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Old Patriot's Pen

Personal pontifications of an old geezer born 200 years too late.

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Location: Colorado Springs, Colorado, United States

I've been everywhere That was the title of a hit country-and-western song from the late 1950's, originally sung by Hank Snow, and made famous by Johnny Cash. I resemble that! My 26-year career in the Air Force took me to more than sixty nations on five continents - sometimes only for a few minutes, other times for as long as four years at a time. In all that travel, I also managed to find the perfect partner, help rear three children, earn more than 200 hours of college credit, write more than 3000 reports, papers, documents, pamphlets, and even a handful of novels, take about 10,000 photographs, and met a huge crowd of interesting people. I use this weblog and my personal website here to document my life, and discuss my views on subjects I find interesting.

Tuesday, October 12, 2004

The Trip of a Lifetime: Part I

My assignment in the Air Force after leaving Vietnam was to Wiesbaden, Germany. We arrived in November, 1971, on a four-year tour to Wiesbaden Air Base, then the home of the 7101st Air Base Wing and a host of other units attached to, but not under, the 7101st. My unit, the 7499th Support Group, was one of them.

We were encouraged to settle in to the local community, and Jean and I did so fairly well. We lived in the town of Engenhahn at first, a small town on the very northern edge of the local support area. Being inside the support area was important – the military provided furniture, school bus transportation, and other essentials, but only to those inside the support area. The outer edge of the support area for Wiesbaden was the ridgeline above our home – that close! We rented an upstairs apartment in the first building in Engenhahn coming from Niederseelbach, eight kilometers (five miles) away, and on the other side of the M5 Autobahn – Germany’s super-highways. We spoke little or no German, our landlady, Frau Harsey, spoke little or no English, and there were cultural and social clashes that had to be experienced to be believed, but eventually all of us, including Frau Harsey’s young grandson Matthias, were happy there.

There was exactly one other military family in the town, the Reagans, that lived on the top of the hill opposite us. Their house was visible across the apple orchard and up the hill from ours – when we could see it through the fog. The view was magnificent, though, and we could watch the deer forage for windfall apples in the orchard in the early morning mist. We loved to take long walks through the beech forests that began less than a hundred meters from our door.

Living in Engenhahn was not always pleasant. We’d bought a car the first week we’d arrived there – a 1969 Volkswagen 411 sedan. I worked the mid-shift then, and driving home at 5:30 or so in the morning was often hazardous. The fog would be so thick visibility was less than the distance between the roadside markers every 100 meters. I drove home one night when the fog was so thick I turned off the car’s inside lights, and maneuvered, following the yellow line outside the open driver’s side door – at less than five kilometers – three miles - an hour. That trip home took more than two hours to cover less than fifteen miles. It was also an hour’s bus ride for children going to school. We were offered base housing, and jumped at the chance.

About the same time we moved into base housing, I switched from mid-shift to swing shift, and a much more exciting job. I’d also been there long enough by then to start being able to do some travelling. We made the obligatory trip up and down the Rhine from Wiesbaden to Koblenz, and a few side trips many of my fellow servicemen missed. There was the trip from Koblenz along the Ems river to Limburg. There were the trips to Koenigstein, once the home of some of Germany’s most famous knights. The city of Mainz – the home of Johann Gutenburg - was just across the Rhine river from Wiesbaden. After several short trips, we were ready for greater adventures – a trip to Luxembourg. We also moved further afield inside Germany, to Bavaria, to Wurttemburg, and to Ramstein and Kaiserslaughtern in Rheinland Pfalz. The Taunus and Eifel mountains became familiar to us.

Life in the military is uncertain at best, and we were faced with the fact that this may be our only trip to Germany during our military career, and wanted to make the most of it. We also wanted to share it with our parents. My father was a World War II veteran of Patton’s Third Army, and plainly stated his memories were still too fresh to enjoy a tourist trip to Germany – even after 30 years (I understand that now, being a Vietnam Veteran myself). My wife’s parents, however, were delighted, and couldn’t wait to come.

I spent months planning their trip to elicit the most enjoyment possible for all of us during the two weeks or so we would have. Being in an Intelligence unit, I had access to better maps than those available through the tourist bureau, and poured over every possible destination. After dozens of hours of study, I chose a route that I felt would provide the greatest variety, the best choices of places to stay, and an opportunity to see more in the short time we would have than would normally be possible.

It was an audacious trip: 4,446 kilometers (2745 miles) in twelve days, from Wiesbaden, Germany to southern Italy and back. I had picked specific destinations that had to be reached each day, yet allow us to spend time visiting cultural, social, political, economic, and fun sites.

The first day of the trip was to take us from Wiesbaden, Germany, to St. Croix de las Rasses, in Switzerland. Our destination on the second day was Genoa, Italy. Our third night was to be spent in Pisa, with an extra day to do laundry, pick up anything we had failed to bring with us, and relax a bit at Camp Darby, an Army installation there. We had planned to arrive in Florence on the evening of our sixth night, spend the next day sightseeing, sleep again, and head for Rome the following morning.

We scheduled four days to visit Rome. We knew anything less than that would have been too brief, and even a month would never have exhausted everything there was to see. From Rome we would go to Naples, visit Pompei, drop down to Salerno, and then head across the peninsula to Foggia and the Adriatic side - day nine, and very, very audacious. Our plans from there was to drive to Pescara, allow our then-six-year-old daughter to play in the Adriatic, then go on up the Italian Peninsula to Rimini and San Marino. From there we planned to drive to Venice, then over to Lago de Garda, and spend the night in Trento. We would then drive over the Dolomites to Innsbruck, then head for the American military hotels in Garmisch-Partenkirchen. We then planned to visit Linderhof, the Royal Castles in Fusen, and drive to Ulm. That would have been our last night on the road, and we’d be back in Wiesbaden the next day.

Anyone who’s actually been to Europe would know that we were trying to cram a three-month vacation into less than two weeks. No one told us it would be impossible. No one told us we’d end up passing by a thousand things we’d rather have stopped and seen. Certainly, no one told us our young daughter would break out with chicken pox toward the end of the trip! No one told me, either, that 40 rolls of 35mm film just wasn’t going to be enough!

Part II, and some photos, coming soon!

1 Comments:

Blogger ~Jen~ said...

I'm jealous. Even if you didn't get to spend as much time as you would have liked to there, at least you got to go. I've been to England and Scotland twice each, Mexico once and Canada once. That's it. I soooo jealous.

I'm too nervous to fly internationally these days. Maybe in a couple years we'll go to Europe. Scott was able to see the world like you did when he was in the Navy. His favorite place is Italy. I'm dying to go.

Looking forward to your pictures!

9:19 AM  

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