When I joined the Army in Denver in 1963, our group was sent by train to Waynesville, MO via Kansas City, MO. One of the group was a Boston Irishman who had run out of money and luck in Denver, and joined the Army. Though he wouldn’t admit it, the law was probably looking for him. We became friends, and ended up serving together all through our enlistments. Since our names were close together in the alphabet, we often ended up in the same platoons. Tom was wiry, about 5’6” and 140 lbs. Played and partied way, way above his weight. I was 6’1’’, around 190 lbs. We made a Mutt and Jeff pair. Neither of us was keen on discipline and the Army way of doing things, but smart enough to fake it when we needed to blend in.
We arrived in Bremerhaven, Germany, one cold January morning. The ever efficient Army left us standing on a concrete platform for several hours. Tom and I noticed a small building across the tracks. For those old enough to remember, it was about the size of a Fotomat booth. Letters spelled out, “Trinkhalle”.
“Hey Tom” says I, “Does that took like a liquor store”?
“Yeah, it does”, he replied. “I wonder if they take American money”?
In short order we conducted a reconnaissance across the tracks and found affirmative answers to our questions. Being first, we recovered the station platform before the staff got off their asses and caught some of the slower types who followed our lead.
During the nine hour train ride to Hanau, we managed to consume all of our purchases, and arrived drunk as boiled owls. Somehow we climbed into a deuce and a half, and arrived at Pioneer Kaserne where we made the acquaintance of one SFC James J. McGarty Jr., who was not pleased to find us intoxicated (we didn’t keep enough to share with him). He immediately called over the First Sergeant.
“Hey Top”, he said. “Look at these two walking Article 15s. We have two slots for the demo school. Let’s send these two fuck ups. Maybe they will blow themselves up, and we won’t have to deal with them”.
“Good idea”, said the First Sergeant. He went on to explain, “You two look more fucked up than a Tech 5 at a Chinese reveille“, and other pleasant words of welcome.
A few hours later we were at the Hanau train station with orders, vouchers, two duffel bags apiece, steel pot, and M-14s. We were told to go to Munich, then catch a train to Oberammergau, where our school was located. Neither of us spoke a word of German. Of course, we got on the wrong train, one to Prague, but the conductors got us off before the border. With the assistance of the station master and the local police, we boarded a yellow bus operated by the German Postal Service which also provided the local “Greyhound” service. Somehow we arrived in Oberammergau, broke, hungry, and hung over. We did discover many Germans were friendly if you acted respectful, were willing to share what food and drink you had, and had friendly Irish faces.
Much to the disappointment of SFC McGarty and 1st Sgt Nelson, we completed demo school without any injuries, or running afoul of the Uniform Code of Military justice. In truth, it was as much fun as I remember from being in the service.
The area around Oberammergau is in the heart of the Bavarian Alps. You will be hard pressed to find a more stunningly scenic area in the world. Although we were officially stationed in the State of Hesse, we spent a lot of time at Bad Toltz doing donkey work for the blanket heads. Later, when we had achieved enough rank, we were able to travel there in our personal vehicle. Off duty, we explored the area, and the entertainment venues exhaustively.
Special Forces, aka blanket heads. I have the greatest respect for what they do, the level of commitment needed to be in Special Forces, and their hard training. That said, a bigger bunch of assholes I’ve seldom met. We were always happy to show our backs to them.
Perhaps they might have found our attitudes annoying. Oh well. can’t imagine why.
Since they were all E-5 or above, that always brought on the drama.
Good thing Tom and I were engineers. Their core value was, one, hard work and, two, you could be relied on to do an assigned job. The rest just wasn’t that important, except to new 2nd Lts.