I Was Just Thinking - Soviets tried, but failed, to stop brotherly reunion

Bill Haglund - Bhaglund13@msn.com

Growing up in a small town meant accepting people as they were.

Circles of peers were small, consequently friends were made because they happened to be your same age, even though likes and dislikes were far apart and would become even more apparent with age.

That was one of the reasons, not the only one for sure, that my brother, Roger, and I grew up pretty close. He was 30 months younger than I, but we shared similar interests and were close enough in age that we “hung out” regularly. He was always there when I needed a friend and, I hope, I was there when he needed one, too.

Once I’d left home for college and immediately afterward moved away from home for my first real job, we weren’t together as much as before. When the Army called, I left Iowa. Soon after that, my brother enlisted in the Navy.

By late 1966, I found myself stationed in Germany and by the summer of 1967, I’d pretty much settled into a routine, met some new friends and accepted the fact that I’d never again see most of my childhood friends, who’d also moved along by that time. By the time spring was breaking in 1967, I learned that my brother’s Naval fleet would be heading to the Mediterranean Sea for some maneuvers and training exercises.

We made plans to meet. He would take a few days’ leave, fly to Nuremberg and we’d again be able to spend some time together.

However, those plans were nearly derailed.

Russia has been in the news quite a lot lately and it appears that Russia will remain in the news for quite some time. In 1967, of course, it wasn’t Russia but the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), more commonly referred to as the Soviet Union, that was frequently in the news. Folks old enough to remember will recall that 1967 was right in the middle of the “Cold War” between the United States and the Soviet Union.

The Soviet Union, naturally, had a Navy, but that fleet had not been improved to a point that it could meddle, effectively at least, with the United States fleet. By 1967, however, the Soviets had improved their fleet to include submarines, destroyers and supply vessels. In June, Soviet leaders decided to create a Mediterranean fleet.

It just so happened that my brother was stationed on a ship in the U.S. Navy’s Sixth Fleet, headed to the Mediterranean just about the same time the Soviets decided they’d launch their own fleet into the sea. It created a standoff between the United States and Soviets that interfered with the planned reunion with my brother.

Consequently, all leaves and passes were put on hold and my brother remained on ship while the two navies faced off with one another. It was a tense situation, at least for a few days. Finally, though, tensions eased, the standoff ended, and the Navy once again allowed sailors from the Sixth Fleet to spend some time ashore in Italy. My brother asked for, and was granted, permission to fly to Nuremberg for three days.

It was grand to again spend precious time with my brother. He flew into Nuremberg on a weekday afternoon. My Army friend, John, and I organized a quick get-together with some of our German friends one evening and the rest of the time, Roger and I walked around my Army base and talked of our time growing up in a small Iowa town.

We recalled our lives on a farm north of Alleman when we used a small pasture as a baseball diamond and had daily games, using several hard rubber baseballs and a single bat (anything on the ground or foul was an out, over the fence but not over the road was a double, into the opposite ditch was a triple and over the road and the neighbor’s fence was a home run). We talked about the times we’d “sneak” a cigarette and hide packs in various safe places around the farm, we talked about our plans, girls, friends and everything else brothers talk about.

The time went far too quickly. After a couple precious days, it was time for him to return to his fleet in the Mediterranean. But, there was a problem. He’d flown in wearing his Naval uniform. He would take a train back and that train passed though Switzerland, which was a neutral country. He wouldn’t be allowed to travel through that country in a military uniform.

Fortunately, I had an extra set of clothing (oh, boy, in later years I wouldn’t have had anything to fit his 300-pound-plus frame) and we said our goodbyes at the main train station in Nuremberg.

It was wonderful to spend time with my younger brother, especially when we were in different branches of the military. It was only by happenstance he ended up in my proximity in 1967. It seems a long time ago, but not nearly the half decade it’s been.

After both of us left the military, we still got together with family on pretty regular occasions. My daughter was born two months before his first son. His second son was born five months before my own son. My brother was only 54 when he died of heart failure in 2000, the same year I had by-pass heart surgery that has kept me kickin’ for all these years.

I always remember my brother, especially during this month, and recall those wonderful few moments we spent together in what was then West Germany as young servicemen. It’s easy to remember those days: I never did get the clothes back that he wore when he left.