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Fifty Years of My Life (1939 - 1990)
A Memoir by Jeff R. Noordermeer

Going to New York after the Army

It was almost three months since I was drafted in the army. I spoke much better English than when I left Syracuse. At the army base I had to speak English daily as there were no Dutch people around. I was told that I failed my IQ test. One day my master sergeant came in the barracks and said, "Dutch, we are going to send you home because the army doesn't need you anymore". The Eisenhower administration was cutting the defense budget and was sending many draftees home. Of course with a low IQ I was one of the first ones to go. I told my master sergeant, "Sir, I have no home, the army is my home". I explained to him that I was only in this country by myself. My story must have touched him, I always will remember his name — Sergeant Green from Tennessee. On the day I was getting my discharge papers he handed me a envelope with $150 cash which he had collected from our company A. He had told some of the soldiers about my story and they held a collection. When Sergeant Green gave it to me he said, "Dutch, take it because you don't know where you are going from here". I was very thankful to Sergeant Green. Here was a Negro man who was looking out for me, and yet there was still so much segregation going on this army base.

I had spent three months and one week in the American army. During my stay at Fort Knox it seemed to me that I had learned so many new ways about other people's life style, especially about the colored people who lived in the Southern states. As I said goodbye to all my friends at the base, I suddenly felt loneliness as I realized I was totally on my own with nowhere to go. As I walked through the army base gate I looked at it one more time, and was thankful that the American government had given me a chance to serve in one of their armed forces.

Here I was on the streets of Louisville, Kentucky and another page of my life had started again. The only place I could go back to was Syracuse, but I didn't want to go back to the foundry again. So I decided that I was going to New York City where I had a girlfriend. I had met Era in Syracuse at one of the Dutch club meetings. We were very fond of each other; in fact, I was always a little bit in love with her. We knew that our relation was not going to work at that time, as each of us had to go his own way. But we always had stayed in contact with each other by correspondence. This was one of the reasons that I knew she was living in New York. I went to the Louisville train station and bought a ticket bound for New York City. It was a long ride and took me almost a full day to get there. On my way I made a mistake by getting off the train in Philadelphia as I thought I had arrived in New York City. So I waited for the next train to go to New York City. When the train arrived in New York City at Central station it was two o'clock in the morning.

I visited New York City before but that was only a few times on weekends for sightseeing. Because it was too late to call my girlfriend, and too early in the morning to go and pay for a hotel, I decided to walk around the New York streets until daylight. Here I was, in one of the biggest cities of the world and didn't have a soul to go to. I was thinking how nice it would be if I had just known somebody I could go to and spend the night with. I thought about my home and all of my family, the little town with its peaceful environment and the warmth of my parents' home. Here I was walking around the streets with nowhere to go, and nothing but skyscrapers as far as the eye could see. Would I ever have thought ten months ago when I stepped on the boat in Rotterdam that this would happen? With all the high hopes I had about this land I suddenly found out how cold this world can be. This was one of the loneliest nights of my life. I can still remember my father's voice when he said, "Jeff, please don't go so far away from us, stay in Holland in one of the big cities, if something goes wrong we are always there to help you". But I said, no thank you... America looked so good to me. As I was walking around, a freakish looking man approached me. He must have noticed my army uniform, and somehow New Yorkers always can tell when you are form out of town. He asked me what I was doing in the city. I told him that I was looking for a cheap hotel. He said that if I didn't mind I could sleep in his apartment, and by the way he said, I am a real good cook, too. I told him that I didn't like his company and he better move on before I would punch him in the face. Once he noticed that I was serious about what I said, he left.

As the morning came along I went to an automatic restaurant to have my breakfast. Inside there were all kinds of bins filled with ready made plates for breakfast. All I needed was a few quarters to open one of the bins and take whatever looked good to me.

During the day I tried to call my girlfriend Era, but somehow nobody answered the telephone. Since I couldn't contact her I had to look for a hotel to stay overnight. So I decided on 42nd street where I saw a good looking hotel and asked how much it would cost me to stay overnight. When I walked over to the desk clerk and asked him for a zoom, he said, "soldier, this is the wrong place for you". It must have cost plenty of money just to rent a room in that hotel. The clerk gave me an address of a hotel a few blocks away. As I walked over there I noticed it was an old run down building, but I had no choice, I had to stay overnight. I paid eight dollars a night for the room. The building was so old that the door of my room wouldn't even close properly. At night I couldn't sleep from all the noise outside, like people were fighting each other. The next morning I left and decided to find something better, as I had felt very uncomfortable al night. My door wouldn't lock properly and I was afraid that somebody would rob me during the night.

CONTINUED: A bad experience at the YMCA
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© Copyright  - Antonio Zamora

- Foreword
- Old Rotterdam
- World War II
- After the War
- Coming to America
- Washington, D.C.
- Southeast Asia
- Philosophy of Life

- Book Index