose faith in his abilities, suffers depression, and is haunted by both recurring nightmares of his violent past and survivor's guilt.

    Coming to Coloradocharts the path of Samuel's eventual triumph. In 1960, his proud mother saw pinned on his shoulders the gold bars of a second lieutenant in the United States Air Force. It was the end of a struggle for the German boy, who had become, as he wished, the ultimate American.

    eISBN: 978-1-60473-133-0
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Illustrations
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Preface
    (pp. xiii-2)
  5. CHAPTER 1 The Way Things Were
    (pp. 3-22)

    When the mailman came, it was high noon. Always a busy time in the Rheinische Bäckerei Krampe at Detmold Strasse 1, near the center of the bomb-scarred city of Hannover. ThePostbotecarried his scuffed leather pouch before him like a mother might carry her baby, providing him ready access to the mail, I presumed, as he walked door to door sticking letters and postcards into the narrow slits of row upon row of apartment house mailboxes. To me it seemed a backbreaking way to carry a heavy load. In time, I thought, he would injure his back. Carrying the...

  6. CHAPTER 2 A Child Once More
    (pp. 23-34)

    On Monday, November 27, 1950, I received another letter from my mother, this one telling me to come to Fürstenfeldbruck. “We have an appointment at the American Consulate in Munich on Tuesday morning, the sixth of December,” she wrote. This time I knew I would not have to return to Hannover. While I was sorry to leave my friends, my fellow workers who had always been helpful and supportive, Herr and Frau Krampe I wouldn’t miss. That night I went to sleep with my blanket pulled over my head and visions of Colorado coloring my dreams.

    I rose as usual...

  7. CHAPTER 3 Leaving for America
    (pp. 35-49)

    The ticket window at the Hannover railroad station looked just like the window I remembered from Sagan in January 1945, when my mother, Ingrid, and I got on the last train to Berlin, fleeing the terror of the Red Army. As I stood in line to buy my ticket to Fürstenfeldbruck, a vision from my past popped into my head. My mother and Ingrid had somehow managed to get on the crowded train. As much as I tried, I couldn’t find a way, surrounded as I was by hundreds of screaming, pushing, clawing, desperate people wanting to do the same....

  8. CHAPTER 4 USNS George W. Goethals
    (pp. 50-57)

    A shiver ran through my body as I stood on the windswept platform in Sagan, waiting for the train from Liegnitz. Daylight had come and gone. I felt cold, tired, and hungry. I remembered my mother saying this was the last train; there wouldn’t be another. I was afraid the Russian tanks would get here first. I stomped my feet on the concrete platform to get warm. It didn’t help. It was January 24, 1945, and one of the coldest winters on record. Suddenly, there it was, speeding around the bend, brakes screeching loudly. Clouds of steam and coal dust...

  9. CHAPTER 5 Coming to Colorado
    (pp. 58-76)

    The dingy pier with its rusting steel pillars had been crowded a few years back with thousands of American soldiers loading on ships to invade Hitler’s Europe. Five years after war’s end it was empty, except for a string of army buses lined up nose to tail waiting for passengers from the just arrived USNSGoethals. Families boarded the first two buses; the soldiers, who spent their voyage in the belly of the ship, boarded the others. While we strolled down the gangplank in haphazard family groups, the soldiers exited the ship the way they had boarded—orderly and disciplined....

  10. CHAPTER 6 Emily Griffith Opportunity School
    (pp. 77-87)

    Over dinner Hedy mentioned to Leo that a bar patron had arranged a job interview for me at a nearby bakery, a large factory-like building down the street from the bar where Marie worked. “The man heard you say that Wolfgang apprenticed as a baker in Germany. He works at the bakery and told me they are always looking for good people. They pay one dollar and seventy-five cents an hour to start. A good wage, he assured me.” Leo listened patiently to Hedy, as he always did. It was the first I heard of the job offer, and I...

  11. CHAPTER 7 Hedwig Grapentin
    (pp. 88-98)

    A house finally became available in an air force housing project just outside the Lowry Air Force Base fence line, on the eastern edge of Denver’s city limits. Beyond the air base, to the east, sprawled the small township of Aurora, and beyond Aurora, for hundreds of miles, stretched the barren high plains into windswept Kansas. Sixth Avenue, a four-lane, tree-shaded boulevard with a wide, grassy median strip, flanked by the sumptuous homes of Denver’s social elite, ended at Lowry’s main gate. North of Sixth Avenue, in the direction of East Colfax, then Denver’s principal east-west thoroughfare, stood that humble...

  12. CHAPTER 8 Settling In
    (pp. 99-107)

    We lived close enough to Lowry Field that not having a car didn’t present a significant problem. Hedy and Leo could walk to work if they had to, or take a bus; usually one of their many friends stopped by to give them a lift. Grocery shopping was another matter. We three went together to the Safeway supermarket, the closest store to our house, carrying our heavy bags of groceries from the store onto the bus, then trudging the rest of the way home, our arms threatening to fall off by the time we reached our doorstep. I continued to...

  13. CHAPTER 9 East High School
    (pp. 108-118)

    Between classes at Opportunity School I met an older German man. We greeted each other in the hallways, exchanged a few words now and then, but never stopped to really talk. One day he stopped me and asked my name and where I lived. “I have a son your age,” he said. “He goes to North High School. Why are you here? You should be going to East High School.”

    “I don’t know,” I said. “I will check it out.” At lunch time I went to see Ms. Redford and asked her if I shouldn’t be going to East High...

  14. CHAPTER 10 A Distant Goal
    (pp. 119-130)

    The air was soft and gentle, the days mostly comfortably warm, even though it was already October. Late at night though when I got off the bus coming home from work, I felt a chill in the air, reminding me that close to a year had passed since I arrived in Colorado, and winter was not far off. Winter, the season I dreaded most in Germany, was just another season in Colorado. I had no idea if Colorado had winter storms like I experienced in the Lüneburg Heath, but if it did I had no reason to fear the icy...

  15. CHAPTER 11 Ingrid’s Return
    (pp. 131-139)

    Both Hedy and Leo worked long hours, Hedy more so than Leo, volunteering for overtime at the Lowry BX to bring home as much money as she possibly could. They arranged their lives to fit the goals Hedy set—first, a house, then a car. No more visits to the bar for Leo. Leo was not a man able to hold his liquor. One beer was enough to make him happy and willing to buy a round of drinks for everyone. That generosity quickly became a thing of the past. Instead, they joined the Edelweiss Club, to which many of...

  16. CHAPTER 12 High School Graduation
    (pp. 140-154)

    My junior year at East High School drew to a close. My grades were mostly Cs with an occasional A or D. I continued to take typing. Although I typed sixty-five words a minute, I received a C in the course. At Opportunity School I received an A for typing forty-five words a minute. My teacher, who never once spoke to me during the academic year, didn’t really seem to know who I was, except that I was a boy in a class of all girls. I accepted my grades without comment; I just wanted to pass my courses and...

  17. CHAPTER 13 A Taste of Failure
    (pp. 155-167)

    Early in September 1953 I moved to Boulder. Only freshman women were required to live on campus, since there wasn’t enough housing to accommodate everyone who might have wanted to live in dormitories. Numerous fraternity and sorority houses provided accommodations for their members, while the rest of the student body had to make do with what was available “on the hill,” that part of Boulder adjacent to the university campus. Housing there was scarce. Accommodations which under normal circumstances would have found few or no takers, were quickly snapped up by students. Dave and Jim came up before me and...

  18. CHAPTER 14 On a Colorado Morning
    (pp. 168-176)

    Army reserve training at Fort Carson ended the first week in July. I had to find a job fast, but I couldn’t find one in Denver that paid a decent wage. I had met Al Johnson at the university clinic in Boulder. He was tall and lanky, blond and blue eyed, his Norwegian heritage unmistakable. Al’s smile was something that any hospital patient would want to wake up to from a near-death encounter. His mission in life was to help others. He helped me. I had contracted a bad case of athlete’s foot and gone to the clinic for help....

  19. CHAPTER 15 Lackland Air Force Base, Texas
    (pp. 177-185)

    On July 15 I reported to the Old Customs Building in downtown Denver, was handed a commercial airline ticket, and put on a waiting bus to Stapleton airport. We flew from Denver to El Paso, then on to San Antonio. It was a bumpy flight across the Rocky Mountains, and several recruits got airsick. I didn’t. I thought the view was magnificent. It was my first airplane flight. I was thrilled. I could see the world spread out below. The engines were noisy where I sat, but the food was good and the stewardesses were friendly. Ours was one of...

  20. CHAPTER 16 Flight 698
    (pp. 186-194)

    The intense pressure let up a bit. Here and there we got a few minutes to ourselves, time to write a letter or sit on our beds and bullshit, something all of us loved doing. We wanted to learn about each other—where we came from, why we joined the air force—and, of course, we talked about topic number one, girls. We came from as far as Oregon and Iowa, from as near as Texas, Colorado, Oklahoma, and Arizona. There was a smattering of southern boys amongst us from South Carolina, Alabama, and Mississippi, white and black. Their deep...

  21. CHAPTER 17 Carswell Air Force Base, Texas
    (pp. 195-205)

    Leo finally received that long awaited telephone call offering him a civil service position at Lowry. The new position provided steady employment commensurate with Leo’s past experience and was physically much less demanding than his temporary job in a creamery. With Leo’s employment assured, and Hedy working as well, my parents were finally in a position to think about buying a car.

    Two weeks prior to graduation from basic training, all of us trainees had met with air force personnel specialists to determine our future assignments. Using aptitude test scores as guides, the specialists tried to match each one of...

  22. CHAPTER 18 A Different World
    (pp. 206-221)

    The usually drab mess hall had been spruced up by the cooks for Thanksgiving dinner with plastic white tablecloths and decorations appropriate to the season. The dining area really looked nice, I thought, and the food was equally well prepared. I had finished eating, but didn’t feel like going back to the barracks just yet. I sat there quietly, watching my friend Tom Moran eat and listening to his persistent, if not persuasive, attempts to talk me into going to church with him on Sunday. “I don’t like going by myself,” he repeated himself for the third time. “Makes me...

  23. CHAPTER 19 Camp Kilmer, New Jersey
    (pp. 222-232)

    Harriet had picked me up in mid-afternoon at the little house in the quiet leafy neighborhood where I had spent the better part of the past four weeks as the guest of someone I never met and never would meet. I tried to leave everything the way I had found it, neat and tidy. I did the laundry, folded the towels and sheets and put them away, cleaned the kitchen, which I hardly used, and made sure nothing remained behind in the refrigerator. I locked the front door for the first time since I arrived and gave the key to...

  24. CHAPTER 20 USNS Simon B. Buckner
    (pp. 233-242)

    The USNSGeneral Simon B. Buckner, unlike theGeorge W. Goethals, was not a Liberty Ship, but the first of a new class of troop transports built just prior to the end of World War II. Significantly larger and faster than its Liberty Ship predecessor, theBucknerwas designed to deliver large numbers of troops to the far reaches of the Pacific Ocean area. Nearly 150 feet longer than theGoethals, the ship had two stacks, to theGoethals’one, and moved at a sustained speed of nineteen knots. Although only three knots faster than a Liberty Ship, at 17,000...

  25. CHAPTER 21 RAF Station Sculthorpe, England
    (pp. 243-252)

    Brigadier General Joseph R. Holzapple commanded the 47th Bomb Wing at RAF Sculthorpe in 1955. Fourteen years later, in 1969, after attaining four-star rank, General Holzapple served as Commander-in-Chief, United States Air Forces Europe, USAFE, with his headquarters in the lovely spa town of Wiesbaden, Germany. I met the general briefly upon my assignment to his headquarters on completion of a combat tour with the 355th Tactical Fighter Wing, at Takhli Royal Thai Air Base, north of Bangkok. From Takhli our fighter-bombers and electronic warfare aircraft flew combat missions against North Vietnam, a war very different from the one I...

  26. CHAPTER 22 An Unlikely Wedding
    (pp. 253-264)

    Bob England, a weather observer who worked in the room next to me at the Shooting Box and who had recently married, invited me for dinner. He was a three-striper, an airman first class, who like myself was planning on going back to college once out of the air force. Bob and I hit it off immediately after my arrival. The apartment he and Celia lived in was thoroughly modernized and tastefully furnished, with large windows looking out on a bucolic tree-studded countryside. Their apartment was painted in yellow and brown pastels, hung with numerous hunting prints, and was light...

  27. CHAPTER 23 RMS Queen Mary
    (pp. 265-275)

    A matched set of Neiman Marcus luggage, five rawhide-covered suitcases varying in size from a small cosmetics case to a huge travel trunk, was delivered to our hotel room. I had given up thinking about the cost of anything. I never even presented Harriet with an engagement ring, as I knew any ring I could afford on my airman’s pay would have been an embarrassment to her. Instead, on her ring finger, she wore that enormous oval-shaped diamond, a multicarat ring she and her mother selected at Neiman Marcus before we met. Harriet flaunted that ring before her friends, but...

  28. CHAPTER 24 Differences and Choices
    (pp. 276-284)

    Winter in Norfolk County was cold, wet, and miserable. Although there wasn’t much snow, the high humidity made the place seem colder than it really was. Icy roads and frequent early morning fogs made driving in our little sports car a challenge. Harriet and I never really felt warm and comfortable that winter until we were in bed. Cold or not, I recall those winter months of 1955 to 1956 as the happiest days of our unlikely marriage, marred only by the bizarre New Year’s Eve incident, which I rationalized away.

    The American couple who rented Sir Francis Bacon’s castle...

  29. CHAPTER 25 A Shattered Marriage
    (pp. 285-299)

    Harriet remained with the baby in St. Marylebone Hospital for the next three weeks. I understood why the baby had to stay. At only four pounds and a few ounces he was very fragile and required nine feedings a day. The doctors and nurses were jubilant when the baby began to gain weight, an ounce at a time. On Tuesday, October 2, 1956, I went to the offices of the Metropolitan Borough of St. Marylebone and registered the birth of Wolfgang Thomas Samuel, son of Harriet Samuel and A/1C Wolfgang Samuel of Clarendon Gardens in Wembley. When I proposed Wolfgang...

  30. CHAPTER 26 Coming Home to Colorado
    (pp. 300-317)

    I saw Hedy and Leo waiting for me as the Greyhound bus pulled into the depot. My stepfather Leo wore a new blue suit and had tears streaming down his face when he saw me step off the bus. Leo always carried his emotions on his sleeve, and today was no exception. I was his son in every way but blood. Leo had always been there for me when I needed him. Nothing had changed. I hoped he knew how much I loved him. “Dear Wolfgang,” he muttered in a tear-choked voice, hurrying toward me to give me a hug,...

  31. CHAPTER 27 Harlingen Air Force Base, Texas
    (pp. 318-327)

    Military orders soon arrived terminating my enlisted status in the air force reserve. Then I received a letter from the Commandant of Air Force ROTC at Maxwell Air Force Base, Montgomery, Alabama, welcoming me to the officer corps of the United States Air Force. Last, but most important, a set of orders arrived directing me to report for active duty. “By direction of the President,” the orders read, and Leo smiled approvingly when I read that sentence to him, “2nd Lt Wolfgang W. E. Samuel, AO 3123445, having volunteered for active military service is ordered to extended active duty to...

  32. CHAPTER 28 A Dream Come True
    (pp. 328-336)

    On a hot Mississippi day in early July 1962, Deanne and I loaded up our new 1962 Chevrolet Impala hardtop and headed north for Topeka, Kansas. The car had no air conditioning—we couldn’t afford that—and it soon became miserably hot when the sun got up high in the milky white sky. Deanne, seven months pregnant with our first child, incessantly dabbed perspiration off her nose with a small linen handkerchief. Sweat rings formed under her arms, attesting to her discomfort with that big baby inside of her. She made the tan top and the matching skirt herself, to...