The USNS General CC Ballou, Part 3: Fellow Passengers

Sixty-five years ago my family crossed the stormy North Atlantic on the USNS General C. C. Ballou as displaced persons. In the early morning on April 10, 1952, while anchored in New York harbor, I saw the Statue of Liberty for the first time.

In the past several months I have been contacted by two fellow passengers and the granddaughter of a third. One of them, while reading my book, realized we were on the same voyage and bunked near each other. Although she was only four at the time, she remembered the burial at sea described in the book.

Another refugee who crossed the Atlantic on the USNS General C. C. Ballou several months earlier learned about my book while doing internet research on the ship. He was struck with how uncannily similar our stories are. He contacted me and we’ve become friends. Writing the book is a gift that just keeps on giving!

By the way, the book is now available for Kindle readers!

Two Men, Four armies, Four Countries


The picture is of me in my advanced ROTC uniform with Dad just before I was to get an ROTC award. Dad, who had fought in three Axis armies, was very proud of me.

And now a retired US Army Colonel has read the story that spans the experiences of those men, from WWII to Vietnam, and loves the book!

Thank you, thank you, thank you. The book…it is a shame that we have so abused great adjectives i.e. awesome, outstanding, and terrific so (so is “so”)…in the United States Army lingo I will say “a job well done”.

Gerhard, your ability to tell your family’s story was and is a true gift; I understand “labors of love.” You made me laugh and cry and thank God for his mercy to you and your family especially where their lives were at great risk. It is a wonderful story of survival, heartbreak, determination, and love. Your research and capture of such historically valuable documentation was stunning.

Your family’s life story would make a great movie!!!!

-Dick Smith, US Army Colonel (Ret), former faculty member of both the Command & General Staff College and the US Army War College

Not in the book: the lifesaving lamb

Many stories we never made it into the book. Some didn’t make it because I took them out, others because somewhere along the way one has to stop changing the book. Yet occasionally something triggers my memory and a story that I hadn’t thought about for decades suddenly pops into my head.

For example, several minutes ago a 64-year-old story came to mind:

I was very sick and near death from a severe allergic drug reaction. I had been in bed for maybe four weeks. My parents were not sure I would survive. In hopes of sparking a will to live in me, my parents brought me a newborn lamb. I remember the joy I felt at the beautiful fluffy little lamb beside me in bed. Their plan worked.

First visit to an American grocery store

We arrived in Columbus, Ohio, from West Germany, via the Port of New York, on Easter Sunday, 1952. Prior to that the only time within my memory that I had had enough to eat was on the ship sailing to America. There were many new and amazing things to experience in our new country. The abundance of food was a pleasant culture shock.

Excerpt from the book:

Our first visit to an American grocery store

I remember our first trip to an American grocery store, the A&P on Main Street, near the Capital University campus. It was a family affair with my Mom, Dad, my brother, and me. A nice American lady helped us with the shopping, a big help since everything was strange to us. We had just moved into our home on Mound Street, and we had no food in the house; the cupboards were bare.

The amount of food in the A&P was astounding. I had never seen such a so much food or such a wide selection. We filled a cart (smaller than today’s carts) full of groceries, which cost about $10. (That is about $88 in 2014 dollars.) I did not know someone could actually have enough food to fill such a huge basket. While amazed and pleased at the amount of food, it almost seemed wrong to buy that much. We had a refrigerator in the house for perishable food. Now that was amazing!

First family portrait in America

Our first family photo in America, from The Capital Chimes, April 24, 1952.

After a 10-day voyage through the angry North Atlantic we made it to New York Harbor.

A day after receiving our alien registration card we were on a train heading to Columbus, Ohio.

We attended the church service at our sponsoring church on Easter Sunday, the morning of our arrival. We stood at the front of the church and were introduced.

Thinking back: there were no shower facilities in New York, on the ship, during three months of out-processing camps, in Rothenburg, or in Ohrenbach. I’m sure we did take a bath the week we left Ohrenbach, months before. Between that last bath and Columbus the only way we cleaned ourselves was with a washcloth and a bowl of cold water. If we stunk, the kind Christians did not let us know.

30A newspaper article - front page

Can you tell from the picture that we were happy to be in America? My brother and I dressed up in our best clothes for the picture: Lederhosen. The only other clothes my brother and I had when we arrived were one pair each of sweatshirt-like pants and shirt.

The Capital Chimes published an article on the new refugee family who had just arrived in Bexley, Ohio.

The USNS General CC Ballou, Part 2

12 Ocean cruise

Bunks aboard the USNS General CC Ballou. With permission from Russ Padden:

We were packed in in the ship like sardines. Maybe we even smelled as good as sardines? There were no shower facilities. Frankly, as a kid I did not mind the accommodations. We had all lived in worse conditions. We did have flush toilets in the front of the ship, and they were spotless. As I recall there were perhaps two rows of 30 toilets facing each other, rather close side by side, and totally open; no privacy walls. Privacy was not a feature of this “cruise”.

Needless to say, with such wonderful accommodations, we spent as much time on deck in the fresh air as possible. Mom felt strongly that it was healthy to be in the sun and fresh air. Both my brother and I were eager to be on the top deck as much as possible. We did not have cameras to take pictures, but there are pictures of the living quarters. Shown in the picture are the bunks of the USS General Ballou filled with GIs returning from Europe in late 1945.

We slept in the same bunks during our voyage as the GIs. Those young Americans also had a happy trip across the ocean.

1951 class photo


Gerhard Maroscher: 2nd row from the top, 3rd from the right.

From Gerhard: I just received a 1951 class picture via snail mail from a former classmate in Germany. I’m in the 2nd row from the top, 3rd from the right. I’m wearing a suit coat that Mom made by cutting down an adult’s coat. Since there are a few weeks till the book is in print, I’m considering adding the picture to the book. In June there was a class reunion of the four grades in the picture. Because I was working on the book I could not attend.