After gulping down our “Meal, Combat, Individual” (MCI) cans of turkey (frozen to an icy slush like our sodas … we were too busy and hungry to bother with thawing them out) we turned our attention to our antenna.
Erecting this was no mean feat as it required assembly, piece by piece, with a web of guy wires to keep it up and straight … all while fighting a howling wind that battered us with sleet and snow and misery.
Somehow we managed to get it up to seventy feet (twice the normal height) during the worst of the blizzard … which made us feel somewhat heroic! Like we’d done something we’d of never thought we’d be able to do … not that we’d ever contemplated it before!
This version of the army wasn’t in our Koblenz Detachment experience. We were the Playboys of the Western World when compared to the rest of the army … unless real war came that is.
That’s when our mission was to follow the German Dritte Korps general staff east, towards the massive tank formations that would be pouring through the Iron Curtain straight at us, while the boys and brass of the Seventh Army headed west to serve as strategic reserves.
But this wasn’t real war, just make believe … which was plenty close enough for us!
Shortly after midnight we got our antenna up, its horn oriented and a meter reading of “five by” (we judged the quality of communication by a metric ranging from “1×1” to “5×5”, the latter being the best).
For the briefest of moments we paused to survey our radio relay station on top of the nameless mountain near Czechoslovakia … and we felt a momentary flush of pride. We felt like we’d proved something! And we had … to ourselves!
It was bit like I felt towards the end of my eight weeks of basic training, when, double-timing back to my barracks with a couple of hundred other guys following eight hours of PT (physical training) and running, we moved as one, singing-out cadences like a great Welch choir! I guess that’s what they call esprit de corps … when I realized that the entire ordeal hadn’t fazed me … and it filled me with pride.
I felt proud because I’d found something inside of me I didn’t know was there, and I rejoiced in it … in a quiet, private way.
I guess that’s a big part of what it means to be a soldier … and that night on the mountain we’d proved we were soldiers, and we were damned proud of it, though I was truthfully surprised that we didn’t lose a toe or two to frostbite!
I’m sure the guys in the infantry, who lived in the field half the year ’round would laugh and guffaw at this, as well they may. But I will say it made me appreciate in new way the literal hell those men in the Bulge or the Chosin Reservoir or Valley Forge or so many other battles went through. It’s hard to imagine, no it’s impossible to imagine, the endless loop of the misery they endured … not to mention the guys opposite you who were trying to kill you!
Our moment of pride fled fast. We were exhausted and asleep before we even hit the floor in our mummy bags (army issue sleeping bags). Our ordeal was over for the moment … but we still had to decamp and get back down the mountain to civilization and Koblenz.
When I awoke early the next morning the van had stopped rocking from the high winds. I opened the door of the van and saw a scene of breathtaking beauty.
Waist high mounds of powder snow glistened under a deep blue sunny sky. The entire landscape had been transformed. It was as if an infinite sea of soft down had fallen from heaven as a comforter over the land, and, in the process, had frosted all the trees.
I looked up at our seventy foot antenna. Its horn was crowned with a mantel of white. It still stood straight and tall narrow-casting at five by. The generators were running quietly, their growl muffled by the snow that buried the trailer.
The all was strac! We’d done it!
That’s when I observed, far in the distance, something moving. I couldn’t quite make it out, but it looked like it was heading straight up the mountain. What in the hell?
I gazed amazed as it neared. It looked like a chocolate bunny hopping through the shiny white snow! I stared while this thing kept coming at me, albeit at a painstakingly slow pace. What in the hell?
After watching it hop, hop, hop and hop, I suddenly realized the hopper was a soldier, a African-American sergeant making his way through the snow as best he could.
When he got to within shouting distance, he stopped, took off his hat, wiped his brow and yelled, “How in the devil did you get all that up here? A helicopter?”
“No. We drove up sarge!” I shouted back, waking up my sleeping companions.
“You’ve got to be kidding!” he replied. “I couldn’t even get my jeep up here!”
I looked back in the van at my drowsy buddies. Broad grins crossed their tired faces, for this chocolate bunny hopping in a monochromatic field of blindingly white snow had just made the elixir of our little mountaintop triumph indescribably sweeter … so much so that the rest of our work was, both figuratively and literally, all downhill!
I guess we all learned in those couple of frigid days and nights what the real army was all about … and we couldn’t help feeling a flush of hard-earned pride!
Coming next! How I Won The Cold War, Part 26 … FIGHTING A FLOCK OF FROGS AND A TALL GUY CALLED DE GAULLE
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