Updated: Dec 9, 2020
Yes, you could ask Abraham, originally from Ur of the Chaldeans, or Saul of Tarsus, but what if they are currently swapping stories with Moses to enthrall the Philadelphians in the Ultimate Gated Community? It seems rather pedestrian to throw Fred Schiess in the mix, the unassuming Swiss immigrant whose children would surprisingly be natives of Hollywood. He originally obtained a visa for what was then known as the Belgian Congo, but found out that his earnings would have to be spent there. So, he took a shine to Uncle Sam. In November 1954 Fred sailed to New York on the SS LIBERTE and asked to dine with the French family whose pretty daughter had caught his eye. He found himself out of his league when he cut off and munched on the leaves of a celery stalk, the only item he could identify on the hors d’oeuvres menu. After that, he got cozy with several fellow Swiss, but that one pretty girl was headed for Bakersfield.
Meanwhile, back at the ranch, as some say, it was still 1945 in my Swiss village situated between the Rhine and the nearby Austrian border. On Sunday, February 25, the church bells rang out the end of the service when we became aware of a stridently ominous sound. A crippled B-17 was searching for a space to land and touched down smoothly enough on the broad grass strip bordering the river. Before it could come to a stop, the right wing got caught in the stone embankment built to keep out flood waters. It spun the Flying Fortress around and slammed it into the massive barrier. Had it slid another 200 yards it would have crashed through the barbed-wire barricade where soldiers stood with their weapons drawn to welcome the Americans to Nazi Austria.
(pictured: the crashed B-17)
My mother had arrived early on the scene and tended to the ball-turret gunner with a bullet lodged in his head. One crew member was dead; his eight dazed comrades where huddled together to process the raid over Munich that had ended so badly. A teen showed up and used his high-school English to help sort things until the military arrived. I have an iconic photo of my mother tenderly swaddling 18-year-old Marbury Councell in parachute silk. He survived and his grateful mother in Baltimore located mine through the Red Cross. Soon, amazing gifts arrived. Juicy Fruit gum and pretty girls’ dresses were standouts. I still have wonderful sensory and olfactory memories and know for certain that this is where my love affair with America began.
(pictured: Vreni's mother tending to the ball-turret gunner)
(pictured: Marbury Councell)
Young Swiss women often spent time in England to become fluent in the language. A smitten Hungarian actor touring with a German Christian Drama Ministry pressed me for marriage. My alarmed father was only too happy when I opted instead for a year’s stay in America. Shortly before my spring 1956 departure for job-hunting in New York, I had an appendectomy and Dad happened to see an ad in the paper, placed by two doctors with three small children in Los Angeles. They had studied medicine under the GI bill in French Switzerland and were looking for a helper. Being fluent in French and German, I got the job and left for California on April 12. I was twenty-one. Will you allow God to thicken the plot some more … so I can meet and propose marriage to Fred Schiess?