I’d been handed my orders just before the obligatory two-weeks’ leave that sent me home for Thanksgiving, the last time I’d see my family for quite some time.
Heidelberg, Germany – that’s what my orders read. Although those pieces of paper have long since disappeared, I remember the orders like yesterday, not the half century ago when they were handed to me. Just a few days into December, I’d reported to Fort Dix, New Jersey, where I’d await a flight to what was then West Germany. My name had already been called once, but I missed that flight because I’d been away from the base one evening. I dared not miss another call.
Finally, after a week at Fort Dix, my name was called, I boarded an Air Force jetliner and embarked on the eight-hour flight that carried me to Frankfurt, West Germany.
Upon the jet’s arrival, I dutifully showed my orders to whomever it was who checked those things. But, I quickly learned, all was not as it seemed. The spot I was to fill in Heidelberg had been filled and I received new orders that had me headed off to a tiny place south of Stuttgart called Goppingen. Several others were also headed there and I quickly settled onto a German train for a journey that would take several hours, mostly spent sleeping – no time to make new friends.
Three days of orientation (do this, don’t do that, always be prepared for this, do not frequent places that were “off limits” for any reason) followed before I finally was told that my destination would be Furth, a suburb of Nuremberg, a sub-division headquarters for the Fourth Armored Division. You see, Goppingen was the division headquarters, but the Fourth Armored Division stretched far away to the North and Northeast along the Czechoslovakian and East German borders. The division was too large, geographically, to have a single division headquarters located at one end of the division.
I soon learned that I’d be part of the sub-division headquarters at a place called Moneith Barracks. I’d be in the Public Information Office, in a small group that also included sub-division headquarters for Finance and Judge Advocate.
What it really meant was that I was part of an “outcast” group of soldiers who didn’t fit with any regular units in the division. We had no regular Mess Hall, which meant we weren’t well received at the Mess to which we were attached since we did not contribute monetarily to the hiring of civilian workers who performed the normal “KP” duties (as such, we often had our food thrown at us rather than put on our trays; we became quite accustomed to eating at the Post Exchange rather than to endure such treatment at an Army Mess Hall).
Of course, those were lessons I’d quickly learn upon arrival at Monteith Barracks. I’d boarded an Army bus, loaded with other soldiers headed to their permanent duty stations. At each post along the route, a few soldiers departed. By the time the bus had reached my destination, after about six hours along narrow roadways, I was ready to depart.
Awaiting my arrival was a group of five or six other soldiers, a group I thought looked like a bunch of misfits.
I’m sure, when I got off the bus with a duffel bag filled with all my worldly possessions, they thought of me in the same way.
It took a while to get to know them and for them to get to know me.
For the next 16 months of my life, though, this small group of soldiers would be my constant work companions. I grew to respect every one of them; I ached when they ached and laughed when they laughed.
Together, we put together the Fourth Armored Division “Rolling Review,” a newspaper published every two weeks around the year. I served as sports editor and my friend, John Moon, was editor. The staff included men named Ben Doddema, Doug Nesbitt, Gardner Dozois and Rick Staubach (yes, a second cousin of quarterback Roger Staubach), with a couple of photographers who came and went through our several months together.
I remember them all, each for different reasons. We were, after all, a family of sorts. We had our disagreements, naturally. But we shared a bigger bond and because closer as time passed. We survived a couple of sergeants who came and went, each of whom was going to whip us into Army shape before finally giving up. We survived the addition of a second lieutenant, who was going to change the entire structure of our unit but never managed to change us even one little bit.
We knew it was us, our small group, who got the job done. We didn’t need any help from anyone who out-ranked us.
And, really, who could argue with success? We regularly earned recognition for having one of the Army’s best newspapers, at least where Europe was concerned. I think of those guys regularly and imagine what their lives have been over the past half-century.