Paradise… 2002
An American experience
Karl R. Lechten 2002

Born during WWII, and raised in postwar Germany, I remember only too well the hardships we endured. Scrounging food, walking railroad tracks with a shopping bag in hope of finding coal that may afford us to cook on a stove, as well as getting through another winter day in reasonable comfort.
We were lucky, compared to some kids who during freezing cold weather and snow rummaged through our trash containers for anything useful. I remember clearly standing by  the window  and observing a young boy working his way to the bottom of one.
Even from a second floor window the kid's skin appeared blue from the cold, and my mother went outside to take him into the house.
She told him to sit on the kitchen chair and take off his shoes and socks while heating a bucket of water to defrost his feet.
She also also managed to find some edibles in a near-empty cupboard to fix a sandwich covered with GRIEBENSCHMALZ (lard from tallow or cracklings, enriched with onions and apples),
and I later gave him my sweater because this kid needed it more than I did.

Yes, we did get by, though I can't remember just how.
It was also a time -growing up in a seaport city where my fantasies invariably would wander, stimulated by huge black and white freighters with red smoke stacks and large - clearly visible-  white letters such as: LYKES LINES along the  hull. Yes, those letters meant something, PARADISE
America!!! Land where streets are paved with gold.
It was understood that in America it was possible for a dishwasher to become a millionaire.
To me it was clear, I had to get there, the sooner, the better… even if I was only 8 years old.
I studied an old map of the world, and at night -under the sheets- I planned my escape. I would walk due west across the Weser River, just keep on going, always straight ahead. The path would take me to the Dutch coast, from where it should be easy to cross the English Channel and make my way to the West of England.
Why the West of England?
I would be able to walk as near to the Atlantic Coast as possible.
The Atlantic, almost halfway there, the closest I could walk on my way to America.
From there, I could stow away on a freighter.
A kid's fantasy to be sure, yet it came true…eventually.
After schooling and completing an apprenticeship in Germany, I was on my way.
First to South Wales, the United Kingdom's West Coast, where a job was waiting for me.
My # 1 priority?
Master the English language by studying daily newspapers along with a dictionary, one word at a time, spelling it out...over and over again. Going to sleep with, and waking next morning, spelling it out again.. first thing!
Eventually, America
Not as a stow-away of course, but rather by PAN AMERICAN AIRWAYS.
In any case, little was I prepared for what paradise holds in store for me then.
Only six months in the New World, I received a draft notice, eventually serving with the U. S. ARMY in Vietnam.
Ironically, it was comprehension of the English language that enabled me to re-enlist, joining Army-Aviation and the vanguard, the first  'Cobra' Attack Helicopter Gun-ships company in Vietnam) which demanded I have a U.S. Government Security Clearance;
yet my application for U.S. Citizenship was denied.

Here is a German citizen  in the UNITED STATES ARMY, serving in Viet Nam.
Marrying a teacher from Wales, UK six weeks prior to overseas duty (she originally attended the University of Wisconsin) did little to enhance the situation since neither of us had family or other ties to the United States; yet it was plenty of reason for me to return to the 'WORLD' alive.
Yes, we got through it all….
After separation from military service I finally got a chance to live and experience America.
What a trip!!!

It was a time when gas prices were  disgustingly low and a pack of cigarettes cost  only $.27 cents. Cadillac's and Chevy's  still had fins, and postage to Europe was embarrassingly affordable.  McDonalds had just introduced the Big Mac and one didn't have to be politically correct, but took time to know the neighbors.
We opened a very successful business, eventually two, then three, and finally four.
Raised three American born kids, college and all, but after more than two decades, micro-managing and employee stress was the reason to quit, sell out, and move on.
I wrote, photographed and published a multi-lingual, hardcover, coffee-table type book as one can do only in America….
Thereafter I developed electronics, then turned my attention to a profession many individuals only dream of, that of a Plattner.

Here was a skill so rare, its been said that no one in 500 years has been able to duplicate the quality and craftsmanship of the original masters, this alone was reason enough to try it.
This is America, and it 'can' be done. After all, Old Masters worked under far more primitive circumstances.
Finally, after more than a dozen years, I've done it, there is no place else to go. I've reached my personal best, inspired by that typical American 'CAN DO' attitude. I have become an internationally appreciated plattner - artist and etcher.
Along the way I acquired several other professions and skills with help from the G.I. Bill and a reminder of my military service.
Hitting age 59, one should think I haven't done too bad for myself, especially since retirement lurks on the horizon, though I'm far too young to even consider it.
The fact is, I haven't even decided just what I want to be when I grow up.
Then, suddenly it happened.

I don't have a choice, because the country I thought of as paradise has made that decision for me.
Oh sure, it's against the law…but it happens every day and so flagrantly, it's been written about in daily newspapers and featured on Network Television News, even practiced by city governments I have come into contact with.
Yet it prevails and is rampant.

Then again, its funny really, I already came across it when I was 50, I just didn't pay much attention then, trusting it was just a rough spot along the 'Road of Life'.
Of course, I know better now, because that experience was only the beginning. It compares much with traveling an Interstate Highway, then being diverted onto a county road, and finally ending up
at 'Three Sisters' in Monument Valley (
Arizona/Utah- for anyone not familiar with it).
All indications show that I have reached the 'Three Sisters' destination without ever considering a shortcut on my way to the Coast.
I'm stuck not unlike a ship run aground on a sandbank, and in spite of my calls, no one throws a tow to pull me free.
The ocean's surface is calm and gives every impression of paradise, yet below the surface…nobody knows what's lurking.
Going down in a blaze of glory is what I would have wanted,
but even
my wildest dreams could not have imagined getting buried alive,
gradually, surely...on a sandbank.
It's waiting for you too…and be assured, if you ever get there, some day, gradually, slowly…

The most profound experience ?
After returning home from Viet Nam at the Madison airport
(1969), I couldn't get a taxi cab because I was in uniform, ???
I can't even get a work permit for my European business partners / part-owners of this American company (, to apply their much needed expertise in Madison and built a company that benefits the American workforce, unless they hold a NOBEL PRICE or invest a MILLION  $$$ - 9/11..HOME SECURITY ACT

...but this government does convey legal status upon 'Illegals' from south of the border
(Re: Dallas Morning News)


Final letter to Washington's Dept. of Homeland Security 11/10/2004

1968 Gunrunners -  First with AH-1G 'COBRA'  Gunships