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Published: January 31st 2014
35,000 people killed in one night. The tall pillar left standing in the middle marks the Luisenplatz
I first came to Germany in 1971 as a student. In 1972 I returned as a soldier. Like most young men in uniform I thought that I had been cheated by not being put into a combat unit. Instead I was assigned to an inactive field hospital in Darmstadt, Germany where I occasionally inventoried supplies and drove a deuce and a half truck. Within a couple of months I had met and spoken at length with a number of boys my age who had just come out of Vietnam. I learned how lucky I was. There is no glory in war. Describing combat as glorious is an obscenity. I learned that no soldier is immortal and that the ravaged men I had met could just as easily have been me. I did not fear the possibility of going into action but I was grateful that I had not been asked to. I think most of us stationed in Germany felt that way towards the end of Nam.
As the war in SE Asia ran down, troops were redeployed to Germany. I was a part of this force. There was hardly a village or town in Germany that did not host
some contingent of US troops. Hundreds of battle tanks filled places like Gelnhausen and Fulda. I did temporary duty in many of these posts. Tens of thousands of men and battle vehicles perched along the East German border waiting for a Soviet invasion that never came. The last American battle tank left Germany last year. Where there were once hundreds of thousands of US soldiers there are now less than 50,000. My son is a part of this reduced force.
In 1971 the second world war had been over less than 30 years. You could still see the results of carpet bombing in the cities. We would ride in convoys through towns where small children would line the streets and throw peace signs out to us. I spoke with German soldiers who had served in that conflagration. Those Vets, like our own, have pretty much died off. Many Germans were employed by the US military as workers and Doctors and military assistants after the war. It was a work for aid program that pumped much needed currency into the rebuilding of the country. The population here today has little memory of the conflict except for what they are taught
I pulled more than a few tours of guard duty in these unheated shacks.
in the German school system and even that is a result of revisionist history. Nobody has a real handle on it. Nobody really wants one. Take a look at Germany today and it's hard to believe that anything ever happened here. The autobahns and railways are festooned with industrial complexes like Bosch Electrical and Opel Autowerks. Huge factories continue to be built and expanded. Thousands of acres of photovoltaic solar panels cover fields and giant white wind turbines sprout everywhere there is a bit of breeze. The quality of their food is excellent. Fresh produce is available 365 days a year. The natives are healthy and vibrant. In a word; Things have 'Changed'.
The post where I was stationed, Cambrai Fritsch, is a ghost town. I expect that some day all of the buildings will be torn down and replaced with something useful. Until then the places I spent my youth in, the barracks I slept in with my buddies, the warehouses we worked in and the hospitals and dispensaries we rendered aid in are sad reminders of misplaced political bets and irrational fears. Our presence here after the war guaranteed the safety of the Germans. It allowed them to
My home from 1971 to 1974. Shouts to Montgomery, Stites, Jesus, Sid and Jessup.
get on with the business of rebuilding and repopulating and reducing their military and their passion for warmongering. The reunification of their broken nation. In that regard we were spectacularly successful. Make no mistake. Germany IS the EU. It is the center of the wheel around which all European economies revolve. We did that.
I don't believe the Germans dislike us. They seem more bewildered than anything by our current actions. Miffed regarding our spying on them via the NSA. Concerned that we would tap the phones of their leaders. Distrustful of the few troops who still remain here. They're not quite sure what it is that we do in the few remaining bases in their land. I don't think most American civilians know or even care why we remain here. And that is the reason that I believe we will soon be completely off of German soil. Good or bad thing. I do not know. Hell. I don't care. We'll do the same thing somewhere else just as we're doing in Iraq and trying to do in Afghanistan. War is not linear in trajectory. It is a cycle that we repeat ad nauseum. In fact; Soldiering is
Built this huge employee parking garage right over the Autobahn in Stuttgart
the world's oldest profession.
We left Garmisch last Wednesday. Cruised north past Ulm and Stuttgart till I tired and we stopped in Heidelberg. Paid $180 for a run of the mill hotel because that is what a run of the mill hotel in Germany costs now. In 2001 I paid eighty cents to buy a Euro. Today I pay nearly $1.40. Light lunch for three at a sit down restaurant runs $50. At least you don't have to tip. The Federal Reserve has printed so much money in the past seven years that, now, every western nation is giving our currency the hairy eyeball. Soldiers like my son have been so financially damaged by the exchange rates that they have little choice other than to stick to their bases where, at least, they can feed and entertain themselves. This insulates them from a German population which grows even more distrustful. It's not our kids' fault. We did that to them.
Heidelberg has been special for my family. Noah first came here with us when he was ten years-old. A beautiful University town on the Neckar River with an old, red, sandstone castle commanding the city's heights.
I used to come out on summer weekends with my buddies to enjoy the Summer fireworks displays after which we would join young German students and party in the streets till early morn. The students are gone. Forced out by Heidelberg's high rents. They live in Mannheim now and commute to class. Heidelberg oozes money everywhere you turn. On our last morning together Karen, Noah and I climbed the steep hill to the castle. From the veranda we looked west over the river. In the distance we saw new buildings and factories fanning out towards the sunset as far as the eye could see.
We did this.
Note: We're staying with a couchsurfing host family in Wiesbaden now. Wonderful folks. Markus and Isabella have two sharp daughters; Kim and Kaya. Fellow travelers all. We spent the night trading travel stories and tips. A great family to spend time and laughs with. We cannot thank them enough. And their Lasagna is to die for.
We're off to Fez, Morocco on Sunday. We're unsure of the internet there so I thought I'd get this one off before we go.
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