Riderwood resident Earl Albers, a retired U.S. Army Sergeant, broke the non-fraternization policy imposed on American soldiers in Berlin after World War II by teaching a small group of German children to play baseball. He will be honored (61 years later) by the German government in early November for his courageous act and for helping German youth to find meaning and purpose in their lives in the aftermath of war.
Albers will speak undergraduate classes at Chapman University in Orange, California, about his experience and will receive a special award. This event will also serve as a reunion of the German youth he helped who are now adults. Scores of them will join him at the University for a ceremony in which a piece of the Berlin Wall will also be permanently displayed on the campus.
This event will be facilitated under the auspices of the German government by Karen Gallagher, Ph.D., Instructor of German, Chapman University. Professor Gallagher’s mother, Doris Hillenbrand, was one of the many German youth helped by Albers, who sponsored Hellenbrand’s move to the United States, getting special permission from President Harry Truman to do so.
Albers vividly remembers the night he snuck out of his military compound in a Berlin suburb – in direct insubordination of the U.S. military policy – to explore his surroundings. The commander of the American Zone in Germany, General Lucius D. Clay, caught Albers in the act, and Albers was sure he would be court marshaled.
“General Clay looked at me playing baseball with the German children for a long time without saying a thing. I thought for certain my time was up, “ said Albers, who moved with his wife from Gaithersburg, Maryland, to Riderwood and who is now an avid billiards player. “He then told me to carry on.”
Albers soon became the founding member of the German Youth Activities Organization, providing a safe place for children to escape the memories of war and learn about democracy. He created and supervised programs with the help of an $87,0000 grant obtained by First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt.
Albers’ affinity for German culture traces its roots to his upbringing as a farm boy in a German heritage town in Nebraska. As a child he learned to speak German.
The story of Albers is made more incredible by the fact that he was deemed 4-F and physically unfit for military service due to a heart condition. “I managed to get into the Army anyway,” he proudly said. He served in the U.S. Army Signal Corps in a payroll capacity. “I did what I could to help my country and to also help victims of war.”
Ironically, it was his “heart” – not his act of defiance on a cold night in Berlin – that has served him, and the German youth he helped, well over the years. And his heart still beats daily for change.
“I live in the present, not in the past,” Albers said. “One person can make a difference in this world. Every person can.”