Wednesday, April 16, 2008

GI's and German Women

Okay, now I can imagine stepping on some toes with this one, so I want to be crystal clear about this: I am not trashing Germany or German women. I spent four and a half years in Germany, and loved it. I've had several German girlfriends - in Germany - and was even engaged to one. And my best friend in Germany married a German girl nearly forty-five years ago and they are still happily married.

This post is about certain types of soldiers I knew, and their attraction to a particular subset of German women - women who wanted to marry an American for whatever material benefits might come of it. Many German women have married American soldiers, have raised families with them, and have maintained good and lasting marriages. This post is not about them.

Okay? Okay.

Although I have known a few, I'll list only a couple of the GI's I knew who married German women for the wrong reasons. The primary reason in both cases - this is going to be difficult to believe for those of you who have not been in the military and stationed overseas - was to get out of the barracks. Yes. It. Was.

And they are not the only ones to have felt that way. I knew others who often said that if they could find the "right" woman they would get married to get out of the barracks. Either they had criteria at least slightly more stringent or they just got lucky, for they did not marry while I knew them.

This is pretty shallow, right? You prefer "stupid?" Okay, this is pretty stupid, right? So why did (does?) it happen?

Well, the first thing you have to know is that for the most part these were young GI's, say ages eighteen to twenty-two. In many cases this was the first time they had left home for any significant period of time and the first time they had not been subjected daily to the guidance of parents. They were all (in my experience) volunteers, not draftees. I don't know what they thought life in the Army was going to be like, but suspect that the thought of discipline was no part of their daydreams. If they enlisted in order to be "on their own," well, they weren't. They were no longer subject to parental discipline but they were not one hundred percent free, either.

Objectively, barracks life in the two companies I experienced in Germany was not at all bad, but there were definite rules. There was a time by which you had to be out of bed, six days a week. There was a time you had to be in bed, seven days a week, unless you were on some kind of authorized absence. Beds had to be made, rooms kept clean and neat, floors waxed and buffed, rooms inspected - in one case daily, in another case weekly - and rooms, personal gear, and field gear inspected monthly. You might be in a four or six man room, possibly with one or more people you didn't care for, but a minimum of courtesy made this a trivial matter.

But there were a small number of soldiers on whom this life positively grated, and a few were determined to avoid it at all costs. For an enlisted man there were only three non-criminal alternatives:
  1. Serve your time and get out of the Army. Alas, this did not solve the problem for the time you still had to serve.

  2. Earn enough promotions so that you were entitled to a private room. This was very difficult to do in one hitch of three years, and would solve the problem only at the very end of its duration.

  3. Get married, thus earning authorization to move out of the barracks and in with your new wife.
As you already know, this post is about those who chose option 3.

The pool of women willing to marry such misfits was generally limited to women who worked in bars not too far from American posts. They worked there largely because it gave them access to the kind of man they were looking for. That was not true for all women who worked in these bars, but we're honing in on the ones for whom it was true.
  • The first case was actually a second enlistment GI, a not very well educated country boy who was on his first foreign tour. He openly bragged that he was going to find a woman and marry her and not have to live in the barracks any longer. He found one in a little town called Schlicht, quickly put a ring on her finger and even more quickly reached the point where he should have regretted it, but didn't. He was not the sharpest knife in the drawer, and would smile ruefully about catching her in bed with another man the night before their wedding, and asking her, "Now, Honey, you're not going to do this any more after we get married, right?"

    Soon after he got married and moved off post I lost track of him, as I transferred from Vilseck to Grafenwoehr.

    But, still in Grafenwoehr a couple of years later, I ran into him again. He had rotated back to the US, spent a year or so there, and was back in Germany. The first thing he said to me was, "Have you saw my wife?" He then explained that after she got her first Army allotment check - at that time it was mandatory for enlisted men to send various amounts of money to their spouses unless they were living in government housing - she abandoned him, sent the Army a change of address, and simply kept receiving and cashing the allotment checks, the only reason she had married him in the first place. Ironically, the Army would not provide him with her address.

  • The second case was a young man, perhaps 21 - a critical age, because if you were under 21 the Army required parental approval prior to your marriage. He too bragged that he would find a girl and "get out of the barracks." He found one, proposed and was accepted, bought rings and had them fitted, but before they married he too caught her cheating. He managed to get the engagement ring back, kept the set, and went looking for a girl with the same ring size!

    He found one within a couple of weeks and married her. I have no idea how it worked out as my tour of Germany came to an end soon thereafter. Anything can happen, but I am rather skeptical about his long term happiness with her.
I do not provide these as examples of a large problem -it wasn't. Nor do I have solutions for the small problem it actually was. I suspect there are no solutions that are not unjustifiably burdensome on those who are "real" adults and wish to marry for more conventional reasons. I posted this because I thought it was interesting and because I'd bet a lot of money that many of you never dreamed that people could be so irrational for such a reason.

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