nightmare of being submerged in a sea of hundreds of thousands,
perhaps even millions, of refugees, all questing for safety
amidst bursting bombs, howling grenades, whining bullets, and
mangled body parts, with what was left of the once mighty German
army between us and the Russian slave masters providing an
illusion of some reprieve, is a horror story all in itself.
little holding fire the German army was able to provide,
however, was sufficient to allow some of us to reach safety.
do not know how He worked it, but by the Almighty’s grace, we,
my father, my mother, my three sisters, I and eight others,
fourteen all together, in a small fishing boat my father had
found, were the very last ever to cross the river and to safety.
Then I saw them! Americans! In a trench on top of the levee,
some twenty feet above. At first all I saw was their helmets.
Not the steel helmets of today, so eerily reminiscent of Nazi
helmets, but those unique, jaunty ones exuding fearlessness and
independence, both born of freedom. Apprehensive if my hope was
justified, I was prepared to see their scowling faces. Then the
shelling stopped and I watched them spill out of that trench,
down the slope toward us, smiling. Not the condescending kind,
not the artificial kind, not the ostentatious kind, nor the kind
designed to impress God, but the gracious kind, friendly and
helpful beyond comprehension. One each lifted my two youngest
sisters and carried them to the top of the levee and then
across. Two others, one each, took me and the oldest of my
sisters by the hand and helped us to the top of that levee, then
across and there offered us chocolate. A gift to me, who, just a
scant few days before, had cursed the fact that I was not big
enough to fight them all, because I would have killed them all.
When I recall that picture of utter graciousness, a picture now
fifty-four years old, I still stand in total awe of those
Americans, then truly still a new species of humans, and find it
It was then, I think, that I became resolved, if they would let
me, that I would go to America someday and become an American.
My father decided the issue for me. Two years after he sought
permission to immigrate to America, his application was granted
and two more years after that, on March 4th, 1953, at
5 o’clock in the afternoon, now nearly seventeen years old, I
set foot onto the promised land. And this is what she is still
to me today in spite of the awesome problems that have now
engulfed my Eden. And so I came. Not to take, not to be safe,
but to give and, above all, to be free. Having pursued anything
American, I had read many accounts, both fiction and
non-fiction, about America, her magnificent history, about
cowboys and Indians, and that incredible experiment in human
freedom, nowhere else ever practiced. I had always wondered how
it might feel to hold a gun. I had come to know there was a
Second Amendment, but I had no idea then how it worked or how it
felt. No one with my background could ever know without
experiencing it just like no one could know the abject sense of
slavery that comes from an awareness that guns are FORBIDDEN
without having lived it!
Published by permission of Dieter H.
Dahmen, July 2001, with thanks by America’s Voices.