I stumbled onto this story shortly after my wife, Darlene, 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 Châteauroux-Déols 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. Tens of thousands of American GIs passed through CHAS during the sixteen years that it was the largest U.S. Air Force supply base in Europe, 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 collective memoir, a first-ever look at life on an overseas base from the perspectives of both the occupied and occupier. French citizens describe what it was like to have foreign troops roaming the streets of their city. The Americans recount what it was like to be viewed with initial distrust and suspicion, if not outright hatred, fueled by a local communist anti-American propaganda machine under the direct control of the Kremlin. Professional and amateur historians as well as casual readers will be enthralled by this bird's eye view of how early Communist-driven distrust and paranoia never stood a chance against handshakes, smiles, and kisses. Although it is uniquely a French and American story, this saga is also a microcosm of what was experienced by the 120 million American men and women who served in the military during the Cold War, 27 million of them overseas. Considering the suspicions, jealousies, bigotry, and crass opportunism inherent whenever one foreign power occupies another, “Golden Ghetto” pieces together an improbable love story.
I was born in New Jersey, served in the army and joined the dwindling number of itinerant newsmen roaming the countryside in search of well, just about everything, My stints with newspapers in New Jersey, Illinois and Salt Lake City, followed by the Associated Press in Phoenix and Special Urban Affairs writing in San Francisco led to CBS TV news and three Emmy Awards. During three of the five years it took to complete “Golden Ghetto,” I was legally blind due to premature macular degeneration.
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