Marriage between Americans and Newfoundlanders
...A personal story
This page is from a heritage partnered project. It was written in 1998 by students from Stephenville Integrated High School and edited by their teachers. It has not been vetted by the heritage website's academic editor.
Stephenville is one of the sites in Newfoundland that was chosen to be used as an American base in the early 1940's. Traces of what was left behind after the shut-down of the base in 1966 include housing units, building complexes and physical land markers. What is interesting, however, is that a majority of what was left behind does not include visible geographic traits. Significant numbers of Newfoundland women (estimates range from 30,000 to 40,000) married American servicemen during the time of Harman Air Force Base's existence (1941-1966). Some say this occurred because American servicemen offered financial security and opportunity to move to the United States. Others claim it was simply because of love. The existence of Harmon Air Force Base played a large part in significant numbers of marriages between Americans and Newfoundlanders.
Relationship Obstacles and Problems
The vast majority of these marriages were successful ones, filled with lasting love, affection and care. Naturally, some marriages did not work and caused problems for the couples. Problems such as hate between men and women, unwanted pregnancies and difficult financial situations. In one specific case, a marriage was broken off at the last minute and the prospective groom was sent back to the States before anything could be settled with his potential bride. A little while after, the mother found out she was pregnant. The baby could not be supported after it was born, so the mother gave the child to her sister and then moved away. This event caused much anxiety in the lives of all concerned.
Even the happy marriages that took place were not easily pulled off, and in some cases were not pulled off at all. The American authorities were very strict on the idea of their servicemen marrying "aliens" from another country. There had to be forms of approval completed before a marriage could go ahead. In some cases these guidelines were broken, and men were court-martialed for their actions. Punishment for such actions could include jail time, automatic reduction of pay and/or reduction in rank. Another incident took place where a woman became pregnant through association with an American soldier. The soldier signed for permission to marry, but was refused. He was then transferred elsewhere, destroying the opportunity for the woman to have a husband and the child to have a father.
Despite the marriages that did not turn out well, there were many that did. One such example is the marriage of Michigan native Larry Smith, and his wife Ellen from Bonavista. Originally, Smith was set to be stationed in Greenland. On his way there, the plane he was on was forced to land in Stephenville due to unpleasant weather conditions near their destination. It just so happened that during his brief stay in Stephenville, he met some of the captains of the base who was a friend of his father's. The captain told Larry of his need for help, and that the conditions in Stephenville were much more favorable than those in Greenland. This was enough to convince Larry to stay.
During his time in Stephenville, Larry did a number of different jobs. One such job saw him working security and maintainence in one of the housing areas on the base. One day he was transporting dirty bed sheets to the cleaners, and a young, attractive girl caught his eye. "She was standing knee-high in a pile of dirty bedclothes." She also noticed him and the two engaged in conversation. This lead to about a year of dating and finally a proposal by Larry. They were married after it was approved and Ellen turned a suitable age.
According to Mr. Smith, he did not regret coming to Stephenville at all. He liked the hunting and fishing, and the fact that he didn't need to lock his door at night. The women that he met would be interested in his character, not his money. These are the little things that kept Larry in Stephenville, where he still lives today.
On Ellen's side of things, the same happy story continues. Larry treated and respected her in ways that any other Newfoundland man never could. He made her feel like a queen. She has raised six children with Larry, and has seen much of the world because of his roots.
The presence of the American base is considered a blessing to Stephenville residents such as Mr. and Mrs. Smith. If the base did not locate here, where would they be now? What would Stephenville be like with no American culture? One thing that can be said for sure is that many lives were made happy due to the American base in Stephenville.