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Gail Coulter

A Sea of Faces
Germany, August 1978

In 1978 our family arrived in Kitzingen, West Germany, where Dutch would be stationed as the Executive Officer in the 3rd Infantry Division Artillery.    A wonderful couple in the battalion arranged lodging for us in a flat in the nearby village of Muensterschwarzach, which I did not know if I would ever be able to pronounce.    As soon as our children began riding the bus to school, Dutch and I were enrolled in an introductory course in the German language. 

Three weeks into the tour both of us were invited to a social event at a German military installation about an hour or so from Kitzingen.  We were quite excited about that because our Swiss Army friend from Leavenworth days would also be there.  Dutch gave me a quick lesson in the rank insignia of the German army—and off we went in the military car with its driver.   I wore my very best dress up suit.

The sight took my breath away as we entered that somewhat small event space. A sea of German officers in their uniforms in addition to officers from other nations were packed into that room—including our wonderful dear Swiss friend.  A cacophony of unfamiliar words filled the air.  Near the door we were welcomed in German and responded in our very best freshly-learned language skills of short sentences and phrases of greeting and introduction.  In a short while the push of people caused me to be separated from Dutch.  However, I gradually gained a bit of confidence responding to typical questions:  “When did you arrive?”  “Where do you live?”  “From where did you come?”  “How do you like Germany so far?”  “Do you have children?”  etc.  Along in this time I looked for Dutch for support—but, being short, I was at a disadvantage to spot him in that packed-in crowd of one seventy-five or so people. 

One gentleman, with two others moving along with him, was especially warm and seemed genuinely interested in my answers.  He complimented my “command” of the German language!   Looking up from that conversation, I felt enveloped in something like the “Some Enchanted Evening” song—seeing my wonderful husband across that crowded room moving through the jammed-in people towards me. 

Grinning, he asked me how that last conversation went.  Then he informed me that I had spoken with the highest ranking German General officer in attendance.  I had been so concerned about the German words that I neglected to pay attention to rank However, it was the beginning of an enchanted four year tour in Germany—enhanced by my taking two semesters of German from the University of Maryland program.   We cultivated friendships with a few German families that enriched our time there as well as our lives afterwards.  In time the “sea of faces” became less intimidating –and abjectly joyful. 

J. Gail Coulter, Fletcher, North Carolina












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