There was a lump in my throat, I could hardly speak. I had just relinquished command of the 370th Engineer Company (Construction Support) to it's new commander. I had been company commander for 26 months, a long time in those days. Even more unusual, I had been stabilized for 24 months, the only captain that we knew of in USAREUR (United States Army, Europe), because of the shortage of Army Captains, worldwide, because of the unpleasantness in far off Viet Nam. Even more unusual, I was one of only two engineer captains authorized in all of Europe - don't know who the other was, nor do I really care.
Over the next year, I will write several of these, relating to my experiences over half a life time ago, in a far off corner of the world. There is not going to be anything full of blood and glory, like some of the guys on these lists went through, the real heroes of Vietnam - the Marines, the Army Infantry, the so called proud Grunts; the chopper crews, and the Dustoff.
So, how did I get to this point? A little background is in order.
In 1954 I had just finished two years at Weber Junior College, Ogden, Utah; and was preparing for my junior year at Utah State Agricultural College in Logan. I knew I didn't want to be drafted, so I talked to the PMS&T about taking ROTC. After a couple of hours of talking, and assuring him I planned to spend three years at the AC, and getting him to agree to let me go for three years in the program because I had three years of Junior ROTC in high school, he accepted me.
1 June 1997, graduation day. I had missed the formal commissioning ceremony two days earlier because the senior engineering students had been on a field trip to Washington, Oregon, California, and Nevada. I was number 15 in order among the graduating ROTC seniors, and the first 14 had been offered RA commissions. The PMS&T said he could get me an RA commission, but I turned it down. I was happily going home to California, to go on duty for six months, and then return to work for California Water Resources. So I graduated, and received my butter bars and left Utah, all on the same day.
On 1 June 1958, I told my boss, Roger, "Bye, I'm off for my six months in the Army. See you by Christmas!" I drove to Ogden, staying there for a week, before departing for Fort Belvoir, Virginia, with my best friend, Bob. As we left, Bob was rather subdued, and said something about what a hell of a world it was where he had to leave behind is wife and two kids to go off to the Army.
Once, at Ft Belvoir, a major from the Chief of Engineers Office (we engineers had our HQ in Washington, near the Pentagon) told our class that those of us who had six months obligation could go to Germany if we would sign up for a total of two years. Germany needed Engineer Second Lieutenants because most of theirs had been taken from the units and shipped off to Lebanon. Wow! What an opportunity! I could go to Germany and see Europe, all at Uncle Sam's expense.
So, on 2 November 1958, there I was in Germany, assigned to the 317th Engineer Battalion in Frankfurt-Hoechst. Here I was, bachelor's paradise! All of those free and easy European Girls, just waiting for me. Well, one was, for sure! The first time off was the Friday after Thanksgiving, and I was bored, and decided to go to Friday night services at the chapel. There, the Rabbi introduced me to a young Romanian refugee, and we spent some time talking, and I offered to take her home. Liliane is the first and only girl I went out with in Germany, and we became engaged in just about seven weeks, 39 years ago this week.
We were married a day short of a year after I landed in Frankfurt. Now, comes the kicker. We were told if I signed up for three years, Liliane would become command sponsored, and we would get Army housing, complete with furniture, linen, dishes, and Uncle Sam would pay her way back to the States! Hey, butter bars were making $222.30 in those days, and that was the only way we could make it.
Then at the
end of three years, I went indefinite, still a reserve
officer on active duty, because it seemed that the best way to get back and forth between the States and Germany was to let good old Uncle Sugar pay for it.
While in Kaiserslautern, I had the best possible Army engineer's job in the world. We had all sorts of heavy engineer construction equipment, and in the summer of 1967, my company had troops scattered from Bonn, Germany, to Ankara, Turkey; including Wheelas Air Base in North Africa. My headquarters was 100 miles away, and I soon became the U S Army Engineer Command, Europe's, expert on construction equipment maintenance and utilization.
And, for two years, all the big wheels from the Office of the Chief of Engineers, including the big cheese, hisself, would come over. And we would have the annual Castle Ball (named after the Corps of Engineers insignia) in such places as the Heidelberg Castle; and all these guys would tell us that we had to get over to Vietnam; that it was an engineers' war, with all this fine troop construction going on. And, I was ready!
And, for two years I would see first lieutenants promoted to captain on one day, and leave for Vietnam the next. Engineer captains were not authorized in USAREUR, and soon as they got promoted, off they went. One guy, went to Bremerhaven to pick up his POV. The next day he got his orders, and a day later was taking his car back to Bremerhaven. And I kept hearing at the monthly commander's meetings, one general, a bunch of full bulls, six battalion commanders, one company commander (me), and the EngCom G-staff, that there was only one engineer captain authorized in Europe, and that the average stay was three months; and the general saw me wince one time when I heard that, and said, "Ed, didn't we tell you you are the one engineer captain authorized, and that you will be here at least two full years?" "Nosir!" (Whew!)
I had three
great Warrant Officers working for me, and they all got
orders to go to SEA within 30 days. At the next commanders' meeting, I begged the general to let me keep just one of the Warrants, any one, it didn't matter whom. In exchange, I would give up the three new butter bars recently assigned. He wouldn't go for it.
And, four years earlier, in the Engineer Officers Advance Course, we did a map exercise of an amphibious landing in SEA. When we were done, we threw our stuff away, saying we would never be over in that part of the world! The bay we used had a funny name - Camh Ramh, or something like that! Only one of the 120 in our class had any knowledge of that part of the world, and Fred Bittl had pix of him outside his tent taken in 1961 in Laos, if my memory is right.
So, here we are at D-3, and I was leaving a damn good assignment, one with a lot of fun; going to some God Dammed place I really didn't want to go to.