Celebrating our Local Women's History
Stories from Women Living in the Southeast Valley as told by CGCC Students in partnership with Gilbert Historical Museum
Oral History of Gerlinde Kleiser Damon

Oral History of Gerlinde Damon

Interviewed By Kayla Damon on March 14, 2008

Gerlinde Damon is an inspirational woman, with many accomplishments and a beautiful story. Linda, as she's known today, was born in 1931 in a two story country home at the end of a small village in Czechoslovakia. At this time there was a doctor in town and a mid wife, and they did all the birthing; there were no hospitals. Her father, Karl Kleiser, was an electrical engineer and also owned a small appliance store with items such as irons, flashlights, hot plates and radios; the radio was only in the early stages. Her mother, Anna Kleiser, took care of her and her two sisters and helped in the business. When asked about her parents she claims, "My father was a very ambitious man…and my mother was well mannered and a very giving, loving person." Linda has two sisters. They were both born during World War II. She says her childhood was "very carefree." She loved to run in the woods and go swimming in the swimming holes. But when her sisters arrived she had to do a lot of babysitting; "I didn't take to that very well" she claims. To make the most out of her chore of babysitting, she and her friends played kindergarten with their sisters. She says, "All in all it was very beautiful."

School was the same for most children at this time. The grade school was located right behind the church, in a two story building, and everyone went to school there. High school started in 5th grade and children had to take a train to another town. Linda stopped attending school her last year in high school. She states, "I didn't stop; the war stopped us." Her high school was bombed out and that was the end of school for her. Linda later took a nanny position in England. The family paid for her to take a couple of night classes at Cambridge University studying English literature. This is where she learned to speak English.

WWII was an apparent part of her childhood but the children weren't affected by it much. Her town was quiet, with very little war action. When people lined the streets, at the arrival of the German soldiers, she had no idea what was really going on. The last few days of the war she remembers boarding a train with her friends, when there was an air raid. Everyone had to exit the train and lay in a ditch. She claims, "My friends and I thought it was very funny; we were stupid teenagers. We had no idea." The Russian troops came from the east and the American soldiers came from the west. Linda's first impression of an American was somebody with high laced boots and who looked "oriental" to her. She says, "I can't remember quite well but I saw him and I thought, 'Oh my, now we've had it; it's all over!'" Little did she know she would one day marry an American soldier.

After returning from England, where she was taking her night classes, she tried to become a librarian. When she couldn't get into the system, she applied at the American base where they were willing to train her as a dental assistant. She was trained by German doctors and had a really easy time learning the trade. Her future husband George Damon was a military policeman and he was housed in the building next to the American dispensary where the dental clinic was. George had a bad upper tooth and had to visit the clinic often. She described him as, "A very quiet man who never talked, Navajo Indian, and he always smelled so good." This is how she met her husband. They went to movies, had a hamburger here and there and never even held hands. They dated for about a year before deciding to get married. She was hesitant to marry him. She said, "George, you go to the States and if you're over there and you still want me to come over, then I'll come over and marry you." The next day she was informed that he had reenlisted and he was going to stay in Germany for another three years. They got married in her home town. Originally she wanted to get married on the American base. The priest who was set to marry them told her, "If you don't have the courage to marry that man in your home town, then you leave your hands of it." She was the first one in her entire town to marry an American; it was a show! She was definitely criticized for marrying an American, but there wasn't too much negativity about it. Linda and her husband stayed in Germany following their wedding. George was stationed there and had to finish his time. While living in Germany, their first boy was born; his name was Marcus. After George served his term in Germany they relocated.

Their family traveled frequently throughout the United States due to the military. They first lived in Laughton, Oklahoma. It was a very different lifestyle than in Germany. She says "I thought the laundromat was the greatest thing! I used to use a washboard!" Linda became pregnant with her second child, who unfortunately didn't survive; his name was Michael. Her third child followed quickly after and she named him Stephen. Her husband was then shipped to Korea where he was stationed for 11 months. She packed up the kids and moved to Window Rock, New Mexico to live with her in-laws. She didn't adapt to this very well and felt very out of place. While her husband was in Korea her third son, Andrew, was born. George had become very ill, while fighting in Korea, and was in a coma. He had been shipped to a Japanese hospital and eventually got well again. When he saw his new baby, Andrew, for the first time he said, "The kid looks ok!"

Linda made her way to Arizona in 1974. He sister had married a man from Chandler and she thought it would be nice to be close to family. Her husband wanted to attend ASU and get his teaching degree; "Everything worked out perfectly." They loved Arizona from the minute they arrived. Linda's favorite places were Sedona and Flagstaff. Linda and George both shared the same love for traveling. George was proud of the west and loved being a tour guide to the family. The boys were highly interested in sports, and Linda spent a lot of her time as a "soccer mom." Her boys were highly interested in little league and pop warner football. Linda loved watching her boys play. High school football paid off, and her boys received scholarships to universities. She says, "It was fun having kids. I wouldn't have traded it for the world, and I still wouldn't trade it!"

Linda juggled her roles of mother and dental assistant. She worked for a dental practice for 16 years. Arizona was very different 35 years ago than it is today. When Linda first arrived here, there was only one freeway and the farms and crops "seemed as if they could go on forever." The growth has most certainly changed since then. The community was closer as well. Linda loved all of her neighbors and was close with many of them. She doesn't see much of that today.

After her boys were off, grown, married and having children of their own, she quit her job as a dental assistant and became a full time grandmother.

The last 5-10 years of Linda's life have been rough. Her husband became very ill. It was a slow progressive illness. George had heart surgery, vascular problems in his legs and then diabetes took over. It was a "terrible, terrible time." She claims that time went by so fast she doesn't remember much of it anymore. Linda was always running back and forth between home and the hospital. There wasn't much time to take care of anything else. Sadly, George past away, but she claims, peace has finally returned to her home and she just keeps moving forward.

Linda is an inspirational woman and her story is truly amazing. When asked about how being a woman has shaped her experiences she says, "I was always taught, by my mother, that a woman must always give a little bit more than she receives. Being a woman is being strong. When life deals you pickles, you bite into them and you don't show that they are sour. You don't make faces and you eat your pickles. When sweet cherries come around, you eat them with joy."

Photos courtesy of the family.

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Linda's Parents: Karl and Ana Kleiser, on their wedding day

Gerlinde Damon

Linda and her husband George on their wedding day

Linda with a couple of friends: dressing up for mardi gras

Linda with her three boys: Marcus, Andrew and Stephen

Linda's husband George: US Military in Korea

George and Linda Damon: most recent photo