One Man's Tour
DET B, 183rd ASA Company – OTTOBEUREN, DEUTSCHLAND
September 1961 Herzo Base - Straubing
I trained at Ft. Devens from April/May to mid-Dec, 1960. In January 1961 I was flown to Frankfurt Am Main and Gutleut Kaserne for a week and then was transferred to Herzo Base.
At that time our section was run by a Warrant Officer whose name I cannot remember but Sgts Fox and Rucker were administrative personnel. In June, 1961 I was sent to fill in for vacation at Det B in Straubing, at least that's what I was told. It turns out that the Warrant Officer was unhappy with the performance of one of the troops and I ended being transferred to Straubing permanently on July 5, 1961. I really was not very happy about the transfer because I liked the relaxed atmosphere at Herzo Base and Straubing was an Armored Post and us ASAers had to operate under the same Post rules as the Armored guys. Up until that time the Herzo Base GIs were on Class A passes and we could come and go as we pleased if we were off duty. This meant you could stay off post all night and no one who squawk. At the Armored Base we were under same restrictions as the regular troops and had to return to base by midnight. (horrors). Our WO used to get the MPs pissed because he'd come down to visit and we'd hit the bars in town. We wouldn't make curfew because he was an alkie and loved to drink. Well the MPs always checked the bars at midnight and he'd sign 24-hour passes for us from a pad he always carried with him and it would drive the MPs up the wall because they couldn't bust us. There was no love lost between the ASAers and MPs in Straubing.
I think there were 11 of us living on the second floor of an office building and the chief forms of on post entertainment were (believe it or not) wild and woolly ping pong games and a continuous poker game with guys dropping in and out as their shift schedule changed. A tab was run and we settled up on payday.
The base also contained an airfield and our work station was right off of the one runway. Sgt Burgess, an acting Jack sergeant from Las Vegas, had acquired a pure bred German Shepherd he named Lasso which was kept at the site. Periodically Lasso would get free and start chasing airplanes. The jets would practice strafing runs using our hut as a simulated target and do touch and gos and Lasso would run in huge circles trying to catch them. Needless to say the MPs were not too thrilled about having a dog scampering all over the runway. Eventually and trying to catch him numerous times they threatened to shoot him on sight if he got on the runway again. So we had to keep him in the hut much of the time. During the summer of 1961 they started increasing the size of their fuel dump, which drastically affected our DF capabilities, and the decision was made to relocate the Detachment
The Move to Memmingen
September 15, 1961 we moved to the Gasthaus Lowen (Lion) in Memmingen. There already was a Detachment in Memmingen and had been for many, many years. In fact they lived in a house owned by the Army as part of our occupation spoils after the war. The Gasthaus was a typical German hotel in that the rooms did not have baths and each unit had a small electric water heater mounted under the sink, which the maids turned off every morning and we promptly turned back on. In order to take a bath the maids had to build a charcoal fire in the water heater in the communal bathroom. They were always bitching that we took too many baths since the standard German procedure was Saturday bathing only.
When we were making plans to move in, I was the only one that spoke any kind of German and since the owner spoke no English I was negotiating with my trusty German dictionary handy. Things were proceeding fairly well until the brand new company exec officer started needling me about my "lousy" German. After a couple of minutes I got pissed off and told the exec I had to hit the men's room and left him in charge. The owner knew what was going on because he and I had had a few previous talks and gotten along rather well and since he had been an enlisted man for the Fuhrer he had no love lost for officers. While I was gone the owner kept asking the exec questions which the exec couldn't answer since he didn't speak a word of German. About this time the Major in charge of our company came along. He had previously served in Germany and knew enough language to get by. He sized up the situation and told the exec to get lost until I had finalized the details. Needless to say I went to the top of the exec's list and stayed there permanently. Since I was a PFC I really didn't give a damn but the exec came back to haunt me and I ended up with the most time in grade as a PFC on post, 17 months before I made Spec 4.
I believe it took about a week to set up the site, which was located in the near vicinity of the other Det. This was the reason we were sent to the Memmingen area, the Army already had land available and nothing was too close to interfere with reception. We had been told that everything was cleared for us to move in. The site actually was about a mile or two from Hawaagen (I think it has two As) back a dirt road and very close to a NATO airfield. The village of Hawaagen had an interesting local history; it was the home of Gen. Sep Detrick who was, I think, a Panzer Commander. Remember it was only 16 years after the war
When we pulled all our equipment into the site area, we asked at the other Det hut where we to set up our hut at. They told us a few hundred yards up the road. We proceeded to set to work clearing the dried corn stalks that were still in the field and setting up the antenna field. Our ingenious, GI, method was to burn the stalks off with gasoline. I don't remember if we, our group, set up the antenna field ourselves or if some other technician had been sent for that purpose. It took a while to clear the area and try to level the field, probably a few days, and level out a hut area and fill that with some crushed stone.
The work seemed to progress nicely, the weather was warm, it was a break from the normal routine we left back at Straubing and all was right with the world. At least for a while until a German farmer showed up on a tractor accompanied by a little girl. Our WO told him he wasn't allowed here because it was Army property. He ignored us and started ranting and raving in German and telling us to leave. He kept driving his tractor around and around almost knocking the antennas down. The WO kept shouting at him to get out and the German kept racing around with his tractor and screaming at us. We managed to keep him from the antenna field but then he took aim at our hut, which we had just dismounted, from a deuce and a half
This proved to be too much for our WO and he told us to stop him at all costs. I ran into the hut and grabbed a carbine and a clip and raced out to try to hand it to the WO who waived it off and kept telling us to stop the farmer. The German kept spinning his tractor around to get close to the hut so I stepped in front him and jacked a shell into the chamber. That brought everything to a halt, the kid started screaming that I was going to shoot her PaPa and the German high-tailed it out of there. After a sojourn back to town to cool down and chow down we went back out and finished unloading equipment. We were all smug in the fact that no German pushed us off OUR property
The next morning the stuff hit the fan. A report had traveled from the local Polizie, to their superiors, to Army Headquarters Europe to NSA and back overnight that a GI had tried to shoot a poor local German farmer who was only trying to protect his land. Someone made a very hasty trip down to the site and determined that we were on the wrong parcel of land. It was a very interesting international situation which we found out cost the Army a rather pretty penny to buy off a pissed off farmer and pay some rather hefty fines for polluting the land by spreading gasoline all over the place. A few weeks later when, believe it or not I was working, an investigator showed up at the site from NSA to investigate the incident. He tried to come in the hut and I refused him entry for security reasons. He kept showing me his ID from NSA and I kept telling him I didn't give a damn what kind of papers he had he wasn't getting in the site. The upshot was he told me that he was trying to determine what had happened and said he had heard that a PFC had pulled a weapon on a German farmer. I told him that I hadn't the faintest idea what the hell he was talking about and that he would have to check with the brass back at Herzo. I never did hear anything further and I was the only PFC in the outfit at the time
Later to come – our move to Ottobeuren, names that I can remember, our Pension, party facilities, the Rot Bar, movie circuit, recreation, work scheduling and lots, lots more.
I think there were 10 guys. The site was supposed to be 11 but I don't know if we ever up to strength. I know that later we were even more short handed. Those that I remember opening Ottobeuren
Sgt. Ron Burgess, acting Sgt since Specialists couldn't command. He was from Las Vegas—"Daisy' Gillespie - - Wilmer Ogg - - Alex (?) - - Pat (?) from Louisiana - - Jerry Howell, Oklahoma - - Bill Hazelrigg, from Harlan County, Kentucky. He married a German girl. - - Glen Wakefield, Texas - - Mike Engler - - Mike Hein, one of the Mikes was from Fon Du Lac, Wisconsin - - ME
We started rotating people in and out almost immediately and some that I remember are - - Charlie Garret, a retread through Korea - - Lee K. Brittel from Malone, NY - - Bill Perry from Washington State- - Dave Waldrich. Also on my pictures are R. Lonn and Sgt Miller (who was from the other Det I think) and Paul Marshal came after I was gone
Living in the Gasthof Lowen was the same as in any other small town German hotel, which is to say, very boring for most of the guys who would wander down the street to the other Det house. Since I got along quite well with Herr Shroka who ran the hotel, I had it a little better than the other guys. He made sure I ate well and arranged for the guys to be able to eat and drink after midnight when returning from work. The laws at that time prohibited people from eating and drinking in his type of hotel after midnight, I'm not sure if that was an across the board reg or what The polizei would fine the patrons if they checked and caught anyone in after midnight but you could make special arrangements for working people which covered us. I came back from work one day and there was a bunch of Germans having a high old time. I asked Shroka what was going on and he said that it was a local Fussball club (soccer) and that I should stay away because they got pretty rowdy. Well you know where I ended up, right in the middle, boozing and singing songs. The custom was to pass a glass boot filled with wine and sprudel (lemon soda) that everyone took a drink out of and passed along. Whoever was drinking from the boot when the air bubbled in the toe had to buy the next round.
Herr Shroka had a banquet hall attached to the hotel and ran Friday night dances for which he charged like 7 marks admission ($1.75 then). He told me he would let me in free since I lived in the hotel. I was about three sheets to the wind one Friday night and decided to check the place out. I ended up with the bunch of fussballers I knew from the hotel and we had a high old time. I ended up picking up a girl from Benningen. One of the guys drove me to her (and her parents) house and I said I would walk home. It was early October and cold and I later found out I was about two miles from the hotel, which made for a long, cold walk home. I also made a date to meet her the next Friday night. The only problem was that the next day the only thing I could remember was that I had made a date, couldn't remember her name or what she looked like.
The next Friday I figured it would be a snap; I'd walk in and pick her out right away. Well since I was sober when I walked in, the aroma of 200 Germans whose bath day was the next day almost floored me and to top it off, I couldn't recognize her so I just turned around and headed out to the hotel bar. A few minutes later I heard high heels coming down the hall and she showed up but I still didn't know her name. So I told her I'd be right in and tracked down Herr Shroka and asked for her name but all he knew was her father's name so when I went back in I had to confess I didn't remember her name. She said she understood because I had been a little 'tipsy' the week before.
We did hit it off great and as the beer flowed and the music played and we danced we got to know a little about each other. One of the things she mentioned was that she sang in the church choir and as we danced to a march, which they played a lot of, she started to sing and as we danced around the people formed a big circle around us and we danced and she sang just like in the "Student Prince." We went together for a few months until I ended up in the military hospital.
Anyway, as I was saying, the guys really didn't like living in the hotel for many reasons mostly in and out access at night and the fact that the owner would not permit female companionship in the rooms. Bummer for most of the guys. Most of the guys hit the Weingarten in town and some other (expensive) nightspots, primarily because they didn't speak any German and at those places they didn't have to. Ron Burgess met up with a local German girl who was married to an American in Chicago and was home for vacation to visit her family. They became quite 'friendly' and it turned out that her family owned a pension in Ottobeuren. Do you see where this is going?
After negotiating a bit, Burgess rented the Pension Hubertus in Ottobeuren with the blessing of the Army. Sometime in October we moved in lock, stock and deuce and a half's. A full stairway led to the second floor while a two-section stairway with a mid-landing led to the third. Will explain the significance later.
The Pension had a lot of parking, both side and rear, a large living/dining room and kitchen on the second floor and about 6 or 7 bedrooms on the third floor along with the communal bath. The only drawback was that the owner's sister lived in the other half and thought she was still running a Pension. We finally had to basically throw her out and lock the adjoining doors from the inside to keep from butting into our business.
We stored our rifles, lockers, bedding and stuff in a rear storage room off of the parking lot and never really looked at the stuff again. After a couple of days we discovered that there was a crummy, dirty, dingy rat hole of a basement on the left side as you entered the ground level. It had an old wooden plank door, which was very non-descript and almost always ignored by everyone.
What else can be done with a dirty, dingy rat hole of a room except to turn it into our own bar room. Since the family that owned the Pension also owned a local brewery they supplied our beverages at hotel prices - 15¢ for a flip top, half liter of B & E bier and 25¢ for a 7 ounce bottle of Afri-Cola. I was delegated bar manager and the first month the bar was open, the 10 of us went through 700 bottles of bier and 700 bottles of soda. Bar tab with payment on payday. Not bad since most of the guys were still going and continued to go the fancy (read expensive) places in Memmingen. The deal was that the last guy coming home from the Det in the morning (about 7:30) had to clean up the bar room.
But first to turn the room into a semi-habitable area, we had to spruce things up. Burgess conned some paint from a supply sgt at Augsburg, which turned out to be green and brown paint. So we painted the walls green and the ceiling brown. Of course after cementing the floor, the ceiling was only about 7 feet high, which combined with the brown color, gave one the impression of entering a cave. To further spruce things up we took our bed sheets and dyed them brown and my girl hemmed them up to be used as drapes to cover the walls. Even though we dyed the sheets brown one could still find the terrifying inscription "Property of US Army" stamped in black on the corners.
When we wanted to paint the place I went looking for paint rollers. After checking around town for a 'hardware' store I went into a paint place. I asked the owner to buy some paint rollers. He looked at me sort of funny and I asked again thinking I didn't explain myself correctly. I should add that very, very few people in town spoke (or acknowledged they spoke) English. The owner came out with some rollers and asked how long I needed them. I told him a couple of days and he said to take them and bring them back when I was done, which I did. Later I found out that they didn't sell paint rollers because they were considered for professionals only and that these were his private rollers.
We covered all the piping with duct tape, constructed a makeshift bar and picked up a bier cooler from somewhere. The room itself was about 15' X 15' with a small front room of about 6' X 15' which we used for dancing. I assume it was an old coal bin. The final touch and I don't know where I got it from but I painted the grillwork covering the outside window in the alley red and instantly was born, in the terms of the locals, the Röt Bar. (The Red Bar)
Also we bought a stereo from the PX but one of the guys (Pat from Louisiana) got drunk and poured a drink into it so we had a few problems with it. Later when I was in the hospital the bar room was redone, light gray walls, black and red floor tiles, red drapes and the bar covered in gray, stone-like Formica. Pretty neat looking.