I was fortunate to have served my final tour of Army duty with some pretty great guys.
For the final 17 months of that Army service, I was blessed to be stationed with a group of men who, like me, were a fortunate group. We were a small band of soldiers who ran what was called the “sub-division” headquarters of the Fourth Armored Division.
The Fourth Armored Division encompassed the longest military stretch of territory in what was then West Germany. Division headquarters were located near the small city of Goeppingen, located just south of Stuttgart. The division was made up of Army posts stretching east from Goeppingen to very near the Czechoslovakian border, then north along that border to a post just outside of Bamberg. You can look it up on a German map to see that the division encompassed Army bases of more than 160 miles in length.
Because the division headquarters were located in Stuttgart on the extreme Southwest of the division, those in charge of such things had set up a “sub-division” headquarters at a place called Monteith Barracks in Furth, a suburb of the much-larger Nuremberg.
It was there that I landed after being shipped off to West Germany in the last couple months of 1966. Riding a shuttle bus from Goeppingen, along with other new arrivals to West Germany, it took several hours before I reached my new home. The bus made stops at each base along the way, dropping off other new arrivals to their duty stations in Germany.
When I finally arrived at Monteith Barracks, I was met by a group of young soldiers who’d be my Army friends and roommates for the balance of my Army career.
What a group it was.
I’d be the last to talk badly about any of them because they all served this country honorably and became my friends. However, I will also point out that — at that time in our nation’s history — the military needed soldiers. We were in the midst of the conflict in Vietnam (it was drilled into us that Vietnam was a “conflict” and not a “war” although it was hard for many of us to understand the difference). Because of that, military ranks were spread thin when it came to filling all necessary slots around the globe.
I learned that a number of minimum requirements for new recruits had been temporarily lifted and that some Army jobs were filled with soldiers who wouldn’t otherwise have qualified for duty. For example, at least one of my new comrades ordinarily would not have met the Army’s minimum height requirement; another was overweight. I learned that some of the soldiers in what were called “non-combat” roles had been given less stringent physical tests than were normally required.
Quickly, though, I learned that didn’t make them any less an American soldier than those of us who’d gone through regular basic training and had passed the regular military fitness tests.
During the next 17 months, in fact, I became quite attached to that small group of soldiers who made up what was called the “sub-division” headquarters. The seven men with whom I served, for example, were those of us charged with publishing, editing and otherwise preparing the division newspaper for the Fourth Armored Division. The paper was called “The Rolling Review,” the name derived, no doubt, because of the war history of the division and its task of moving across Europe during World War II with huge tanks as its main strength. Others in the sub-division headquarters worked in such areas as finance and judiciary, for example. It was almost as if we were soldiers without permanent homes.
We worked well together for that period of time. In fact, when it came time for me to go before the board for a boost in rank when I neared the end of my military service, I declined. Although the company commander insisted I go before the board for a boost in rank, I explained that I’d rather see one of my comrades get the promotion since his tour of duty would extend long after mine ended. He reluctantly allowed me to decline promotion for that reason.
They gave me a wonderful “short timer party” as my Army days wound down. It was a magnificent party and one that I have preserved through color slides and it’s all on reel-to-reel tape.
Until the past few years, I remained in touch with one of those soldiers. Recently, thanks to Facebook, I’ve reconnected with another — a well-known writer and editor of science fiction books, a fellow named Gardner Dozois of Philadelphia. Ironically, my old Army buddy from Fort Gordon, Ga., where I served before heading across the Atlantic to Germany, is another military friend with whom I’ve reconnected. He’s a native of Philadelphia and now lives just outside that city on the New Jersey side of the state line.
With that service now a half-century past, I feel very fortunate to have remained in contact with those old soldiers. We shared a common bond in that tumultuous decade of the 1960s. They’re proud, as am I, that we actually served, when called, and didn’t join in the protests that encompassed that decade in our history.
I’ve told my wife that a trip to Philadelphia might be a great way to spend a week or two. I think she agrees.
Bill Haglund is a retired writer for the Boone News-Republican and Dallas County News and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.