'That's America': Former German soldier builds new life in U.S. after World War II
Coming to America
His brother-in-law, who had emigrated to the U.S. and Salt Lake City, wrote a letter saying that he owned a car, a washing machine and a refrigerator. "I had nothing in Germany," says Gellersen. "I told my wife, 'If he got all that, I can have two cars, two refrigerators and two washers." Gellersen and his family — by then, a wife and two children — took a ship to New York in 1952 and then a bus to Utah.
"I couldn't speak English and I didn't have a penny," he says. "I got off the bus in Cheyenne, Wyoming, and I thought, what have I done? I thought I was back in Russia. There was nothing in Cheyenne in the wintertime. I got back on the bus and we came to Ogden Canyon and that looked pretty good with all the trees."
They moved in with his wife's sister, and Gellersen found work at Cream O' Weber stacking milk. Only weeks earlier he couldn't find a quart of milk, and now it was so plentiful that he grew to hate the stuff. In an only-in-America moment, he became dock foreman within two years. He paid off his house in nine years. He bought two other houses and gave them away to family members.
"That's America," he says.
He worked 25 years for Cream O' Weber, missing only four days of work in all that time, and then he started his own business, repairing cars.
"I never regretted coming to America, not once," says Gellersen.
Manfred and Christa were married for 59 years before she passed away in 2006. Now Gellersen lives alone. After nine decades, he still walks a couple of blocks to and from church each Sunday and recently renewed his driver's license. His family lives near him and recently gathered to celebrate his 90th birthday.
Gellersen glances again at his watch. It's time to drive to Welfare Square, where he performs odd jobs that ultimately assist those in need.
"I've been on both sides," he says. "It's better to have a little extra and be on the giving end, than to be wanting and be on the receiving end. I have extra to give. I got too much. That's America."
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