Born in post-WWII Europe, veteran recalls childhood without a homeland

By CHELSEA KATZ | Kilgore News Herald, Texas (Tribune News Service) | Published: February 3, 2018

Born in the French-occupied area of Germany following World War II to an American father and a British mother, Robert Lightfoot was the baby born without a country.

The pair's story began in 1951 when Lightfoot's mother's ice dancing show traveled to a town near his father's base in Germany.

The German women did not want anything to do with the American soldiers, so Lightfoot's dad and his friends in the Army formed a country western band to play "hillbilly music." Then, in 1951, they got word the ice dancing show would be coming to town. Lightfoot's mother's specialty in the show was skating on stilts, while her sister was known for the type of skating most commonly seen during the Winter Olympics.

"The most important information that came out, there was going to be English speaking women who liked American men... They went to it, and after the show, my dad and his buddies snuck back behind the stage and met up with these English women, and that's where my mother and my father finally met," Lightfoot recounted. "There was a courtship, there was a marriage, and then I was born in Germany."

Both narrowly escaped tragedy earlier in their lives. Lightfoot's mother's family missed by one street being hit by a bomb at their home in Hartlepool, England during WWII. "They heard that bomb coming down, and all of a sudden 'Boom!' the house across the street was demolished." His father was too young to attend school in Joinerville when odorless natural gas led to the New London School explosion. "My father, fortunately for me and my brother and sister, he was not yet old enough to attend school, so he was at home with his mother when that explosion happened. They told me that if he'd been one year older, there's a good possibility he'dhave  been in that school," he said.

Lightfoot was born Robert Tillman Mortley Lightfoot Dec. 23, 1952 in Idar-Oberstein, Germany which, he said, is also where Bruce Willis was born three years later.

The baby born closest to Christmas in the hospital, Lightfoot was the Christmas baby and paraded around the civilian hospital for everyone to celebrate.

His dad's enlistment was coming to an end, which meant he would have to return to the United States.

"Well, this is where the problem started," Lightfoot said. "To tell you a bit more about Germany, after WWII, Germany was split up into four different sections. They had the United States section, they had the British, they had the French and they had the Soviet Union; that's what created East Germany. Well, my father was going around trying to get a visa for me to go over to the United States. My mother could go because she had her passport and everything, but they couldn't figure out who I belonged to because I was born in the French controlled section of Germany, my father was American, my mother was British."

Germany could claim Lightfoot as a German citizen because he was born in the country with a German birth certificate.

"My father ended up having to go back to the United States without me and my mother. He had to leave us in Germany because they could not get me out of the country." Lightfoot was allowed to go back to England with his mother, but it would take then-Senator Lyndon B. Johnson and then-Rep. Lindley Beckworth working together to get Lightfoot a visa to enter the United States. "So at the age of 16 months I was finally allowed to come to the United States with my mother, and we came to Longview because that's where my dad was living with his relatives," he said.

But Lightfoot still was not an American citizen.

"They still couldn't figure out what I was."

If both his mother and father had been American or both been British, that would be his nationality.

"Finally, when I was five years old, whatever process they had to go through, they were able to accomplish it, and I went in front of a federal judge in Dallas who granted me citizenship in the United States."

Though he was close while serving in the U.S. Navy, Lightfoot has not been back to Germany.

"That's the story of how I ended up being a baby without a country and finally became a citizen of the United States."


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