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Duty Stations, Part II.
I think I left you in Monterey. The next step was back to Fort Hood, Texas, after my vacation. I had been promoted to Staff Sergeant at Fort Hunter-Liggett, by the battalion commander of the unit that provided most of the troops for that particular experiment. For some reason this didn’t make the people at 1/9 Cavalry, 1st Cavalry Division very happy. On the other hand, I had very mixed emotions about the news that awaited me there, that I had been accepted for Warrant Officer Flight Training, to become a Warrant Officer helicopter pilot.
I remember absolutely nothing about the last few days or weeks that I was at Fort Hood. I have no idea what the unit was doing. I was surprised about the appointment to school because I had felt that I was the least likely of the four that applied from my unit to be accepted. In case I decide to go into this in detail some time, I will just say that I spent some time in a brick barracks, which, due to the atmosphere, was kind of uncomfortable, and a few weeks in a wooden barracks awaiting orders. I believe that the town outside Fort Rucker is Dothan, Alabama, and there were several wonderful oriental restaurants right outside the gate. Other than that, there was not much about this period that I care to write about.
I finally got my orders . . . to the 3rd Armored Division in Germany. I really didn’t know how to feel about that. I had no idea what type of unit I would be assigned to, or in what place in the unit structure. I had been a Staff Sergeant, officially, but had been a WOC (Warrant Officer Candidate) for almost all of that time. I had really only been in one unit since I had finished training in the Army, and had learned from some of the people that I had met at WOFT that 1/9 Cavalry was a lot different from a lot of Army units. (This difference in unit status/purpose/effectiveness, etc. was something that really bothered me about the Army. There were comparable differences in the Marine Corps, but never anything as extreme.)
I was scheduled to fly out of Charleston, South Carolina, on a military flight, but civilian aircraft. I spent my last night in the US in a motel near the Air Force base that I would leave from. Being in Charleston, I decided that I wanted a seafood dinner before I left for Germany. I called a taxicab and asked the driver to take me to the best seafood restaurant in Charleston. One that I would be allowed into without reservation or restrictions on attire. I have no idea whether it was the best or not but the food was fantastic. Price was no object at the time, because I really hadn’t had an opportunity to spend any money for a while, but whatever it cost seemed more than reasonable to me. That put me back into the motel around 0200 in the morning, and with an agonizing task yet to perform.
My orders said that my baggage would be restricted to two sea bags (sorry, they are called duffle bags in the Army) and one carry-on, but there was also a weight restriction. At that time I had everything I owned with me, since I hadn’t been ‘home’ in years, and it amounted to quite a lot of stuff. As a WOC I had been forced to make sure that I had at least one of every item of personal military equipment that the regulations required, and I did have a number of extras. I also liked to play racquetball and had several sets of equipment. As I was packing, and noticing how full and heavy the bags were getting, I felt that it was too much, so I discarded several hundred dollars worth of uniforms, and all of my racquetball gear. I was still afraid that my gear was going to be over the weight limit, but it just barely fit into the bags. I was angered, for a short period of time, when my baggage was weighed in at the Air base and I found out that I was 60 pounds under the limit, but I soon realized that there was no way that most of the stuff I left behind would have fit in the bags. Someone at that motel got lucky.
The flight was long, boring and uncomfortable. I think that we were still allowed to smoke in airplanes then, but I don’t remember if this was the case on this flight, or not.
I’m not sure, but I think we landed, finally, at Frankfurt. I don’t remember anything about the processing that took place then, but, within a few hours, I was in a van, driven by a sergeant who was apparently quite a character within the unit I was being assigned to, 1st Battalion, 33rd Armored, 3rd Armored Division. It was my first experience with traffic in Germany, but I immediately noticed that the driving rules were different there than in rural America. I was suffering from severe jet lag, total geographic dislocation and the ride was one that I won’t forget, but still wish I could. (As an aside, we had the option of getting an International driver’s license over there and purchasing cars, but I did not take advantage of the driving privileges during my 2+ years there, or during my year in Okinawa 10 years later. I have no idea what that says about me.)
I arrived at the 1/33rd kaserne, in Gelnhausen, FRG, late in the afternoon, and reported in to battalion headquarters for assignment. I was assigned to ‘B’ company.
Gelnhausen was a lovely town, as far as I was concerned. Not too big and not too small. Some of the streets downtown were still paved with cobblestones. There were a number of bars and some really great places to eat.
The kaserne itself was rather picturesque. It was located at the base of some steep hills with a broad flat valley downhill from it, and I was told that it had been built in 1936 as part of Germany’s pilot training program. This particular part was glider training, and there always seemed to be beautiful gliders being hauled into the air from down over the flats and soaring in the updrafts from the hills behind the kaserne. The 1/33 section of the kaserne was basically horseshoe-shaped around a pond that was at least 50 feet in diameter and, I found out later, at least 20 feet deep. The street was made of cobblestones, and the barracks, which had supposedly also been built in 1936, were very picturesque. I believe that they were made of stone and were three stories tall, with basement. I never found out if there was an attic. They were renovated before I left Gelnhausen, and were very nice afterwards. They were not all that bad before except that they were hard to keep clean and the facilities were a little dated.
Each floor had a very wide hall that ran it’s full length with large, almost cathedral like windows on each end. The ceilings must have been at least 12 feet above the floor. The rooms were a variety of odd sizes and shapes, except for the ‘squad-bays’, which were uniform but were essentially just large open rooms. The occupants usually tried to partition off sections with their wall lockers, but the unit for some reason discouraged this. (Possibly the drug problem that was so obvious at the time.) The windows were at least 8 feet tall and single pane glass, which was a little awkward in the winter.
For some reason, I ended up sharing a room with a sergeant for a while after I got there, before I was moved into the ‘bowling alley’. The move came at a bad time because the sergeant and I had pooled our money, and time, to re-paint the room for an IG inspection. At the time I was moved, when the ‘bowling alley’ became available, the room I moved from was painted, and the ‘bowling alley’ was not. So I had to buy more paint, and paint this room myself, because it was all mine.
The bowling alley was about 30 feet long with a twelve-foot ceiling, but was only about 7 feet wide. I have no idea what its original purpose had been. The end of the room on the outside of the building was nearly all windows. In retrospect, this may have been where a duty office, or something like it, had been located, because there was room for a fairly well laid out living space, and an office. Our barracks’s were heated, but I don’t think that they were air conditioned before they were rebuilt. I can’t remember what that program was called.
Anyway, after less than a year, we were moved out of our barracks into the barracks that had belonged to Headquarters Company, while our barracks were rebuilt. I think the process took at least 6 months and most of it was during the winter. The deployment schedule meant that this wasn’t a real inconvenience, most of the time, but it still managed to be annoying. I ended up staying in a room with ‘the man who wouldn’t loan out his fire extinguisher’.
Let’s talk about living in the field in Germany. I never spent any time in the field the first time I was in the Marines, and at Fort Hood we usually just slept out. In Germany, this was often not an option. Since the places we went in Germany had been being used for unit training for decades, they weren’t normal bivouac areas. We usually had some type of hard-shelled structure in the living area of the training base, and sometimes we had hardbacks for tents in the training area itself, during gunnery qualification. These hardbacks were steel pipe frames that the canvas from a GP Medium tent would fit over and the floor was a concrete slab. Not too bad. There were also times we ended up living in real GP Mediums with mud floors. This could be uncomfortable during the winter. A good ‘stove mechanic’ was more valuable than food in situations like this, and somehow I ended up spending a lot of time staying in tents with possibly the greatest ‘stove mechanic’ in the Army at that time, even though we were not in the same platoon. Later on he took over my brand new M60A3 before I had even had it out of the track park, but I wouldn’t know that until much later.
There are really two parts to being a ‘stove mechanic’. One is knowing how to ‘massage’ the carburetor so that the stove will produce maximum heat but not blow up or set the tent on fire. I think I have mentioned that our tent usually reminded me of an 1800 era riverboat going up the Mississippi at full throttle, with the top three or four feet of the stove pipe glowing cherry red and an occasional burst of sparks. In return for his efforts, our stove mechanic never had to help clean a stove for turn-in. Stove cleaning is one of the nastiest and most frustrating jobs I ever did in the military.
The second part of a ‘stove mechanic’s’ job is to guard the fuel can. If a fuel can runs out at night, someone has to go to the fuel dump to re-fill it, or, if they find a fairly full one on the way to the dump, appropriate it. Our stove mechanic always filled up our fuel can just before dark, or had a full can inside if we would be out late. He also had a piece of parachute cord run from the fuel can to some (undisclosed) part of his anatomy when he was ‘in the bag’. We sometimes had to jump up and pursue culprits that had attempted to ‘borrow’ our fuel can. As I learned later, the Marines don’t play this kind of game. It is impossible to forget things like this.
I finally went on the grand tour, which took me up to a few weeks before I got out of the Army. We had moved into the renovated barracks at Gelnhausen, and they were VERY nice, but I was out the door and into the field within a few weeks. It must have been unexpected because, when I came back and found out that someone I didn’t know (there were very few people in the unit at that time that had ever seen me before) was living in my room and all my stuff was gone, I went in search of the people that had moved me, to try to find out where my stereo was. One of the people that moved me out mentioned that, if I wanted any of the pizza that I had left on my desk it was too bad because it had sprouted long green tendrils and they had had to get the field sanitation people in to deal with it. Sorry, guys. I really did try to keep my area neat, when that was possible.
So I caught the ‘Freedom Bird’ back to Fort Dix, New Jersey for out-processing. It was the same long, boring, and uncomfortable flight as before except that the time change really screwed me up this time. I don’t think that I had re-established a relationship with reality before I was out the gate. I remember nothing at all about Fort Dix except my friend Rodester T. Brandon had been a drill instructor there, and had recently retired to open a bar there and ‘take all that money those silly recruits like to flash around’ and that the finance people in Gelnhausen had made a mistake in my pay records. I think I’ve mentioned this before, but I had 60 days leave on the books when I started out-processing in Germany, and I received 60 days pay for it there. When I got to Fort Dix, there was no entry in my pay book to that effect, so they said they would have to pay me for it again. As a patriotic, but stupid, young man, I didn’t think that was right. I told them that I had already been paid for it (more fool me) but they said if I didn’t accept another 60 days pay from them I would probably be stuck there are Fort Dix for at least two weeks, supervising people painting rocks white. The pay clerk’s advice was to put it into savings and see if the Army ever figured it out. To my knowledge, they never have.
My thanks yet again to Rory.
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