BERLIN -- They were offspring of romance in the occupation era, born to German women who had flings with American GIs -- sometimes for love, sometimes for a moment's passion, and sometimes, in the hardest days immediately after World War II, for a few packs of cigarettes or a pair of nylon stockings.
Johnny went marching home, often leaving no forwarding address or even a full name. Perhaps unaware of the pregnancy.
His lover was left to face disapproving parents and neighbors. Or a German soldier-husband returning from the front.
The children were known as occupation babies. No one missed the meaning of the euphemism: Occupation bastards.
The unlucky ones were dumped into orphanages, taunted as ''little Amis," the not-quite-affectionate term for conquering Yanks. Others were handed off to relatives. But most were raised by a resigned and often deeply reticent mother in a society in which birth out of wedlock remained scandalous. Bearing the illicit child of an American soldier carried even darker shame.
''Times were different, difficult," said Ute Baur-Timmerbrink, 59, the progeny of a love affair whose secrets her mother took to the grave. ''There was an attitude that these girls were sleeping with the enemy and only got what they deserved."
The occupation children, as they grew older, were told not to ask questions.
''My earliest memory is of wondering, 'Who is my father?' " said Herbert Hack, 53, son of a young rural woman who fell hard for a good-looking GI. ''I would beg my mother for answers, and she'd just say, 'Ssssh,' Until finally, when I turned 15, she told me: 'There was an American soldier. His name was Charles. One night we went dancing . . .' "
That's usually all these children had: Stories so short that they were barely stories at all.
Now time is ticking out. The occupation babies are middle-aged men and women. Their fathers' generation is filling obituary pages from Boston to Bakersfield. And some of these GI offspring -- or their grandchildren -- are seeking fuller versions.
Most hope only to glean enough information to fill in the most glaring blank spaces.
''I want so much to finally put a face to this mystery figure who has loomed over my family without ever being there," said Simone Mandl, 35, granddaughter of a GI and a married German woman. ''He was an American soldier who had an affair with my grandmother while her husband was away at war. Their romance was tragic. Yet I believe she never stopped loving her American."
But some occupation offspring want more from their missing forebear -- formal recognition of paternity, information about genetic disease, even a new identity in their father's image.
Franz Anthoefer, a 55-year-old cargo pilot, is determined to win one hard inheritance from his father: US citizenship. His obsessive and so-far unsuccessful quest has spanned more than three decades. ''I grew up in an orphanage, where they called me 'little Ami,' " he said. ''So, OK, this is what I will become: an American for real -- an American like my father."
Best estimates are that 66,000 illegitimate children of GIs and German women were born in American-occupied zones from 1946 to 1956, according to historian Johannes Kleinschmidt, author of a book about US-German ''fraternization" issues.
US occupation officials usually could offer little help to distraught German women with swelling bellies trying to track down ''Bill from Indiana" or ''John Baker, he drove a jeep."
The tales of these women and their children are distinct from those of the ''war brides" -- the German women who married their GIs and sailed off to bright, respectable futures in middle-class America.
''They were affairs that had no real possibility of permanence. In some ways, these long-ago loves belong to the past, like the war itself," Baur-Timmerbrink said. ''But they also carry down to the present."
Simone Mandl's mother, Erika Frey, was born in 1946 in the small city of Heidenheim, in southern Germany. Erika's mother -- and Simone's grandmother -- was Elfriede Frey, who knew little of Erika's father beyond his name, Arthur Anderson.
''So many years later -- my mother is dead, my grandmother is dead," said Mandl, an architectural drafter who lives with her husband and their 3-year-old boy on the Baltic island of Ruegen. ''Yet Arthur Anderson lives, at least in my mind. This man who made love with my grandmother. This man who was my mother's father. This man whose blood is in my blood and whose face may show in my son's face."
Anderson's Army unit rolled into Heidenheim in 1945, taking up quarters in the Schiller high school, a few blocks from where Elfriede, married to a German infantryman, lived with her eldest daughter. The war was over, but Elfriede's husband had yet to return from the front. She had not heard from him in a year.
Elfriede may have believed herself a widow; there were so many new widows in that year of grief.
''Or perhaps the loneliness of her life simply became too much," Mandl said. ''She never made excuses. My grandmother said: 'I met this GI. He was quartered near our house on Paul Strasse. We became involved. Then he went away.' "
After her American left, Elfriede's other soldier came home from the war to find his wife pregnant. In a fury, he took their 6-year-old daughter away. Neither husband nor eldest daughter ever spoke to Elfriede again.
Mandl's mother, the occupation baby, was teased and ostracized through her childhood. Elfriede tried to locate Anderson, but had no address, did not know his unit, so finally gave up.
Mandl adored her mother -- who succumbed to breast cancer in 1995 -- and loved her granny, who died in 1990. Her rustic home is filled with happy family snapshots. Missing is Arthur Anderson: There is no photograph, no tangible evidence that he even existed. Just the stories. And, as Mandl said, the blood in her veins.
Last year she and her sister, Claudia, started searching for him using the Internet, contacting international trace groups, armed with just a name and her grandmother's recollections. ''Arthur Anderson will be an old man, of course, and perhaps will not want to hear from this total stranger who is his granddaughter," Mandl said. ''If he says, 'Go away,' I will give him his peace.
''But maybe he would want to know he had a daughter in Germany," she said. ''Maybe he would want to know that he has grandchildren who still speak his name. In my heart, I hope he is the sort of man who would care."
Herbert Hack is haunted by the name he never possessed.
At the outset of every school year, each student was required to rise in class and give the name of his mother and father.
''How I dreaded the start of school," he said. ''How I dreaded saying, 'I have no father.' And hearing the laughter."
There was a father, of course. A good-looker named Charles whose framed photograph stands on Hack's desk. He served with the Army's 16th Infantry Regiment, and was based in the Ledward Barracks in Schweinfurt, Germany, in 1952.
''So many details," said Hack, owner of a small cab company in Berlin. ''Only missing are the ones that most matter."
Like last name, or hometown. Even Charles's rank is unknown -- the dress uniform he wore on the night he met Hack's mother shows no discernible insignia.
Charles and Johanna Hack met at the traditional February festival in her village of Gochsheim. It was whirlwind love. She was so pretty. He made her laugh. They went dancing one night. They visited her parents on another. There was one more night together, but Hanna -- as Charles would have known her -- is shy on the details. At age 75, she still considers him her one great love.
''They planned a fourth date. But Charles never showed," Hack said. ''The Army told my mother he'd been shipped to Korea."
Hack's search for his father, begun only recently, has become his life's main project. ''My two daughters are grown. I myself am turning old," he said. ''I feel a need to know my father. I want my father to know he has a son."
But he admitted ambivalence. ''I am also frightened," he said. ''What would I say to this man? I don't even speak English. Perhaps I could just give him a hug."
The few clues Baur-Timmerbrink has to the identity of her father come from family friends and shreds of gossip still told in a small town in Austria. There's no fairy-tale glitter to the story -- her mother seems to have been a party girl, living off the largesse of a lieutenant who served as a US war-crimes investigator in Austria from 1945 to 1946.
Most of her life, Baur-Timmerbrink said, was lived amid lies. The decent German man who raised her as his daughter was not her father. Only after his death -- and the death of her mother -- did she stumble upon records that showed she was conceived and born while he was a prisoner of war in Yugoslavia. She started tracking the truth with the tenacity of a bloodhound.
''Growing up, I had a strange sense of family secrets," said Baur-Timmerbrink, a lab technician married to a Berlin lawyer and the mother of two grown sons.
The bare facts are these: Baur-Timmerbrink's parents, Werner and Friedel Kruppe, married in 1936. He was a Wehrmacht sergeant and soon off to war. In 1944, with the Soviet Army closing fast on Hitler's regime, Friedel fled from Germany to Attnang-Puchheim, Austria.
May 1945: Germany surrendered. Friedel stayed put. She and a female friend shared an apartment that seemed fancier than a pair of jobless young women could afford. Late-night parties blared. The staff car of a US officer was often parked outside come morning.
Werner returned from POW camp in 1947 and reunited with his wife. Baur-Timmerbrink was already born. If there was a blow-up, she never heard of it. The family returned to Germany.
Friedel died in 1974. Werner in 1981. In the following years, Baur-Timmerbrink stumbled upon things that made little sense. Snapshots of herself as an infant that bore English-language markings. She traveled to Austria to seek information about her mother's life in Attnang-Puchheim. A family acquaintance there gave her a tattered photo of a young US lieutenant -- check it out, he said.
But she wavered. Until, seven years ago, on her 52d birthday, she contacted her mother's former roommate from that long-ago time in Austria.
''She was reluctant: Why must you dig things up?" Baur-Timmerbrink recalled. ''Then she told me: 'Your father was an American officer.' I cried and cried what felt like all the tears in the world. Because now I knew I wasn't who I thought I was."
The roommate supplied an address in Lexington, N.C. Baur-Timmerbrink wrote to the former officer, a prominent lawyer and stalwart of the Baptist Church. His written response was cryptic, lawyerly, referring to 'rights of privacy.' " He died in 2002, leaving two adopted children in the United States.
''I still have questions for which there may never be answers," Baur-Timmerbrink said. ''A child should know the touch of her father's hand."
Franz Anthoefer never doubted he'd find his dad. The quest consumed him from childhood days in a German orphanage; consumed him even after his mother, Babette, found full-time work as a cleaning woman that enabled her to reclaim custody of her son. As a teenager, he obsessively watched American movies, imagining that the dialogue and landscapes provided a connection to the father he never knew.
The romance occurred in 1950 when Babette met an ex-GI named Louis G. Craig. He worked for a US agency assisting the tens of thousands of people still displaced in West Germany. He had an apartment near her family's home. It was a short affair; Babette was heartbroken when he returned to the United States. Upon realizing she was pregnant, she wrote him care of the agency.
Anthoefer keeps the letter containing Craig's cold rebuff to his former lover: ''I cannot place you in my recollections."
There must have been a misunderstanding, Anthoefer believes. His father could not have been like that. ''Every day I can remember, I've wanted to be my father's son," said the cargo pilot, who lives with his 85-year-old mother in Bonn. She never married.
In 1971, he followed a paper trail from New York to Washington, D.C., to Weston, W. Va., where Craig had served for years as a notoriously cranky mayor and state legislator. ''This was the dream of my life, finding my father," Anthoefer said.
It turned into the disappointment of his life: Craig had died just weeks earlier, at age 63. Anthoefer later won an exhumation order, undertaken in 1996, that removed a 3-inch section of femur that was shipped off to Brigham Young University for DNA testing. The result: a 99 percent probability that Anthoefer is Craig's son, according to documents provided by the German.
The US government has refused Anthoefer's demands for American citizenship, which he regards as his birthright as the son of an American serviceman. But Anthoefer is still fighting, having clearly inherited his father's stubborn disposition.
In 1997, on a return visit to Weston, he ran for mayor under the name Louis Craig Jr. His visa had expired, however, and he was arrested by US immigration officials before the vote. In federal custody, he staged a hunger strike. He was finally deported, in handcuffs, back to Germany.
''I regard America as literally my fatherland -- the country of my father," he said. ''I simply want to come home."
Petra Krischok of the Globe's Berlin bureau contributed to this report.