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Unofficial Ambassadors

Unofficial Ambassadors: American Military Families Overseas and the Cold War, 1946-1965

Donna Alvah
Copyright Date: 2007
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 291
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  • Book Info
    Unofficial Ambassadors
    Book Description:

    As thousands of wives and children joined American servicemen stationed at overseas bases in the years following World War II, the military family represented a friendlier, more humane side of the United States' campaign for dominance in the Cold War. Wives in particular were encouraged to use their feminine influence to forge ties with residents of occupied and host nations. In this untold story of Cold War diplomacy, Donna Alvah describes how these unofficial ambassadors spread the United States' perception of itself and its image of world order in the communities where husbands and fathers were stationed, cultivating relationships with both local people and other military families in private homes, churches, schools, women's clubs, shops, and other places.Unofficial Ambassadors reminds us that, in addition to soldiers and world leaders, ordinary people make vital contributions to a nation's military engagements. Alvah broadens the scope of the history of the Cold War by analyzing how ideas about gender, family, race, and culture shaped the U.S. military presence abroad.

    eISBN: 978-0-8147-0531-5
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-13)

    In the mid-1970s, life on the island of Okinawa was exciting for an American middle-schooler in an Army family. I made close friends among the other kids in the family housing area. For many of us, living in Okinawa was an adventure, although some kids lamented that their families had not been sent to more enchanting places like Germany or England instead. But we tried to make the most of our three years on the island. Within the housing area, beyond the baseball field for American families, we sometimes played in what we called “the boonies,” trekking through heavy foliage...

  5. 1 Going Overseas
    (pp. 14-37)

    As World War II drew to a close first in Europe in May 1945, then in the Pacific in August, American women looked forward to the homecomings of husbands and fiancés. On the eve of the Allies’ official announcement of victory in Japan, Rosie McClain of Washington wrote to her husband Charles, a Navy man in the Pacific, that “The whole world is full of joy and expressing it in some way or another this evening. I know it’s the ending of great suffering and pain of war. Darling, I can’t celebrate remembering the one I know can’t come back...

  6. 2 Unofficial Ambassadors
    (pp. 38-80)

    American families arriving in Germany and Japan in 1946 learned that the armed forces considered them part of the occupation mission. An Army representative informed women and teenagers in the American zone of Germany that “You are also serving your country while here.”¹ Like official personnel serving abroad, wives and children received orientation and guidance about living overseas and coming face to face with Germans and Japanese. A pamphlet for families in Kyoto, Japan, informed readers that “As a part of an army in the field dependents of U.S. personnel are subject to the regulations which [pertain to] all Armed...

  7. 3 A U.S. Lady’s World
    (pp. 81-130)

    On November 2, 1960, Democratic presidential nominee John F. Kennedy proposed a government-sponsored “Peace Corps” that arose from a vision of the United States as a humanitarian, democratic world leader desirous of selflessly assisting the poorest peoples of less powerful and privileged nations. The idea excited Americans. Over the next three months, thousands wrote letters asking how they could join, and a Gallup Poll reported that seventy-one percent of those questioned supported Kennedy’s proposal.¹ The idea of a U.S. government-sponsored body of American volunteers striving with peoples at the grassroots level to better their societies expressed the deep wish of...

  8. 4 “Shoulder to Shoulder” with West Germans
    (pp. 131-166)

    In 1946, Lelah Berry and her two young children left Louisville, Kentucky to accompany Army captain Elmer Berry on his tour of duty in Berlin. Before Elmer Berry joined the armed forces in World War II he had worked for the Louisville & Nashville railroad. Lelah Berry had never ventured outside Kentucky. For the first two years of Elmer Berry’s service his family lived in military camps around the United States, setting up house in “cooped-up, ramshackle living quarters,” and living on a “careful budget.” But in Germany, declared Lelah Berry, “The Berrys really never had it so good.” The family...

  9. 5 “Dear Little Okinawa”
    (pp. 167-197)

    While dining at the home of an Okinawan minister and his wife in the early 1950s, Air Force wife Marian Merritt asked her hosts about their experiences during World War II. “Can you imagine how I felt,” Merritt later wrote, “as they told of American planes wrecking their homes and American troops causing them to flee to the northern part of the Island, walking day and night, one woman, who was eight months pregnant, finally, having her baby by the side of the road?”¹ The Battle of Okinawa during the spring and early summer of 1945 resulted in the deaths...

  10. 6 Young Ambassadors
    (pp. 198-225)

    When the ship carrying the family of Ann and Robert Chase docked in Genoa, Italy, in 1955, four-year-old Debby walked down the gangplank and greeted an Italian policeman with “Buon giorno.” The delighted policeman responded warmly, “Buon giorno, bambina Americana!” According to Ann Chase, her daughter’s greeting sparked “a beautiful friendship between Italy and my three children.” During Robert Chase’s three-year tour of duty with the Support Command, Southern European Task Force at Camp Darby, the family lived in an Italian neighborhood near the base. Nancy, Debby, and Robbie Chase befriended the Italians who came to their house: the fruit...

  11. Conclusion
    (pp. 226-234)

    As a family’s tour of duty drew to a close, the household prepared for the journey to the next station. On rare occasions, family members left for the United States before the sponsor’s tour of duty ended, for instance, when a child finished high school and wished to return to the United States to attend college, a medical condition necessitated the return of a spouse, or a marriage ended in divorce.¹ The U.S. military evacuated families from foreign posts during international crises: the outbreak of the Korean War, the Cuban Missile Crisis, and the beginning of the Vietnam War. On...

  12. Notes
    (pp. 235-260)
  13. Bibliography
    (pp. 261-272)
  14. Index
    (pp. 273-290)
  15. About the Author
    (pp. 291-292)