Helpline Question of the Month: Do you love Europe, thanks to Uncle Sam?
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Lots of Americans have fallen in love with Europe, Eurail Pass in hand, during a summer off from college. But another group gets little mention: the tens of thousands of young Yanks who've served on US military bases in Europe. As Robert from Liberty, MO describes, "It was like living in America during the work week, and being able to drive to Europe for the weekend...every weekend." He posted a question on our Travelers Helpline to hear from others who fell in love with Europe, just as he and his wife did, thanks to Uncle Sam.
Reminisce with Robert through our Travelers Helpline...
"I have enjoyed the Helpline thread about what TV show or film stirred your interest to visit Europe. After the fact of being in Europe I can only imagine that the 1954 movie Roman Holiday stirred many a travel dream trip.
A draft number of 26 similarly 'stirred' my enlistment in the US Air Force in 1971. And after basic training, I paid attention to that airman from the personnel office. She said, 'If you want to go to a certain area in the world for a possible duty assignment, be consistent. Don't list places all around the world.' So I wrote down England and Germany.
And guess what? I got England in February of '73, and later was transferred to Ramstein, Germany. I had just gotten married in November of '72, so I've always said we got a 17 month honeymoon in Europe, all thanks to my Uncle Sam.
It was like living in America during the work week, and being able to drive to Europe for the weekend...every weekend. We only had Frommer's Europe on $10 a Day. This was the time Rick was making his first trip to Europe. The American GIs had already found many of the sights Rick now lists in his books.
Living on the pay of a poor Airman 1st Class, we didn't have the money to do everything we wanted. But we did and saw a lot. Probably the greatest adventure in our married lives!
What is your GI in Europe story?"
— Robert in Liberty, MO
Came over in 1986 to Hanau with my Army Reserve Unit for our 2-week summer training. While here, I met a German guy, moved over here 5 months later, married and had a lovely daughter. The marriage didn't work out, but I stayed in Frankfurt. I love traveling on short, weekend trips all over Europe, but also enjoy being able to take cheap 1 and 2 week vacations in places like Morocco or Turkey. Wish I had time to travel even more.
Thanks. Jo. I've always been curious about how you got there! I enjoy your contributions. My husband and I were just talking about the comfort and trust of being in Europe under the umbrella of the US Army and Air Force. We were there as teachers for 8 years in Idar-Oberstein, Wiesbaden, and Heidelberg. Loved every minute of the German culture, food, the Rhein River, Bavaria...
Robert, We have a similar story. My husband was stationed in Germany from August of 1968 to January of 1971. We were right out of college and had just gotten married. I was lucky enough to get a teaching job in Heidelberg, so it gave us extra money. We traveled all over. Took advantage of every school vacation and went someplace. Not so much for guidebooks then but we did well anyway. Really gave us the love to travel. Have gone mostly to Europe all these years, but have also ventured out to Turkey, Panama, Asia and Africa lately. Going back to Italy in 3 weeks. I get excited about every trip. Germany changed our lives too!
Not a GI, but an Army Officer, my dad was stationed right outside Paris with NATO from '60 to '65. Our family lived in a small French village and we were immersed in the culture. Traveled all over Europe every chance we got. We traveled in the Rick Steves style long before RS, using the Michelin guides. So many great memories. Been going back to travel and live there ever since.
I enlisted in the Army in Dec. '66, and the following Nov. '67 I had orders to Wurzburg, Germany. The following February my new wife came to Europe. We stayed until Dec. '69 and our first child (Heidi) was born. You talk about a honeymoon —our first 2½ years were some of the best times we've had in our 45 years of marriage. We've been lucky to return many times and have brought our children, family and friends with us. Europe on $5 a Day was what we used, and still have the copy. We plan on spending a couple of months a year there in retirement. One of my favorite memories is the beer salesman who delivered beer to our apartment once a week. He knew English and loved to share stories with us.
San Jose, CA
I suspect that the parents of actors Sandra Bullock and Bruce Willis may have some travel in Europe to tell if they participate on this thread. Both fathers served in the U.S. Army in different eras in Germany. Both fathers married Germans. Sandra Bullock is fluent in German.
I graduated college in the early 90s and worked in sales and advertising for about 5 years before finally getting so burned out and sick of it that I actually enlisted in the Army because they promised me an assignment in Germany (Kitzingen, right outside of Wurzburg). I was 26 at the time and it was a very difficult decision to basically start over, but it was the best decision I ever made. Because I was older and more experienced I knew the value of the opportunity I had, so I spent every weekend travelling somewhere. My brother had backpacked around Europe a few years before and used Lonely Planet's Western Europe on a Shoestring and loved it. So he bought me a copy and it was probably the best gift I'd ever gotten. I used that thing so much I referred to it as my "travel Bible" and I wore it out. Most of my trips back then were solo since none of the other guys wanted to do much more than drink at the club on base or in the barracks. I went all over Europe those first two years, had some great experiences.
After two years in Germany I wanted to go somewhere else where the American presence wasn't as big (in Germany everyone speaks English and there were bases everywhere, so it wasn't cutting it for me). I got approved for Italy and moved here in 2000. Fell in love with Italy right away. I got out of the Army in 2004 but was lucky enough to stay in Europe as a civilian. We even did a two year hitch up in Heidelberg ('06 to '08) which were two of the greatest years of my life as we lived right on the Hauptstrasse.
Alas, the government has recently decided that I've been overseas too long, and is forcing us to move back to the US. No idea where or when yet, but when we do finally leave Europe I will be content that I've gotten as much out of it as I could have. I've even started writing a book about my experiences that I may end up finishing someday...
In 1976, after teaching young Germans to fly jets in Texas, my husband received an Air Force assignment to Ramstein, Germany. Our daughters were 9 and 13, so old enough to understand and appreciate the wonderful opportunity we were given. We started traveling almost immediately and traveled as much as time and budget would allow. Two Thanksgivings in Paris, Easter week services at the Vatican, Easter morning services at Canterbury Cathedral, visiting my husband's old students in towns that rarely saw tourists, and the list goes on and on. Germany changed my life and the lives of our children.
Think of the great foods we never would have tried without this assignment...the cheeses from every corner of Europe, Brochen for breakfast, wonderful wines, curry wurst, pomme frites...oh, we ate like royalty. It was a hard landing from great foods when the next assignment was a small town in Pennsylvania where the new McDonalds was held in high esteem by the locals.
In September, my daughters and I are returning to Germany to visit the tiny village where we lived off-base for three years. Then going on to Berlin to see it without The Wall, and on to Russia with a Rick Steves tour. We have returned to Europe many times, but this might not have happened without that military assignment. Thanks Uncle Sam!
San Diego, CA
I knew I should have joined the Air Force and Army instead of Uncle Sam's Yacht Club that sent me to the western and southern Pacific, and the Indian Ocean!
(Note: some posts have been edited for spelling and clarity)
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