Michael Bachem and his mother in Bremen. Germany in 1961. It ws the day of embarkation to the United States.
Michael Bachem's passport, stamped by the "IMM. & NATZ. Service."
Michael Bachem in the Air Force. He was selected Base Airman of the Month in 1962 at McGuire
Michael Bachem in 2012.
The North Atlantic is not friendly water in early January. I know because in the first days of January, 1961, I crossed from Bremerhaven to New York City on the TS Bremen. I was going home — to a place I had never seen.
Born and raised in Germany I had inherited US citizenship from my naturalized father, who died when I was eight. Coming of age in postwar West Germany, in the American Zone of occupation, and with the knowledge that some day I would come to the US to retain my citizenship, I was uncommonly tuned in to anything American. Even though English was not spoken in my family, the Armed Forces Network was my daily radio ration. I listened to the Arthur Godfrey show, to ‘Luncheon in Munchen,’ and I devoured American literature from Mark Twain and John Steinbeck to Damon Runyon. In 1956 I rocked with Bill Hailey and the Comets, and my friends and I spent hours, days and nights, listening to jazz. When the time came, we perfumed our rooms with Camels, Pall Malls or Chesterfields. Life Magazine and the Saturday Evening Post were easily available and the illustrations gave us impressions of US life, especially of American cars of prodigious size and flamboyant elegance.
With a small loan from my oldest brother, by now a C-130 pilot in the US Air Force, I bought a one-way ticket, and on the first days of 1961 I embarked on the TS Bremen, headed for New York City via Le Havre and Southampton. My ultimate destination was Bellefonte, Pennsylvania, where my oldest sister — who had married a GI and moved to the US in 1952 — lived with her husband and two children.
At dawn on the 13th of January the ship glided into New York harbor and the port side was asymmetrically packed with passengers looking for and at the Statue of Liberty. Somewhat smugly with US passport in hand I lined up to disembark with other US citizens. I looked for Don Rick, a friend of my sister’s who would drive me to central Pennsylvania. We found each other with relative ease, in part, because I carried my cello and that alone made me stick out. My image of American cars was instantly adjusted when I had to insert my cello and luggage into an NSU Prinz, a diminutive German import, with an acceleration of zero to 55 in half an hour downhill. Next Don took me to get something to eat. And lo, he found an Automat, where plastic wrapped food items were displayed behind small glass doors. Not really knowing what to expect, it was all new and good. Next he took me to the Empire State Building, to the lookout deck, whence I spat over the railing, certain that the spittle would disintegrate anyhow. And then it was on to central Pennsylvania powered by the two cylinder, 600 cc, 20 hp engine in the rear of the Prinz. In the evening of my first day I was embraced by my sister and welcomed by my new American family.
—Michael Bachem of Portland, Maine