After a few months in Belgium, enjoying the wonderful pastries, milk, butter, vegetables, fresh fruits, it was time to depart. We were now going to enter into the Occupation Force of Germany. It was necessary to move our base from St. Trond, Belgium, to a new base south of Augsburg, Germany, known as Lager Lechfeld.
In order to get to Lechfeld, it was necessary to move by air and by ground transport. For some reason that I have never figured out, I was appointed the convoy commander of a fifty- two, truck convoy from St. Trond to this new base in Germany. I had a driver and I sat in the right front seat of the jeep, leading this fifty-two, truck convoy. I knew as much about convoy commanding and running a convoy, as my cats know about trigonometry. I was a First Lieutenant and my name began with “B”, so there must not have been any A’s and I was appointed. The day dawned that we started our movement toward Germany. We left St. Trond traveling east and got into Germany at the city of Aachen.
When we entered Aachen, there were very few buildings standing. It was very, very badly destroyed and stunk to high heavens! When we were going through the city, I noted a bulldozer had cut the streets. It had gone down the street, throwing the debris up on either side. There was no attempt in any way to make things better, other than to cut a street. As we would proceed down the street, on either side I could see flowers and wreaths laid on top of the rubble. This indicated to me that there were dead people underneath all that rubble, explaining the powerful stench. Going on further, it started to rain. Naturally!
When we arrived in Cologne, it was late afternoon, almost sundown, and getting dark. Again, with the moisture and the burnt smell and the death smell, it was almost sickening to travel through Cologne. We went down to the river to see if we could get across and get out of the city. However, tanks were coming back from Germany, crossing the only pontoon bridge that existed across the Rhine. The rest of the bridges over the Rhine were blown up and had fallen into the river. Not being able to cross the Rhine, I came back and found a huge field where I could park my fifty-two trucks. Most of the men had to sleep in their trucks that night. There were no accommodations for us in any form.
Shortly after dark, one of my men came to me and said, “Lieutenant, I found a barbershop. If you need a haircut or a shave, there’s a barbershop right over here.” He pointed it out to me and, in fact, he took me there. Now picture this, we’re in this terribly bombed city. Here I am, an Air Corps officer with wings, with an 8th Air Force patch on my shoulder, and I’m walking into this German barbershop. Well, I didn’t speak any German, or not very much German. There were several people ahead of me, but finally my turn came. I got into this chair and this German barber looked at me, just about as cold you could imagine. He lathered up my face; then he took his straight razor and stropped it, but instead of starting to shave my face, he put that blade on my neck. I thought, “O my God, he’s gonna cut my throat!” But, he didn’t. He gave me a good shave and a haircut. There was hardly a word spoken, but I had some real misgivings there for a while when he was shaving my neck!
Continuing on, we stopped for an overnight stay at Stuttgart. In Stuttgart, I was supposed to have quarters for my drivers and crews. When I contacted my American authorities about the pre-arranged accommodations; they said there weren’t any! I was irritated because I had a whole group of men that had to have some place to sleep. They had been sleeping in their trucks, as it was.
Believe it or not, they had accommodations for my driver and me. It was in probably the best (only?) hotel in Stuttgart, the Graf Zeppelin Hotel. I went out and told my drivers, “Anyplace you can find to bed down, do it. I don’t care, and I’ll see you here in the morning at 8:00 o’clock.” Then I went on to the hotel. The Graf Zeppelin Hotel was unique. It was the first time in my life I saw a sunken, purple bathtub. I mean, this hotel was fine. It was great. Everything around it was blown down and destroyed. I spent a very wonderful night in the Graf Zeppelin Hotel in Stuttgart. The food was excellent and no charge!
The rest of the trip to Lager Lechfeld was rather normal and uninteresting. We went through some beautiful country and finally arrived at Lager Lechfeld. The history of Lager Lechfeld is that in 955 A. D., Otto I defeated the Magyars at the Battle of Lechfeld. The Magyars turned back east and formed the country of Hungary. It seems that the defeat of the Magyars assured the continuation of Christianity in that part of the world to the present time. It was one of the most influential battles of Western civilization. The air- field itself had been an experimental fighter base. The Messerschmitt 262; the twin jet fighter plane, had been developed, tested or modified at this field. All over the field were Messerschmitt 262's. They were damaged and not flyable. In fact, they had been stripped of all instruments. I was always afraid to get into one. I was afraid it might be booby- trapped and I’d touch something and the whole damned thing would blow up. I left them alone. I wanted to come home safe, if I could.
On one part of the field, there was a community of Russians who had been brought back by the Germans. When the Germans were defeated, they were stuck there. The Germans had deserted buildings around this airfield, and these Russian refugees had moved in and taken up residence. For another reason that I never could understand, I was frequently appointed as the Officer of the Day, or the Provost Marshal, or Officer of the Guard, or whatever you want to call it, in charge of the policing of the entire base. I had several big military policemen that always accompanied me. Every once in a while, these Russians (and there was even some Yugoslavs in there, too) would have parties. Somewhere they’d get a barrel of beer, and they’d have a party. I would have to go to the party because we didn’t want anybody getting killed. I would just go and look around. They got to know us. We were comfortable with them and they were comfortable with us. I liked to listen to the music. After they’d have a dance, one fellow (or girl) would get up with a mandolin or guitar and sing this heart-wrenching, sad, sad, mournful song. There was a young girl at this party who could speak English. I turned to her and I asked, “Why is it all of your songs are so sad?” She said, “They’re not sad. That’s just the way we are.” Well, ok.
On another part of the field we had an enclosed compound that held several hundred German prisoners of war. The guards were Yugoslavs. I don’t think the guards were doing too good a job, because I think most of the Germans that wanted to get out, got out and left. We didn’t go looking for them!
I’m going to tell you this episode. I started not to, because it’s so embarrassing to me and made me look so foolish. I’d rather forget it, but I think I should tell it because it’s true. We lived in buildings on this German air- field that had been built for the Luftwaffe crews and pilots. We had women, from the neighboring villages who were employed to keep the place clean, make up the beds and clean out the bath tubs and things of that kind. But, we found that a lot of personal things were beginning to disappear. Nothing really valuable, but clothing and cushions and shoes. All kinds of toilet articles. I was at the Officer’s Club one evening and the commanding officer of the field was present. We were having a drink and the following conversation took place: “Colonel, there’s something strange happening over in my building and other buildings, too. There’s an awful lot of our belongings getting stolen.” And he said, “Well, do you know who’s doing it?” And I said, “Yes Sir, it’s these women that work in the building.” And he said, “Well, do you know where they live?” And I said, “Yes Sir, I have a pretty good idea. I know where they are.” And he says, “Well, why don’t you pull a raid and get your property back? If you find who’s responsible, we’ll take care of that.” “ Thank you Colonel “ The next time I was Officer of the Day, I got my group together and briefed them for a raid on the house where these people were living. I equipped my men with machine guns and combat gear. Bright and early one morning, with twenty soldiers, we went and surrounded this building. With two of my great big MP’s, I went and forced the front door open and we entered the house. I told everybody to “stop” “halt”. We had come into the kitchen and here, around a breakfast table, were three or four babies sitting in high chairs eating oatmeal! The two adults sitting at the table (Grandmother-Granddaddy?) were all OLD PEOPLE! They looked at us like we’d just dropped in from outer space. We told them why we were there and they said to help ourselves! We looked around and didn’t find a damned thing. I never will forget the look on those babies’ faces, eating oatmeal, when we stormed in there with machine guns. You’d have thought we were going to attack a whole army. I believe that’s one of the most embarrassing moments I ever had in my life. I never had another raid, ever!
Having the police patrols on the base, I got to know a lot of the local Germans that had been hired to work on the base. One of the persons was a young girl in her mid-twenties. She spoke relatively good English. We got to know each other so well that she invited me to her home, which was near the airfield. It was very easy to get to, but I never went by myself. I took one or two other flyboys with me. Because I was an officer, I could go to the Officers Club and get gin and wine and cognac. I would take beverages to the girl’s house. After a while, the family warmed up to me, and I was almost accepted as a member of the family. In fact, we were so “adopted” that they’d pull out their German phonograph records of military marching songs. After several drinks, we would march around the room and sing-in German!
One night, there was a young man, present that I’d never seen before. After a couple of drinks, we all got pretty talkative. He understood English pretty well. This young man finally says, “ I want to tell you that I was in the Luftwaftfe.” He knew that we were in the 8th Air Force and were all flyers. He said, “I bombed London.” And I said, “Well, I bombed Berlin.” We had a good time. He told me all about the raid to London. I told him all about my two raids to Berlin. It was like two old friends sitting down telling about a hunting or fishing trip. We got along famously. I really treasured the relationship that I had with this family. It was nice and friendly, like a family get- together every time we went there. There was no hatred between us. We respected them and they respected us. We had a very good time. It was educational for me to see these people and to know them. They weren’t much different than we were, if at all.
As you go south from Lechfeld into southern Bavaria, you first come to a city called Landsberg. This was the city where Hitler was imprisoned and wrote “Mein Kampf”. Continuing on down the road, you come to the famous cities of Garmisch- Partenkirchen, scene of the 1936 Winter Olympics. They had this wonderful ski area and two skating rinks for figure skating and hockey. The Army commissioned a hotel for officers. Again this was all free. I went there several times and enjoyed some winter sports. I never did learn to ski. Funny, but when we were on the ski slopes, our instructor was a former German fighter pilot. He got pleasure in seeing us almost break our legs trying to learn to ski! I never did get beyond the beginner’s slope. But, since I had learned to ice skate in Labrador, I enjoyed the ice skating rinks. Of course, the food was good.
There’s one thing that I wish I had done that I didn’t do. At the time I was in Garmisch- Partenkirchen, the German composer Richard Strauss was in residence. I knew where he lived. I thought what I would do was get a good bottle of wine at the officer’s club in the hotel, go over and knock on his door and pay my respects. But, I got cold feet. I decided that he didn’t want to see me. I’m an Allied Officer, and maybe he would resent me even coming to his home, maybe even refuse to see me, which would be embarrassing. I didn’t want to upset him or embarrass him in any way, so I didn’t do it. But, I’ve always regretted that I didn’t try. It might have ended in a different story.