During the Korean War, my outfit, the 471st Quartermaster Salvage Co., had been in Germany more than a year. Many of us had taken the opportunity to visit the surrounding cities and towns. Gradually, we were becoming accustomed to the German society, or better yet, we were blending in. Life was becoming normal in our different world.
My company had just returned from six cold, rainy weeks on maneuvers. Returning to the post meant hot meals every day. In the field, we only received one hot meal a week. It was there that I picked up an impolite habit of eating as fast as possible before my food became cold.
If someone had told me about my up-and-coming duty, I would not have believed them. The CO (company commander) called me into his office one day and ordered me to carry out an unusual task. It actually was closer to civic duty.
As he explained it, I was to report to the steward, a master sergeant, at the EMC (enlisted man’s club) to serve as the assistant steward. I hardly knew what the word meant. I didn’t know beans about such duty. What was I to do? What would be my responsibility? Talking about unchartered territories, this was certainly one of them. Of the thousands of GIs on the post, why was I singled out for such duty?
But then, orders were orders. The only background experience I had that possibly came close to such duty was that I was once a part-time shoe salesman on the weekends during high school.
The EMC was a place where GIs went for entertainment, getting drunk and just whooping it up. Now and then, they would get out of order and begin ripping the place apart. Of course, we had MPs (military police) on duty at all times.
One of my duties was to supervise the German waiters. Most of them could speak good English, and some of them had served in the German army. Most of the entertainment was by German artists, and they were quite good, too.
Falling out for reveille every morning at 5:30, answering to roll call was a thing of the past — no more of that. The steward and I slept late every morning, having our breakfast served by German employees, getting up about noon, working out details of what entertainment should be for the weekend. What duty, what a life. It’s nearly unthinkable that such duty could happen in the U.S. Army, but it all came my way, and I soaked up every moment of it.
There was one primary duty the steward and I had: going into Stuttgart every month to buy whiskey. We had to maintain the whiskey shelves. There were several aisles of shelves that contained every type of alcohol in the world. Each bank of shelves was about 10 feet high. There were more types and brands of alcohol than you possibly could find in any ABC store in the States.
However, it was not all duty in Utopia.
Danger and risk lurked the moment we opened up at 5 p.m. every day and closing at midnight. One evening, the Steward and I were moving about the club, monitoring the activity. We had a full house that evening; it seemed like every GI on the post was there whooping it up. One night, I caught a couple of GIs trying to sneak out a rear door with a pitcher of beer. The pitcher was so big, they couldn’t hide it under their blouse. I tried to stop them; they were halfway out the door. A hand reached over and tried to pull me outside with them. I could have been roughed-up … over a pitcher of beer? It wasn’t worth it; I managed to pull loose and get back inside. That incident was a usual occurrence that came with the duty.
But still, even on my new assignment, I valued my three-day passes. However, it was different than usual. All I had to do was tell the steward, when things were slow, that I’d like to go into town and knock around.
There is a city near the post, Idar Oberstein. There is a cliff, more than 200 feet high straight up, overlooking the city. About halfway up the cliff, on a ledge, is a church built into the cliff. At the top of the cliff are the ruins of a castle.
The church was built during the 14th century. At the time, it still was active. As I recall, it is of the Protestant faith. There is a legend that surrounds the building of the church. As it was told to me, there were two lovers who lived in the castle. They were persecuted so much that one was thrown over the cliff. Where her body landed marks the place where the church was built.
I visited the church. On one side is the bare wall of the cliff where two protruding sculptures are carved into the rock; one is of a knight in his armor and the other is his lady.
Time moved so fast, it was like being on a vacation. There were so many places to see, so many people to meet, so many opportunities to know the German people. I regret one thing: not learning the language enough to know the German people. I had a strong urge to spend a weekend with a German family. There was just not enough time left.
Then, that day finally came when the steward walked into my room and read the orders of the day. I was to report back to my company. Receiving such orders meant that I was to leave my utopia forever and again face the grind of company duty and maneuvers.
However, this time, that was not the case. At reveille, the first sergeant read off a shipping roster of names of those who were ordered to prepare to ship out. My name was on that list. Instead of being on that feared shipping roster for duty in Korea, we were ordered to return to Fort George G. Mead, Md. to be discharged.
You never know what’s ahead of you until you get there. I’ve been there, and so at the Port of Embarkation in Bremerhaven, marked the end of a different world.
Bond lives in Richmond Hill.