By Claudia Clark, WIFE OF LTC PHIL CLARK
While Phil was fighting a war in Vietnam, I was demonstrating against that war in Germany. The general opinion in Germany of the American military and American politics was at that time not the best – the war being seen as an impediment to the aspirations of emerging nations. When I met Phil after the ending of the war (he was studying then at the University of Bonn as an Olmsted Scholar), the sight of an American military officer at a German university was slightly shocking. Needless to say, our discussions about American politics were somewhat contentious – which led to our getting married within a year.
Becoming a military spouse and being part of a military community at an Army post got me into contact with Phil’s collegues, their spouses, their values, and their style of life. I was impressed by their openmindedness, their integrity, their willingness to discuss world affairs, and their thoughtful and reflective attitude towards American and German politics and history. This did not altogether correspond with the image the German media had propagated, and made it easy for me to feel at home in an unaccustomed environment.
People in the Army community were helpful and welcoming, and that made for a good experience; it did not however competely prepare me for a very confusing and unintelligible question I was supposed to answer when visiting the clinic on post for the first time: “What are your last four, Madam?” “What???” Sensing my utter confusion, a lady, who was behind me in line, put her hand on my shoulder and explained: “Honey, they mean the last four numbers of your husband’s social security number which is on the front of your ID card.” I have been forever grateful for this helpful hint.
I have always liked and admired the attitude of adventurism among military families as well as their readiness to set up shop in different parts of the world. Conquering terra incognita while raising children stands in stark contrast to how most Germans feel about moving. When our son was in third grade in a German school, I received one day a personal visit from my son’s teacher and the assistant principal of the school. They both warned me (in a very heartfelt way) that we were psychologically destroying our son if we subjected him to yet another move. This was indeed the prevailing opinion of the German educational establishment at that time. I am happy to say that our son proved them wrong.
Leading a life as a military spouse and raising children while living in different places has been a satisfiying as well as adventurous experience that I would not want to have missed.
Denis Gulakowski says
What a fascinating perspective you provided in your story. I was never stationed in Germany, although I did have several TDY (temporary duty) assignments there. I found the people to be extremely nice, and the food to be excellent. I especially noted the contents of the breakfast buffet offered at the hotel in which I stayed, to be quite varied & very intriguing. I’m always interested in hearing stories about perceptions of America that people from other countries have, whether politically or culturally oriented. I’m fairly confident that the average American has very little appreciation of how we’re perceived by others in the world, except through exposure to media reports or the Internet. I personally believe that living in other countries gives a whole new perspective to life in America.
William J. Bahr says
Thanks for a great story! Happy Mother’s Day! 🙂
Janie Taylor says
Claudia, So wonderful to read your story and remember my ties to you, Phil and the Long Grey Line.
Jim McDonough says
Great story, Claudia, full of insights and reflections. Thank you for sharing it.