The summer of 1971 - Europe after college graduation. The languid days of cheap hotels, student Eurail passes, hopscotching among different cultures and cuisines - and the occasional romance in the night.

I spent two grueling days traveling from Copenhagen to a small Polish town 50 miles from the East German border, where I stayed for three days.

In the Cold War era, Eastern Europe meant visas, long waits between trains, horrid food, and the constant feeling of being watched, especially if you were a Westerner. Your blue jeans and sneakers screamed "American" - an exotic, unusual tourist.

A day and a half later, on a bright, sunny morning, I made it to West Berlin, hungry, unwashed and running on 21-year-old energy. In the train station, an Englishman offered to take me to a cabaret-type nightclub still lively at 6 a.m. I ordered some food from the bartender.

"You're American?" he asked. I nodded timidly, and his eyes sparkled.

"Eat and drink whatever you like - it's free," he said.

A look of curiosity crossed my face, so he explained: In 1945, the American government brought food and medicine to a defeated Germany. Without these supplies, his family would have starved or died. He was forever grateful to my country for its humane generosity. In his small way, he was thanking me for his survival.

That morning and this man became a part of my values; how proud he made me feel to be an American. It is the way I would like the world to think of my country. I hope that it is still possible.

Lynda Rufo Connelly lives in Fairmount.