Review by Jane Rappoport, FAHS 1948
"A fascinating account of a huge U.S. air base developed in Chateauroux, Indre Departemente of France, 1951-1967. The author has spent years interviewing so many of the persons involved, French and American, and demonstrates how a poor section of France found hundreds of jobs at this base and brought prosperity to all. Social lives on both sides were enlivened. In 1966, De Gaulle gave the boot to NATO forces in France, resulting in the air base closure in 1967. After a great deal of discomfort for all parties, the area has begun to recover. There remain abandoned facilities that could be put to use by a major business or manufacturing concern. But will the Chinese take a chance here? Also, I especially enjoyed the 'Cold War Potpourri' and the pictures! Thank you for providing this insight into a fascinating and interesting part of our history."
Overseas Brats Year End Bulletin 2013
Podcast with Circe Olson Woessner, Executive Director of the
Museum of the American Military Family, Albuquerque, NM
November 16, 2013
Click on link below to listen to podcast:
The American Legion Magazine
In Your Own Words - Books
Veterans can learn how one USAF Base in France was, in fact, a microcosm of what occurred around the world during a Cold War in which 120 million men and women served in the U.S. Military, 27 million of them overseas.
Arts/Lit v.22, no. 42 Oct. 17-23-2013
Golden Ghetto: How the Americans and French Fell In & Out of Love During the Cold War
by: Steve Bassett
(Xeno Books · hardcover/paperback · $26.95/$19.95)
A vast American Air Force base, constructed in a substantially Communist region of Cold War-era France, became a significant social, political and economic force remembered long after it ceased operations in 1966. After purchasing a home in central France, Placitas-based author Steve Bassett came across the story, virtually unknown in the US, and began the hundreds of hours of interviews with both American and French sources that ultimately became Golden Ghetto. Bassett’s old-school journalistic approach and fondness for polysyllabics is fused with an enthusiastic storytelling style. His chapter titles and subtitles—like “Escaping, Eggs, and Betrayal, ” “Communists Eating Popcorn” and “Séances and Pink Ladies”—especially capture the vivacity of his voice. In Bassett’s hand, even the account of an interview the journalist failed to obtain advances our understanding of the historical climate. Bassett helms the New Mexico launch of his book at Bookworks (4022 Rio Grande NW) on Tuesday, Oct. 22, at 7pm.
Albuquerque The Magazine
ShelfLife Section -- Local Author
(click on icon below)
English translation of “La Nouvelle Republique” article
July 28, 2013, L'Indre France
click here for French article:
“Golden Ghetto”: Berry at the time of the Cold War
Steve Bassett is a former U.S. journalist who has just completed a book about the history of the American presence in Châteauroux from 1951 to 1967.
While the former military base called La Martinerie is today fully converted to a civilian airport, the former American journalist Steve Bassett will release a book, September 1st, through Red Hen Press (USA). This book deals with the history of the presence of North American soldiers in Châteauroux, between 1951 and 1967. “Golden Ghetto” evokes the special atmosphere in Berry, at the time it was occupied by the GIs, during the era of the Marshall Plan and the Truman Doctrine. "Before the arrival of the Americans in the military base,” the author explains, “the Berry region was more agricultural and not industrialized very much. The presence of these foreign troops led to the creation, not only of shops and jobs, but also revitalized life in the area."
Over the pages, English-speaking readers can discover through different viewpoints, the effect of Franco-American cohabitation on the “Berrichon” local life. Numerous anecdotes show these sixteen years as a kind of golden age, from success stories experienced by some entrepreneurs, to love stories that united some French women to GIs who were sometimes black, during a time racism was plaguing the United States. Nevertheless, the counterpoint represented by communism also appears. This electorate represented 28% of voters who had managed to unite an important anti-American core in the region.
Six years were required to write the book. The author, who owns property in Bouges-le-Château, had long been unaware of the existence of the Châteauroux military base. A selection had to be made from among the hundreds of collected testimonies, in order to achieve the final text which is composed of 15 chapters corresponding to different themes, as well as 36 original photographs, complementing the stories recounted by witnesses.
by: Lea Bouquerot
Blinded Veterans Association
Link to published article (with photo) in Summer 2013 BVA Bulletin:
Tucson International Airport is a user friendly place, spacious but not too big and relatively easy for a legally blind veteran to get around. This would be my second trip to the city courtesy of the VA’s Southwest Blind Rehabilitation Center. I had gone through the Center’s basic program a few months earlier, departing after five weeks infused with a massive dose of confidence instilled by instructors and staff who understood what macular degeneration was all about and how to cope with it. My AMD had been misdiagnosed more than fifteen years earlier because a guy in his 50s was just too young to be stricken. The ophthalmologist, retinal specialist, was wrong
Waiting for me at the airport this trip was René Valencia, the computer instructor who for almost five weeks would be guiding a stubborn, sometimes contentious professional writer through the complexities of ZoomText. Talk about patience, René personified it. I was never more than a simplistic hands-on computer guy, so the screen magnification and reading program didn’t come easy, but there was no way I would admit it. René saw through my ruse from the get-go. There was a month during which progress advanced from mutual exasperation to that eureka moment when it finally all sank in, well most of it. Other instructors helped out along the way and they were all there when I was handed my certificate of completion during a ceremony in which I detected a collective sigh of relief.
For me, what the Southwest Blind Rehabilitation Center offered was nothing short of rebirth. My AMD, although dry, had been gradually worsening . I was three years into a book project and writing was becoming increasingly difficult. Armed with this new resource from the VA and the help of an assistant working with me at home, I was able to complete the manuscript, a six year project that required revisions and seemingly endless edits and re-edits. It all paid off. In late 2012, my manuscript was accepted by a prestigious California publisher, Red Hen Press, and is scheduled for release in September 2013. This was something new for Red Hen Press, a boutique publisher noted for its literary and poetry titles. My book, “Golden Ghetto: How the Americans and French Fell In and Out of Love During the Cold War,” would be a completely different genre.
I stumbled onto this story shortly after my wife and I purchased a home in Sainte Colombe in Central France. We heard countless, somewhat mystical tales about how a huge U.S. Air Force base transformed the political, economic and social lives of two French and American generations lucky enough to grab on to the base’s brass ring. If ever a U.S. military base deserved the sobriquet “Golden Ghetto” it was the Déols-Châteauroux Air Station (CHAS), which for sixteen years during the height of the Cold War was considered one of the most desirable postings in the world, until Charles de Gaulle booted the Americans and other NATO military out of France and the Golden Ghetto was padlocked. Based on hundreds of hours of research and interviews, “Golden Ghetto” is a first-ever collective memoir look at life on an overseas base from the perspectives of both the occupied and occupier. As an Army vet and a draftee, I have to admit that I hardly gave more than a passing thought to the citizens living in and around 7th Infantry Division headquarters in peacetime Korea. The Korean War had been long over, time was passing smoothly and I couldn’t wait to get home. Almost 400 hours of interviews collected for “Golden Ghetto,” half of them with French men and women, opened my eyes to what I had missed, that all around there was friendship for the taking if I had only reached for it.
And talk about a small world. On March 19, I addressed a meeting of the local chapter of the BVA in Albuquerque. I talked about the VA blind center in Tucson and how its staff engendered self-confidence that for me had been steadily waning as my eyesight worsened. With me were two couples whose stories personified what “Golden Ghetto” was all about, friendship leading to hope and finally to love. Sam Herrera had crawled from a family run four-foot wide coal mine shaft in southwestern Colorado to join the Air Force at the age of 18. Anna Reh was 2 1/2 years old when she escaped with her family from one of Tito’s communist work camps in Yugoslavia. She had been carried on the back of her oldest sister through Yugoslavia, Hungary and Austria. Anna and her mother and two sisters finally made their way to Châteauroux, France where she worked as a teenage nanny for Sam’s Air Force boss. They fell in love, married, had a son and daughter, a marriage that has lasted 53 years.
Jerry Lowery had always been crazy about aviation and it was no surprise when he left his blue collar family in Baltimore to join the Air Force as a teenager. Like Sam, he was posted to CHAS in the mid-1950s. He met Nicole Guilmin, who was also working as a teenage nanny at the base. She was from the nearby provincial town of Dèols. Like Anna, she carried with her horrible childhood memories. Nicole was little more than a toddler when a beloved uncle was murdered by the Nazis while attempting to escape from a train destined for a forced labor camp in Germany. He was shot 17 times, his body dumped in an old French air hangar. Perhaps it was fate when the two couples, who were total strangers, found each other and a lifelong friendship began. Each couple served as best man and maid of honor for the other and they eventually shared the only home they could afford off base, a few rooms over a horse stable in Châteauroux.
If a reader was to dismiss the story of these two couples as mundane, what a mistake it would be. The Herreras and the Lowerys personify the enduring legacy of an air base that transformed an impoverished region of central France. Americans and French put aside initial fears and distrust and created a Golden Ghetto that embodied trust, friendship and, as was the case with the Herreras and the Lowerys, an enduring love. I never put much stock in fate, but I do believe there is a universal synergy that weaves along uncharted pathways to reach a common goal. Consider the journey of discovery described above.
An American couple buys a small French farm house in a region far off the beaten tourist trap. The journalist husband learns that a huge U.S. Air Force base once existed a short distance away. He begins his research and a book starts to take shape. Three years into the project AMD worsens and he is declared legally blind. The VA’s Visual Impairment Services Team (VIST) in Albuquerque offers hope. Visual aids, training, finally ZoomText and in a little over two years “Golden Ghetto: How the Americans and French Fell In and Out of Love During the Cold War” is completed. A prestigious publisher which had never handled a military title before takes a chance on the book. A contract is signed and a September 2013 release date is set. With this comes the awareness that if even one seemingly disparate ingredient was missing this article would not have been written.
submitted by: Steve Bassett
English translation of “L'Aurore Paysanne” article
November 9, 2012, L'Indre France
Click here for full French article:
American Base at Chateauroux --- Nostalgia for a time
The American Steve Bassett, who resides part of the year at Bouges-le-Château, will publish across the Atlantic a book about the United States’ sixteen years at Châteauroux. Its title: "Golden Ghetto."
Steve Bassett has the quiet assurance of an American who gets around: military service in Korea followed by a busy journalist career (print media, wire service agencies and TV) in the United States. He has just ended a six-year work on the American base at Châteauroux-Déols, an inexhaustible source of fantasies.
Everything starts in the mud of the farmland of Déols, Diors, Montierchaume and Coings where excavators and bulldozers built architecture of a 700-hectare military camp. The winter of 1951-52 is not any more welcoming than the human environment. It was the Cold War. The Soviet threat weighed on European democracies and, locally, the arrival of US troops put the militant communists on their guard. They denounce "The American imperialism" and require the departure of the "invaders" with the help of "US Go Home" whitewashed on walls during the night.
In 1951, in line with the Truman Doctrine and the Marshall Plan, America and its allies decided to establish the Western European military bases that acted as strongholds to counter the Soviet ogre. Châteauroux was a centerpiece of the plan. "During this sixteen years of activity, from 1951 to 1967,” wrote Steve Bassett, "Châteauroux air base was a great place, well entrenched in the heart of this quiet part in the centre of France. From Scandinavia to the Mediterranean from North Africa to Turkey, each U.S. base depended on supplies sent from here. The base of Châteauroux elevated Berry from poverty, to raise it to a standard where the possession of the legendary small 2CV has replaced the bicycle as a sign of prestige."
Between Rejection, Reserve and Fascination
Little by little, Tent City succeeded Mud City, and soon the base was adorned with buildings, roads and infrastructure that astonished the Berrichon still living with the fruits of the garden. An American village of 350 one-story homes with the best comforts emerges from the earth in Brassioux-Déols. The basic hiring and a certain opulence is spreading in the city. Even a communist activist as Pierre Pirot observes this show with wide eyes: "thousands of Americans arrived.1 They lived in comfortable homes, the manors, chateaus...Their lives seemed easy, easy money. It is open from nightclubs in the city in which operated prostitutes. It created fights in the night. Of course, all Americans were not like that. I've been in restaurants eating [with Americans] which were very nice. Generally, they behaved towards the French as in a conquered land. Note that it is not peculiar to the Americans; everywhere where there is large concentrations of soldiers, there are excesses. This is what people did not appreciate."
The French do not share the same critical eye, women in particular. "What we saw first were boys a little larger than the average of French, clean and attractive," says Lillianne Diez. Aged 15 at the time, Lillianne came with her friends to get an eyeful of aviators at the laundromat near the Town Hall of Châteauroux, all without the knowledge of her parents. She ended up marrying one of these Apollos2 and it was in Texas that Steve Bassett collected her confession in 2008.
The young especially expressed their fascination for this local recreation of the USA that throbbed and grew on the outskirts of Châteauroux with its big cars and a more relaxed lifestyle. Jean-Claude Prot remembers: "all Americans appeared to us very friendly. They attended a bar called the L’Imprevue (the unexpected) with pinball machines. When they had played enough, they often left us the last ball. It was generous. This is where I ate my first chewing gum. I remember an American who was repairing an electricity pylon. From his perch, he launched me a chewing gum, with a big smile."
After a few years of hesitation and timid approach, French and American communities learned how to better know and appreciate each other. But everything has an end. General de Gaulle decided to withdraw France from NATO. The U.S. bases closed in 1967. We folded the banners and flags ceremoniously. Berry wondered about the end of the prosperity that had come from out of the blue.
"Thousands of jobs for the French3 supported the local economy which grew by more than 33% in a few years with Uncle Sam,” says Steve Bassett rather sadly. “…There was a time where one in six Berrichon received a cheque from the Golden Ghetto." Soon closed, the base left the field open to all nostalgia.
1. 1953, there were 8,000 soldiers and families.
2. 549 French-US weddings were celebrated at the Town Hall in Châteauroux in sixteen years.
3. The American base employed up to 4,000 French civilians.
Steve Bassett's World