D. E. Larsen, DVM
The train lurched to a stop. Then, with a couple of jerks, it started backing up. I rubbed my eyes as I woke from a sound sleep. Straightening my uniform, I peered out the window. It was dark outside be we were backing into the lighted station at Kassel, West Germany. I remained seated until the train came to a complete stop. It was a jarring stop, and I was glad I was not standing.
The night air of early December in Northern Germany had a bite to it. I wished that I had not shipped my trench coat in my trunk. I could see my breath as I walked toward the main station. Hopefully, there will be a currier meeting this train, I thought. But when I reached the central platform, there was no evidence of any army guys. I stood and looked around, wondering what my next step would be. I knew not one word of German but figured I could at least get a cab that would know the way to Rothwesten.
I must have looked a little lost. A well-dressed older gentleman stopped before me as he was heading to the train. Pointing to the far corner of the platform, in perfect English, he says, “Most of the GIs read the information on the bulletin board over there in the corner.”
There was not a lot of information on the board. Basically, it said if a courier was going to be at the train, they would meet you here. Not seeing one, your best option would be to catch a cab. You could call the base for a ride, but that may take some time. I stepped outside and walked down to a short line of cabs. The driver quickly loaded my bags into the trunk. Getting in, I realized I only had dollars, no Deutsch Marks.
I asked, “Do you take dollars?”
“Rothwesten?” He asked, “Ten dollar.”
I handed him 15 dollars, and he was happy. Off we went.
The cab did a quick u-turn at the main gate and stopped. The driver jumped out and had my bags on the ground before I got to the rear of the car. He stood there briefly. I was not sure if he had forgotten the extra five dollars I gave at the start.
I stepped up to the MP booth and handed my orders to the guy on duty.
“ASA Company A is about a mile down this road and a couple of blocks to the right,” he said, pointing in the direction of the road.
I took a deep breath, picked up my bags, and started toward the road.
“Wait a minute,” the MP shouted, “We will run you down there.”
I was relieved as I threw my bags into the back of the jeep and jumped into the front seat. The streets were empty, and the guy drove too fast to suit me. He would give a GI a ticket for this kind of speed.
Rothwesten was an old German Army Air Force base. About 5 miles out of Kassel on a high hill. The buildings were arranged in long rows around the edge of the hill. The buildings were long, 3 stories high, and made of stone. The old landing strips were now filled with antennas at the top of the hill. The operations building was also on the old airstrip.
Rothwesten was on top of this hill on the southeastern side of Kassel. It was apparently disguised well enough that it avoided being bombed during the war. The city of Kassel was heavily bombed. Early in the war, mainly at the request of the citizens, they had shot some 137 British POWs. There was a saying within the bomber crews when they started bombing Berlin, “Save a bomb for Kassel.” Most of the planes, virtually all British planes, would drop any bombs they had left when they passed back over Kassel.
The young MP pulled up in front of Company A barracks. “This is it,” he says, pointing to the main door of the large building. “The mess hall is in the next building there. It is probably too late to get anything to eat. They hire Germans to run the place, and they don’t cater to us GIs.”
I took my bags, thanked the MP and walked up the steps, and pushed through the door into a chaotic orderly room. There were at least a dozen guys doing anything but something official. Finally, the CQ noticed me standing at the counter, and I handed him a copy of my orders.
“I will put these on the First Sergeant’s desk,” he said. “He won’t be in until Monday. In the meantime, you can find a bunk in the maintenance section on the second floor, at the very far end of the hall,” he said, pointing in the direction I was to go.
Almost home, I thought, as I climbed the stairs and started down the hall. Halfway down the long hallway, around the corner, walks Bill Smouse. Bill and I were close friends at Fort Devens. He was dressed to go out on the town.
“Aw, who is this but Dave Larsen!” Bill says with an outstretched hand. “Let’s stow your bags, change your clothes, and go downtown to celebrate your arrival.”
Bill leads me down the hall to the last room. “I’m sorry that you have to take this bunk, your roommate is the biggest jerk in the shop, but this is the only bunk. You change out of that uniform, and I will run down to supply to grab your bedding.”
It felt good to get out of my Class As. I was just pulling on my shoes when Bill returned with my bedding. My bags and bedding were neatly stacked on the bed. It would have been a good idea to make the bed because I might not be in very good shape later tonight. But Bill was anxious to go, so off we went.
Bill had an old VW bug. It didn’t look like much, but it ran. We hit a small Gasthaus that the maintenance shop frequented. My first German beer impressed me, especially the liter mug they used to serve it. I was introduced to more people than I could possibly keep track of, and Bill was trying to make up with his girlfriend in the middle of the celebration.
Later we went to a large bar in downtown Kassel. The main memory I have of that place was the restroom. The urinal was a tiled wall with a drain on the floor. You just stood up to the wall and made sure your toes were out of the way.
Friday night, we slept downtown at an apartment of a married couple Bill knew. The husband also worked in the maintenance shop. No spare bedrooms, we spelt on the floor.
Bill was a guy who drank pretty heavy, we probably all drank more than we should, but Bill always seemed to overdo it. We woke early before anyone was up. Bill got up and pulled a bottle of cognac off the shelf. He poured a large glass and offered me a glass. Way too early for me.
We said thanks for the floor and made some small talk when the couple finally got up.
“I wonder if we could borrow your floor again tonight?” Bill asked. It sort of depends on how things go during the day.”
“You’re always welcome here, Bill,” the guy’s wife said. “As long as you replace that cognac bottle.”
We headed back to the small Gasthaus for breakfast. German breakfast was not much, a small piece of sausage, an egg, and a hunk of bread. The coffee was excellent but strong, and it was definitely stronger than the coffee I was used to drinking.
We spent most of the day at the Gasthaus. The girls started filtering in well before noon. Bill was well known, and I was sort of a novelty.
Bill drank the whole day, and I stayed with coffee until evening. I was not sure how he would drive up the hill to Rothwesten, and we would probably end up on the floor again.
Most of the girls were at least somewhat linked to various GIs. They all look pretty good, and with little effort, I thought I could fit in somewhere.
When we finally got back to base on Sunday morning, there was quite a stir in the orderly room. They were making a big deal about my absence. Nobody knew what had become of me. Was I was lost or injured. All they knew was my stuff was untouched on the bunk upstairs. Apparently, my roommate was the source of the concern. Up at the room, he was really worked up.
“The First Sergeant will have your ass in the morning,” he said.
Bill was correct about this guy. He was quick to tell me that he was the best man in the shop. Then he filled me in on the organization of the maintenance department. Since my clearance papers were still in transit and the barracks were no place to discuss classified information, he was the one who should be in front of the First Sergeant.
When I got back from breakfast on Monday morning, there was a note that the First Sergeant wanted to see me ASAP.
Sergeant Ziggler was a short, heavy-set man who reminded me of Sergeant Scagliotti at Fort Devens. He mainly seemed bothered that he had to deal with petty concerns on Monday morning.
“Smouse and I are old friends from Fort Devens,” I explained. “We never thought there would be a problem with me going out. If you did your job in Korea, you were free to go without worrying about a pass.”
“Well, things are a little different here,” Sergent Ziggler said. “But I can let it slide under the circumstances. Your personnel file preceded you, and you are highly recommended. You just need to play the game a little here”.
“What about my clearance papers?” I asked.
“They usually follow a day or two. They come under separate cover. I will let you know when they come. In the meantime, coming from Korea, you can Dx your uniform. So that is something you can do today. Turn in anything you want, your entire uniform if you want.”
“What are my chances of getting a jeep to run down to supply to pick up the stuff I had shipped. I shipped a trunk and my duffle bag,” I asked.
“You don’t ask for much, do you,” he said. “I bring you down here to chew your ass, and you end up driving off in my jeep,” he said as he handed me the keys. “Do you know where you are going?”
“I have no idea.”
“When you get your supply papers, stop by here, and I will send one of these clerks with you. Then you can use the jeep to Dx your stuff. Just have it back here before noon.”
Turned out to be a good Monday. I think I will like Sergeant Z as he was called.
Photo by Uriel Castellanos on Pexels.