More Stories by Renita Foster


Hunting for the enemy and souvenirs
by Renita Foster
Public Affairs Office

Along with being proclaimed the Greatest Generation, the Soldiers of World War II may also qualify as the greatest souvenir hunters in history. 

Take the fall of Cherbourg for example. Captured German Commander Gen. Karl Wilhelm von Schlieben had complained incessantly of having to eat K-rations and the lack of a shower at the farmhouse where he was under guard. But the ultimate indignation the German officer declared was the complete stripping of his uniforms of all braid and rank by trophy-seeking GIs. 

Over half a century later, those select Soldiers still proudly strut their memorabilia and cherish the memories of the occasions during which they were acquired.

Pete Leonard, 328th Infantry Regiment, triumphantly returned home with two German pistols he discovered after the Battle of the Bulge. He successfully smuggled them back from Europe to the States, only to be threatened by a shakedown search the next morning. 

“I literally went AWOL (absent without leave) from Fort Dix to get them home,” smirked Leonard. “I crawled under the fence, hitchhiked to the railway station and sat in a locked bathroom on the train just to avoid the military police until I made it to Penn Station.” 

Any visitor received by Merve Troutman, who jumped in to Normandy with the 82nd Airborne Division, is always treated to a viewing of his paratrooper uniform, jump boots, and helmet sporting a jagged hole where an enemy Soldier made his mark. “But I lived to tell it,” Troutman said.

A German swastika flag retrieved from Stalag VII-A near Moosburg, Germany still hangs in the home of World War II bomber pilot, Martin Allain.

As the last American prisoner of war camp was liberated, Allain climbed the main flagpole and replaced the German flag with a Stars and Stripes he’d hidden from the Germans for almost three years.

“The story of how Grandpa climbed the flagpole and tore down the swastika was a great favorite with our children at bedtime,” said Allain’s wife, Lila.

Al Meserlin, Eisenhower’s personal photographer in the last months of the war happened to grab a vacuum cleaner one day while photographing the Allied Supreme Commander. “I stuffed it in the back of the jeep and to this day I can’t imagine what I ever thought I was going to do with it,” laughed Meserlin. “Luckily, Ike never noticed or said anything about it.”

Stephen Mrozek, National Historian for the 82nd Airborne Division, believes souvenir-hunting during conflicts, especially one as notable as World War II, isn’t hard to understand.

He claims nothing brings veterans closer to the past than holding something tangible from a particular moment in time. “When Soldiers pick that object up, even though it may be years later, a memory is triggered and they’re reliving that adventure once more,” said Mrozek.

It’s a theory that makes perfect sense to Bob Wright, a 101st Airborne paratrooper who jumped in Normandy and retrieved his parachute for his bride’s wedding dress.

“It might have been just Margaret and me at that altar, but I felt the presence of all my buddies that I jumped with in the Normandy invasion when I saw that silk,” said Wright.

Mrozek believes many veterans view their war experiences as a wakening, a moment in their lives that nothing else compares to, even surpassing marriage and children. Especially by those involved in heavy fighting.

“The common denominator is combat,” said Mrozek who’s interviewed veterans from as far back as the Spanish American War to the present. “Life becomes far dearer to those that have been so close to death. So they come to cherish a souvenir or special token taken from that time that reassures them that they lived through it.”

In some cases, the souvenir may be a treasured item a soldier brings with him from home for good luck.

In the “Story of Dr. Wassell,” a World War II movie released by Paramount Pictures in 1944, a young sailor named Hoppe has a small bag of Arkansas mud he’s devoutly carried since the day he left his parent’s farm. “That’s plain Arkansas mud,” he says in the film. “A piece of the USA that means heaven.”

In contrast, it’s foreign soil that many veterans regard as the ultimate memento. In the film, “Saving Private Ryan,” despite the fierce battle in progress on the Normandy beachhead, a Soldier is scooping up sand to add to his collection from Italy and North Africa.

Since Normandy reunions began, some beginning as soon as the war ended, thousands of veterans have headed for Omaha and Utah beach with a container for that very purpose.

“I didn’t think to do it the first time,” said Frank Gagliano 101st Airborne who came in on D-Day plus one at Omaha Beach. “I was too busy trying to stay alive.” 

The insatiable desire to acquire souvenirs isn’t harbored by just veterans, but a tradition that’s been passed to their descendants as well.

John Gagliano visited Omaha Beach along with his father, Frank, on the 55th anniversary of the Normandy Invasion. The sand he gathered that day has taken on a whole new meaning since his father is no longer living.

“I use it to remember him when he was so young. He and all those other Soldiers he served with. So many gave their lives and that’s something that should always be remembered. That’s what that sand is for,” he said.

Retired colonel Bill Ridley, founder of BK Tours & Travel, sponsors Normandy tours every year. As someone who lost a relative on Omaha Beach during the Overlord invasion, Ridley understands the sentiment of gathering sand and makes sure his guests are given ample time to explore the beaches, contemplate and gather that much sought after trophy. 

“I always felt my uncle, Staff Sgt. William Becker, 18th Infantry Regiment, 1st Infantry Division, was a hero, and because of that I decided to pursue a military career,” said Ridley. “Sand from those beaches is a way to memorialize those men forever where they stood together and were counted.”

First Lt. Eric Dinoto reached a lifelong goal when he visited the five Normandy invasion beaches. He spent several hours at Omaha Beach, even sprinkling salt water on his face as a means to enhance his understanding of D-Day and what it was like.

The only sand he gathered was from that beachhead since that’s where the 29th Infantry Division landed, the unit he serves in today.

“As I was collecting the sand, I could swear I noticed a tinge of red to it, reminding me of the lives lost,” said Dinoto.

Wanting to leave something in return, Dinoto buried his rank and uniform patch at the cliff base on Omaha Beach. He felt that was appropriate since the ground has special meaning for the infantry. “Soldiers come to love the earth because they spend so much time in it, and when involved with a major combat mission, they become a part of it,” he said.

I confess I’m a souvenir junkie when it comes to World War II military relics. Several Yank magazines adorn my walls filled with extraordinary writings describing in vivid detail battles and down time, the hopelessness of losing buddies that were closer than family, and the joyous tears of finally seeing the Statue of Liberty that meant home. 

Songs that good naturedly poke fun at World War II Army life called, “What Do You Do In The Infantry?” and “The Cranky Old Yank In A Clanky Old Tank,” hang next to the Yanks.

Beside them is an authentic War Department Yank Swing Session record from The Armed Forces Radio Service and a Coca Cola bottle dating back to 1944.

Walking twice with Normandy veterans on Utah and Omaha beach not only wet my appetite for sand, but also for crickets (communication devices) and parachute samples used by 82nd and 101st Airborne Division Soldiers the night of the invasion.

Modern times have afforded me a piece of the Berlin Wall and the infamous Saddam Hussein playing cards, but it’s World War II memorabilia that continue to fascinate me the most.

My favorite is the old P-38 can opener introduced in 1942 and carried by thousands of GIs throughout the Second World War as well as Korea and Vietnam.

A delightful surprise was finding out the P-38 still serves Soldiers today in Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom. As a result, it’s hard to find any service member who doesn’t have a unique story connected to “the most perfectly designed tool in history.”

My special P-38 was presented to me 27 years ago as an offer of marriage from a handsome young Soldier when nothing else was available. Since I still have that same P-38 and anticipate at least twice as many more years of happy wedded bliss, I think it’s a pretty good souvenir.



A Bugle Story - by Renita Foster

Throughout the Army's history the sound of the bugle has called soldiers to battle, to pay call, to meals and, in the end, to a well deserved rest when the wars are over.

Like the voice of the faithful town crier from days of old, military bugle calls awaken sleepy soldiers, announce meal time, proclaim the duty day's end and, as only the Army could, orchestrate a gentle reminder of lights out with a nostalgic lullaby.

Old-timers are often eager to share stories centered around the Army's bugle calls. There's the tale of the meticulous soldier who religiously set his watch, and the rest of the clocks in his house, to First Call at 0730 hours or of the dedicated Army wife who equated Assembly with children's nap time at 1300 hours. Then there's the complaint that calls weren't loud enough for those hard-core personnel strictly regulating their day in accordance with the sacred tunes.

Many soldiers and veterans today find themselves deeply affected by these eloquent musical tones.

Lona Rogers, a United States Military Academy Preparatory School cadet candidate at Fort Monmouth, N.J., is up long before Reveille but says the shrill morning call to duty definitely boosts her motivation. "It's your sign to wake up," Rogers said. "You have a job to do, so let's go do it."

Members of Fort Monmouth's Retiree Group, who went through basic training there more than 50 years ago, clearly remember Reveille as a dreaded "screeching noise," and swear the only thing worse was being thrown out of bed by a drill sergeant if you hadn't responded to that first wake-up call.

Pay Call and Mail Call also caused quite a scramble back then, according to group member Joe Rankin, a World War II veteran. And, he said, no other organization in the world quite knows how to end a duty day like the U.S. Army -- with the sharp, dignified tones of Retreat complemented by soldiers paying their respects.

Ed Devlin*, Fort Monmouth's director of training, plans, and mobilization, believes the custom of halting a military installation's operations to honor the Retreat Ceremony means more than just recognizing that work is over for the day.

"It's parallel to stopping and smelling the roses as you go through life," Devlin said. "Bugle calls keep us in touch with things that were important in the past and that are important now."

Although it's been more than 50 years since Robert Peterson began his 19th bombing mission over Germany, he agrees with Devlin's sentiment. That mission became his last when he was shot down and spent the next 18 months in a prisoner-of-war camp. "It wasn't until I saw a Retreat Ceremony that I knew I was home," Peterson said.

SFC Alan Templeton, also of DTPM, was assigned to the Berlin Brigade over a decade ago. He says the Retreat Ceremony there during the Cold War was an extraordinary experience in his career. "We were located quite close to the East German guard towers and I remember seeing them look down while the bugle was playing, and I couldn't help feeling they were truly envious."

For the retiree group and the cadet candidates at Fort Monmouth, Taps seems to bring on the widest range of emotions.

"Taps really has 'Army' written all over it," said cadet Dan Russo. "I believe, of all the bugle calls, that's the one that makes you think and remember."

For Jeremy James, a West Point cadet, hearing Taps for the first time was exhilarating. "My heart was beating happily when I heard the song that night because I knew I'd succeeded in what I set out to do. That day, I'd done more push-ups than I'd ever done in my life and I realized I was on the way to my future."

But coming out of the Depression and suddenly being thrust into a world war at the age of 16 brought an entirely different emotion to Tom Helmick, a Navy veteran.

"At the end of that first day at basic, I was lying in my bunk, and Taps began playing," he explained. "That was the first time I'd ever been away from home, and hearing those lonely, solemn tones brought a lump to the back of my throat that I can feel today."

Taps, the melody that has touched countless service men and women, was created by Gen. Daniel Butterfield of the federal Army of the Potomac in 1862. With no musical ability, Butterfield enlisted the talent of the brigade bugler, Oliver W. Norton, to signal the end of the day. Taps debuted that July at Harrison's Landing, Va.

Taps was chosen for a military funeral, instead of the customary three volleys, because of the proximity of the enemy. The new custom quickly spread and eventually was confirmed by orders.

Army bugler Sgt. Mark Barrett, who has played Taps at several military funerals, says it's the hardest part of his job and carries the greatest responsibility.

"It's that final goodbye to a friend, the final hurrah, and you want it to be absolutely perfect," Barrett said.

It was during a tour at West Point that Army Chaplain (Lt. Col.) Terry Dempsey learned the words to Taps and began reading them with the benediction at the end of military funerals:

"Day is done. Gone the sun, From the lake, From the hill, From the sky. All is well, Safely rest, God is nigh.

"Thanks and praise, For our days 'Neath the sun, 'Neath the stars, 'Neath the sky. As we go, This we know: God is nigh."

"I felt it was appropriate, since it not only closes the soldier's day, but is the final goodbye, closing this phase of his life. I can't think of any words more fitting for a soldier's last farewell," Dempsey said.

Helmick not only appreciated the meaning of the bugle calls, but also appreciated buglers such as Barrett.

"Back then those calls weren't just sounds, they weren't just music, they meant something. And they didn't come out of a tape recorder. They were played professionally and proudly by a living, breathing soldier," said Helmick.

Talented buglers have indeed been replaced by machines at most Army posts. At Fort Monmouth the bugle calls are played on a digital recorder. Seven times a day, Sunday through Saturday and holidays, Reveille rings out at 0600 hours followed by Recall, Mess Call, Assembly, Retreat and Tattoo, with Taps at 2200 hours.

Regardless of how the bugle calls are played and whether you prefer Reveille or Retreat, it's comforting to know the calls are still treated with the honor, respect and attention each deserves.

*Ed Devlin is currently a member of the Civil War (2nd New Jersey) reenacting brigade. 


Veterans Remember
'Days Before Longest Day'
By Renita Foster
Army News Service

WASHINGTON, June 1, 2004 -- Sixty years ago today, more than 250,000 ground and airborne troops in England anxiously awaited one of the most anticipated events in world history.

They waited in marshalling areas called “sausages,” from their shape of long narrow fences. Units were sealed in upon arrival, vehicles were parked close to hedges and every item connected to the invasion was camouflaged under wire netting. The sausages were guarded by military police, and no one was allowed out. Not even campfires were authorized even though nights were cold.

Every Soldier received a brand-new weapon as well as a new uniform treated to ward off poison gas. It was not one they liked since the chemical treatment kept the material from “breathing.” The Soldiers froze in them at night, boiled in them during the day, and the material always smelled foul.

Long road marches and combat maneuvers were replaced by marathon card games and baseball games. Football was taken away because of too many injures. Libraries were available for reading and theaters were set up for showing movies with free popcorn. The favorites were “Mr. Lucky,” “Going My Way” and “Song of Bernadette.” And months of speculation about an invasion was finally over.

“We had a pool going as to when and where we were headed,” grinned Pete Rubino, a 29th Infantry Division veteran who is traveling to Normandy to be a guest of the French government for the 60th Operation Overlord anniversary. “There were briefing tables explaining about the mission we could study. And while we still didn’t know the exact date, we figured it had to be the 5th, 6th or 7th.”

Joe Lennert, a 9th Air Force veteran and resident of the New Jersey Veterans Memorial Home at Menlo Park, N.J., was placed in a coastal town completely encircled by barbed wire. Vast amounts of supplies were nearby under heavy security, but Lennert didn’t think it had anything to do with an invasion. Not even after attending a speech by Eisenhower, followed by the distribution of rations and ammunition, did Lennert believe he was about to be a part of the greatest Allied invasion in history.

“It wasn’t until I was four or five miles from the beach and saw flak from the German guns I realized this was it!” said Lennert.

The sudden appearance of bread, eggs, steak, ice cream and lemon meringue pie was another indicator to many Soldiers their lives were about to change. “We were thrilled to get all this great food even though we called it ‘fattening us up for the kill,’” laughed Rubino.

Max Brudner, of the 186th Field Artillery, indulged in steak for breakfast, lunch and dinner, while Joe Lynch, an 82nd Airborne Division Glider trooper, went for the scrambled eggs. “I wasn’t that particularly fond of eggs,” said Lynch, “but when you’re hungry anything is good, and I remember being very hungry those last few days.”

Once locked aboard the cramped vessels, the endless ordeal of waiting began. Monotony was relieved by stretching out anywhere possible for naps, reading or writing letters as well as joining the never-ending poker and dice games. One imaginative group lowered the Landing Craft, Tank (LCT) assault ramp to the water’s edge, affording the Soldiers a diving platform. Other conscientious GIs washed and strung their laundry between Sherman tanks. And in one ship’s operation area, next to the maps outlining Operation Overlord’s battle plans, a strategically placed beautiful pinup girl lounged on what was undoubtedly a far safer beach.

The long waiting also meant plenty of time for just thinking. While waterproofing his weapon, Brudner suffered the mounting anticipation of battle. His group of men were particularly close since they’d served together prior to the war. “We lived closer than brothers in a lifetime. We trained, ate, slept and went to the latrine with each other. The only thing different this time would be the live ammunition coming our way.”

Sal Mule, then a platoon sergeant with the 1st Inf. Div., indulged himself in a bottle of cognac he’d acquired. “She and I were good friends,” laughed Mule, another resident of the New Jersey Veterans Memorial Home who to this day refuses to say where he got the liquor.

Despite the overwhelming feeling at all the gear he was required to carry, Nick Merlo made sure there was a special place for his good luck rosary. “I never left that anywhere,” declared Merlo, also a veteran of the 29th Inf. Div. So devout was Merlo, he opted to spend his time in the chapel instead of joining the card games. “That’s where me and my rosary felt our best,” said Merlo, now a resident of the New Jersey Veterans Memorial Home.

Late in the evening of June 4, Lynch was in the middle of a craps game when the announcement was made that it was time to go. The excessive weight of the duffel bag and musette bag made walking and climbing aboard the glider difficult. After Lynch found his seat he found he didn’t want to think about anything. “We didn’t talk. We just waited,” said Lynch.

Soldiers all over southern England were poised for Operation Overlord to commence when an outside factor nearly caused the undoing of intense months and years of detailed planning and training. Horrendous weather consisting of reduced visibility and excessive winds forced a 24- hour postponement.

O.B.Hill, 82nd Airborne Division, was making the most of a bad hand in poker when it was announced the invasion was temporarily on hold. Hill was an annual visitor to Normandy, Holland and Belgium before he died this year.

While some Soldiers welcomed another chance to study the sand table outlining the drop zones, others felt frustrated sweating out another day for the combat jump. Many were disappointed about waiting for the opportunity to employ all the airborne skills they’d spent years honing.

“I think there were as many different thoughts as there were paratroopers, but the common feeling was to get on with it,” Hill said. Trading the unlucky poker game for another movie, Hill saw “The Littlest Angel,” starring Margaret O’Brien. “I remember that film’s title because I was sure it would be my last for a long time and it was.”

Lynch doesn’t remember exactly how long he was on board the glider, but he distinctly recalled an officer suddenly showing up, blowing a whistle and announcing, “Everything’s off.”

“We felt let down,” said Lynch. “We were all psyched up to go, sitting in the gliders with our grand M-1s between our knees ready for action. Nobody said very much until later and then it was mostly about being disappointed.”

Mule’s reaction of Operation Overlord’s delay was one of nonchalance since he’d already been in the North Africa and Sicily invasions. Figuring it would come sooner or later, he looked at it as just another day of living. “I didn’t think I was going to make it through the last two, yet here I was,” said Mule. “I was more upset about not being able to get extra cognac.”

The cancellation of the invasion was something Rubino never knew. And he adamantly says he’s thankful he didn’t. “I’m glad I escaped having to think I was going and then not and then it’s back on again.”

Despite the bad weather, Rubino slept on the deck the night of the 4th. The notion of being below with so many Soldiers made him feel claustrophobic. And it became harder not to wonder and feel frightened about the invasion. Rather than talk or speculate about what might happen to him and his fellow Soldiers, Rubino decided it was better to just not think at all. For comfort, he relied on the endless training that had taught him to stay calm and treat the mission just like it was another day.

Anticipation began mounting once again on June 5. Mule handled it by reminding himself there was nothing he could do. His two previous invasions had been hard and this was just one more. “You just keep wondering if this one is going to be your last,” he said fatalistically.

When the order came again, Lynch wondered if there would be another delay. After boarding the glider in the late night hours of June 5 and feeling the aircraft ascend into the dark night, he knew the invasion was on.

When his LST began heading for Normandy, Merlo felt his fears intensify. “I wasn’t any John Wayne. And anyone who says he wasn’t afraid is crazy. The only worry I’ve known that compares to leaving for the invasion is when I got married.”

Lennert also prayed as his unit came closer to the beach. He told God he didn’t mind giving his life for country, but if possible could the Lord please spare him and let him go home. “We kept going by talking to each other and saying things like, ‘Hey, we’re going to Paris.’ Paris became the ultimate goal. God must have heard me because I rode a truck into Paris under the Arch of Triumph the day Paris was liberated.”

Brudner kept repeating the same prayer as his vessel headed for Omaha Beach-he didn’t want to be an unknown Soldier or lose a limb. “I just wanted to get home in one piece.” Around Brudner, Soldiers still played cards and talked abut home and girls.

During the ride over, Lynch looked down and saw water. Then Normandy came closer and the guns opened up. “I thanked God the ‘Krauts’ were lousy shots,” said Lynch who landed in Normandy shortly after midnight. “It was near a beach but I don’t remember which one. There were twenty-something of us. Upon landing, we busted out shouting with our rifles.”

Rubino knew there would be no turning back this time when he heard the shrill blast of the horn across the choppy waters of the channel. As the ships headed out to sea, he turned to faith for strength and courage. “My mother was a very religious woman and I prayed to her. I honestly believed she would help me get through it. I was still saying that same prayer when I saw Omaha Beach that morning.”

On June 6, 1944, more than 8,000 aircraft flew in support of 5,000 ships and craft that carried 175,000 men across the English Channel. The first transmission sent that morning read, “Under the command of General Eisenhower, allied naval forces, supported by strong air forces, began landing Allied armies this morning on the northern coast of France.”



‘The Greening Course’
Program allows civilians a peek at Army life
by Renita Foster
Public Affairs Office

The first class of the Communications-Electronics Research, Development and Engineering Center (CERDEC) has graduated from a newly designed learning concept called, “The Greening Course.” Programmed to ensure teambuilding and a sense of camaraderie among civilian members of the total Army team, the course also provides basic understanding of the Army through informal classroom instruction and hands-on, face-to-face experience with soldiers. “I learned about this type of program at Aberdeen Proving Ground and believed we could do the same thing here at Fort Monmouth,” said Master Sgt. Dwayne Davis, Career Development specialist for the Human Resource Office, CERDEC. “So I collaborated with the instructors of the Army Research Laboratory Greening Course at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Md., CERDEC Flight Activity, AMC, CECOM Flight Activity, and Fort Dix National Guard Battle Lab to establish a Greening Course here. Col. Angel Colon, military deputy director of CERDEC and Master Sgt. Javier Perez-Sanchez, CERDEC Sgt. Maj. were particularly instrumental in the development of the course by providing oversight, assisting in securing resources, and making a presentation about the military chain of command.” said Davis.The one-week course, attended by 21 civilian employees from the CERDEC, Software Engineering Center (SEC), Logistics and Readiness Center (LRC), and Deputy Chief of Staff for Personnel (DCSPER), spent a typical “Army” day receiving instruction in combat arms, Night Vision, Combat Support, and Special Operations, as well as Weapon Familiarization and Map Reading. The students were also treated to a tour of the Signal Museum to emphasize the significance of military history, and the Physical Fitness Center to learn about the importance of physical fitness. As designated squad leaders for the class, Michael IP, a computer scientist from CERDEC Integrated Battle Command Directorate (IBCD), and Darlene Worsley, an electronics engineer from the LRC quickly learned the responsibilities of receiving orders from Noncommissioned Officers (NCO) and disseminating them to the rest of the “platoon.” To effectively execute the orders, both leaders also had to familiarize themselves with each person and were responsible for out briefing the class and the staff of the CERDEC Human Resources Office, at the conclusion of the course. “This course was a success because it met its intended goal which was to further educate civilian workers on military organization and how the military does its job,” said IP. “I enjoyed gaining hands on experience with simulated weapons and vehicles, and active duty soldiers giving instruction from their respective branches was invaluable. It gave their work a more realistic overview and how they apply the technologies we help develop. The Greening Course also gave us a better view of our ‘mission’ and who our ‘customer’ is. I think any civilian employee, intern or career, can benefit from this class.” Worsley believes the course provided her an exceptional insight into soldier life and gave her the opportunity to see there is more to a soldier’s job than just attacking when ordered. “Now I see there is so much dedication, concentration, skill and accuracy required in completing a mission. Now I realize how much the soldier depends on their fellow squad members, who in turn depend on the civilian employees. Together we are one big family working to achieve a common goal. Thanks to the Greening Course, I know the United States Army is the best in the world and I’m proud to be a part of it.” Participating in simulations such as shooting targets with an M16 rifle at the Fort Dix battle lab definitely had Rosa Miranda, a Computer Engineer from CECOM SEC, feeling like a soldier in training. Sampling Meals Ready to Eat (MREs) was the real thing, however, and helped her realize what it’s like to consume this type of food for weeks to months. “The helicopter ride was the most highly anticipated activity for the week,” said Miranda. “We were able to experience an amazing view of Monmouth County. However, the idea being a soldier in the helicopter on duty somewhere in an unfamiliar enemy territory is quite daunting. “This week really taught me how physically and mentally prepared soldiers must be to serve in the Army. I feel strongly that the Greening Course should be made mandatory for all new civilian employees coming into the Army family so they can gain a better understanding of its mission in supporting the war-fighter.” The success of the Greening Course has prompted CERDEC to schedule classes for January and February and, with the long-term goal of hosting one course every quarter.



Goodbye 104th Infantry Regiment
Many thanks for a job well done
by Renita Foster
Public Affairs Office

The “Fortitude and Courage” unit arrived here just 10 months ago from Massachusetts. And since that time, Bravo Company, 104th Infantry Regiment, has performed magnificently in accordance with their motto in Operation Noble Eagle II, the mission of protecting Fort Monmouth. In addition to that priority duty, it was these 101 “Eleven Bravos” (the Army classification for infantry) who gave a whole new meaning to the words, “Army Ambassadors.” Graciously, these soldiers honored each and every invitation presented to them by schools, hospitals, veterans’ groups and communities to visit and share thoughts about deployment and military life in general. Many went on to share their personal reasons for joining the Army and how the service improved their lives. Several Bravo soldiers participated in the annual Read Across America Program.

And on Halloween, they graciously provided numerous boxes of candy and goodies to one lucky elementary school, even taking the time to pass it out classroom to classroom.

Numerous Boy and Girl Scout troops earned flag badges this year (a new badge in honor of 9-11-01) thanks to Bravo affording them the opportunity to stand Retreat and observe the end of the duty day tradition. On many occasions, the youngsters were given the opportunity to enter the company’s dayroom where the soldiers shared infantry adventures and demonstrated skills and equipment. Those generous hours of time spent with those children and young adults interested about the military have undoubtedly ensured America a future generation of those willing to serve their country.

It was Bravo to the rescue when one of the worst winters to ever strike Fort Monmouth paralyzed the post. Without hesitating they volunteered their High Mobility, Multipurpose, Wheeled Vehicles, (HUMVEES), to retrieve the United States Army Military Academy Preparatory School (USMAPS) mess hall chefs in the housing area.

In addition to making sure the USMAPS cadet candidates were fed, the soldiers also delivered breakfast and lunch to their fellow gate guards and snow removal crews. 

These were also the men faced with the ongoing Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan while the premonition of an additional conflict lurked in Southwest Asia.

And when Operation Iraqi Freedom erupted, the Bravo pride and professionalism remained undeterred. If anything, the outbreak of war only seemed to strengthen their resolve to perform in an exemplary manner. Attending Reveille that morning as a way to show support for the soldiers here and overseas, the flag detail, still on duty from the previous night, displayed considerable enthusiasm and determination as they performed their assigned tasks. Later, they said the feeling of soldier camaraderie was never stronger than when they learned the war had started. While there was speculation as to what might happen here, they recognized where the greater danger lay and wondered about what kind of weapons American troops might face and the hope all service members had received adequate training to accomplish the mission and bring everyone home safely. Many watched the conflict on television, proclaiming, facetiously, that the best part was the “bombing of Baghdad.” As to how they felt about raising Old Glory that morning, Staff Sgt. Frank Baranoski said it best with a quote from Franklin D. Roosevelt, “Those who have long enjoyed such privileges forget in time that men have died to win them.” Undoubtedly, one long-lasting memory Bravo will take from Fort Monmouth will be their participation in the final farewell to a fellow infantryman, Cpl. Michael Curtin of the Army’s 3rd Infantry Division, killed in Iraq. Every member of 2nd Platoon volunteered for the funeral detail and those involved spent several hours preparing to ensure their best performance in rendering honors to their fallen brother in arms. But beyond the expert spit and polish, crack salutes and turns, there was no guide for the emotional turmoil each one felt. “It was one of the hardest moments I’ve ever faced,” said Spc. Nate Hubbard who said he felt deeply for the fallen soldier, even though he was not personally acquainted. “I just thought if it was me, I would want other infantry soldiers, the ones that have worn those blue cords and crossed rifles, to be the ones to say goodbye and help with my family.” Other members of the funeral detail offered similar sentiments; readily admitting they were overcome by remarks given by family members, the bagpipe procession that played a phenomenal version of “Amazing Grace”, and the 21-gun salute at the cemetery. “If I had my way, we would not have worn coats over our Class A’s even though the weather was bad,” said Sgt. Jonathan Turner, who directed the folding of the flag and placed it on Curtin’s casket and also has Curtin’s picture hanging in his barrack’s room. “We owed it to Michael and the infantry to look our best.” When asked if the Curtin funeral meant they had changed their minds about serving their country and possibly leaving the uniforms behind, not one of them said yes. If anything, these young men made it clear there was no other choice. “We know when we sign up what may happen to us,” said Staff Sgt. Michael Burke, “and there’s honor in executing that decision even though the worst comes about. I saw myself and my mother in this particular family which filled me with a great deal of sorrow as well as pride in being there with them.” What I admired most about Bravo Company was their sincerity and humble quality about serving in a “safer place” than one of danger. Many times I heard them thanked and praised for serving their country here at Fort Monmouth, only to hear them politely answer, “It’s just my job, sir.” Later, many said they were somewhat embarrassed since they felt they were undeserving compared to the duties being performed by other units, especially those deployed overseas. It’s never certain where this Army of One will be needed, as there are no guarantees of knowing where danger may strike. Bravo just happened to be the ones who landed here. And while protecting the Fort Monmouth Community may have not been the most crucial, thanks to their “fortitude and courage,” not once were we attacked, compromised, or prevented from getting into work at any time. They did their job, we could do ours. And by all accounts, the technology provided by Team C4IEWS in Operation Iraqi Freedom was instrumental in securing a victory and saving lives as well. This means, gentlemen, the battle you fought here at Fort Monmouth was indeed won. May that be what you remember as you head home. 



He Signaled Freedom with Old Glory
By Renita Foster

"Freedom is more than being able to leave home; it's also being able to go home."
William R. Livingstone, German Prisoner of War at Moosburg, Stalag VII-A 

Saturday, April 28th 1945 brought nothing but rain all day and night, drowning away any rescue hopes so desperately held by the "kriegies" (short for the German word, kriegsgefangen meaning prisoners of war), at Stalag VII-A located near Moosburg, Germany.

Incarcerated in Stalag VII-A, the last POW camp to be liberated by the Americans, was bomber pilot, Martin Allain. The 23-year-old 1st Lt. became German prisoner of war #122 when his B-26 bomber was shot down over North Africa in January, 1943. After being captured by Arabs and turned over to German soldiers, Allain was sent back to Germany where he was interrogated and held in solitary confinement.

During an initial search, Allain cleverly hid under his tongue, a sacred heart medal, given to him by his mother. It was the first of two prized possessions he would guard with his life during his years as a prisoner of war.

"My mother presented Martin with the medal that first Sunday in December of 1941," said Allain's sister, Net Garon. "Everyone gathered together that day to spend as much time with him as possible before he reported for flight training. It was just a few hours later we learned about the bombing of Pearl Harbor, which made us feel all the worse."

While serving as a security officer at his initial POW camp in Stalag Luft III in Sagan, Poland, Allain received his next treasure; a huge American flag smuggled into the compound to be displayed for identification, should the constantly prayed for Allied planes appear. For safe keeping, Allain immediately sewed the flag between two German blankets.

The renewed threat of the Russian winter offensive in January 1945 caused the Germans to evacuate Stalag Luft III kriegies. When the order came, Allain was determined to keep the sacred icon he'd been entrusted with and quickly grabbed the blankets for a six day forced march in horrendous weather and sub-zero temperatures from Poland to Germany, arriving at Moosburg in early February.

"I don't think at the time Martin knew just how significant that flag would become," said Lila, who became Allain's wife a few months before he left for overseas in 1942. "He simply felt it was his responsibility to make sure it was available if needed."

It was Allain's medal and flag providing him solace during the next three months when Stalag VII-A brought nothing but unbearable cold and hunger. The winding down of World War II had forced POWs to be sent from other camps to Moosburg. A facility designed to house 3,000 prisoners now swelled to a total estimated 30,000 to 100,000. The overcrowding meant little food and no hot water for cooking or washing. As a result, the straw beds were infested with lice and fleas. The outdoor latrines, one for about every 2,000 men, had eventually overflowed, promoting further disease among the kriegies. The Germans refused to clean them until the parade ground, where the kriegies assembled for roll call, became affected.

The brightest moment for Allain was discovering an abandoned kitten he was determined to help survive. The darkest was returning to the barracks after work detail one afternoon to find nothing left but its skin.

The next morning, Sunday, April 29, the Moosburg kriegies awakened to brilliant sunshine, restoring their belief freedom just might be near. "McGuffy," the code name for the BBC (British Broadcasting Company), heard by kriegies over hidden radios had announced General Patton's 3rd Army was northeast of Munich. This startling revelation sent many prisoners scurrying to examine their secret maps, confirming Moosburg was indeed close to that area. As the morning progressed, so did excitement in the camp. Men grouped together, whispering, planning, and praying this just might be the day.

The kriegies heard the long awaited, soul stirring signs of freedom before seeing them. Just over the horizon was the unmistakable chugging sound of a Piper Cub. As the observation craft every combat soldier knew so well came gliding over the Bavarian evergreens, it began wagging its wings over the camp as thousands of voices boomed up to greet it. The powerful engines of two P 51s followed the Cub, enhancing the already spectacular scene with victory rolls over barracks and tents for the exhilarated POWS.

And then the most revered sound of all; one holding thousands of kriegie eyes and ears spellbound with anticipation that seemed to last as long as the war itself; the deep rumble of diesel tanks approaching from beyond the surrounding hills. From the second they were spotted to their arrival at the main gate, the rescue machines were literally drowned out by the deafening kriegie jubilation.

It was the 14th Armored Division, storming the main gate of Moosburg that late Sunday morning. To this day, its veterans claim the cheering of captured servicemen being liberated, "is the most moving sound we've ever heard."

And in that moment, when impassioned kriegies began climbing over tanks and celebrating their deliverance, Allain realized the destiny meant for the highly coveted flag he'd protected for so long.

"I was standing at the front gate," said Robert Hartman, an infantry platoon leader with the 78th Infantry Division before his capture the year before, "when Allain began shinnying up the German flagpole. Everyone knew immediately what he was going to do, and there was no doubt in our minds he would make it despite his malnourished appearance. I think when called upon, Americans just have tremendous esprit de corps to accomplish whatever they need to. And the recollection of this grimy, skinny but smiling GI tearing down the ugly swastika and replacing it with the beautiful Stars and Stripes has never wavered or grown dim. I've never seen this soldier before or since, but it's the kind of memory that only gets stronger with time."

As for the veteran Moosburg kriegies, the ones who had been imprisoned for more than three years and "sweated out" every major World War II event from North Africa to D-Day to Bastogne; the ones surviving for so long by making German rations edible and turning tin cans into tools and utensils; the ones who would not allow themselves to feel hope that day because of so many near-but-not-quite rescues; witnessing Allain's display of American patriotism at its best, was nothing short of miraculous.

"As hardened as they were, seeing that glorious Stars and Stripes sent tears rolling down their cheeks," said another former Moosburg POW, "and they were not ashamed to be seen crying. Being set free can do that to people when they have been behind barbed wire and don't know if they will ever see their families again." Like most soldiers who keep souvenirs from their Army adventures, Allain brought home the swastika flag, but left Old Glory at Moosburg.

"He liked to believe it stayed hanging on that flag pole long after he'd left," Lila Allain said, "as a reminder when freedom came to the prison that day. And I think it was just marvelous he had the foresight to keep it and accomplish something so remarkable with it."

Martin Allain, Jr. vividly remembers hearing the "flag story" as a youngster and can easily picture his father climbing up the pole. He also views it as a bunch of young men trying to keep their sanity with the flag incident reinforcing the sense of who they were. "Freedom didn't exist for so long for those POWs, and when that flag appeared, that's the moment they knew freedom really was theirs. And to this day it's a favorite family bedtime story. Especially the part where my father hid the flag between the blankets to keep the Germans from finding it"

Most Americans never learned of Allain's symbolic contribution to the end of World War II until a decade ago when former Moosburg kriegies wrote to columnist Ann Landers sharing that unforgettable Sunday. But Allain didn't identify himself as the flag raiser until nearly five years later.

"Martin became ill with leukemia and knew he was dying. That's when he told me he'd been putting it off long enough and said it was time to write," recalled Net Garon. "Ann Landers was a favorite column of his and he was very proud and pleased when he saw people still remembering that triumphant day."

Allain's response prompted an avalanche of mail and phone calls worldwide. And while he possessed the same kind of inner strength and desire to answer the treasured but overwhelming correspondence as he did the day he climbed the flagpole at Moosburg, the cancer would not permit it.

"So we simply gathered the family together and shared a truly gratifying experience in helping Martin read all the letters and answering calls from everywhere imaginable, like the Veterans of Foreign Wars, "Garon said beaming at the memory. "He was so delighted and thrilled over all the wonderful people who let him know how much they cared."

When the Allains gathered once more to say their final farewell to Martin, it was standing room only for the man who had been blessed with a wife of over 50 years, 5 siblings, 3 children, and 7 grandchildren. There was an entire community who knew Dr. Allain as the beloved pediatrician "treating little ones with tenderness and love, whether their parents could afford it or not," like the handicapped children cared for by the Holy Angels School where he was on call for 28 years, 24 hours a day. And Allain was the friendly neighbor who religiously wore a coat and tie upon leaving his house, enjoyed farming and fishing, but for some reason didn't like riding in airplanes.

There was, undoubtedly, another presence at Allain's funeral, not physical but spiritual. An ethereal army of former Moosburgers who came to pay homage to their fellow kriegie and to remember the "grimy, skinny but smiling GI proudly raising the glorious Stars and Stripes" one long ago sunny Sunday morning; proclaiming the freedom they were born with and had fought so painfully hard to get back, was once again theirs.


Surrender? NUTS!

Story by Renita Foster

IT was perhaps the most famous four-letter-word reply in World War II history, one that left a phenomenal legacy that's lasted over half a century. And if the Belgian town of Bastogne has its way, BG Anthony McAuliffe's response to German surrender demands during the Battle of the Bulge -- "Nuts" -- will be remembered forever.

"I thought McAuliffe would just laugh and come up with something more formal," said retired LTG Harry Kinnard, as members of the 101st Airborne Division prepared to return to Normandy for the 55th anniversary of D-Day and the Battle of the Bulge in 1999. Kinnard missed that reunion because of medical problems.

Kinnard was a lieutenant colonel and division operations officer and McAuliffe was temporarily in command of the 101st when it held Bastogne but was surrounded by the advancing German army during the Battle of the Bulge in December 1944.

McAuliffe's response to the surrender demand inspired his troops to a heroic stand that helped stop Germany's last major counteroffensive of the war in Europe.

"When McAuliffe heard the demand," Kinnard said, "he laughed and said: 'Us surrender? Aw, nuts!' But when he realized he had to respond, he told the staff, 'I don't know what to tell them.' He asked what we thought, and I said, 'That first remark of yours would be hard to beat.'"

The rest of the staff wholeheartedly agreed with Kinnard, and McAuliffe immediately wrote, "To the German commander: Nuts."

"We had absolutely no idea sending back 'Nuts' would have the kind of impact it did," Kinnard said. "But I'm not that surprised, because 'nuts' is a typical American word, and it was exactly how we felt about surrendering. It was also a huge morale boost for the public back in the States hearing about our desperate situation of being surrounded at Bastogne."

Cleo Zizos, of the Fort Monmouth, N.J., Public Affairs Office, remembers sitting around the radio with her family, listening for details of the war during the Christmas season of 1944. When they heard of the famous reply, there was only one reaction, Zizos says. "We thought it was just a great answer and that GEN McAuliffe was speaking for all Americans."

There is one point, however, Kinnard insists on setting straight: the idea that "Nuts" was selected because McAuliffe's other comments were obscene. "That's absolutely false. Tony McAuliffe was a fine, decent commander, a bona fide gentleman who did not believe in vulgarity."

Today, Bastogne proudly hosts a NUTS museum and NUTS cafe. And it's hard to find a store in town that doesn't sell NUTS T-shirts, coffee mugs or other items celebrating McAuliffe's defiant response.

Tom McVickers, a battlefield tour director catering specifically to veterans visiting Europe to see where they fought, says Bastogne is almost always on the "must stop and see list."

"If we're in that area, they insist on going there," he said. "Veterans and their families are thrilled to see the museum or restaurant and visit the bust of GEN McAuliffe in the square. It's one of those fascinating legends that ranks right up there with the Normandy beaches."

As for the unprecedented fame and inspirational spirit "Nuts" provided for the citizens of Bastogne and Americans back home, it can't compare with the exhilaration it brought to 101st Abn. soldiers on that bleak and desperate day.

"Nobody had any thoughts of giving up, because we weren't trained to give up," said Robert Wright, who was a medic with the 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment. "We were trained to be successful. So we all agreed that was as good an answer as anybody could come up with, because that was how everyone felt."

Wright stressed how bitter the weather was, with sub-zero temperatures, the countless injured soldiers and the lack of medical supplies. But failure to come out of the situation successfully was simply unthinkable.

"Nothing kept us from saying: 'We're airborne, and we're the best!' And we were determined to keep showing the enemy we were the best. We didn't give a damn what the Germans wanted, so it was a great answer to a stupid question. And it's a piece of history that's won't die."

Another medic, Allison Blaney of the 326th Medical Battalion, was near the 101st operations room when McAuliffe and his staff made the decision to go with the "nuts" reply. He says it's a priceless memory he's only appreciated more with time.

"It provided the motivation needed to show the Germans just how determined and dedicated we were," he said. "Everybody in the room looked so pleased at the answer. And I don't believe anyone knew or could have guessed the outcome that one word would have on the world. It was just fantastic!"

Tom Splan was a forward observer with the 377th Parachute Field Artillery, who learned of the "Nuts" reply in the field when the rumors began circulating about surrender. "I said it's a damn good thing McAuliffe said that, because I wasn't about to give in. And while I didn't fully realize we were surrounded with such force against us, it didn't matter, because that answer fired everybody up."

Splan fought alongside two other soldiers, and for the rest of the day, he remembers, the three of them laughed and proclaimed what a great way it was to say "go to hell." "It was a standing joke among us, and all day long we had conversations like 'nuts to you' and 'nuts to the weather' and 'nuts to everything else.' And even though so many years have passed, I still think and laugh about it."

Hubert Long was just 17 when he jumped into Normandy on D-Day with the 501st PIR. He was captured three days later and spent the remainder of the war in a POW camp, but heard the famous "Nuts" story after returning home.

"I felt it was very proper and very American." he said. "I laughed a great deal when I heard it, because I felt that was so typical of the American airborne. It made me very proud, and I feel sure it provided the soldiers incentive and strength to complete the task they had before them. We were taught from the beginning, when I went into the airborne, 'kill or be killed.' That's what we believed and that's what we practiced."

Today, Kinnard still believes "Nuts" demonstrates how American soldiers, even when faced with death or capture, find a way to deal with a problem and come out ahead.

"That's a personal trait I take great pride in, to put in a lighthearted touch when something bad comes along. When you do that, you can't help but make yourself and everyone else feel better," he said. "I know that's why I immediately thought "Nuts" was the best answer we could give. Even after all these years, I still believe it." 



Hell years

Ex-prisoner of war recounts horrors of North Vietnamese capture

by Renita Foster

Public Affairs Office [of Fort Monmouth NJ - No Date]

It was Jan. 31, 1968 when North Vietnam began rocketing the city of Hue in the Republic of South Vietnam

Detachment Five, a television station crew for American Forces Vietnam Network, immediately shut down operations and scrambled to their billets.

For five days they fought until water, food, and ammunition ran out. When the soldiers made a desperate attempt to reach the major compound just a mile away, the non-commissioned officer in charge, Master Sgt. John Anderson, was shot in the chest. The first thing he saw upon regaining consciousness was a North Vietnamese soldier pointing a rifle at his head.

"I had just 23 days left ‘in country’," Anderson said in a recent interview, "and now I’ve got three bullet wounds. The first medical aid I received was at a North Vietnamese holding area outside of Hue. It was just a large cotton ball and a set of forceps. They dipped into an iodine bottle and washed out my chest."

A forced 10 to 12 mile a day road march came next, ending six weeks later in the city of Vinh, North Vietnam. Anderson was fed only two bowls of rice every day during the trek north. He knew he must persevere if he wanted to live.

"I had to walk because if I didn’t they were going to shoot me," Anderson said. "So putting one foot in front of the other was a matter of doing just that. I weighed roughly 230 pounds when I was captured. I was down to 146 by the time the journey was over."

From the beginning, escape had been his foremost thought. But Anderson knew from his military escape and evasion classes that in his case, he wasn’t likely to be successful.

"I broke all three of the three rules I’d been taught." Anderson said. "That you should try and get away as soon as possible, know where you are, and make sure you’re in good enough physical condition to escape."

The first time he tried to escape he made it about a mile, then passed out because of his wounds. The second time he managed to get farther, but walked right into the middle of an enemy military camp. The last time he was nearly beaten to death with bamboo clubs by women in a North Vietnamese village.

Despite the overwhelming odds, however, there was no giving up. Anderson remembered one classic escape by another prisoner who strung his uniform up like a straw man in the bathroom one evening. He punched a hole in a one gallon water can and placed both items in a way so that when the guard arrived, all that could be seen were trousers with water spewing out.

"The guard bought it and went back to lock the other doors," Anderson said. "By the time he returned, the prisoner already had a 30 minute head start. He was gone for about a week until they caught him."

Anderson also recalled just how bad the punishment could be for foiled escapes; like the soldier who tried fleeing Hanoi and was buried up to his neck for a week. "There’s always the probability you’re going to get caught but you’ve got to remember there’s always that possibility you might make it.

" If you let that go, then you begin falling apart. There was one young man who did give up; literally. He laid down one day, turned his face to the wall, and died. He physically gave up the will to live. When you get to the point where you refuse to resist any longer, then you become an animal. You’re just not a human being anymore."

Anderson spent his first months in a cell four feet wide by six feet long and five feet high. At daybreak he was allowed to empty the "slop bucket", then was given some food and water. After a light afternoon meal, the room was locked again until the next morning.

A few days a week he was afforded the opportunity to take a bath from a well. "You’d dip a bucket in, splash the water over you, soap up, throw the water back over yourself and rinse," Anderson said. "And once in awhile you might go out and sweep the courtyard."

For the majority of the next five years he was required to sit at attention at the end of his bed board, forbidden to see or talk to anyone.

Punishments for infractions such as getting caught attempting to communicate with other prisoners were swift and fierce. Meals were cut down to one a day, no outside exercise was allowed. The only daylight or fresh air came from a small hole in the room’s ceiling.

Severe punishment included being locked in irons to a bed or kneeling down and keeping your thighs straight with hands up over the head. A prisoner had to stay that way until it started hurting which took about 30 minutes. "They obviously know you can’t keep your arms up that long so they tie them over your head for eight to 12 hours. The pain was so great that guys would eventually pass out," Anderson said.

Endless interrogations began three months after Anderson’s capture. After giving the classic name, rank, serial number, and date of birth, he remembers his captors taunting and asking if he really thought that’s all the information he would give for the rest of his life.

"My other line," Anderson said, "was that I’m just a dumb sergeant, you don’t tell your enlisted men everything do you?"

But then came the kind of interrogation Anderson could not have seen coming. To disorient him, he was put into a totally dark room; then brought out and questioned for 18 hours, only to be returned to the darkness, with the process repeated for about a month.

"This causes you to lose track of time. And then they start saying ‘well yesterday you told me’, and you begin forgetting what you’ve told them, and don’t really know any more what you’ve said, "Anderson explained.

"They’ll even put a man in the room next to yours who speaks excellent English. You overhear him saying your name, the town you were captured in, your unit. And you find yourself really wondering because there’s only two or three people who could know those details" he said.

One warning Anderson insists on passing down to soldiers who may one day find themselves in the same situation is; get whatever story you’re going to tell straight in your mind and always tell it the same way.

It was a painful lesson Anderson learned when he was brought before his initial interrogator and shown three different folders containing information on three different John Andersons.

"I was absolutely speechless," Anderson said. "Not to mention scared to death. This guy had interviewed me on different occasions and not one time did he write anything down or take a single note. Now he was telling me how confused he was having three people here with the same name, rank, town where they were captured, but with all different stories. That’s when I knew I was in trouble. "

For punishment Anderson spent six months in solitary confinement. To fill in the long, despairing hours he built a radio station from the ground up, laying the bricks, fitting the windows, even installing the wiring and equipment. He also made friends with a mouse he would talk to.

Saving little pieces of bread, Anderson would feed the rodent who would cock his head as if understanding. "I felt I was doing well when he didn’t answer back," Anderson said.

Anderson even found he enjoyed watching an insect build a nest; something that almost caused him to get in a fight with a guard since that’s when his confinement was over and he wanted to see the young hatch.

Anderson’s family never knew if he was alive or dead as he was listed as missing in action

After five long years he became a free man on March 5, 1973. Because he had been told so often that he was never going home, it was not until he was airborne that Anderson could really believe he was headed for America.

And while he agrees that most Vietnam veterans did not get the kind of reception they should have, he says his couldn’t have been better.

"When I arrived in Niagara Falls, N.Y., where I was raised, there were about 8,000 people at the airport to greet me. I had an escort into town by a motorcycle police honor guard. For about the first two weeks I couldn’t buy a drink or anything to eat in any place I went. It was that kind of welcome," he said.

Anderson also praises various businesses that asked to him to be their guest on vacations or cruises, as well as the Ford Motor Company who gave him a free car to use the first year he was home.

And he still has a framed menu from a White House dinner honoring North Vietnam prisoners of war.

As for soldiers who become prisoners in the future, Anderson offers this advice. "You can do just about anything you have to or want to. And that includes surviving. More importantly, remember when you came in the military you took an oath. You raised your hand and said ‘I will,’" he said. "You must live up to your commitment because you’re the one who’s going to have to live with yourself. And they can break you. They can break anybody; I don’t care who you are. But in the end, you are the one responsible for what you’ve done. Now I get up every morning and look at myself in the mirror and shave. And while it’s not the prettiest sight in the world, I smile because I am happy with the fact I’m back here and I’m the man that I am."




Story from 'Soldiers Online' by Renita Foster

Bob Hopkins was a boy living in West Germany when construction of the Berlin Wall began Aug. 13, 1961, and served in Germany as an Army intelligence officer during much of the Cold War. Today the retired warrant officer remembers overgrown hedges and remnant strips of wasteland are about the only reminders left of the “Iron Curtain” that divided Germany for almost half a century. But when retired warrant officer Bob Hopkins returned to Germany and gazed across the former East-West German border, he saw something else, something he’s never forgotten. “The metal lattice fences, dogs on leashes, searchlights, even those East German guards and me in the towers scrutinizing each other through field glasses. They are as real now as they were then,” said Hopkins who spent the majority of his Army career as an intelligence officer in areas like Coburg , Bad Neustadt, Berlin , and Bad Hersfeld. Serving as a  member of a Border Residence Office required Hopkins to interview people who had escaped from East Germany and to constantly watch for changes on and beyond the border. He also acted as a liaison between American Forces and the West German Army, German Customs and German Border Police, assisting them in their operations. As the son of an American soldier and German mother, Hopkins spoke fluent German, making him a natural for such assignments. Ironically, his father was stationed in Germany on Aug. 13, 1961, when the Wall and frontier barricades were started. Hopkins remembers his dad, while stationed with the Constabulary Forces in the early ’50s in Bamberg , sharing stories about American and Russian soldiers swapping cigarettes and vodka. “They actually socialized with each other,” Hopkins said. “Yet, by the time I came on active duty, contact was absolutely forbidden and Soviet soldiers had been replaced by East German Border Guards. Despite growing up and serving nearly a decade in Germany , it wasn’t until his 1985 assignment with the 108th Military Intelligence Battalion, in Wildflecken, that he actually saw the Berlin Wall. “I was a sergeant first class debriefing refugees from Eastern Block countries when I was finally confronted by the Berlin Wall. As I stood there in front of it, I realized this really was the end of the free world. It was just unbelievable something like this existed.” Hopkins stresses that what most people think of as “the Wall” only existed in Berlin , while the rest of East and West Germany was divided by more than 800 miles of fence. The barrier between the two countries was multi-layered, complete with barbed wire, heavily-armed fortifications and mine fields. A signal security fence located farther back into East Germany tipped guards of escape attempts. Hopkins remembers that during his tour at the BRO in Coburg , in 1976, one East German managed to escape despite badly injuring an arm on the razor-sharp fence top. Another escapee lost all sense of direction because the frontier barrier was constructed in a zigzag manner, keeping the defector totally confused as to where he actually was. Fortunately, he was able to hide until learning he’d made it to the West. “Unless you were a border guard and knew the area well, you didn’t know the series of signal security towers and actual border fences and possible mine fields or traps,” Hopkins said, describing the maze that faced the potential escapee. And then there was the “death strip.” A work force was occasionally escorted to the west side of the fence, with two guards accompanying each laborer. A red tape was strung around their work area with the stern warning that anyone crossing it would be shot, and a slight movement in that direction was viewed as an escape attempt. Hopkins ’ last illegal border crosser came in 1989 during his assignment as officer in charge of the BRO in Bad Hersfeld. Assigned as a border guard at the Untersuhl crossing point in East Germany , the East German shrewdly disabled his partner’s weapon. Then under the pretense of using the bathroom and checking train tracks, the guard descended from the tower and entered the alley where the daily passenger train traveled to and from East Germany . The moment he entered the train corridor, he started running and never stopped. Not even when his former partner on the tower began shouting and aimed his rifle. The East German reported that the last sound he heard before reaching the freedom of the West was a metallic click instead of the sharp crack of a discharged weapon. And what about the price of freedom so highly coveted by the East Germans? Hopkins described many of the East Germans as being ecstatic that they had escaped. Afterward, however, came guilt about families remaining in the East who would be subject to retaliation. A series of small white crosses commemorating East Germans who gambled for freedom and lost is one anguishing legacy left by the perilous barricades. Hopkins recalled one of his most devastating experiences was in 1978 in the Coburg sector, when a young man had made it across all border fortifications but was badly wounded. “He was only about 10 feet from the border and his freedom. All we could do was stand there and watch him die with an ambulance and doctors anxiously waiting and hoping he’d make it. Had anyone tried to reach him, they’d have endangered their own lives and caused an international incident. We all knew East German Border Guards were ordered to shoot to kill.” Hopkins again observed the barrier’s senseless horror when an East German guard’s leg was blown off while clearing mines. “Even when your worst enemy is hurt, you hurt,” he said.  During his assignments along the frontier, Hopkins came to realize the Berlin Wall and frontier barricades not only divided a country, but families living within yards of each other. “There was a designated place on the border in the Coburg sector, where a cross was mounted, and you could look across and see the cemetery in East Germany . Occasionally, family members living in West Germany would congregate there and participate in a funeral service actually being held in the East. Sometimes they’d hold up children and wave to one another. These people were desperately trying to hold on to family unity as best as they could. If the East German border guards saw East German families responding in any way, the families were immediately reprimanded and faced severe penalties. The guards simply didn’t tolerate contact of any kind.” Hopkins ’s last assignment on the border was with the 165th MI Bn. In Darmstadt in 1989, with duty at the BRO in Bad Hersfeld. He was now a warrant officer and fully expected to manage the BRO for another three year tour. But on the evening of Nov. 9th, history abruptly changed. At midnight, East and West Germans joyously mobbed the 28-year-old Berlin Wall. The frenzied celebration intensified as East Berliners burst through the few openings and clambered to the top of the wall, joined by thousands from the West. At Hopkins ’ station along the Intra-German Border, however, U.S. Forces went on full alert. “We really had no clue what to expect,” he said. “As a soldier I couldn’t let my guard down, because it was quite possible Russian tanks would follow those crowds rambling over the official crossing points. Instead, we were overwhelmed by East Germans getting off their late shift at  factories in East Germany . They wanted to see if it was true they were free to go without permission. Then all they wanted to do was just talk to westerners and drink a Coke!” Back in Berlin , “chiseling mania” quickly followed as Berliners and visitors to the city acquired souvenirs from one of the most infamous  barriers ever known. It’s a phenomenon Hopkins easily understood, especially since he was one of the millions who did it. “The Cold War had been going on all these years, and then it was suddenly over. People couldn’t help but get excited,” he said. “My biggest thrill was getting a piece of the Wall near Checkpoint Charlie, the American entrance to East Berlin .” Hopkins moved to Tampa , Fla. , after retiring in 1993, and two years later began working at the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office as a criminal intelligence analyst in the organized crime bureau. But the gripping adventures of the German border and the unforgettable memory of the collapse of the “Iron Curtain” never left him. So when the 11th Armored Cavalry held a reunion in May 2000 for all soldiers who served along the border, he returned to Germany . “I think it was intrigue more than anything else. To see a country that I considered my home, along with America , go from one extreme to the other; it just wasn’t your regular life’s adventure,” Hopkins said. “I felt an intense desire to see how Germany had come together, economically and socially. For those of us who served there when the country was divided, that moment of world history meant a great deal. “The fact is you can put up a front all you want, you can keep people in the dark for 45 years, but sooner or later they find out the truth. East Germany destroyed itself. And I believe it’s highly significant the world was able to overcome the Cold War peacefully, since more people were killed during its existence than when it ended.”





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