D.E. Larsen, DVM
In August of 1968, I became the non-commissioned officer in charge (NCOIC) of the electronic maintenance shop at a small border detachment near Schöningen, West Germany. The detachment was called Wobeck. Named after a tiny village nearby.
Wobeck was located in the middle of an ancient elm forest on a small hill overlooking the East German border. We were in the Army, but our mission was directed by the National Security Agency. Our mission was electronic eavesdropping on the East German and Russian Armies between Berlin and us.
The NCOIC position was about the only thing Army that went on in our shop. We all knew we had a job to do, and everyone worked to get things done. There wasn’t much of a need for a command structure. It was my head on the block if something went wrong or if the powers that be wanted to chew someone out. I had less than a year left in the Army, so it wasn’t a big concern for me.
The one thing it did require was a trip to our headquarters in Rothwesten every month. That was about a two-hour drive, and you had to play Army a bit while there.
I would usually make the trip as quick as possible, accomplish what needed to be done, sneak out the back gate, and head home.
The route out of the back gate was a narrow road through a hillside pasture with many twists and turns. At the bottom of the hill, you drove through the tiny village of Knickhagen. It was a slower route, but it cut out many miles to the trip back to Schöningen, and you avoided the city traffic of Kassel.
I was by myself on a trip to Rothwestin in the middle of December. I had spent a couple of hours with my boss, Sergeant Zigler, at the maintenance shop. Then, with Christmas approaching, I had a more extensive shopping list at the Px. I was ready to get back to Schöningen when it was done.
I never gave a thought to the time of the year or the recent snowfall when I made the turn to take the back road out of Rothwesten. This road was not gated, so there were no MPs to caution me. I started down the narrow road.
After a hundred yards, I realized I had made a serious error. I touched the brake. The little Volkswagen bottle skidded on the icy pavement. There was no stopping now, and there was no hope of turning around on this narrow strip of pavement.
Thankfully, I was in second gear. So down the hill, I went, gathering speed as I went. Taking turns on the icy pavement at speeds far above what we drove this road in summer weather conditions proved to be an exciting event.
Finally, I had one more sharp corner, and then I would be in the middle of the village. There is little relief in that fact. I could see a whole gaggle of village kids playing in the middle of the street. They probably had not seen a car come down this hill in weeks. I honked the horn to get their attention. Then I laid on the horn.
The kids scattered to the sides of the broad icy street. Standing there holding their sleds, watching this crazy Army guy in VW bug go screeching past them, hoping he could hit some dry pavement before he got to the main road.
As I exited the village, the ice on the pavement disappeared. I slowed the car and took a deep breath. That had been quite a ride, and it made the remainder of the trip home to Schöningen seem like a piece of cake.
Photo by Bruce Richards