German immigrant remembers the kindness of U.S. soldiers in World War II as she knits hats and scarves for kids
Nate Howard
Yellowstone Newspapers
Tuesday, December 31, 2019
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Yellowstone Newspapers photo by Nate Howard
Anna Patterson holds a hat and scarf she knitted at her home in north Livingston. Patterson knits for people in need, donating her garments to the community. 

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Yellowstone Newspapers
photo by Nate Howard
Anna Patterson, a German immigrant, keeps a photograph of her cake taken during the celebration of her U.S. citizenship in 1967.

It was 1945, near the end of World War II, and an 11-year-old girl was forced from her home in Austria by the Russian army with her mother and siblings. They walked and hopped freight trains for three weeks, under Russian orders to take refuge in Bavaria, Germany. 

Anna Patterson, of Livingston, was that girl, and she remembers standing in the cold outside the American Army mess hall with Christmas approaching.

American soldiers occupying Germany set up a base not far from their apartment. Patterson, along with her sisters Marga and Paula and brother Willi, waited outside the mess hall for something to eat, eager to scrape the leftovers from the soldiers’ mess kits.

And she remembers seeing the American version of Santa Claus at the same American base where, once overcoming her fear of the jolly, bearded man dressed in red with a big sack, she approached and was given a brown bag that contained an apple, an orange, a Hershey bar, hard candies and nuts. She also received a pencil with an eraser on it — something she had never seen before. 

Now age 85, Patterson sits on her living room couch in north Livingston, sorting through stacks of letters, awards for her volunteering, postcards and photographs, telling her story with a strong German accent.

In a short story she wrote titled, “The Brown Paper Bag,” published in the November/December 2016 issue of the national magazine, “Good Old Days,” she writes of visiting the soldiers and Santa.

“We walked home not even feeling the cold. We were the happiest children in Germany!” she wrote. 

Seven years ago she decided to make sure children in the Livingston area would not be walking anywhere without a hat and scarf, and she began knitting throughout the year.

Her first year she made 50 hats and scarves for the Food Resource Center, and all were donated at the annual Thanksgiving meal distribution.

Today she makes 100 sets of the hats and scarves for the Thanksgiving season.

She takes her knitting kit wherever she goes. 

She is a volunteer Senior Companion to six residents in the community who, she said, more than anything want company. She finds time for knitting while visiting with her friends or waiting on them at a doctor visit.

Last year, when she fell ill, Patterson asked friends to help make the hats and scarves. She reached out to Leda O’Connor, a close friend she met when they both tied flies at Dan Bailey’s Fly Shop where Patterson worked for 25 years starting in 1974. 

“She (O’Connor) was the creative one, said Patterson. “She could tie anything on a hook.”

Today they’ve both traded fly-tying for knitting needles. 

“Last year she made 200 pairs (of hats and scarves). A hundred went to the food bank and a hundred went to the (Crow) Reservation,” she said. 

Patterson receives random donations of bags filled with yarn hung on her door.

“That Christmas (in 1945) stayed with me all my life,” she said. “There was one time I saw a soldier looking at the children, and he was crying.” 

She didn’t understand why he was crying at the time, she said. 

“I realized how kind they were. They shared what they got from home with us, German children, the enemy. I’ll always remember that — how kind they were to the kids.”

She continued, “I want to go to bed at night feeling like I did something that’s worth something.”

“I don’t have any money, but I can do something with the gift God gave me — my knitting,” Patterson said.