War Brides Recall Their Turning Points; After 1945 Allied Victory, Huge Migration of Foreign Wives Came to the U.S.;
Diane C. Lade. The Washington Post. Washington, D.C.: Jul 10, 2005. pg. A.06
Copyright The Washington Post Company Jul 10, 2005
March 1945: Girl meets boy.
Katharina Trost, peeking through the curtains as an American tank convoy rolled by, thought of what the Nazi party leaders in her small German town had told her and the other women. The Americans would try to rape them, they said, and offer them tempting treats laced with poison.
When Trost, 16, and her girlfriends encountered Dan Militello and his buddies in the park a few days later, Militello's opening line was: "Can I exchange a chocolate bar for a kiss?"
"I'll take the chocolate, but you can forget about the kiss," she retorted.
They married the following year, after the Army dropped its wartime-fraternization ban that fined soldiers $60 for just talking to German girls.
"It was the greatest moment of my life when I married Danny," said Katharina Militello, who just celebrated her 59th wedding anniversary with her husband. Militello's jailing as he fought to bring his wife and infant son home in 1946 garnered headlines such as "Brooklyn Vet Who Wed Fraulein Freed."
Sixty years ago in May, World War II ended in Europe. Japan would surrender by August. American servicemen began coming home, returning with stories, souvenirs, memories.
And, in some cases, wives.
There have been war brides since there have been wars. But never has there been a matrimonial exodus equal to what was seen in the years immediately after World War II.
The resulting families "are the legacies of American military presence overseas," said Jack Green, a public affairs officer with the Naval Historical Center in Washington.
There are no immigration records specifically for foreign-born military wives. But Elfrieda Berthiaume Shukert and Barbara Smith Scibetta, two daughters of war brides who researched the topic, estimated that almost 1 million foreign women married American servicemen during and immediately after the war.
Shukert and Scibetta, who wrote the 1988 book "War Brides of World War II," found that foreign brides came from 50 countries and estimated that 75 percent of them eventually landed in the United States, the largest immigration wave since the 1920s.
Zofia Jacubek, an 18-year-old member of the Polish Underground who carried a confiscated German pistol, was fearless. She was shot twice while trying to drag wounded men to safety during the Warsaw uprising and survived the U.S. bombing of her German prisoner-of- war camp after she was captured.
It was the three toothbrushes sticking out of the pocket of an American paratrooper during the liberation of her camp that broke her reserve.
"When you see someone with three toothbrushes and you haven't had a toothbrush in seven months, you say, 'Wow!' " recalled Jacubek. Today, she is Sophia Prossic, 77, of Dania Beach, Fla.
Peter Prossic was a 24-year-old from a Pennsylvania mining town who agreed to jump out of airplanes into gunfire because it paid an extra $50 a month. Sophia was shocked when she asked for one of the toothbrushes and he answered in Polish. His parents were from the old country, and he had spent eight years being educated by Polish nuns.
On one of their first dates, she was thrilled when he let her go with him on night patrol.
They married on June 29, 1946, in Naples. The bride wore her Polish Army uniform.
Chemistry was not the only thing feeding the World War II bridal boom. The odds definitely were in love's favor. There were 16 million military workers involved in World War II, most of them single men in their late teens or early twenties. And there were almost no men left in the cities and villages they marched through.
Britain was the country with the greatest number of war brides, about 70,000. As many as 200,000 European women married American military personnel, and there were as many as 100,000 such marriages with Asian women, according to "War Brides of World War II." The Red Cross transported 20,000 brides, mostly from Britain and English- speaking countries, using ships such as the venerable Queen Mary.
Some came on board carrying babies and children. The Red Cross set up shipboard playgrounds, and placed sterilizers and washtubs around the pool.
"When we passed the Statue of Liberty, they would just squeal with joy," said Helen Thompson Colony of Cincinnati, who joined five trips on the Queen as a Red Cross worker.
Reality was not so romantic.
Steven Shulman, executive director of the American Red Cross Museum in Washington, tells of one excited bride who showed her Red Cross chaperon a picture of the fine house where her husband said they would live.
It was a snapshot of Mount Vernon, George Washington's Virginia home. The GI from a small Tennessee mountain town had posed on the front porch.
The War Brides Act of 1945 and the Fiances Act of 1946 made it easier for foreign wives to enter the country, and the repeal of the Oriental Exclusion Act in 1952 eased the way for Japanese brides. Still, the military did its best to blockade love, especially if the women were from enemy nations.
A few months after atomic bombs were dropped on Japan, 17-year- old Sachiko Okumura met William Medlin, a civilian engineer with the Army who came for sheet metal where she worked.
By 1946, they were applying monthly to Medlin's unit for permission to marry. Every month, they were denied -- until Medlin petitioned the White House. "That's why I like Harry Truman," said Okumura, 76.
Most of her family refused to attend her wedding in Yokohama in June 1948. She wore a white dress with butterfly sleeves, "an American dress," she said, not the traditional kimono. In 1953, she said, she became the first Japanese war bride in South Florida to become a citizen in a Miami naturalization ceremony.
What brought her and her late husband together, Okumura thinks, was the desire to overcome war-fueled hatred. "I think we were fighting against the world," she said. "My husband was that kind of guy. He liked to fight."
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