By George A. Smith
American Forces Network Europe
After reading an article on a U.S. military website about the American military’s impact on European culture, a 78-year-old British man was so moved that he wrote down his thoughts in a five-page, single spaced letter, guessed at an address, stuck it in the mail and wondered if anyone would read it.Two months later, someone did. But only after the bulky letter with the vague address was opened by customs, examined, put into a plastic bag, forwarded, then forwarded again to the American Forces Network Europe Headquarters in Ramstein.
Geoff Pollitt’s carefully penned letter had one-cross out, no misspellings and seven neatly trimmed copies of photos. While Pollitt has an email account, he decided to write because his one-finger computer “pecking” wasn’t fast enough.
As a 10-year-old boy Pollitt recalls saluting American GIs leaving for World War II’s D-Day landing. “I remember my teacher telling me some of the brave lads would be killed, leaving little boys like me in the States without a dad,” said Pollitt. “Afterward, I went home and cried.” It was weighty stuff for a small boy.
Years later, around 1950, Pollitt renewed his connection with the United States when he started pushing the side of his face against the speaker of his dad’s radio with a cushion over his other ear to keep out stray sounds. He was tuning in a faint AFN radio signal drifting over the English Channel from Germany. “I liked listening to country,” said Pollitt. “I really liked Hank Williams’ ‘Lovesick Blues.’ I started mimicking his yodeling at school. They all thought I was crazy!”
When he turned 16, Pollitt set up a pirate radio station in his bedroom using walkie-talkies connected to a record player. The signal went two miles. “My call sign was the Golden Rocket,” Pollitt said. “I played Hank Williams and Tennessee Ernie Ford records, and I spoke with an American accent.”
Pollitt joined the British Army when he was 18. He was stationed in northern Germany. “Back then nobody listened to the BBC,” he said. “Nearly all of our radios were permanently tuned to AFN. We didn’t turn the radio off when we went to bed. AFN would sign off the air at midnight, but around 6 [a.m.] the carrier signal woke us up, followed by the [U.S.] national anthem.”
Around that time, Pollitt had a small encounter that made a big impact. “My buddies and I wanted to go to the Frankfurt PX, but it was forbidden. Someone sent us to the U.S. Army Headquarters,” Pollitt said. “We thought we were in big trouble when we were escorted in to see a major general. But he talked to us, then after a while called in a girl and told us to follow her, and she would get us PX passes. He shook our hands and wished us well. We could not believe a major general would give us the time of day like that.”
Pollitt left the British Army and returned to life back in England, but his U.S. connection continued in a surprising way. After his father died, Pollitt’s family researched and discovered that Pollitt’s grandfather fought for the Union Army in the Civil War as a private with the 33rd Infantry Regiment of Pennsylvania. After the war, Pollitt’s grandfather owned and operated a cotton mill in Pennsylvania before immigrating to England in 1887.
Pollitt said he believed his father never told him his grandfather was American because when his grandfather died in Southport, England, in 1915, he left a considerable amount of money, but none of it went to his dad or mother.
Today, Pollitt lives in Bolton England, happy to hear his wayward letter eventually found its way to the U.S. military. Now, his shared experiences are part of the story — a tale of how Americans repeatedly impacted the 78-year life of Geoff Pollitt.