She escaped US bombs, and then became an American: Doris Alewine found love in her US home

By Chelsea Retherford | Living 50 Plus

Whenever Doris Achenbach Alewine shares her story, she almost always begins with her early life in Germany during World War II.

“I always say, I almost got killed by the Americans in 1945, and then in 1967, I became one of them,” she shares the anecdote with a small laugh.

Though she’s proud to be an American, and to have established her family and raised all four of her children in Colbert County, she doesn’t hold back what it was like to have her small hometown of Hartenrod bombed multiple times by U.S. air forces.

“The worst was in ’45 on a Sunday afternoon,” Alewine recounts. “I was sitting in the basement in a bomb shelter at my grandmother’s. She lived about a mile-and-a-half from my house. We came out of Sunday school one afternoon — my grandmother lived next door — and the whole neighborhood fled to her basement because the planes were making their rounds.”

Alewine said she was about eight years old when the bombings took place.

Now, at 87, she makes sure her grandchildren and great grandchildren never leave her home by Colbert Heights High School without hearing the words “Ich liebe dich.”

The German phrase means “I love you,” in English.

Alewine’s oldest daughter, Roxanne Walker, admits she and her siblings never learned the German language. Well, all except her younger sister, Kim Carson, who minored in German at Samford University in Birmingham and forged a career with her bilingual skills with Delta Air Lines.

“Then it was not fashionable,” Walker said. “When we were small, Mom was becoming Americanized, and so we would speak English at home. Dad didn’t want her speaking German because she was trying to become Americanized. It was not a popular thing back then.”

Today, Walker is thrilled her mother is passing down their family’s German heritage to her children and grandchildren.

Though she and her brothers and sister grew up hearing many of their mother’s childhood stories, they were missing pieces of Alewine’s tale until about 20 years or so ago.

After the war, Alewine had met a U.S. soldier from North Alabama who was stationed in Frankfurt, Germany, about an hour from her hometown. In the mid-50s, they became engaged. Though it took a while for Alewine to obtain her visa, eventually, she landed in Tuscumbia.

Carson said she was a teenager when she found out that the man who had enticed her mother to move to Alabama was not her father, Burrell Thomas Alewine.

“He was a soldier, but she never told us when we were growing up about ‘the other man,’” Carson said. “We grew up thinking she met Dad in Germany.”

Alewine is quick to interject that she very well could have met her husband in Germany — the late Burrell Alewine was stationed in Friedberg around the same time she took a job with an American family settled in the area.

Though she came to Tuscumbia engaged to another man, the mysterious soldier wasn’t willing to wait for her while she worked to obtain citizenship.

“It took me eight months to get my visa, and he didn’t wait for me to get here,” Alewine said. “He got married, but his family was expecting me. I think they was a little upset with him that he did that.”

While things didn’t work out exactly as she’d planned, Alewine said fate would have a better plan. Now her children know the real story of how she and their father hit things off.

“I went to church at First Baptist Tuscumbia, and I walked from where I lived,” she retells. “Their Daddy was driving by from the church in a car, and he wanted to know if I needed a ride. He had just come back from Germany, being in the Army. There was that. We met, we talked about Germany, and eventually, it all worked out.”

Carson said she enjoys talking with her mother about her old life, and from time to time, the two converse in German.

“The Americans used to weigh them in school, and Mom would get an extra cup of soup if she fell below a certain weight,” she said, sharing one of her mother’s stories of growing up in Germany in the aftermath of the Second Great War.

“We had no food,” Alewine chimes in. “In school, we got weighed, and if you weighed too little, you got extra food handed to you by the Americans. I’d never heard of peanut butter before. I cannot stand peanut butter to this day.”

Some of those stories hold bittersweet memories, like the tale of Alewine’s mother sewing her a dress made from an Army blanket, or how the family hid their camera secure enough so that it wasn’t found by American soldiers raiding homes for valuables in their town during the war.

Other memories were devasting and will stay with Alewine for the rest of her life.

She retold her vivid memories of seeing Russian soldiers shot in the street by American soldiers. She remembers having to throw herself down a hill as an American plane dropped bombs on a train crossing a rail bridge just yards away from where she was standing.

“I covered my head with my schoolbooks when I saw the plane was after the train,” she said. “It bombed the last two cars on the train after it got across. The bridge was not damaged. I was about eight years old, but I know it like it was yesterday.”

Carson and Walker said they understand their mother isn’t trying to paint American soldiers in a bad light, but they know she lived through many traumas brought on by the war.

“Mom hasn’t been able to watch the Ukraine and Russian conflicts,” Carson said.

“I don’t want to watch it. I’ve seen the war firsthand, and I don’t want to see nothing again,” Alewine replied. “People don’t know anything about the war.”

Living in North Alabama, Alewine is grateful she was able to bring her children up in a home untouched by military invasion.

“The place of milk and honey,” she calls her new home country.

She also admits she didn’t understand a lot of what the conflicts were about until she came to the U.S. She said she had no idea the horrors that were being inflicted upon Jewish Germans around the same time her hometown of about 1,000 people was being terrorized by Allies hoping to bring an end to massacres.

“I learned so much more about the war when I came over here than I ever knew in Germany,” she said. “We didn’t know what was going on. I didn’t know (about the concentration camps), but years later, I visited them.”

Alewine said she’s taken her children and some of her grandchildren to Germany many times. She said she was also fortunate to have her mother come stateside every time one of her children was born, and when most of her grandchildren were born.

“My mother came 13 times to visit,” Alewine said proudly.

She adds that her sister, Elfie, who is her younger sibling by about 17 years, has made a trip to the U.S. almost annually in recent years.

Although Alewine hasn’t been back to her childhood home in about four years, she made the voyage an annual trip with her good friend, Doris Guthrie.

“She is three years younger than me, so I’m Doris 1, and she is Doris 2,” Alewine said, adding that her close friend who shares her first name also shares her nationality.

The two Dorises met in the Tennessee Valley, but Guthrie was born and raised in Frankfurt.

Alewine said the two visited Germany together every year around November, just in time for Advent or Christmas celebrations to begin in their home country. The two friends also cruised together many times, visiting places like the Virgin Island of Saint Thomas, Honolulu, Hawaii, and Tasmania, Australia.

Though the COVID pandemic and some health concerns halted much of her travel overseas, Alewine hopes to see her hometown again one day. If she gets to make the trip again, she knows she’ll be welcomed by many old friends and family that still live in the area.

“Every year when I got to go home, we had a big gathering. All I had to do was tell my sister,” Alewine said with a laugh.

Carson said her mother is often admired in her hometown for making a new life in the land of opportunity.

“Mom is pretty famous in her little town,” she said. “You can imagine, even when she got older, because she is the one who went to America and had her family.”