72 years is a long time.
Time enough to gather one’s thoughts and take another look at what has been happening. Wars are not all about doing the inhumane. We are dutybound to do all we need to do in that frame, in defense of our country and our freedom. But, when it’s done we are still human.
As humans, we need to be refreshed and regathered after an exhausting experience. Especially one as traumatic as war, death, and combat. Good leaders recognize that vital need and do all they can to see that it is accomplished.
So blessed was A Company to have such a leader. A leader who deeply recognized the human needs of every man in his command. Human needs that, when properly treated, would alleviate, and ultimately eliminate the very reasons for war. It took me almost the whole of those 72 years to fully recognize that blessing. My return to Berg brought it out clearly. Every place I revisited in Berg brought back those memories. I, and my fellow members of his unit, owe a lot to Captain Thomas J. Ford, and I regret that he is no longer in a position to receive my acknowledgement. The best I can do is write about a human refreshment period that happened in the months of May and June in 1945. A period of Rest and Recreation – R&R the title of this Berg story.
Let me quote a part of Captain Ford’s account of A Company’s battle experience in Germany.
“My heartfelt appreciation is extended to the officers and men of this command for their superior performance while engaged with the enemy. It was a great honor and privilege for me, one that I will never forget, to have led you men in combat.
To our men who, unfortunately, were unable to see the end of the war, I have nothing but the highest admiration for their sacrifice. Their job is completed – their task is completed – our task lies ahead – to insure that our men will not have died in vain.”
His gratitude had no bounds in terms of respect for our needs. He knew who and what we were and did all he was able to accommodate them – including our needs to be boys again, and do what boys do. Our only caveat was to keep our behavior within reasonable boundaries.
Thus, began two months of A Company R&R in Berg, Bavaria, Germany.
Swimming, softball, lots of beer drinking, and most importantly – fraternizing. The very thing our upper echelon authorities were demanding we didn’t do. I don’t know what other units were doing during that time. However, I suspect pretty much the same thing.
My trip partner (and a former Company Commander, Major Steve McAlpin) Steve took a lot of pictures of all the places we met the ladies, swam with them (on occasion in very close proximity), drank beer, strolled, etc. Some of us found other ways for their recreation, like softball, sightseeing, or horseback riding. On and on with the fun. But it was a carefree time. A necessary time, as well. Because we soon learned that we were going to be heading for an even more deadly combat (if you can imagine that) against the fight to the death, Japanese. Our R&R was all the more precious. Here are some of those pictures, preceded by a few from 1945 tp set the contrast scene. Each is accompanied by a few words of explanation.
The Swimming Hole with native swimmers and me
These people came all the way from Vienna to enjoy the same swimming hole where we spent many happy hours. I had a nice long conversation with them telling them why I was here.
I call this picture the “Bank of Fraternization.” The reason being, it was the same riverbank where the following episode occurred. It seems like three of us were swimming here with our German girlfriends when we heard what we thought was a horse snorting. When we looked in the direction of the noise we saw a horse, sure enough, and its rider as well. The rider was none other than Captain Ford out on a ride on one of the horses from the nearby former Nazi’s estate. Our immediate fear was that we were in trouble because we were “fraternizing” with our German girlfriends.
Not, so, He looked at us, smiled, said: “have a good time” and rode off. You can see why I was so thrilled to once again see that wonderful sight. So exemplary of the atmosphere we enjoyed in that happy time.
This was one of the houses Steve and I were miraculously able to find in the now complicated hamlet of Berg. I remember it as housing several beautiful girls, with whom, for some reason I was not able to make a connection. I think it was because of cultural misunderstanding (at least that’s my excuse) of the same nature as one I will detail in a story of a previous encounter in Fremenil. France. In any event I remembered them well and was delighted to see their house still standing.
Steve and I did not bother to go sightseeing in Berchtesgaden, Dachau, or many other historical sites nearby. Our only view of Munich (München) was from an airport and train station. We were more concerned with those sites that connected me to fond memories.
The next Berg story, titled: “Berg (Transport)” will deal with some of those other sites.