by Lynda Southworth
The Flight from the USA to Germany 2
A short while later, one of the young pilots walked down the aisle to check the passengers. When he returned, he struck up a conversation with me and sat in the empty seat next to me. 5 minutes later he returned to the cockpit. There were three pilots.
A couple hours passed, and people were trying to get comfortable enough to sleep on the long, overnight flight. I was resigned to a sleepless night and being exhausted by morning.
Then the cockpit door opened. One of the pilots came out to speak to me. He informed me that they had a couple bunks, but rarely if ever used both. I was invited to use the one they rarely used, “because a young lady entertaining the troops should be well rested.” I was assured I’d be perfectly safe. How long do you think it took me to say, “Yes”? I very quietly stepped in front of him, so he blocked the view and stepped through the door.
I didn’t wake until morning when I heard through the curtain someone knock on the cockpit door. It was George in a panic because one of his troops was missing. The pilot whispered where I was. George asked how long before we landed and was told in about two hours. I went back to sleep.
Just before we were supposed to land, the pilot came to notify me through the curtain that we would be landing in half an hour. I went quietly back to my seat refreshed and ready for the day. Only George knew that I had slept in a bunk. All the rest were stiff, bleary-eyed, and exhausted. I was bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, so to speak. As I deplaned, all three pilots wished me well on the tour and to “knock them dead.”
My Angel had been with me all the time. If I hadn’t been late, I would have been sitting back with the rest and exhausted. What I thought was a disaster, turned into a wonderful adventure. I’m always amazed at the kindness of strangers.
We landed, were driven to our lodgings, and had time for a nap before supper and our first performance. After every performance, the troop remained on stage to meet and greet the soldiers. I decided my M.O. (Method operandi) that evening. I noticed a young man still sitting in his seat when others came on stage. He seemed hesitant, so I went to him. We talked until it was time for us to depart for our lodgings. He was a shy, homesick young man. He wanted to know the latest songs in America, etc. At times I tried to make him laugh, but mainly, I just listened to him tell me about his hometown, his family, and his girlfriend along with his wish for a juicy American hamburger instead of sausages. He was so grateful that I listened to him. He expressed what he was experiencing and feeling. He couldn’t tell that to his buddies because they all are tough MEN at least on the outside.
That is when I decided I would look for the young and shy and mainly just listen to them along with answering questions about what was happening socially in the USA. Remember, many of these young men were fresh out of high school, this was the first time they had left home, they were dealing with a new culture, and they had to be unemotional, tough MEN ALL the time. Many times, I heard that they just wanted to talk with an American girl.
This tour was so satisfying to me because it was like listening to and comforting one of my brothers when he needed to let it all out.
By Lynda Southworth
How I got chosen
On a summer day in 1959, I was walking down a street in the heart of Chicago when I saw a coach unit for testing for TB parked on the street. As I was walking by, the man standing at the doorway to the bus asked me if I needed a shot. I explained to him I always tested positive because at one time I had been exposed to someone who had TB and therefore only had chest x-rays every couple years. He then suddenly asked me if I knew how to dance. I looked at him skeptically, but answered, Yes, I had danced professionally. He then went on to explain that he was putting together a troop of entertainers to entertain American personnel in Europe and would I like to join the troop. Of course, I said yes emphatically. He took down my telephone number and personal information, then told me he would get in touch when he had something ready. I worked the rest of the summer in Chicago, but heard nothing from him. I decided, he was just a flim-flam man of no importance. I went back to Mankato State College and started first quarter of my Sophomore year. I dismissed the offer and forgot about it. Then in late November, I received a telegram asking if I still wanted to go. I replied, “Yes, Yes, and Yes! Send details.” In December I received a letter with details. It said, We’re all set – remember, Capital Airlines Flight # 336, Saturday, January 16th, 7:15 p.m. Be there an hour early if you can. The per diem per day is $9.00. They assured me, however, that our daily expenses would never exceed $4.00.I wrote back, “I’ll be there and on time!”
What is wild is that he didn’t even know if I really could dance, had never seen me dance. He was just taking my word! Crazy!
The Flight from the USA to Germany.
Our entertainment troop flew from Chicago to Dover Air Force Base on the East Coast where MATS (Military Air Transport Service) flew to Europe. There we had to be vaccinated before leaving the United States. I called it “The Gauntlet of Pain.” We walked down a line of medics on either side of us who each had a needle.
Plunge left, plunge right, walk forward,
Plunge left, plunge right, walk forward.
Repeat and repeat and repeat…
Those were BIG needles then and HURT!!! I hate needles! It seemed we were vaccinated for every disease ever on earth and some make believe ones thrown in for good measure.
Afterwards, George, our manager, informed us that we had an hour before departure, so we all went to the duty-free shop. I looked over everything, finally made a purchase, and was ready to leave. I looked around and everyone was gone. At that moment, George came running in, grabbed my arm shouting, “They are ready to leave! We’re going to miss the flight.”
We ran out the gate, onto the tarmac and saw a young man rolling the stairs away from the plane. George hollered, “Hold the plane! We’re coming!” The young man took one look at us and rolled the stairs back into place. He smiled largely saying, “At your service, Miss,” as I passed and thanked him. The door above opened as we climb the stairs.
George went to the seat saved for him by the other manager. I looked for a seat, but the plane was nearly full. Only two seats facing the bulkhead were available. I sat down with my knees inches from the bulkhead thinking, “This is going to be the flight from _ _ _ _”, since in addition to the bulkhead, the seats only went back a few inches. I was resigned.
Thirty seconds later, we were in the air. I wondered where my angel on my shoulder was?
The five week tour included Germany, France, Austria, and Italy. It was sponsored under the auspice of the Department of the Army Armed Forces Professional Entertainment Branch, Washington DC and was not a USO unit.
To be continued–
Teaching our German landlord’s kids, Karli und Peter the finer points of pumpkin carving for Halloween in 1957. Behind mom and Els you can see our kitchen. Mom has basically a cold water sink and a hot plate. Washing the dishes (as I remember) was done first in cold, soapy water, then rinsed with hot water heated by the hot plate. Sometimes several pots of water needed to be heated. Good times…. photo and memory by Kim Medders.