To say I found daily life in the real army back in Butzbach real boring would be like saying politicians don’t lie. I found my expulsion from Koblenz as painful as a root canal. However, I had no choice but to soldier on!
Garrison life in armies, from before Hannibal through Ike, is by definition boring. After all, it’s a waiting game … and during the Cold War you were waiting for work, which meant you were waiting for war, which your garrison’s presence (in theory) was meant to deter, which, when logically considered, meant waiting was your job and that your boredom was saving us all from catastrophic war!
A sound strategy, but not without its challenges, especially for those supervising the thousands of troops drilling, milling around and waiting! Consequently the sergeants and officers of the 16th Signal Battalion would devise training activities for readiness, creating a routine that was both monotonous and uninspired, and usually nonsensical … thus affirming the old motto, “there’s the right way, the wrong way and the army way.”
Naturally it didn’t take long for us troops to catch-on to the futility of this make-work nonsense, and to concoct measures to counter it. Upon my arrival several of my comrades cautioned me to always carry a tool around … any tool, it didn’t matter because if you had a tool in your hand your superiors couldn’t discipline you for doing nothing, which, of course, was exactly what you were doing. But no matter, the tool represented something!
The city of Butzbach itself was a pleasant town filled with timber-framed homes, small shops and bars stuffed with bored, hormone-crazed GIs. I visited a few of these bars once or twice, but had no interest in hanging out with a bunch of guys all looking for the same thing … gemütlich fräulein while finding nothing but drinking, trouble and loneliness at the bottom of a beer stein.
However, I quickly found Frankfurt am Main, however which lay a scant 20 miles away!
Frankfurt! That beautiful, dynamic world city acted as a balm for my kicked-out-of-paradise woes. I’d go there on weekends, sit at long tables in its Altstadt (old city … a neighborhood of which not much remained after WWII’s bombings, out of which a modern city rose that’s since become the financial capital of Europe) eating the world’s best sauerkraut and gulping down the world’s best apple wine, a few glasses of which would inspire everyone at the table to hook arms, sway and sing, acting the complete fool while having the times of our lives.
I’d go to concerts and the opera, churches on Sunday mornings (to hear to their absolutely magnificent choirs), or take long strolls exploring the city and alongside the mighty Main River. In no time at all I found a centrally located, inexpensive bed and breakfast, and, much as it had astonished me at Fort Gordon, Georgia, almost every weekend I applied for, and received, a three day pass (after receiving one such pass, the recipient was put on the bottom of the pass priority list, but because so few other GIs requested them I always got one).
It also wasn’t long before I met Karen, a bright, attractive young lady from Boston who worked at a US financial services firm in Frankfurt. We hit it off immediately, which added an extra allure to long weekends in the dynamic Hessen city!
Although I’d found a groove of sorts in Butzbach, after a few months the needle in that groove was starting wear me down.
I looked into alternatives, ways to get out of the endless boring, repetitive nature of army life as I knew it. I started to think crazy thoughts, such as punching the battalion’s colonel or stealing a jeep for one last joy ride à la James Dean. I thought stupid thoughts, but felt trapped! I would lay awake at night listening to guys snoring and grunting and turning, trying to forget about Koblenz!
But then something miraculous happened! One morning, out of the blue, my company commander called me to his office … “Illing. Pack your things. You’re going back to Koblenz!”
My knees buckled! Words tried to come out but couldn’t! I was floored, flabbergasted and freaking-out! Those were the best words I’d ever heard!
“YES SIR! THANK YOU!” I shouted, executing a near-perfect military about face and scrambled back to my barracks in order to jam my miscellaneous assortment of toiletries and clothes into my duffle bag and wait for the jeep of triumph! to arrive from Koblenz!
“Hallelujah! Thank God! Oh boy oh boy thank God! Pete truly is a man of his word! A man to be praised! A man among men! Hallelujah! Paradise I’m coming home!” I sounded like a one-man Mormon Tabernacle Choir!
I didn’t need to be told what happened. I knew. The sergeant from Texas had lied to Pete and Pete caught him. Simple as that!
When the jeep from Koblenz finally arrived, I saw my former sergeant. I refrained from saying anything. After all, there wasn’t anything I wanted to say to him … or that I could say to make my triumph more complete!
It occurred to me as I was headed back to paradise, still filled to the brim with that glorious feeling of redemption, “It’s true what they say. God does answer prayers with ideas!”
Coming next! How I Won The Cold War, Part 11 … THE FIRST CHRISTMAS
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