Things were still moving fast for us in Wiesbaden after our hasty departure from Fort Dix on Christmas Eve, but we soon settled in. Within days of our arrival in Germany, just over 20 of our 119 unit members continued the journey to Hungary. The met up with the 1st Armored Division task force preparing to cross the Sava River into Bosnia and Herzogovina. The rest of us remained in Wiesbaden to figure out our tasks in supporting the units “down range.”
We had it easy! Very quickly we found a place where we could buy German beer by the rack. After our duty hours, life became a bit of an evening-long happy hour in our barracks rooms. The unit’s Captains were congregated at one end of a long hallway on the building’s third floor. Due to the stresses of the mobilization, more than a few of us took the opportunity to let loose a bit. We were careful, though, to stick to our barracks so we wouldn’t get into too much trouble. Besides, no one had a car, so it would have been awfully hard to get anywhere. Even though we were relatively close to the city of Wiesbaden, it was an expensive cab fare.
The real trouble started on New Years Eve. Someone got the bright idea to rent a car and get out of town. Four or us Captains left in our company commander’s rental car. In addition to the commander, Tim Reed, there were two other guys I didn’t know so well, Mike Hoover and Mike Flaherty. No one had any idea of where to go, so I suggested Nurnberg since it was a place I knew well. I had not been back to Germany since we left in early 1988. I was intrigued, but also a little disappointed in how much the Germany I remember had changed. The U.S. Army had recently closed all its facilities in the Nurnberg area, so I wanted to see how things had changed. When we were stationed there ten years prior, the Army had over 100,000 Soldiers and families in and around Nurnberg. Now it was none.
After a quick tour of the town and the area, we settled down a bit early for the New Year’s festivities. We were quite disappointed at the local Irish pub. Not much activity for a New Years Eve, so we made our way from bar to bar until we reached the famous Tugendbrunnen (Virtuous Fountain). Rubbing the gold ring embedded in the fountain seemed to bring us good luck as a local bar nearby had just finished setting up its outdoor area for their Sylvester (New Year’s Eve) celebration. Young Germans started showing up there, so we staked out a good standing table with a view of the Lorenzer Platz. This is the area where the famous Nurnberg Christkindlesmarkt (Christmas Market) takes place.
It wasn’t long before the place was nearly overrun with “rads,” our word for young Germans wearing hip clothes. We were relatively warm due to the crowd and the propane heaters interspersed in the outdoor patio. The beer further warmed our bellies. We started conversations with our fellow revelers. One young woman roped Mike into buying her a drink. She had baited him by explaining in broken English how she much preferred American whiskey to German beer. He ended up buying her a whiskey, not realizing that American whiskey in Germany is VERY expensive. I heard some of her male colleagues refer to her as “Sonia mit der langen Zunge.” Hoover and I knew enough German to translate this to our group as “Sonia with the long tongue.” This created a sensation and we sent Sonia several more whiskeys until some German pushed Reed over a snowbank adjacent to our table.
It was a good thing that Reed was an amiable man after a few beers. He laughed it off, just as the fireworks started. If you have not experienced Sylvester in Germany, you have no idea what this means. This is not a traditional fireworks show like we have on the Fourth of July. No, these are close-range fireworks, including those shot off with something akin to a flare gun. It feels like a war zone with all the flashes and bangs going off in very close proximity. Streamers, ammo casing, and other fireworks residue rain through the air – and the noise rings in your ears! It is definitely NOT for kids. The firework explosion lasts for a good half hour. During this time I noted more than a few (including one or two of our own) seeking out Sonia for a New Year’s kiss, mostly to see if her reputation was based on fact!
We stayed the night in Nurnberg, but were shortly back to our new isolated reality in Wiesbaden. Here we had irregular bus service to the local PX (Post Exchange) and Commissary (grocery store), but, again, the town of Wiesbaden was an expensive cab ride away. Everything we really needed was on post. We had a library, mess hall, chapel, barber shop, mail room, and Community Club (bar) all on our our small base, so there was never a NEED to leave. There was also a small shoppette that sold beer by the rack, so we truly had everything we needed.
This trip to Nurnberg, though, really kicked off our new “Captains’ Club.” We started forming strong bonds, albeit primarily centered on beer. The main gathering place was Mike Hoover’s room (I think shared for a time with Tim Reed). It was just across the hall from mine, so it was easy access. My roommate, Glen Thomas, was not much of a beer drinker, but he participated as did most other Captains in the unit. As our chats got deeper, we learned of growing frustration and anger within the unit. Strangely, it was not from the small contingent send down range. Nope, it was mostly among our team in Germany, likely since we had more time to ponder our repesctive situations than did our brothers and sisters closer to the “combat” zone. This was a time when I heard many quotes about keeping soldiers busy so the wouldn’t cause trouble. I can attest to the truth of those adages!
I was the only lawyer in our unit, though I was NOT a member of the Judge Advocate General Corps, at least not yet. As can be the case with anyone who has just a little understanding of something, I probably had just about enough knowledge to be dangerous. Our unit commander, Colonel Art Hubbard, almost certainly felt that way. That lead to exploits that I can write about in the next blog related to this mobilization.