Where he goes we follow … or not

Wherever the generals commanding the Bundeswehr Dritte Korps (German Army Third Corps) went, we of the 16th Signal Battalion’s Koblenz Detachment gallantly followed … sort of.

Occasionally the US Seventh Army (of which we were part, and which, in the command structure of NATO, directed Dritte Korps activities) would go on maneuvers without the Germans participating, leaving us in Koblenz in a bit of a military muddle.

While we were officially required to participate in 7th Army war games, we were also officially required to stick with the III Korps commanders … a conundrum to say the least!

Ah! But the military mind, always inventive, always bureaucratically creative, will find a workable solution! At such times, we’d operate out of a radio shack on a truck in the parking lot behind Korps HQ!

But since the German brass occupied a modern, multi-story building downtown near the heavily touristed the Rhein River, we couldn’t very well use our noisy generators to run our gear. Consequently we’d plug a large transformer into the building’s electrical grid (to step it down from 220 volts to 110) and run lines from the building out to the truck to power our equipment.

Simplicity itself! We’d spend a few days in the parking lot practicing warfare (which for us meant sitting and sleeping in a radio shack instead of in the basement of the Korps building) thereby protecting Western civilization while satisfying both the 7th Army and Bundeswehr commands.

However, simplicity can sometimes produce unintended consequences!


A simpler signal corps, but not without its shortcomings

In this case, the unintended consequence lay in the maze of wires strung within the walls of the radio shack, and in particular, a short in one of wires. It was an accident waiting to happen. And this accident had a name … believe it or not, it was Sparky!

Sparky was a short, round fellow from Florida with hair the color of a Florida orange. Pleasant and well liked, he was close to being a detachment legend ever since playing a heroic hand of Hearts, a popular card game the object of which is the avoidance of “getting stuck with” any heart or, most especially, the Queen of Spades; or, in the alternative, harvesting all the hearts along with that sinister dame.

Sparky not only ran all the hearts and the queen with his legendary hand, but did so in a manner that gained him true master status. He played the cards exactly as they were dealt, no sorting or arranging them, he just played them as nonchalantly as if he where looking through the mail … and he ran the table!

It was a feat unheard of in the annals of Hearts! A truly extraordinary event! But, as great as it was, it proved to be but a prelude to the legend of Sparky!


Sparky didn’t check … a harrowing experience!

After we’d parked our truck behind Korps HQ, calibrated our gear and plugged the transformer into the building’s electrical grid, our final task was to ground the truck. To do this we’d drive a long metal stake into the ground, to which we’d connect a length of copper wire.

However, in this instance we needed to pound the stake into the building’s lawn which lay further from the truck than a length of wire. Consequently we needed to splice a couple of lengths of copper wire together.

While we were getting the truck ready, and in that the truck sat on rubber tires, we had no clue that a potentially lethal build-up of electrical current was pouring into it via the short in the wall. In essence, the radio shack acted like a dam that created a giant reservoir of electricity fed by the prodigious current flowing from our transformer. By the time we were ready to ground the truck, that reservoir had become a Lake Mead waiting for somewhere to go!

It didn’t have long to wait!

One of us pounded the grounding rod into the the lawn and ran a copper wire from it towards the truck. Another attached a wire from the truck towards the rod’s wire.

That’s when the unsuspecting Sparky stepped between the two to splice them together. He picked up one. No problem. Then he picked up the other … and he shot straight up into the air!



OMG! We all watched in stunned silence and absolute amazement as Sparky, arms extended from his sides, hair frizzled like an oversized electric orange and eyes as big as ostrich eggs came back to earth and bounced violently off of the parking lot and shot straight back up again, then down, then up, then down again, yelling the whole while, “HOLY KAZOO! HOLY KAZOO! HOLY KAZOO!

When our number’s up I guess none of us can predict what we’ll choose as our last words, and certainly none of us who witnessed Sparky’s bouncing off of the asphalt like an over-inflated basketball will ever know why he chose “Holy Kazoo” as his final utterances, but that’s what came out … “Holy Kazoo” non-stop!

I’m told I saved Sparky’s life that day. I’m not sure about that, or if I’d want the responsibilities that would entail, but, in retrospect I do agree with those who told me what I did do was potentially personally quite risky. However, instinct has a solo driver, and with little or no forethought I tackled Sparky … hard!

I hit him like a blitzing linebacker and knocked loose his death grip on those wires lighting him up like a Christmas ornament! As we lay in a heap afterwards I implored him, Sparky! Are you okay? Sparky! Are you okay?”

But Sparky couldn’t utter another Holy Kazoo or even a single syllable. His vocal cords were fried … along with just about every organ in his body!

After a couple of tense moments, we had him on his feet again, and although wobbly, he could walk. I accompanied him into our offices in the basement where he could recover until we could get him back to the kaserne and bed.


Let me introduce myself … I call myself Sparky!

Unfortunately for Sparky, the poltergeist that targeted him that day wasn’t quite done yet!

I placed Sparky, still shaking from his horrifying experience, in a chair about ten feet away from the transformer feeding our faulty radio shack. He sat there staring straight ahead, unable to speak intelligibly and trying to figure out just what had happened, when, all of a sudden, the infernal thing backfired and shot a massive bolt of electricity straight at Sparky!

The flash stopped no more than a couple of inches short of his groin! That was it! The final straw! Sparky almost jumped into my arms, babbling absolute gibberish! Why it was almost embarrassing! I knew I had to get him out of there, immediately, for the safety of us all!

Sparky gradually recovered from his close encounter with electrical phenomena, and after several days we could discern no life altering effects… other than a slight, deliberative pause before turning on, or even touching, anything at all electrical!


Coming next! How I Won The Cold War, Part 16 … SERGEANT PETERSON BUILDS A BAR



About Joe Illing

I hope you'll find my posts entertaining, occasionally edifying and worth whatever time you can spend with them ... Joe
This entry was posted in How I Won the Cold War. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s