Events of August 20 – 23, 1968: From the Archives; it has happened before!

D. E. Larsen, DVM

August 20th was an unusually warm day for Northern West Germany. Our operations building and the attached maintenance shop had our small air conditioners running full blast. They were only needed on rare occasions here. Still, some of the equipment was temperature-sensitive, and on these rare hot days we needed some air conditioning. I had just assumed the position of NCOIC (Non-Commissioned Officer In Charge) of the maintenance section at Wobeck, a small Army Security Agency outpost for monitoring the East German and Russian Armies. Wobeck, situated on the East German border, was considered the best “ears” in Europe. Wobeck was located in an isolated clearing in the ancient Elm forest on a hill outside Schöningen, West Germany.

The day had been an uneventful Tuesday. Everyone on the day shift was dreading leaving for the day because there was no air conditioning in Schöningen. As we were getting ready to leave, Jim said he thought we should go to Braunschweig for dinner and some beer. I didn’t require any arm twisting. Braunschweig was the nearest large town to us. Maybe 25 miles south and west. We visited reasonably often.

Our first stop was a large Chinese restaurant in the center of town. Not only a good restaurant but one with air conditioning. After dinner, we took a brief stroll down the nearby Strass. The Strass, a gated street lined with old apartment-like buildings on each side, where girls of the trade could peddle their virtues in a controlled environment, behind display windows, in all states of dress and undress. It was pure old fashioned prostitution and didn’t interest me a great deal. But window shopping was fun and killed some time.

Then we visited a popular little bar down the street. The bartenders were a set of twin girls from Norway.  These two girls were lots of fun and sought after by more than a couple of GIs. Both girls were blond with short hair and very petite. They probably would have to stretch with their heels off the floor to be called five feet. Paola was thin and spoke the best English. Pina was just a little plump.

Pina spotted as we were picking a table. She brought us a couple of beers.  We watched the crowd thin out as we drank the stout German beer. It wasn’t long before I saw Pina throw her apron into the hamper behind the bar, Paola followed. They were quite the matched pair, short, blond with pixie style haircuts, they were wearing matching light green dresses. Their aprons had obscured just how short their dresses were.

We sat and talked for a time. Pina was trying to tell me something.

“Pina is trying to tell you that we are planning to go home to Norway for 2 weeks over Christmas.”, Paola said. “She thinks it would be an excellent trip for you. You could meet our family and see your home country.”

“I’ll have to see if I can work that out,” I replied.

On the drive back to Schöningen, Jim made a lot of small talk.  As usual, I was mostly quiet. Finally, out of the blue, Jim says, “That trip thing is sort of scary.”

“Damn scary to me,” I replied.

It was getting close to 3:00 AM when I finally crawled into bed. I looked at the clock and told myself 7:30. The entire time in the Army, I never used an alarm clock. I could say to myself what time to wake up, and I would bound out of bed within a minute or two of that time. I had learned that I could pull a 24-hour shift with 5 hours of sleep. Tonight should be 4 and a half hours, tomorrow should be an easy day, I will be fine.

Bam, Bam, Bam! Somebody is at the door, I thought. I looked at the clock It was 4:30.

  “What?” I yelled.

“This is Marsden, we need you on-site, stat!  All hell is breaking loose,” he said.

Marsden was my right hand in the shop. He had asked to work at night just last week. Marsden was very involved with a local girl and was trying to match her schedule a little better. He didn’t get along with people well and thought he could work better at night. Marsden had thinning red hair and an average build. His uniform was always just a little sloppy, just his way of letting everyone know he would do his job, but he would not play Army games. From Ohio, we often argued over how he considered Ohio as being the “West.”

I got up, pulled on a pair of pants, and opened the door.  

“Things are really going crazy at the site, Russia has just invaded Czechoslovakia,” Marsden said in a hushed voice. He seemed short of breath. “It looks like we will be sending about half the site down to the Czech border. We have about 3 weeks of work to do in the next few hours, and everyone is yelling at me over the phone. I need you to handle things.”

“I’ll be ready in a couple of minutes,” I said as I started pulling on my combat boots.

“I will get Jim up and meet you up at the site,” Marsden said as he started to leave. 

“Let him sleep,” I said. Someone is going to need to be awake tonight.”

I was not the only one headed to the site early. There was a small caravan of cars headed into The Elm at a few minutes before 5:00 AM. There was an extra MP at the guard shack, and they had my badge ready when I finally got up to the gate. I had trouble finding a parking spot, it seemed like everybody was on site.

 When I stepped through the door, the whole place was in chaos. The First Sergeant walked passed in a rapid stride. He tapped me on my chest and said, “In my office now! I have your list!” He said. “Or book,” he added with a smile.

And a book it was, Marsden was correct, 3 weeks work, and we had only hours. This was going to be fun. The top of the list was the MLQ-24. This was a mobile radar intercept and electronic intelligence unit. The only problem was it has been on blocks and connected to our antenna tower antennas for at least 5 years. Now we had to reconnect the mobile antennas, and make sure the cabin was watertight when the holes were patched from the tower antenna cables. I doubt that the motor pool has kept up with the maintenance schedule on the truck. And the tires have not touched the ground in years.

Ron, our motor pool guy, came through the shop door about then. A tall thin kid from Arkansas with dark hair and dark eyes. You couldn’t see his complexion because he was always covered with grease, oil, and a light coating of dust. 

“We need the MLQ-24 truck on the ground and ready to run the Czech border by the end of the day”, I stated flatly. “Do you think the tires are okay?”

“They changed the tires last year. The rest of it should be in pretty good shape. You get it unhooked, and I will have it ready to go before dark.” 

We had guys working on the tower cables and on the installation of replacement stations in operations. That equipment had not been used in a couple of years.  Most of the crew were coming through the door.

“We have some busy hours ahead of us, Jim is sleeping in this morning so he can be the sharp one at the end of the stretch. He is not going to miss out on any of the workloads,” I explained. “As of right now, nobody leaves the site until this tick sheet is complete. We are sending a lot of this site to the Czech border, and 3 guys from this shop go with it. Maybe for 3 weeks, maybe for the rest of your tour.”

We had a good group of guys, and we completed the task within the allotted time. When our convoy drove out of the gate, most of us started melting. I had been on-site for many hours on less than 2 hours sleep. Marsden had worked the night before the this stretch. Jim fared well and handled most of the administration details at the end when my eyes would hardly focus.

As our contribution for the 3 guys from the shop, I was able to get the home base to accept Geib, assigned temporarily to Wobeck, Blackwell, the motor pool guy whose time was nearly up, and a new guy, who had not arrived yet.

That left most of the crew relieved that their lives were not going to be disrupted. All I could think about was sleep, my concerns over the Christmas trip were a distant memory at this point.

Wobeck antennas, late 1960’s 

Wobeck site, 1980’s. 

Published by d.e.larsen.dvm

Country vet for over 40 years in Sweet Home Oregon. I graduated from Colorado State University in 1975. I practiced in Enumclaw Washington for a year and a half before moving to Sweet Home to start a practice.

3 thoughts on “Events of August 20 – 23, 1968: From the Archives; it has happened before!

    1. Our youngest daughter was born in the middle of August (actually, on my mother’s birthday). Sandy, in an advanced pregnancy, suffered in the August heat.

      Liked by 2 people

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