Germany, racism

Repost: One story leads to another… or– Mabel Grammer, the extreme “anti dependa”

Here’s a follow up post to the one I wrote about General Nadja West. This post was written August 6, 2016 and appears here as/is.

It never ceases to amaze me how you can go from learning about one thing to another.  Sometimes, it feels a little like digging for gold.  I’ll start reading something, learn an interesting tidbit, then study the tidbit more until it leads to an even bigger and more interesting story.  That’s what happened to me yesterday right after I posted about how military folks often end up marrying, dating, and/or mating out of their own cultures.

Yesterday, I was inspired to write a post about LTG Nadja West based on a short news article I read about her.  Before yesterday, I had never heard of LTG West.  I’ll be honest.  The actual article about her wasn’t that interesting, other than the fact that she’s a very high ranking black woman in the Army who happened to be speaking at an Army post where I spent a lot of time when I was growing up.  What  initially intrigued me was seeing that she’s clearly a product of a collaboration between a German woman and a black man.  Since I live in Germany, I’ve seen that phenomenon many times and it really fascinates me.   

I know I wrote about LTG West yesterday, but I wrote my post before I learned more about her story through an obituary for her adoptive mother, Mabel Treadwell Grammer, who died in June 2002.  In 2002, LTG West was a Lieutenant Colonel, just one rank higher than Bill was at the time.  He would be promoted the following year for the last time, and LTG West would continue to climb to the stratospheric rank she’s currently holding. 

LTG West’s mother, Mabel Grammer, was an incredible woman.  She graduated from Ohio State University and became an activist for civil rights.  She was also a journalist.  As a young woman, she fought the War Department in an effort to desegregate Arlington National Cemetery.  She interviewed Thurgood Marshall and stayed at the then whites only Waldorf Astoria Hotel.  She was a mover and a shaker.  Clearly, Mabel Grammer was a woman who was a go getter.

In 1950, Mabel Treadwell Grammer married her husband, Chief Warrant Officer Oscar George Grammer Sr.  She then became an “Army wife”, like I was, and also like me, was unable to have children of her own.  Like so many other Army wives, she eventually moved to Germany.  Like so many other Army wives, she ended up with way too much time on her hands. 

Mabel Grammer used her time to explore Europe.  During her travels, Mrs. Grammer visited the shrine at Lourdes in France.  According to Mrs. Grammer’s obituary and LTG West, Mabel Grammer suddenly had a “vision” of sorts.  She realized that she had much to offer others.  She decided to devote her time and energy to helping other people instead of focusing only on herself.

Mrs. Grammer went back to Germany and began to visit orphanages, where she became acquainted with “brown babies”.  Known in Germany as “Mischlingskinder“, these were babies who were born to German women and black American servicemen.  Their German mothers couldn’t or wouldn’t keep them, so they were given up to orphanages, where they languished.  These children weren’t adopted by German families because they were mixed race.  Many thousands of these so-called “brown babies” were born in Germany during and after World War II.   

A woman who was adopted in Germany by a Black family. She explains that even though she’s half German, she feels like a tourist in Germany.

In post war Germany, it was difficult for for Soldiers to marry the German women they had been dating.  The Soldiers needed permission from their commanding officers and the women had to jump through many hoops to gain approval.  Complicating matters was the fact that in those days, interracial dating was extremely taboo in both Germany and the United States.  In fact, marriage between races wasn’t fully legalized in the United States until 1967 and even then, it remained taboo for many years.  In Nazi Germany, interracial marriage was also forbidden.  In essence, the babies born to these interracial unions were abandoned by two “super powers”. 

Mr. and Mrs. Grammer decided to take in some of the brown babies they met in orphanages across Germany.  Their first adopted child was a ten year old boy.  That boy had friends at the orphanage, who also found a home with the Grammers.  The nuns who ran the orphanages asked them to take more; they went on to adopt eleven more children, including one son who had already been adopted but was returned because he had leukemia.  That child, named Edward, died in 1955 when he was nine years old.  The last child the Grammers took in was Nadja, who was just eight or nine months old in 1962 when she was adopted from a German orphanage.  She grew up to be a physician, the highest ranking black woman in the Army, and the highest ranking woman to ever graduate from the United States Military Academy. 

As if this story wasn’t enough, I learned yesterday through several sources that Mabel Grammer went on to arrange for five hundred “brown babies” to be adopted by black families in the United States.   Since this was occurring during the 1950s and 60s, much of the work to coordinate the adoptions had to be done by mail.  Mrs. Grammer did not use any help from social services, although according to her obituary, Scandinavian Airlines did help fly some of the orphans to the United States. 

I read in another source that although Mrs. Grammer’s incredible efforts were potentially lifesaving for many of the children, they weren’t without controversy.  The babies were being sent to families who didn’t undergo any background checks.  Mrs. Grammer didn’t meet the people who were taking in the brown babies and there were no follow up home visits to make sure the babies were being cared for properly.  Some of the children ended up in abusive situations.  Still, through sheer determination, Mrs. Grammer continued her work and dramatically changed lives for hundreds of people who would have otherwise been brought up in orphanages.  In 1968, Mabel and Oscar Grammer received a humanitarian award from Pope Paul IX, which was presented to them at Fort Myer by one of the pope’s representatives. 

Mrs. Grammer encouraged her own adopted children to forgive their parents for giving them up.  She also encouraged the children to seek out their biological parents.  She explained to her children that they should be grateful to their parents for giving them life and realize that they couldn’t know what difficult choices their mothers faced. 

According to Mrs. Grammer’s obituary, every one of the eleven Grammer children who survived until adulthood went on to make something good of themselves.  Quite a few of them went on to serve in the Armed Forces.  LTG West has said that several of her sisters were “WACs”; that is, they served in the Women’s Army Corps.  Another sister was a Chief Petty Officer in the Navy.   

I am still amazed that I found out about this story by reading a simple article in the Daily Press about Mabel and Oscar Grammer’s youngest daughter, LTG Nadja West, and being curious about where she came from.  I’ll have to do some more reading about brown babies.

A newscast about so-called “brown babies” from Germany.  A documentary about Mischlingskinder is discussed in this newscast.  

Since I’ve found out more about the “brown baby” phenomenon, I see the documentary is being sold through the BRATS Our Journey Home Web site.  I may have to spend some of my husband’s hard earned cash on a couple of new documentaries this weekend.

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Germany, Military, racism

Repost: International collaborations…

I’m sharing this post, originally written on Blogspot on August 5, 2016, because I think it’s a really cool story that is relevant to my experience in Germany. Keep in mind that it appears here as/is, as I am certain General West has moved on from Fort Eustis. I will also share a follow up post written at the same time.

This morning, I was reading the Daily Press, which is the newspaper from my hometown community.  I noticed an article about Lieutenant General Nadja Y. West, who recently gave a speech at Fort Eustis in honor of the 596th Transportation Brigade’s Women’s Equality Day observance.  LTG West is the first black lieutenant general and the highest ranking female to ever graduate from West Point and she once commanded the hospital (now clinic) at Fort Eustis, an Army post that is near and dear to my heart because I grew up nearby.  LTG West is a medical doctor who is currently the surgeon general of the Army.  Her husband is retired COL Donald West.  I see them as quite a power couple!

A video about General Nadja West’s career. I highly recommend watching this video from 2017, which came out after I wrote this post. What a cool lady!

Anyway, as I was listening to LTG West speak on a video that was posted with the article I was reading, I realized that she appeared to be the product of a German and American partnership.  She is clearly biracial and, in fact, has the sort of willowy look of so many German women I’ve seen.  Also, her first name “Nadja” is a very German name.

I went looking to find out what her background is and learned that yes, indeed, her biological parents were a German woman and African American man who was posted to Germany with the Army.  Sadly, LTG West was left orphaned when she was a baby.  At nine months old, she was adopted by Oscar and Mabel Grammer.  Oscar Grammer was a Chief Warrant Officer who worked with the Army in Germany and Mabel Grammer was a civil rights activist and journalist.  The couple adopted twelve interracial children in Germany and arranged for the adoption of 500 more by families in the United States.  LTG West was the youngest of the twelve children adopted by the Grammers.

Some of the most interesting people I’ve ever met are biracial.  LTG West is clearly very attractive, but she’s also incredibly accomplished.  I’m sure the people who created her had no idea how far their daughter would eventually go in life. 

Having grown up in the southern United States, I’ve seen my share of racism.  Germany is not immune to racism, although it seems to be directed more toward Middle Eastern people than folks of African descent.  One is much more likely to hear a German disparage someone from Turkey or Syria than a black person.   

German women seem to really be attracted to black men.  In fact, I remember when we moved to North Carolina, one of the movers was a very friendly black guy.  When I mentioned that we’d once lived in Germany, he laughed and said with a big smile, “German women love black men!”  I have since met a number of people who were born to German and African American parents.  In fact, a lot of the people I’ve met have been affiliated with the United States military, especially the Army.  The Army sends a lot more of its people to Germany than the other service branches do.

One of the things I have enjoyed about my years as an “Army wife” is the diversity of people affiliated with the military.  Because servicemembers go all over the world, they often end up in relationships with people from other countries.  Naturally, some places are more represented than others.  For instance, there are a lot of Japanese and Korean women who have married American servicemen (and it is, more often than not, women who marry men, though there are certainly exceptions).  I do know one Dutch guy whose wife is an Air Force officer.  I’ve run into plenty of British folks, a couple of Italians and Greeks, and one or two Portuguese married to Americans, courtesy of the military.  And I have several German friends who married Americans.

Someone has probably already done this, but I think it would be interesting to see the breakdown of international love matches that occur between American servicemembers and host country nationals. Naturally, not all of these “matches” work out.  I have one friend who barely knows her father, a Puerto Rican/African American Army veteran.  She grew up in Germany not really knowing her father, though she did eventually reconcile with him to some extent. 

A lot of people who have no experience with military folks think that they are a bunch of knuckle dragging lunkheads.  What I’ve found is that the military is full of people from diverse backgrounds and many are open-minded and intelligent.  It’s true that a lot of veterans are people who come from small towns without much opportunity.  Many people join the military to escape poverty or bankroll an education.  But then they end up in faraway places where they meet and mingle with the locals.  They collaborate to create another subset of diverse people. 

The same thing happened in my Peace Corps group.  About half a dozen people who went to Armenia with me ended their service married to host country nationals.  Many people think of the Peace Corps as a very liberal group and a lot of Volunteers are pretty liberal.  However, in some ways, the Peace Corps shares some similarities with the military.  It’s very obviously a government agency.  In fact, PCVs even take the same oath military servicemembers do.  I have been surprised to find Bill working with at least one of my former Peace Corps colleagues who went on to work for USAID.

I have an Italian friend who constantly disparages the military.  He thinks it’s full of idiots who just want to destroy the world.  As someone who grew up an Air Force brat and later married an Army officer, I have found that many people with experience in the military are well-traveled and open-minded.  The ones who stay in the military tend to be pretty savvy about world affairs and they often have opinions shaped by real life experiences outside of the United States.  I know a lot of people think the US military should leave foreign postings, but I think these opportunities to live and work abroad are good for American society.  Too many people in the United States never go anywhere and see anything.  At least people in the military get the opportunity to look beyond the borders.

Hanging out on a military base can be an interesting cultural experience.  Hell, just shopping at a commissary stateside is interesting, especially when you walk down the international food aisle.   You’ll find a number of exotic products stocked for the spouses of servicemember Americans who came from somewhere else. 

I think it’s really cool that LTG Nadja West has done so well in her career.  I enjoyed learning about her and would probably find her fascinating to talk to.  She’s quite a role model all women.

ETA:  I just read the obituary for West’s mother,  Mabel Grammer, which I linked to earlier in this post.   I highly recommend reading it if you’re intrigued.  She was clearly an amazing woman.   

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