The Life Story Of Dorrit Hansen Buckley
Interview by Karl J. Francis, Summer 2002
I was born in 1940. My father was a seaman and he was a first mate and sailed. He was home for three months on vacation and my mother became pregnant with me. She was about three months pregnant when he had to take one more trip on the ship. He was on his way to America, April 09, 1940 – that is the day the German invasion began in Denmark. I remember my mother telling me that it was a very beautiful day and suddenly they were all aware of these planes flying overhead. They didn’t think too much about it because many times the German planes would fly over our island because we’re very close to Kiel. When they train, the military would fly over.
They didn’t think too much about it, so it was really quite a shock that the Germans were in Denmark. What happened after that was five long years of German occupation. Meanwhile, my father was in international waters outside the United States when they were of course informed that they could not to return to Denmark because the Germans had occupied the country. So they were in touch with the American coast guard and his ship happened to be outside of Portland, Maine. They were offered refuge in the Portland harbor. They sailed into Portland, Maine and the coast guard took over the Ship. There were quite a few Danes living here at the time. The sailors were given homes with Danish families. These people took them in to live with their families until they knew what to do with their life and what the next step would be. So, it was quite a difficult time for both of my parents. Meanwhile, my mother went through my pregnancy and I was born in October of 1940. It was just a very difficult time.
My father lived with a Danish family in Portland. He eventually, because of his sailing background and being the first mate, joined the merchant marines and would sail out of New York. Many of the Danes who were on the ship with him did the same thing. During the war they sailed under the American and Canadian flag with the merchant marines which were oil convoys sailing out of New York to England. It was a very scary thing – from some of the stories that he told us, which weren’t many, because he didn’t like to speak about the war. He did say that is was hard on them when they would leave with 35 oil tankers and in the middle of the night they would be informed that Germans submarines were found to be in the area that they were sailing. They would have to be very quiet and stay motionless in the water. Many times the German subs would sink quite a few of them and you never knew who would be the lucky one to make it through. It was a difficult time for him and he never liked to talk too much about those times. Meanwhile in Denmark, I was growing up and we were very fortunate that we lived on the island. The population is about 9,000, it is about 29km long and 9km wide.
My hometown was Marstal which is an old shipping, seafaring town – there’s a lot of pride in all of the seafaring people. There’s also a navigational school where my father went to school to get his papers as a first mate. We were lucky, we didn’t have the horror of the war that Copenhagen and many of the larger towns did. It was more peaceful. We were lucky that way, there were a few stories and I remember my mother telling me and that I can remember myself. My mother said, “you know to stay away from the German soldiers, you don’t go near them, stay right away from them.” I suppose that was to protect us from the enemy, which I did. I just remember one day when I was running down the street and turning the corner, I’d been playing with one of my friends. I sort of ran into one of the soldiers. He spoke German, he patted me on top of the head and said something in German and I remember thinking, “oh, I must get away.” It is just the fear that is instilled in you as a child. I ran home to tell my mother, “Oh, I just ran into a German soldier.” But you know they really wouldn’t have done anything. Like I said, many of them were very pleasant; some of them did not want to be there.
My mother had to go to work because my father was not allowed to send any money home to her. So we needed some money to live on. The Danish government, they loaned money to the families whose husbands and fathers, who were not in Denmark, who had been isolated all over the world. She did go to work at one of the little sewing shops. She did alterations for some of the store’s that sold dresses, suits and so on.
My grandmother took care of me when my mother would work. It’s a small town; it was just down the street or over a few streets – that type of thing. I was on my little bicycle and would head down the street and around the corner. She worked in the building on the bottom floor. It was a big rooms where there were seller windows. I would have to get down on my tummy to peak in the window and see her.
She would always say when she was telling me the story, I would look up and there was your little blonde curly head looking down at me and waiving. She said it just broke my heart, you know. She worked hard. I was very close to my grandparents, so they took good care of me.
We always had to stand in long lines along with many other Danes. We were given food and got the basics but special things like cheese and eggs and butter which were a very precious commodity. Of course, Denmark created so much of this but the Germans shipped most of it to Germany to feed the soldiers.
We were allowed only a few items like that every few months or so. I remember my mother told me that one time when I was a little girl just starting to walk, she had gotten a half a pound of butter, good Danish butter, it was kept in the cupboard underneath by the sink in the kitchen, and I evidently knew that’s where it was and I loved butter. She said, “I’ll never forget the day when I walked into the kitchen and saw you with this half pound of butter and just eating it.” She’s told that story so many times.
My father’s name was Laurits Marius Hansen. That’s Danish, my mother’s name was Mary Karolina Peterson. That was her maiden name before she married my father. As far as I know, we started on that island and for generations have lived there. My grandparents live there and my great grandfather was a fisherman. Basically, my roots are from that island. The only people in our family that I know of who have immigrated are, of course, myself and my grandmother’s four uncles and an aunt. They left the island and moved to Kimbleton, Iowa. Where they all stayed and raised their families.
I would say, my father – I always feel that he was very strong from what he had been through. He was a very proud man, hardworking, very sentimental and emotional, especially when it centered on his family and his daughters. He was a great family man. He always took pride in everything he did. He was proud of being Danish. When the war was over and he came back home to us, he made the decision that he would try to come back to America to work because Denmark was in ruins. He did not want to sail again. He had had enough of that. He decided that he would bring my mother and me back to the States.
At that time my mother was pregnant and he wanted to come back here, to America, to see if he could make a good life for us, in Portland. We moved back to Portland, and I remember him getting a job working nights at Sorensen’s Danish Pastry Shop (still exists today as Piscopos Bakery). We couldn’t afford a car, so he would walk every night over to Brighten Avenue. Every night walking down toward Woodford’s corner, he would tell the story that he would run into the same police car with the same policeman. Finally, they stopped him and said, “You know we meet you here at this time every night – where are you going?” And so he explained to them that he was working nights at the bakery. They said “you get into the back and we will give you a ride”. So every time that they saw him at Woodford’s Corner he would get a ride over to Sorensen’s Danish Bakery Shop.
His English was very, very good. he did a great job speaking English and, of course, he had learned a lot while being here in the country during the war. He also had to learn English while in Navigational School.
My Mom was a strong woman too, for what she went through. She went 6 years of her life without a husband, through a war, and ah, she was always, the family was always her thing. She was a great home maker, she never worked – she stayed at home and was always there making the house cozy, baking and taking care of us girls and um, she was just a very strong woman. I admire her a great deal – I think that she is the one that has made a great impression on my life. And I was always very close to her because of those years that we were together during the war – just my Mom and me…
So much love, and pride for what they did for us. We never had a great deal of money in the beginning because when we moved over here to this country my father had to pay back a lot of the money that was leant to my mother during the five years that the German’s occupied Denmark. So that was quite a bit of money and starting in a new country, and ah, so it was ah, it was difficult. I guess it is just the fact that they worked so hard to make it nice for us. I guess – even though we didn’t have a lot of money I never thought that we were poor or with out a lot of money because of our home life – it was always very comfortable and very loving and they were always very supportive of us girls. And when we lived over here in this country we always spoke Danish when we were in the house – our traditions were always Danish – our food was Danish but when we walked out of the door we spoke American and we did what Americans did.
Karl Francis – “It sounds like it was important to keep that cultural heritage in your house.”
Dorrit Hansen Buckley – “yes, yes…”
Karl Francis – “what is your earliest childhood memory?”
Dorrit Hansen Buckley – “I actually think that it was the German soldier – patting me on the head and I was older then – that was a couple of years toward the end of the war – 5 years old. I remember my mother telling me when we heard the air raid sirens to always come home. And I remember one day playing with one of my little girlfriends – Kirsten – the air raid siren sounded and I started running home. I met my mother running down the street trying to find me. Ah, things like that – make an imprint in your mind. I remember toward the end of the war – the last months – the British were bombing Kiel (Germany) a great deal, at night time, and we were so close to Kiel that we could see the fires burning. And I remember laying with her in her bed – just listening to the sound – the constant sound of airplanes – fighters overhead – going over our island and bombing. It was very scary. And of course, I remember one day the air raid sirens went off again – ah, my mother and I, after it stopped, went down to the harbor where there had been a bombing by the British fighter pilots – there were many smaller ships coming from Germany at the end of the war – they were fleeing Germany. Some were soldiers that didn’t want to be a part of the war anymore and some were just regular people (Germans) trying to get away from Germany and avoid all of the bombing and what was happening there. And so we happened to be the closest island and ah, these boats had been bombed and I remember the waters were not a pretty sight. But the people – the Danes – rescued the people that survived and the ambulances came back and forth constantly – helping the ones that were hurt and taking them to the hospital. So that sort of made a strong imprint in my mind.
Dorrit Hansen Buckley – Wow, of course, to me it is just like a beautiful, peaceful spot in the world, in the Baltic. And ah, it remains the same, it changes and yet it doesn’t. New homes are built – new generations are born but it remains the same, basically. It is the history and the culture of it – um…
Karl Francis – You describe Marstal as being nautical with a navigational school – how else would you describe Marstal to someone that had never been there before?
Karl Francis – What do the streets look like?
Dorrit Hansen Buckley – Well, the inner parts of the towns are usually your older sections… So you have your cobble stone streets and you have your little brick houses – painted houses which have been there probably for 100 to 200 years. And the government protects all of this. If you buy a house that is old like that– you can tear the inside apart
– tear down the walls and do what ever you want to it. These homes, when you walk through the door are very beautiful and modern Danish – Danish modern. But when you look at the outside it remains the same so that it keeps the look of a hundred years ago, which is nice because it leaves us with a lot of history. And then, of course, bike riding is a big thing at home. You bike ride out into the country where the little farms are. There is the ocean all around you and the country side. To me it is just very peaceful and lovely.
Karl Francis – Could you get everything that you needed on the island to survive?
Dorrit Hansen Buckley – Yes, oh yes, we have a great Brugsen, it’s called. Spelled B-R-U-G-S-E-N, it’s like a supermarket. We get fresh vegetables everyday and anything your little heart desires. We even have American products; you can get peanut butter and Campbell’s soups and all kinds of American things. So we’re not really missing out on anything.
Karl Francis – You mentioned traditions, when you were in Portland, you would like to keep some of your traditions- Danish traditions. I know it’s difficult to rattle some off, but share with us some of the Danish traditions that you practiced and possibly still practice today.
Karl Francis – Yes, just some Danish traditions in general.
Dorrit Hansen Buckley – While we were living there as a family you mean?
Dorrit Hansen Buckley – Well, with my children, I have always kept the traditions alive as much as I could, that my mother taught me. So, Christmas Eve is always celebrated on the twenty fourth of December. We have our sit down dinner – we always sang Christmas carols. At a time, when I was a child, we had large living rooms. The tree would always be in the middle of the room. We would join hands and walk around and sing Danish Christmas Carols. Then we were allowed to start opening presents. We have our Danish ways of decorating with our little nisser, which are little cute man who are Santa’s helpers.
Karl Francis – Nissa?
Dorrit Hansen Buckley – Yes, nisser, N-I-S-S-E-R. So we have always celebrated Christmas in Danish tradition. I had brought over many Danish ornaments and have been given many over the years. Birthdays were always a big thing with my mother. She always said that, “the day you were born is your special day and it has to be celebrated.” We would always get up in the morning and the table would always be set with a candle and a tablecloth and it was very festive. All day long things would be done for us so we would realize how special we were.
Karl Francis – Can you envision one birthday morning when she came into you and woke you up on your birthday?
Dorrit Hansen Buckley – Yes
Karl Francis – What did she say to you in Danish?
Dorrit Hansen Buckley – She would say, “Tillykke med din fØdselsdag min skat” which means happy birthday my darling.
Karl Francis – Any other music traditions, or food, or storytelling?
Dorrit Hansen Buckley – We would always get a meal on our birthday. Everything catered around the person who was having the birthday. Of course, all of our special holidays at home were just like here. We don’t have thanksgiving, you do, but I mean on our holidays we do things the same as you do for your holidays here except in the Danish tradition.
Karl Francis – What ideals or beliefs do you feel your parents instilled in you?
Dorrit Hansen Buckley –Well, I think that they always tried to – we were brought up very strict, and I think they just tried basically to teach us the right things in life – like most parents do. You know, you don’t lie and you don’t do this and you don’t do that. They gave us a certain pride too, I think and heritage which I keep coming back to, but I find as I’ve grown older that these are the things that have really become important to me and that I have valued all my life. I know I lived in America; this country has been good to me. My children are Americans and will live here always – life will go on here in America, it’s a good country. I’ve always said that I probably have two countries; I’ve never been able to leave Denmark behind. When I’m in Denmark I realized that there is a lot of America with me too. I think that it is important for me to hold on to my heritage, to be able to pass it on to my children even though they are Americans and will be living here. Maybe that is the one thing that I have that they will remember me for. I think my parents did that just by our lifestyles. My mother was very much a “Marstaler” that is what we say – it’s the name of the town. She always loved that island. I think that I have a lot of that in me. Because as I get older, many of the things that I do I think, “oh my God that’s my mother.” She said and did the same thing. We have a great love for the background and our Danish roots
Karl Francis – Was religion important in your family?
Dorrit Hansen Buckley – It was. It was important that we were baptized and we went to Sunday school and to church on important holidays. I think that we were more of a Christian home; it was more in the home. I don’t think either of my parents would necessarily go to the church every Sunday. But I remember my mother or my father always having the radio on or television watching a church program. They would listen to the gospel or the Bible being read… We weren’t one of those families, who ran to church all the time, it was always important in our home. Religion was always there; I remember as I grew older, my father many times would say “never forget your God.” I always remember him saying that, “never forget your God.”
Karl Francis – What do you think he meant by that?
Dorrit Hansen Buckley – I think that during the war and the hard times that my father went through, I think God was very important to him. He respected him. He wasn’t a man who talked about religion all the time, but when hard times were there he turned to God. I think that is why he always said that. When I headed off to America to take on a job as a nanny, that was one of the things that he told me. I’ve always remembered that.
Karl Francis – You have a beautiful church in Marstal.
Dorrit Hansen Buckley – Yes
Karl Francis – Could you describe it to me?
Dorrit Hansen Buckley –Well, it’s a seaman’s church, it’s a very large beautiful church and it was built in 1738. It’s very beautiful, when you walk in you have beautiful hanging ship models. People built these wooden sailing ships and they were all ships from Marstal – and these ship replicas would hang in the church for good luck..
Karl Francis – Replicas of these ships that actually existed?
Dorrit Hansen Buckley – Right and they had them hanging from the ceiling which is very high. They are all handmade. They are large like this (extending hands outward). They are beautiful, they hang down as you walk down the aisle and over on the side, it’s quite impressive. Of course, I wanted to remember to tell you that that is where I was baptized and where I was married and where my two girls were baptized and confirmed. It has a special meeting to us
Karl Francis – In the center of town?
Dorrit Hansen Buckley – Yes, yes
Karl Francis – Do you have any siblings?
Karl Francis – Can you tell me about them?
Dorrit Hansen Buckley – I have two sisters that are younger than I am – Linda and Mary.
Dorrit Hansen Buckley – My Mother was pregnant with Linda when my father decided we would come back here to the states. My poor mom, she was eight months pregnant when we sailed from Copenhagen on the Batory, B-A-T-O-R-Y. It was an ocean liner, a Polish ocean liner. My mother was sea sick all of her life. She could sit onshore and watch a rowboat go up and down in the water and she would get sea sick. My father was definitely the seafaring person in our family. So, I remember sailing from Copenhagen waving goodbye to my grandparents who had come over there with us to say goodbye, and to my aunt and uncle. As soon as we sailed out – and got out into the rough waters my mother was in bed, she stayed there the whole time until we got New York.
Karl Francis – How long was the trip?
Dorrit Hansen Buckley – Then, I think it was about ten days. Ten – eleven days.
Karl Francis – That must have been 1946, 47 or 48?
Dorrit Hansen Buckley – It was November, 1947. My dad came home in 1946 – after the war. I remember having a great time running all over the ship. My mother would worry about me, my father would say, “She’s all right she’s my daughter – she’s a seaman’s daughter – she’ll do fine.” My mother of course was so sick. She had food in the cabin – she never saw much of the ship. Probably being pregnant didn’t help much either – but anyway, I remember one time we had really rough weather. I woke up in the morning and I said “oh, I don’t feel very well.” My father said, “You get dressed your going to go up and have breakfast with me.” My mother said, “Oh, Marius, don’t make her do that I know how she feels. “ My father said, “I have to – it is the only way she will get over this, if she stays in bed, she will be sick the whole time like you are.“ So I got dressed and I went up and had breakfast with them and I was fine. He always used to say to me –“if you’re feeling sea-sick you get up and have something to eat and you’ll feel fine.”
Karl Francis – That was a good story. You were describing Linda.
Dorrit Hansen Buckley – Yes, I get sidetracked. We arrived in America and came to Portland and my mother, of course, was due any time. We stayed for about a month with the same Danish family that my father had lived with in Portland. My mother went into labor, let’s see, Linda was born December 17th, December 16th , you’re the 17th aren’t you.
Karl Francis – Yes
Dorrit Hansen Buckley – December 16th , I remember that we didn’t have a house to live in so while my mother was in the hospital, we went around looking at little houses. Finally, we ended up over on Reed Street in Portland. We sort of got everything taken care of and tried to get things set up so we could bring my mother and Linda home to that house. Which we did, she was born at the Maine Eye and Ear. It is now Holt Hall, an old building down from Maine Medical Center on the corner of Brandhall and Congress Street. It has now been made into an apartment building. The first floor is rented by Maine medical center and that is where I work.
Karl Francis – It all seems to come around.
Dorrit Hansen Buckley – Yes it does. Mary was born there too – 22 months later. I remember that being a little bit of a hard time. My father, of course, had never experienced me as a baby. When Linda came along she was actually his first baby. I remember being very jealous because everything sort of centered on her – which was the natural thing to do but, I had difficult time with that. I remember there being a lot of jealousy and it lasted growing up. We are very, very close now. There was always that little bit of jealousy. Then when Mary came along, I sort of poured all of my sisterly love on her for a while. I think looking back at, that it was just a natural reaction by children. We’re very close. We three sisters are very, very close. I love them dearly.
Karl Francis – Do you recall any stories growing up with your sister’s?
Dorrit Hansen Buckley – Of course, there’s nine years difference between Mary and myself and seven between Linda and myself. So, I was gone at one point when I was nineteen and they were so much younger than I was. I missed some of those years. I remember Linda was always the very sweet quiet one. Mary was always the – ahh – she always got into trouble and she was always the funny, entertaining one. I was so much older so it was … I have thoughts of them at different ages. I remember them being problems to me when I was older. I wanted to be left alone and it was … My mother always said, “ Your the oldest one, you keep an eye on them and you watch them,” and so on.
Karl Francis – What was the saddest point for you as a child? Tough question.
Dorrit Hansen Buckley – Yes, that was a tough question, because even though we went through hard times I was happy.
Karl Francis – That’s nice.
Dorrit Hansen Buckley – Yes, I think probably, even though my father was not with us, I had never really had my father so it wasn’t really sad for me as a child because I didn’t have that. I don’t remember being sad about it. I remember one of the happy times when I was six years old and he came home from the war. My mother had gone to Copenhagen to meet him and I was at my grandmother’s. I remember waiting down by the ferry boat probably around five or six in the evening because it was in December, so it was dark, and I remember being excited because my mother and my grandmother had said, “Your father’s coming home, you’re going to meet your father for the first time,” and I thought, “oh wow, my dad.” I remember being very excited about that –I was standing there with my grandmother when people started coming off the boat uniformed. Every time I’d see a man and I would say, “Is that my father? Is that my father?” my grandmother would say, “Nope, not yet.” Then of course my father and my mother showed up and it was just exciting and yet very strange because I was very shy. It was suddenly very different having two parents – which I had not had before. That was sort of a great memory – I think that I realized when I got older how important that event was for me. I don’t know about that being sad – You know. I was sad at leaving Denmark and saying goodbye to everybody. I remember saying to my grandmother, “We won’t be staying over there too long, we will be home soon because everybody is so sad.” other than that though I really had a very happy childhood.Karl Francis – That’s nice.
Karl Francis – Did you make friends easily?
Dorrit Hansen Buckley – Yes, I think I did – I remember when we moved here to Portland and we had just moved into the house on Reed Street in December and we were settling in … there was this little girl who lived next door to me, her name was Janet and she was about a year younger than myself. I remember going out and it was snowing. She had on these little skis that she was, you know, skiing in our little yard with. I remember trying to talk to her and her trying to talk to me. I remember talking to her in Danish and she would talk to me in English.
Karl Francis – It didn’t make a difference?
Dorrit Hansen Buckley – No, it didn’t because we would try to explain … but we couldn’t understand each other. Eventually, I learned English. We did fine after that, we became really good friends. I think children have a great way of communicating even though they can’t speak the language right away. I never really had a problem with making friends.
Karl Francis – Is there one friend that stands out in your mind as the most significant, most important friend that you’ve ever made?
Dorrit Hansen Buckley – Probably Roxy, who lived right behind us – her house was right behind our house. She and I met when I was seven years old. We have remained friends every sense. We had a wonderful friendship. There used to be a hole – it was sort of like an old fence in the backyard between our houses. It was wire fencing with a frame around it – there was a little hole in the wire and that is how we used to cut across to see each other instead of running around to the next street. She was so impressed with me coming from Denmark. I remember her coming to our house and we would teacher her different words and one word that she learned was Octopus. We had a magazine that had a picture of an octopus on it. She would say, “How do you say that in Danish?” I would say “blÆksprutten”and she would pick out words like that. She has passed away now. When we were kidding around about the Danish words she knew, that would always be one of the words that she’d say. She would know “lille Hus”, which is little house and “blÆksprutten”which is octopus, along with a few other words that I taught her. We remained friends forever. I think that …that is one of those friends, even though I had other friends too and am still close to them, but she goes back to the beginning of my life here in this country.
Karl Francis – Did you feel any struggles as a teenager?
Dorrit Hansen Buckley – Probably just the usual stuff other teenagers have – I remember my mother was very strict and she said “No, you cannot use lipstick until you’re at least sixteenand no, you can’t date until you’re sixteen.” If I went out to a dance or something I had to be home at eleven and I remember being late a few times, like ten past eleven and my father would be standing in the door waiting and I knew I would be in trouble. I really didn’t have any problems … just a regular teenager.
Karl Francis – Were the new fads and styles very important to you?
Dorrit Hansen Buckley – No, and I’ll tell you why. During the war we had to deal with what we had. What I was used to having was homemade clothes, hand me down clothes … Which weren’t always my shape, a little too big a little too small … Shoes that maybe pinched the feet a little bit that had been given to me by a girlfriend that was older or a family member. It wasn’t a big thing to me and when we came to America my folks couldn’t afford to buy these trendy things. When school started I was allowed to buy one pair of shoes but those shoes were to be saved sometimes for holidays and special occasions. I’d have a dress that was for special occasions. I always had nice clothes but there were certain things for certain times and that was it. If we didn’t need it, we didn’t get it. While my father was working at Sorensen’s Danish Pastry Shop,they used to receive flour or wheat for different things that were used for baking, in these big cotton-cloth bags. They were very pretty. They had a white background with small colored flowers on them. He would give them to my mother. She would wash them and then she would make little dresses or little shorts out of them and I used to wear them and think wow, these are so pretty. So no, I remember when I was to be confirmed in the Danish church everybody, the girls, had these small healed white shoes – which were the big thing then – with just a small heal. It was sort of a sign that you were grown up. I remember asking my mother for that. She said, “Well, I don’t really think that you need to have what everyone else has.” So I ended up wearing – I used a pair of shoes that I had and they were white. They were a little high raised sandal and then when we got the pictures of us together my mother said “you’re the only one that doesn’t have those little white healed shoes on.” Even later on she would say “I always felt so bad that I didn’t let you get those shoes”. But that was just the way that she was brought up – she used what she had.
Karl Francis – Were you athletic?
Dorrit Hansen Buckley –Um, not really. I wasn’t in any – let’s see, I was in field hockey for a while – and that was about it. I was in the Drama Club but I was always very shy. It was hard for me to go into something that made people look at you. In the Drama Club, I always chose a part where I was in a crowd.
Karl Francis – Did you enjoy being alone?
Dorrit Hansen Buckley – Yes, I used to read a lot. I used to read a lot of books and go to the library. I would always read during my teen age years. I enjoyed it. I had times when I did enjoy being alone – even now, and other times I like to be with a group of people.
Karl Francis – You mentioned that you liked to read – what else did you do for fun?
Dorrit Hansen Buckley – As a teenager we would get together with our girlfriends and talk and watch TV. I don’t think that we had as much as the teenagers today. My parents were strict and we weren’t allowed to do a lot. We were interested in movie stars and boys – we thought that they were cute.
Karl Francis –What was your most significant event in your teenage years?
Dorrit Hansen Buckley – Probably going back home to Denmark when I was 16 years old. We had not been home for almost 10 years and I had always heard all of the stories about home and I had forgotten a lot of things and was very excited to get to know my Danish family again. My grandmother would write letters to my mother – they would exchange letters faithfully. Every week, we would receive letters from the relatives. So I think that was the summer that we went home. My parents saved up enough money so that my mother and we three girls could sail home. We were gone for 3 months and sailed out of New York on the Norwegian – American line. We had a wonderful trip arriving in Norway first and then on to Copenhagen and I remember it being a sunny day when we sailed in. I was so excited because the entire family was there. As we were standing there looking down at all of the people gathered on the pier – my mother pointed out and said, “there they are!” Mormor and Morfar were there – aunts and uncles – one of my aunts had 9 children. I was such a great experience. We saw the Queen’s castle and soldiers guarding it – with the tall hats on. In fact, two of my cousins were over 6 feet and they were part of the Royal Guard – the guards that guard the Danish Queen.
Karl Francis – Did you ever get in any trouble as a teenager?
Dorrit Hansen Buckley –Um, I think that I blossomed that summer. I experienced a whole different life. It was fun and I met a young man over there that I dated. There were dances and um, all kinds of things that we had to try. So I quickly met many friends my own age. We rode bikes everywhere. I remember – we have one policeman on the island and he would patrol the area on his bike – the harbor. And ah, I got stopped by him one night because I didn’t have a light on my bicycle. I think that that was the worst that I ever did. I just had fun – I wasn’t too bad.
Karl Francis – What was it like leaving home for the first time – moving out of your house (family home)?
Dorrit Hansen Buckley – After returning from a three month vacation to Denmark, my mother and father decided that they would move back home because my mother said, “Dorrit is getting to the age that she could meet someone over here in America and if she meets someone here – I won’t leave.” So they moved the whole family back to Denmark – back from where we started from. I was seventeen – had my 18th birthday over there. I found a job at a Danish bakery – the same bakery that my mother used to work at. After a few years I decided to go back to the states to visit friends one more time. So in the newspaper there was an announcement from a Danish Agency – Advertising for Danish girls to work for an American family as a nanny. I sent in a letter and picture. A Jewish family chose me and I flew over to New York. I worked in Port Washington, Long Island for a year. At the end of my year, I took a trip back toPortland to visit an old girlfriend. I got a job at Owen Moore on Congress Street. I ended up working with Jack’s mother. I met his sister – she set us up on a blind date. We started dating – we fell in love – giggle, giggle. I had been away from Denmark for a year and a half. My father wrote and asked that I return home for Christmas. So I sailed home to Denmark again. A big question now – should I return to the States to this young man that I had met or should I stay in Denmark? So as you know, I came back to the States. It was an emotional time for me.
Karl Francis –How old were you?
Karl Francis –Can you tell me about your time in Germany?
Dorrit Hansen Buckley –I must have been 22 at that time. I stayed with his family – lived there for a little while. He finished his senior year at UMO. He then joined the military and we ended up getting married and stationed in Germany. We sailed from the U.S. to France. We traveled up to Denmark to let Jack meet my family. My mother said that she couldn’t believe that I had chosen an American!! They loved Jack though – and he loved them and the Danish ways. We had 3 years in Germany – where our oldest daughter – Betina – was born. Then he received orders for Vietnam. So we came back to the States.
Dorrit Hansen Buckley –Okay – we had our first home there and it was quite an experience becoming an “army” wife. I had no idea what I was in for. But you learn as you go and you realized that all of the wives would help each other out. Jack was gone a lot – sometimes 6 weeks at a time. He was in charge of Fox Trop – stationed on the East German border. At that time they had mines, soldiers, and German Shepard guard dogs and the American military would have to guard that. It was very different back then.
Karl Francis –Tell me about the birth of Betina?
Karl Francis –How did you come up with Betina Marie?
Dorrit Hansen Buckley –Well, that was very exciting – we were thrilled at the thought of having our first child. And it was very different being away from our families. So our army friends became our family. We would help each other. Betina decided to come into the world one early morning – so by the time that they got a hold of Jack I was already on my way. The doctor had to send my by ambulance to Nuremburg – an hour away. I was a little nervous – thinking oh, please let me get to the hospital in time. We made it in time and she was born there. We had our Betina Marie Buckley…
Dorrit Hansen Buckley –After we moved back to Denmark, when I was 17 years old, I remembered reading a love story in a magazine. It was about a young girl named Betina. And I remember thinking how pretty that name was and if I ever had a daughter she would be named Betina.
Karl Francis –When did you receive your orders for Vietnam?
Karl Francis – Kirsten?
Dorrit Hansen Buckley – March of 1968 – I believe it was… And so before he left for Vietnam, we moved back to the States and found an apartment in Windham, Maine. We would send him tapes while he was over there. And sometimes when he was making tapes for us we could hear the bombing in the back ground. But he made it – thank God.
Dorrit Hansen Buckley – Yes, Kirsten. She arrived in 1971. And um, she was born at Maine Medical Center here in Portland. Jack chose Kirsten’s name. He wanted a Danish name – he liked Kirsten. She became Kirsten Bridget – Bridget after Jack’s Irish side of the family.
Karl Francis – Have all of your children left home?
Karl Francis – What is like to have an empty nest?
Dorrit Hansen Buckley –Yes, but they keep coming back to visit. Betina is married to you and works at UnumProvident. Kirsten has just received her Masters degree and is an Epidemiologist in Boston.
Dorrit Hansen Buckley – Well, throughout the years you become more and more adjusted. When they left for college it was difficult but then you adjust. I am very lucky that we are still so close and there isn’t a day that we don’t at least speak on the phone.
Karl Francis –Do you have any grandchildren?
Dorrit Hansen Buckley – No, just 2 grand dogs!
Karl Francis – Once you have grandchildren, what do you feel will be important to instill in them?
Dorrit Hansen Buckley – I want to be a grandmother like my mother was. I want to be able to leave a mark on them. I want them to remember me and to remember coming to the house, baking cookies or doing things like grandmothers do with their grandchildren. Betina and Kirsten have always felt very close to their grandparents and have a very deep love for them.A lot of “do you remember” questions seem to pop up when we talk about their time with their grandparents. When I sit and listen to my children’s stories that I have told them stories about our history is when I realized that I have been able to pass something onto them.I would like to teach them also about their roots and some of the family history and stories that they can pass on. I think that is important for every generation – to pass on their little bit about who they are.
Karl Francis – What is the single most satisfying experience in your life?
Karl Francis – What was the most crucial decision in your life?
Dorrit Hansen Buckley – Idon’t know if I can say a single one. My two children are two good things that happened in my life that bring me great joy. I can’t imagine life without them. And of course marrying Jack, it’s a wonderful way – I look at it as a way to bring two people from different cultures together. I think that we succeeded in taking on each other’s lives. His mother was Canadian from Prince Edward Island and it was a great experience for me to be a part of that. It’s all sort of interwoven. Those are the things that I treasure.
Karl Francis – How old are you now?
Dorrit Hansen Buckley – I’ve made my mistakes and I’ve made my decisions that were wrong. Life hasn’t always gone the way that I wanted it to. As you know, Jack and I are now divorced but we’re very close and continue to be a family as much as we can. We still have respect and love for each other even though we’ve had our problems. It just didn’t work out for us at that time. I think that was a crucial decision which I sometimes am unsure whether it was the right one or not. You look back as you get older and think, I wouldn’t have done it that way. I’d have done something different. I guess that is part of life too.
Dorrit Hansen Buckley – I am 61, I have a hard time saying that because I want to be young forever.
Karl Francis – How do you feel about yourself at the age you are today?
Dorrit Hansen Buckley – Having to be this age, I think I feel all right with it. I would prefer to be younger; I would like to go back. As we all would. I feel pretty content with who I am, where I’m at. I think sometimes as you get older that you have a few more fears because you’re sort of at the end. You worry a little more about life and the world situation and what is going to happen to you.
Karl Francis – You mentioned that everybody would like to go back in time. Is there a specific point in your life that you would like to relive?
Dorrit Hansen Buckley –I have quite a few that I would like to go back to because I feel like I’ve been very lucky in life – full of great experiences. I probably would like to go to my teenage years when we moved back to Denmark again. It was such a rich experience getting to know my roots, my family, this Danish country that I spent ten years in America hearing about.It’s hard not having your family nearby. It was such a great experience to go at that time where everything was so vivid in the memory, you are young and everything is exciting.
Karl Francis – When you think about the future, what do you look forward to the most? What do you feel the most uneasy about?
Dorrit Hansen Buckley – Well, I think I look forward to just being around a lot longer. Both of my grandmothers were around 92 when they passed away. I look forward to having grandchildren someday and seeing our family grow and being healthy and continue like I am, enjoying every day -almost. What I feel the most uneasy about at this stage is the health, and hoping that I will not have to put my children out by becoming sick and causing a problem for them. I also think a lot about the world situation how things are and where there going. I can’t help but think ahead and wonder what the next generation is going to have to face.
Karl Francis – Could you tell me the story about the American soldier?
Karl Francis – It must make you proud to be Danish.
Dorrit Hansen Buckley – In 1944 there was an American bomber shot down by the Germans and the plane fell over by a one of the island’s that’s close to us. I don’t remember how many of them died in the crash but one of them was named Jack Wagner, he was nineteen years old. He was married his wife was pregnant back here in the states. His body washed ashore on our beach. Some of the local fisherman and local people who happen to be walking along the beach or nearby, found the body. They took all of his personal items before the Germans could retrieve the body. They kept all of this information until the end of the war because they wanted to make sure they could get in touch with the family. So it was never turned over to the Germans. The townspeople found out that the Germans were going to bury the body in the cemetery plot. They were going to do it in the early morning hours so it wasn’t to cause many disturbances with the Danes. But the people in town did find out and went out there and put a Danish flag you know, down, inside, with the body. When they came to bury the body they were quite a few people from the town that were there. When they finished burying him the townspeople came and put flowers on the grave to the dismay of the German soldiers. After the war, our dentist and his wife who had all of the information, wrote to his wife and eventually send back all of her husband’s personal items. They told her that he was buried and that the town was taking care of it. The letter continued to read that we would always keep it decorated with flowers and so on, until she could make arrangements to come over and see it or however they did it then. They had indeed had a daughter, which of course he never saw. So they sort of kept a correspondence going, the dentist and his wife, and she said that someday she would be over to visit. She felt that from the pictures and descriptions of where he was buried that it was such a beautiful place and to leave him there for now. The town still takes care of it after all these years and every time that Betina, Kirsten and myself had been home we would always go out to the cemetery just outside of town and put flowers on his grave. Every year, I think on the fourth of July, the town puts a new American flag up. In the summertime they’re always flowers growing, it’s very lovely. A number of years ago my mother sent me a newspaper article. In it was a picture of his wife and his daughter and said that this was the first visit. His daughter had grown up and married and was stationed with their husband in Germany. They came to the island to see where he was buried and decided that if it was all right with the town that they would not disturb him. She said that you couldn’t find a better resting place. He’s still there and we still visit him.
Karl Francis – Any others that you would like to share?
Dorrit Hansen Buckley – Yes, yes it does. It’s been nice to pass these stories on to the girls.
Dorrit Hansen Buckley – May fifth was a significant day – Ever since the war, on May fifth, when the Germans laid down their arms and the war was officially over, we remember that day by putting candles in our windows. One May fifth, as we were walking through town, the air raid siren went off and Kirsten asked, “What’s that? What’s that?” my mother said “They do that every May fifth so that we don’t forget.” My mother and her good friend Inga were at the movie house when the news came out that Germany had surrendered and that on May 5 it would officially be over. Everyone left the movies and people were coming out all over town. They came out of their houses and people were singing and just so joyful that it was finally over. I remembered it was in the evening and everyone walked down by the harbor. They were talking and greeting each other, the joy was unbelievable. There were a couple of young Danish men that had stopped to talk to a couple of young German soldiers. My mother said that I remember Inga becoming so upset. She ran over there and said to
Karl Francis – I can see that you Danish heritage in your family play a major role in your life and I truly enjoyed spending some time with you today.the Danes, “Has five years been forgotten in five minutes.” Soon after, all of the German flags were taken down and the Danish flags were able to fly again. All of the stores – the front of the stores were decorated with flags and pictures of our old king and queen. As far as I know Denmark’s King and Queen were the only royal family to stay in their country during the German occupation. The church bells were ringing for the country. That was quite a day and we shouldn’t forget.
Dorrit Hansen Buckley – I enjoyed it to.
Karl Francis – Hopefully we can use this to spread the word a little bit and have it as a nice documentation of a great life.Thank you very much.