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American Occupation forces entering GermanyAmerican Occupation forces entering Germany in 1918. A quarter-million U.S. troops held some 2,500 square miles of Rhineland for four years after the November 1918 armistice that ended the fighting.

Cousins Reunited: How America's Century-Old Occupation of Germany Still Reverberates 

By Viola Gienger
via the ozy.com web site

The clues were in a faded, tattered black-and-white photograph that Johannes Heibel’s father carried with him everywhere. Nearly 100 years after it was taken in a German village, the photo shed light on a family secret that connected Heibel to a cousin he had never known in faraway Tennessee.

In this centennial year marking the end of World War I, the discovery illuminates a postwar occupation of Germany that most Americans have never heard of: A quarter-million U.S. troops, including the men in the photo carried by Heibel’s father, held some 2,500 square miles of Rhineland for four years after the November 1918 armistice that ended the fighting. The American troops were deployed, along with French, Belgian and British troops in other military zones, to ensure Germany didn’t resume attacks to the west if negotiations failed to reach a final peace agreement at Versailles.

The photo shows seven American doughboys, with one kneeling in front of the others. They were part of the Cooks and Mechanics section of Company F, 2nd Battalion, 28th Infantry Regiment, 1st Division of the U.S. Army. The photo was taken in 1919 in the village of Bannberscheid, about 47 miles southeast of Bonn. Heibel still lives nearby.

During the occupation, U.S. Army soldiers were billeted in private homes. The military struggled, mostly unsuccessfully, to prevent “fraternization” between soldiers and local women. Among the more famous offspring of the era is the provocative late writer Charles Bukowski, born not far from Bannberscheid, in Andernach, on Aug. 16, 1920.

While many couples married, other American soldiers either didn’t know their liaisons had produced children before they were shipped back to the U.S. or didn’t own up to it, says Alexander Barnes, command historian for the Virginia National Guard and author of the illustrated book In a Strange Land: The American Occupation of Germany 1918–1923.

Heibel had learned his family secret — that his paternal grandfather was an American soldier — but nothing more. Two years before his father, Erwin Heibel, died in 2003, Heibel asked him about his life.

Read the entire article on the ozy.com web site here:

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