Taking Advantage of Overseas Stations

Today on the F/B page Lex’s post was about being stationed for 2 years – along with the Clan Neptuni – in Japan.

I do wish he had gotten into more detail about what the Clan did in Japan for those 2 years, but I suspect they took some side trips. Of course now that I think of it they had a baby.

But still, I hope at least they took some side trips.

I wonder if they stayed at a Ryokan?  Or took an Onsen? Made any day or weekend trips? Had a meal at a typical Japanese restaurant? Rode the bullet train?

Japan is on my “to do” list.

Anyway more than one Lexican was stationed at Astugi for awhile, and they too, took advantage of their time there. And one, with only a day/2 of port side liberty, would at least walk down the streets and soak in the atmosphere.

As for me, looking back on my life, I think my bit-over-2 years in the Army – and almost 2 years in Germany – has to have been a highlight of my life.

And I wasn’t exactly living large over there – I came there as a Pfc – Private First Class – and left as a SP/4 – that’s a corporal in the technical fields. In the end, I was making a bit over $400/month. Started Basic Training at $288/month.

As Vietnam was winding down the services wanted to make them all-volunteer and started to raise the pay. Which probably means as a Private during Vietnam the pay was a lot less than $288.

I’d heard stories of the 50s and early 60s of low-ranking enlisted people in Germany driving Porsches because the dollar was so strong. That wasn’t the case by the early 70s, when every GI kept close tabs on the dollar-mark conversion rate. When I got there it was almost 4:1, and by the time I left, a bit over 2:1. Living “on the economy” for those married  – in an apt – was hard. I don’t see how low-ranking enlisted with families made it.

How I got to Germany was a bit of a fluke. I was sent to Ft Bliss TX – in El Paso – to learn radar and Air Defense. At the conclusion, the Army sent all those with last names starting with “E” to “Z” to the DMZ in Korea.

There were 5 of us in bureaucratic limbo.

And 3 of us just wanted a station. We didn’t care where, just end the uncertainty.

So we bugged this civilian a couple of times making the assignments  pleading for an assignment.

On the 3rd visit, he said “Don’t bug me anymore – I’m sending you 3 to Germany. ”

Amazing how one’s life can change by such seemingly small events.

By the time I got back to the states, I viewed things through German eyes. The cars were so big.  Our trash cans were bigger, because we threw more stuff out. So many gizmos were electrified, such as tooth brushes and can openers. Or as another Lexican, Army Germany vet, remarked, “The door knobs were round“. Even our toilets were different. The German ones had the water tank up on a wall a few feet over the rest.

The public restrooms in Germany usually had (strange to me at the time) an elderly woman collecting a few coins to use it. They were supposed to keep it clean. Most did. Some didn’t.

Sidebar: They had them in Italy too, and one experience brings a smile even almost 50 years later. At the Florence train station, these stalls were – luxurious. And immaculate. I can’t remember the exact ambiance but they weren’t your average public toilet stall. I tipped the attendant, and she led me to my stall and shook my hand. As if to say, “Now you go on in and enjoy the experience”. Then let me go in to do my thing.

Those Italians always seem to do things with style.

It was only some years later that I learned that right after the war, there were so many destitute widows that this was a means of helping them. I am sure that with time and economic rebuilding that tradition is long-gone.

For me, traveling is so much more than just “seeing things“. Doesn’t matter whether it is within the US or overseas. It enriches the soul. When we get back home, we see things differently.

The best analogy I can give at this moment is to “inhale the atmosphere“. What are the people like? What do they like? How did they become that way?

Oh yes, see the things, too.

Some of my best memories are the people I met along the way. Such as the family who put me up in their home in the little town of Flam, Norway. Or the couple who, in their 60s, had to flee as millionaire farmers from what was Rhodesia and settle in Cairns, Queensland, Australia in a humble cinder block home. Because Robert Mugabe’s guerrillas were killing their neighbors. They had to start life over in their 60s. That is why Zimbabwe has been on the verge of starvation for years.

Or the Catholic nuns who ran a little hotel in Midtown Manhattan, describing to me over their homemade bread what that one September morning was like.

It’s the differences in people I find intoxicating. But in the big things I have come to believe that we are all the same.

I had to report to Ft Dix, NJ and then took a charter DC-8 from McGuire AFB  (near Dix). By the time we got to Frankfurt I was tired, and it was dusk. An Army bus took us to the Gutleut Kaserne, which, I was told, the Nazis used to house allied POWs. It was a foreboding looking place, and I remember seeing pockmarks from bullets in the old bricks from presumably WW2.  I think that was the main point of embarkation for GIs being assigned to Germany.

The inside was just as foreboding – dark, with many rooms. If there had been hanging torches flickering on the walls the look would have been complete. That first night, tired from the flight, I was in the bunk listening for the first time the sounds of the German sirens.

Next morning after formation in the yard, I walked down the streets soaking in Frankfurt.

Two or 3 days of this limbo, and one morning in the yard I got my assignment. A bus took us to Kaiserslautern – K-Town to the GIs – and I got another shock. Looking out the bus window on the autobahn I saw a flash – lime green – so fast that I wondered if my mind was playing tricks on me. I looked ahead and it was a lime-green Porsche. Another difference!

The Gutleut Kasern (long-gone now)

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My first barracks was at Landstuhl. This is a small town that Patton’s Third Army just bypassed. See the Metro theater there? I used to go there frequently. Didn’t understand all the German but I was getting the experience.

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Idar-Oberstein, 20 miles from my second station (Neubruecke). That is the church in the rock. 

Images of Germany - 1973-74 - Saar region 30

 

The WeinFest (wine fest) held every autumn at Bernkastel, a picture-postcard town on the Moselle River, about an hour from my second station. I tried visiting it again in 1992 and there were so many tourist busses I couldn’t park!

Images of Germany 1973 - Bernkastel Weinfest03

Images of Germany 1973 - Bernkastel Weinfest04

At the time, the Army ran about 5 hotels in Bavaria that had been seized from the Nazi Party. All servicemen (and women of course!) were welcome, and room rates were based on rank. I paid about $6/night. and they were usually one of the nicest hotels in town!

One, like the General Walker, was historic – on Hitler’s old complex near Berchtesgaden. If you were polite and asked the manager, he’d open a door and let you explore the labyrinth of tunnels under the hotel that connected all of the Nazi’s homes.

These hotels were given to the Bavarian govt with the Army’s downsizing, and they razed the General Walker to keep it from being a shrine to the neo-Nazis (do some people ever learn?)

The hotel at Garmisch-Partenkirchen, site of he 1936 winter Olympics

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The Zugspitze at Garmisch – Austrian-German border! Highest passport station?

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A map of Hitler’s old complex outside Berchtesgaden, called Obersaltzburg (over Saltzburg (Austria). You could see Saltzburg from there. The allies destroyed all of the buildings except the hotel, and you could still see bomb craters).

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The General Walker (now destroyed)

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Remains of the bombed-out garage (1973) near the General Walker

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Some of the craters – 28 years after the war

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The Konigsee right outside Berchtesgaden. They would take you out on a silent electric boat – the guide would blow a trumpet in the middle of the lake and you would hear it reverberate back and forth across the mountains 3-4 times? A lifetime memory.

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While down here, saw a bit of the beautiful…and the bad…

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Those are shower heads in the ceiling of the gas chamber

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My late father said something that stayed with me…that education and travel are the 2 things they can never take away from you. I hope for anyone on active duty and able to see a bit, to take advantage of where you are.

What I have shown you were either day trips or trips of a few days…

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