Growing up in the dreary English coal-mining town of Grimethorpe, Pamela Silver Tallant never fantasized about the American GI who had fathered her and then disappeared from her life.
She contented herself with images of the homely U.S. soldier with the kindly smile in the yellowed photographs her mother had stored away. She enjoyed the rare occasions her mother would speak of this stranger she had once yearned to marry. He was "a lovely person, really," her mother would tell Pamela. "Well-liked by everyone."
Those tidbits were all Pamela knew of her father, all she ever expected to know, even as she mounted a search for him when she reached the age of 35.
Seven years later she found herself in Baltimore tearfully embracing this long-lost ghost, clinging tightly to a paunchy, balding old man, who, she soon discovered, had a bad heart, a taste for custom-made clothes and a past that was as tumultuous as hers was uneventful.
In that 10-day visit, she filled in a lifetime of blanks. She learned that her father had for years been the manager of a burlesque theater called The Gayety in a risque section of Baltimore known as The Block. He had numbered Blaze Starr among his friends. He had been married once and had a host of lovers, including a stripper named Flash O'Ferrall who had borne him a son.
He had served time in prison for tax evasion and for several years had been a regular fixture in Baltimore courtrooms, where he was invariably fined for allowing his girls to remove one veil too many. He had no idea they were going to take off so much, he'd tell the judge.
In her 42nd year, Pamela Tallant, who had lived her whole life without a father, finally found hers, and it was Sam Horowitz.
And she was thrilled.
"He was wonderful, really wonderful," she said by telephone recently from Grimethorpe. "He was no ordinary, run-of-the-mill, small-town person. He was the type of person who you normally only see in movies. I was delighted with him."
Mrs. Tallant's reunion with her father, who died in June at the age of 77, was one of more than a hundred to occur in the past six years as British citizens banded together to help each other find the U.S. soldiers who had fathered them and then vanished. Now, those meetings promise to become even more frequent in the wake of a recent legal settlement.
For the first time, the Pentagon has agreed to help foreign-born children find their GI fathers. The Defense Department will now release the last known cities of residence of the fathers. It will also forward the children's letters directly to their fathers, but only if they were World War II-era babies.
The Pentagon still refuses to forward letters from children born to veterans of the Korean and Vietnam wars, saying it couldn't handle the volume of requests.
It is estimated that tens of thousands of children were fathered by U.S. soldiers stationed in England during the war. Soldiers were not discouraged from taking lovers and even received condoms from the military. Their sexual activity became part of the folklore in the English countryside. According to one account, signs were sometimes posted warning the U.S. soldiers, "Please drive carefully. That child might be yours."
Many of those children were born out of wedlock -- one of the prime reasons the Pentagon refused for so long to help in the search for the fathers.
"Fatherhood of an illegitimate child during youth is at worst embarrassing and at a minimum highly personal," lawyers for the Defense Department and its co-defendant, the National Archives and Records Administration, argued in a legal brief. "Contact by any individual, particularly a long-lost illegitimate child, is clearly intrusive," they added.
Joan S. Meier, the Washington attorney for the British citizens, who have been dubbed "warbabes" by the English press, said the Pentagon's policy was consistent with practices dating back to the war. "I think there was an ideology that these girls weren't good enough for our boys and that these children were an embarrassment to the men and to the U.S. Army," Ms. Meier said.
Ms. Meier charged that the military often discouraged marriages and made no efforts to keep families together when children were born. As evidence, she presented a letter from one "warbabe" whose mother said she had been paid 100 pounds to end all contact with the soldier who had fathered her daughter.
In the lawsuit, the Pentagon denied the existence of any such policies.
Nevertheless, when Shirley McGlade first began her search for her GI father in 1972, she quickly sensed the U.S. military's antipathy toward people in her situation. The Pentagon, the U.S. Embassy in London and a variety of other agencies all curtly rebuffed her requests for help. Later letters to Ronald Reagan, George Bush and a number of U.S. senators also produced no results.
"I was just disgusted," she said. "I just got the feeling that they feel we're an embarrassment to their country and they've tried to cover up about us for 40 years."