[Rhineland, autumn 1919] Chiara in America was relieved that the war was finally over. But still her husband John and his comrades were in Europe. Then she got a letter from him, posted in Coblenz.
A letter from Coblenz
“Now we will remain at Coblenz with about 7,000 men. By coordinating with the French, the British in Bonn and Cologne, and the Belgians in Aachen, we’ve already seen some places along the Rhine.” That gave her a stab through her heart. The American Forces in Germany, her countrymen, were now occupiers in the home of her beloved Grandfather Lorenz. She read on.
“General Pershing has appointed Major General Henry T. Allen to command the AFG, a good choice. Even though it is a small occupation zone that will not present him with a major military challenge – it will be a delicate political and diplomatic mission that will require a senior and experienced officer. Who knows what awaits us? They signed the peace treaty in Versailles, but we don’t have real peace. Many among the comrades think that Germany should have suffered a harsher defeat.
We want peace, we want to trade again. Europe should be rebuilt and Germany should be put in a position to pay the reparations imposed on her as soon as possible. Our troops are to return home as soon as possible. That is why the General is interested in a settlement with the Germans.
Unfortunately, I can’t tell you anything about Lottie and Matthias yet. Fraternization is prohibited, but it won’t last forever. My darling, I miss you all so much and wish for nothing more than to hold you in my arms. My order keeps me here, there is so much for us to do, and most importantly, we need to provide supplies for the troops. That is why I ask you to come here! Our children are in the best hands with my mother, and then they will join us during the school vacations! You speak German, and you are an outstanding logistician. And maybe we as a family can contribute something to make the world a little bit safer and better.
Surprised, Chiara put down the letter. Her heart was pounding and her thoughts were racing. John would not be coming home yet, he needed her support on the ground, and she might be able to see her German relatives and her grandfather’s homeland after all. And knowing her children, they would surely be disappointed if she chickened out now.
A few weeks later, Chiara was on her way across the Atlantic.
In early October, Chiara arrived in Coblenz, longingly expected by her husband John. She had traveled on one of the ships that brought supplies to the U.S. troops. So she had crossed the Atlantic Ocean and then got on a train to Coblenz, passing the many cities along the Rhine – Düsseldorf, Cologne, Bonn, Königswinter and Bad Honnef with the Siebengebirge. When the train got to Coblenz, she saw the American flag waving over the fortress Ehrenbreitstein already from afar
Overjoyed, John then embraced his wife. They spent a few days together, then John showed her the headquarters of the troops; he was proud of what they had built up. General Allen emphasized field exercises as well as classroom instruction. While German was initially an elective, it soon became mandatory. The lesson plan included vehicle handling, automobile and motorcycle repair, blacksmithing, welding, care of weapons and equipment, radio operation and repair, cartography, and technical drawing. Cavalry taught stable and saddle repair. Quartermasters taught cooking, baking, and shoe repair, and even a small farm was established.
On the way to Bonn
Finally, contact with locals was allowed. A few weeks later, Chiara and John were on a train that would take them from Koblenz to Bonn. There they had an appointment with their German family. As the Rhine scenery passed her by, Chiara’s thoughts rolled over. She knew Lottie and Matthias from the Bergmanns, but that was almost 25 years ago. And a war lay in between. Chiara recognized the region, but not the people. Were they the open, cheerful Rhinelanders like her beloved grandfather had been? Some looked at her openly, even smiled a little; other faces remained closed.
Wars do not end in peace
Certainly, the provisions of the Treaty of Versailles and the occupation had hit the Germans hard. Many feared sanctions and arbitrary measures on the part of the French. She could understand that, but she also felt for the French, whose country had suffered so much from the war and occupation by the Germans.