'I Was A War Babe’
Dennis was 15 when he was told that the man he knew as his father was in fact his step father - a man named Joseph Stanley Brown. Dennis was born in December 1944 and his mum married Joe Brown in March 1947. In December 1959, aged 15 and due to leave school, he was told that the man he thought was his dad wasn’t his real dad. His real dad was an American G.I named ARMANDO PANIAGUA. It must have been heart-breaking finding out this way. His mum tried to tell him about his real dad but Dennis was distraught even his school didn’t know so they could have helped him in some way. He can remember falling asleep in school and he couldn’t stop crying. He blocked a lot of these memories out and perhaps this is how he coped with it. He didn’t have a birth certificate and needed one to prove his age so he could start work, so Dennis had to go to court for Joe Brown to legally adopt him and gave Dennis the name Brown. He was never given his long birth certificate or his adoption papers. It was only when he started his search for his real father that he was then able to apply for copies of both. His mum then went on to have four children with Joe Brown.
We met in 1961 and married in July 1962. We were so young, Dennis 17 and myself 18. In January 1963 we had our first baby, then in September 1964 I found out I was pregnant again, just when Joe Brown had a brain haemorrhage. He was seriously ill and died three weeks later on October 9th 1964. Our second son was born on 7th May 1965. We carried on with our lives, then in December 1965 Dennis’ mum married her second husband Joseph Cooke. On February 22nd 1968 our daughter was born. Dennis’ mum also had two more daughters one in January 1967, one in April 1968. Dennis’s real father was never mentioned again. Many years later, (it may have been 1987-8) Dennis was watching a programme on TV about American G.I. War Brides. He turned to me and said he would like to try and find out if his real father was still alive.
He approached his mum about searching and all the information she could offer him was his name ARMANDO PANIAGUA, his unit - 32nd General Hospital Fairford Gloucestershire and that he was a medic. We think they met at a dance near Fairford because Dennis’ mum lived in a small village only a few miles from Fairford called Castle Eaton. She loved to dance. When she found she was pregnant with Dennis, she tried to find news of Armando. We now know he was with the Normandy landings in France, then he went into Germany where he was severely injured in March 1945. He was in hospital for 45 days, then repatriated back to America in November 1945. Dennis’ mum wrote to the American Red Cross, they would not have known what had happened to him, so she believed that he had died. This was a terrible thing to happen - she was only 16. She had Dennis on December 11th 1944, a month before her 17th birthday. She then just got on with her life which must have been very hard and difficult. She then met up again with Joe Brown, who she had grown up with and in 1947 they married.
In 1985 Dennis was offered a good job in Oxford, so we decided to move and this is when Dennis had this overwhelming urge to find his real father. One day I was reading the Daily Mirror and came across a letter written on behalf of an organisation called TRACE. I wrote a letter for advice as we had no idea who to write to at this stage. We received a reply from Pamela Winfield who was always very helpful and supportive. She had started TRACE only about 2 years previously.
There wasn’t anywhere or anyone we could contact to search records etc. We sent letters to every organisation we could find in America. I went to libraries, I wrote letters to everyone if and when I came across an address etc. - I lost count of how many times we wrote to the Military Records office in Saint Louis Missouri, always a reply back with an application form to fill in but we had no information only Armando’s name (this was our undoing as we had the wrong spelling of his surname at that time). We kept in contact with Pamela by telephone mostly 3 or 4 times a year. By 1994 we had exhausted every avenue so back it went in the drawer to look again another time. We then moved house again and after 10 years in Oxford we moved back to Swindon. Between 1990 and 1994 we had a very strained relationship with Dennis’ mum because Dennis had been to visit family and had asked questions, but no one would help him or give him any answers. With moving back to Swindon it helped with the relationship with his mum. However, by 1996 all the travelling Dennis had to do in connection with his work started to take its toll. He was suffering constant headaches, depression and stress with all these symptoms going back some 18 months and he was constantly backwards and forwards to the doctors. In early 1997 we decided that in his best interests and his health, we would move house and buy one outright so that we would have no mortgage worries. We decided on West Wales because we knew property was very cheap and we had visited there a few times and liked the area. We moved to Mydroilyn nr Lampeter in August 1997. Dennis' mum and Joe helped with our house move. Then on 20th September 1997 only six weeks after moving to Wales and on our return from a holiday in Spain, we were met at the airport with the most awful news that Dennis' mum had collapsed and died instantly two days previously. Dennis was in a state of shock for a long time. It took him a long while to come to terms with the shock of his mum's death. His headaches became worse and so did the depression.
We had kept up the payments on an endowment mortgage insurance we had on our previous house, so we decided to cash it in and buy a plot of land. In fact, we bought two plots at Greenhill, Measycrugiau Llandysul in December 1998 and Dennis decided to build a bungalow. We sold our bungalow in Mydroilyn in March 2000 and moved into a mobile home on our land in June 2000. We aquired all nessesary planning and building consents and Dennis started building in September 2000. We moved into our new home in 2003.
We had only been in our new home a few weeks when Dennis mentioned that we should try one more time to search for his dad. In August 2003 I found the old TRACE address and wrote a letter to Sophie Burns, the TRACE Secretary . Within a couple of weeks we had a reply from Sophie's son. Sadly, she had passed away earlier that year. I had often spoken with her on the phone in the very beginning of our search and we were very sad to hear this news. She had been very supportive to us in the past. Her son very kindly wrote and told us this sad news and gave details of TRACE’S new secretary and address. Her name is NormaJean Clarke McCloud, our guardian angel. She sent us a form, which I filled in and sent back to her in September 2003. She then contacted our other guardian angel, Niels Zussblatt, who works in the Military Records Office in St Loius Missouri and almost by return would change our world and everything in it forever. Niels found Armando's military record from WW2, together with his last payslip dated November 1945. His name was ARMANDO PANIAGUA with his last know address in Delrio, Texas, from 1945. He also told us that sadly for Dennis, his dad had passed away in January 1996 from cancer. Dennis would never meet his dad.
We then applied for Armando's Death Certificate and received it on 3rd December 2003. Luckily for us not only did it have his surviving wife's name, OLIVIA PANIAGUA, it also had his son's name and address and he also lived in Delrio. It was a very difficult letter to write and it was rewritten again and again. It had to be worded so that it would not offend or upset anyone who would receive it. Finally, we were satisfied with the way we had written the letter. It was a short letter considering how very important it was to us and we posted it on 5th January 2004.
We then went off to stay with our daughter for a couple weeks in Oxford. We came back to Wales not expecting any reply from our letter to Delrio. We had had so many rejections over the years and we thought that this would be no different - well, we were certainly wrong about that. We had recieved a reply - a small neat package. Dennis sat down and with shaking hands opened it. There were three photographs and a letter from Dennis' new brother, Armando Paniagua Jr. The photograph of his dad we knew right away because the resemblance was striking - it could have been an older version of Dennis. Dennis also has a sister Lety, who lives in San Antonio Texas and there hadbeen another brother, George, who died in June 2003 . This was heart breaking news.
We exchanged letters and many phone calls. Dennis was accepted immediately - no question. The photographs told it all. We were invited to visit them and on July 11th 2004 we arrived and were met at the airport by Lety, Armando, Olivia their mum, Richard, Lety’s husband and their daughter Jackie and a Texan news cameraman who interviewed Dennis (who I might add was extremely nervous). It was then broadcast across Texas and when we arrived at Lety’s house at 10 o clock that same evening the phone never stopped ringing - all of Delrio had seen it. We were given a very warm and tremendous welcome, with a fabulous party with all the Paniagua family there to meet him. We fell in love with each and every one of them. We went to visited them again at Christmas 2004, this time with our daughter and we stayed three weeks. We had such a wonderful time, they were all so very kind to us. Our daughter's resemblance to her aunt Lety is striking. She also has many other family traits.
We talked with Lety and Armando and decided Dennis and Lety would take a DNA test while we were still in San Antonio, in case we needed more proof for the Embassy. We received the DNA results a week later and the news was mind blowing 99.03%. He is more Mexican American than he is British.
We had been informed that Dennis would stand a good chance if he applied for an American passport. In August 2004 we sent a letter to the American Embassy in London,but didn’t hear anything from them until January 2005 and then the proccess began. We had to prove that Armando Paniagua Sr. was Dennis' biological father. Once again our saviour Niels in the Military Records office came to our rescue. With great difficultly, mostly due to the famous fire that destroyed millions of Military Records in 1973, he managed to find the microfilm that had Armando Sr's name on a Duty Rota at Fairford Hospital Gloucestershire for March 1944. This placed Armando in the right place at the right time. Dennis was born in December 1944. With Lety and Aunt Gloria’s (Armando’s sister) help, we managed to put together all the documents needed to be taken in person to the Embassy in London. So on Tuesday 26th April 2005 at 2pm we presented ourselves. There were a few minor details we had to find and change - dates on documents etc.
By this time Dennis and I had already decided we wanted to live in Delrio. We decided to spend the summer of 2005 in Delrio. We made arrangements and went ahead and booked our flights. We flew to San Antonio Texas on June 20th 2005.We stayed with Lety and Richard in San Antonio for a while, but couldn’t decide what we were going to do for two and half months. Lety phoned round the trailer home parks in Delrio, and struck lucky. We definately were in the right place at the right time, as the lady who owned the trailer park had a spare trailer home to rent, just for two months - July and August 2005.
We were so lucky, we had a glorious time all through the very hot Texan weather, most days at 100 degrees. We spent a lot of time getting to know this warm and welcoming Paniagua family. We came home to the UK on September 2nd 2005 and put our house up for sale.
Dennis recieved his American passport on September 7th 2006. He is now officially an American citizen. I could then start my application for a green card. My papers went off to the Embassy on 9th September and I then received my pack of documents on December 23rd 2006. First thing I had to send for was a police check, both locally and then to the Met Police Office in London. A full medical next, which I had to book with the Embassy doctors and would have to travel to London for.
I obtained certified copies of my birth and marriage certificates and more passport photographs were needed . I had my medical at the doctors in Knightsbridge on Tuesday 10th April and then informed the US Embassy that I had all the documents they required from me. They allocated me a date for my visa interview and it took place on Tuesday 26th June at 10-30 am. It was very straight forward and only took about 40 minutes. I received my provisional Visa on Tuesday July 3rd 2007. We have until 26th December to validate it once in America, then we can live in America permanentely. I have a heap of documents sent by the US Embassy to be handed in at immigration when entering USA and then they will mail my permanent visa (green card) to Lety’s address in San Antonio.
We are so lucky once again, we were in the right place at the right time. Lety rang the lady at the trailer park and we will be renting a trailer home at the same place as before. What a great life we now have in front of us. We had a good life here in Wales but I think the best is yet to come.
Our flights are booked for August 30th 2007 and we will be staying for 6 months - our flight back is on February 29th 2008. What a life we have to look forward to.
For our new life our gigantic thank-yous to Norma Jean and Niels will never be enough, we will never forget what they have done for us.
I wish every one still searching to have that piece of luck that we had and that their lives will be complete.
Good luck and god bless.
Margaret Brown and Dennis Paniagua Brown