My father was drafted during the Korean War and was sent to Germany to patrol the border near Fulda, where Soviet tanks would have to come in the event of an invasion. World War III did not break out while he was there. Thousands of guys had similar jobs during the Cold War. He did what they asked him to do, and he came home. No heroism was expected of him and no heroic circumstances presented themselves. He, and thousands like him in many ways helped us from needing heroes; they served and did what was asked of them.
Last year my brother and his two daughters (21 and 19 at the time) flew in from Colorado to visit my parents in the Pennsylvania house my brother and I grew up. Old photograph albums came out the girls had never seen. Events were described they had no idea about. They were fascinated.
The next week Dad wrote them a letter and made a copy to send to me. Here is that letter, in his words.
I served in the 7th Army, 14th Armored Cavalry patrolling the East-West German borders during 1953 – 54. Our base was located near Bad Hersfeld, right off the German Autobahn. Regimental HQ was in Fulda, located about 50 km northeast of Frankfurt on the Rhine River.
A range of mountains runs north-south through Germany and the only place where Russia could mount a tank invasion was the flat terrain through the mountains at Fulda, called the Fulda Gap in General Patton’s autobiography on the war.
Great Britain patrolled the northern sector to the North Sea. U.S. had the most vulnerable sector at Fulda and France patrolled the southern and western sectors.
We patrolled the border from Erfurt on the north to Bad Kissingen in the south. Fulda was in the center. (Regimental HQ.) Hersfeld was the northern leg, where the Autobahn crossed the border, which was a 10 meter plowed strip. A small barbed-wire fence was centered in the plowed ground. Every place a road or lane went through the strip there was a barricade policed by Russian and East German soldiers in a 30-foot machinegun tower on larger crossings.
I was a scout section chief and in charge of a patrol to check crossings on a 12-hour shift. After dark, you set up a listening post. Any invasion would be by armored vehicles and you can hear them for miles.
A patrol consisted of a radio jeep with driver and patrol leader (me) and a machinegun jeep with a mounted machinegun and 50 pounds of explosives, a driver, a co-driver, and machinegunner; five in all.
We had to radio our position every half hour. If we missed two consecutive reports HQ would send someone to find us. There were some dead radio spots where we couldn’t transmit because of the mountainous terrain. If we missed one report, we headed for high ground so we wouldn’t miss the second one.
My patrol leader was a Sergeant First Class who had been in Germany for ten years and spoke fluent German. He was also an alky. I was his driver and after I knew the process, he would stop at a German gasthaus (bar) and tell me to pick him up later, so after one year I was essentially running the patrols.
In late ’54 I went to the regimental NCO Academy at Fulda for 12 weeks as a PFC. I graduated as Honor Student and was given a raise in grade.
In October 1954 I was promoted to Staff Sergeant and was the fair-haired man in camp. Any time the 7th Army sent a rep to check our readiness, I was the first one to be interviewed. Buck private in February 1953 to Staff Sergeant in October 1954.
In late ’54 my platoon commander was transferred to Regimental HQ and wanted me to transfer with him but I would have had to re-up for four more years (with a $10,000 bonus).
Sorry I got sidetracked but your mother had said how much the girls enjoyed the photo albums. I’m sorry I didn’t get a chance to expound on some of the pics because I had a very interesting military career and I’m very proud of it.
Thanks for listening.
Love to all
If the East Germans/Russians crossed the border, our mission was to alert the 2nd Armored Division, stationed near Frankfurt and set our first line of defense: the Rhine River.
The patrol’s mission was to alert HQ and blow up any bridges, railroad tracks – anything vital as we retreated to base, then Frankfurt.
The 14th Armored cavalry was the first line of defense in Europe during the Cold War. We were the eyes and ears of the 7th Army.
Armored vehicles are very restricted in vision and maneuverability. A scout squad would be the eyes and ears of tanks and had to lead any tanks on the move, check weight restrictions on roads and bridges, etc.
Please excuse an old man for his memories when he was young and vital.
In his note he sent me along with my copy of the letter, he wrote: I have the Zippo lighter I was awarded by General Hodges as I graduated as honor student from NCO Academy. I planned to show it to the girls last week but never got to it. He hasn’t smoked in at least forty years.