A Distant Christmas Eve

For those of us who have been allowed more years, it is interesting what age does to perspective.  When I was in the Army serving in the FRG – Federal Republic of Germany in 1973 and 1974, I thought WW2 was ancient history. I was 23 years old.

And I had had a college deferment, so by the time I got drafted at the ripe old age of 22, I was considered an “old man” in some quarters.

And how I ended up in Germany – a bureaucratic quirk of fate – is the subject of another story.

As far as duty stations go, I knew that all things considered, I had it pretty good. I started out with the MOS (Military Occupational Specialty for you civilians) as a 16H10 – Intelligence Assistant – but when they asked for volunteers to learn radar I became a 16K20 – a “Fire Distribution Systems Crewman”.  Funny how you can remember your MOS after 43 years.

In Army Air Defense at that time in Germany you could be stationed anywhere from a mobile HAWK missile battery to a NORAD-style radar bunker.

Anyway, longer story shorter, through my asking for a transfer once in Germany I ended up at a NATO radar bunker, code-named Lima. I went back there 20 years later, visiting my youth, and a young German guard told me that it would close soon. With no Iron Curtain there was no need for a bunker. To think that everything I knew in the Army, save the M-16, is now either closed or in a museum.

Funny how age has given me some perspective. But I came to view my time there from the lofty position of SP/4 (that’s like a Corporal in the technical field) as one of the high points of my life. We really kept track of Soviet aircraft, including that MiG 25 that played along the border. Duty was 24 hours in the bunker, and 24 off. On the off day you’d sleep until 1300-1400 then get up and do it all over in a few hours.

We were divided into 3 teams of 6-7, each led by an Army Captain. A Major was the CO for our little unit – about 25 men (no women at the time) in a bunker of about 100 USAF and 100 German Luftwaffe.

It was here that I got an Army equivalent of a callsign – I became “Bratwurst”. I liked to eat at the German snack bar underground. As Lex said on the way the Navy bestows callsigns, it could have been worse 😉 A good friend of mine named Schneider naturally became Duke. Another seemed to act as an old man in mannerisms at the age of 20 so he became “Pops”.

Duty started with a 20 minute ride on an Air Force bus from our barracks to the bunker. To discourage enemy bombers the entire top of the bunker was covered with pine trees patrolled by German guards with dogs.

You’d walk down a 100 yard corridor as you descended and met a German guard with a Walther pistol who asked for your Ausweis – pass. The first time one of them saw my pass he chuckled and I got another nickname from the Germans – der Bundeskanzler.  Willy Brandt was the chancellor, so I would get the friendly greeting, “Hier kommt der Bundeskanzler!”

Here comes the chancellor!

I even got a salute!

When the East German spy was uncovered in Brandt’s cabinet  my stock seemed to go down along with “der andere” Brandt – at least my greeting was not as friendly.

Anyway I suppose this is one of the longer intros to the main subject at hand: A Christmas Eve. The CO wanted everyone who had their family over there to get Christmas Eve off, so our team that evening was a bit sparse. I was on the dais talking with the missile batteries at oh-dark-thirty and, I am embarrassed to say, for a short while feeling a bit sorry for myself.

Realizing at the same time for those in the military that comes as part of the territory. Or as my drill Sgt said a few years prior at Ft Ord for anyone who considered certain days as “special, “It’s like any other damned day!” .

I have always liked history and then remembered of another place just 30 years earlier that wasn’t nearly as pleasant as my own Christmas Eve. It was less than 100 miles away.

It’s all about perspective.



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Filed under Army Aviation, History

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