Going from foes to friends after World War II
The News & Advance, Lynchburg, Va.
LYNCHBURG, Va. — These were not your grandfather’s candy bars. Which was probably a good thing.
The bars that Gertrud Amos handed out to World War II veterans Earl Washington, Frank Conte and Bill Sisk at Monument Terrace on Friday afternoon were melt-in-your-mouth Hershey’s chocolate. The ones she received from an anonymous American soldier back in Marienthal, Germany, in 1945 were a bit more primitive.
“They were made to melt at 126 degrees, not 98 degrees,” explained Lynchburg resident Neil Bohnert, “and a lot of the sugar had been taken out.”
No matter. To Amos and her three sisters, this unexpected treat was heavenly. And she never forgot the gesture.
We Americans seem to handle warfare a lot like we do sports. We do anything we can to win — yes, sometimes engaging in wartime brutality — but once the contest is over, there are no hard feelings on our part.
This is in sharp contrast to a lot of European countries, where disputes still simmer over indignities that occurred 500 years ago. Germany and Japan, our battle-to-the-death opponents in World War II, now are friends and allies. Vietnam, from which we fled in frustration after more than a decade of fruitless combat, is heading in that direction.
Of course, the fewer than 200 residents of Marienthal weren’t exactly Nazi foot soldiers.
“It was a tiny village, very rural,” said Bohnert, who is Gertrud Amos’s cousin, “and they didn’t get much information about what was going on in the world. Gertrud was made to wear a Hitler Jugend uni-form, but she didn’t understand what that meant.”
Still, the residents of that village weren’t sure about the advancing Americans, either. Gertrud’s mother hid the family’s food in a woodpile because they had been told that hungry Americans would eat all of it.
Then came the chocolate bars, which Bohnert calls “our secret weapon.”
And when the liberating troops found out that Gertrud’s father, Jakob, had to walk two miles each morn-ing to work on a farm, they sent a jeep out to give him a ride.
Gertrud Amos was 14 at the time, and when she made her first trip to America this month with daughter Karin Wolff-Amos and cousin Ingrid Goldsberry, one of her primary goals was to reciprocate for those small kindnesses 68 years ago. Since a visit to Bohnert in Lynchburg was on the schedule, it seemed only natural to show up at the weekly Support the Troops rally at Monument Terrace.
This was the 617th consecutive Friday for this gathering, and Bohnert noted: “Over time, it’s become like a family.”
Three of those “family members” are Washington, Conti and Sisk, the WWII veterans. Washington drove trucks loaded with supplies from French ports to the advancing American troops, sometimes through enemy lines. Conti fought in the Battle of the Bulge. Sisk, a radioman, landed at D-Day and stayed with his Army unit until the end of the war.
Meanwhile, Ingrid Goldsberry married an American soldier years later, and he remained in Germany.
“He’s from Nebraska,” she said, “and so I’ve got relatives in Florida, Nebraska and Texas. I’ve traveled around some over here, and I have a lot of American friends on Facebook.”
Bohnert’s great-grandfather emigrated from Marienthal in 1850, and he re-connected with his German ancestors in 2008 with a letter to Ingrid Goldsberry. Then he found Gertrud Amos, who still lives in the house her grandfather built.
Gertrud speaks very little English, but she didn’t need words Friday.
“Danke,” she kept saying. “Danke shoen.”
And in one hand was a small American flag.