Two Tickets to Heidelberg
At the end of part II, Billy and I had gotten ourselves into a bit of a predicament, and we’d narrowed down our options on making the best of it to either waiting on the train or walking from Heidelberg to Coleman Barracks.
Under ordinary circumstances, we should have been able to get back to the base and grab a couple hours sleep before roll call at 6:00 AM.
These were not ordinary circumstances. We’d only been in Germany for a few weeks, neither of us had been past Mannheim, and a commuter train had brought us to our current outpost. We knew where we were but not exactly how to get back to where we’d been.
Did I mention that German bier is typically stronger than its American counterpart?
Our infamous trek encompassed a deserted menagerie of highways and byways where no cars or vehicles of any kind travelled, and we were certainly the only pedestrians. It was dark, quiet, and precisely eerie. Like a couple of POWs, scrambling behind enemy lines, we stumbled along the countryside in the general direction of the base.
The exact details of the marathon hike are a bit fuzzy, perhaps mentally blocked might be closer to the truth, but somehow, only by the grace of our Lord and Savior I surmise, we found the gate to Coleman Barracks. It was now somewhere around 5:00 AM, Monday morning. Like a long-distance runner, who’d come within inches of the finish line, I stood outside the gate, the frigid December air of the early hours doing little to inhibit the sweat that oozed from every pore in my body.
I couldn’t determine whether anger or surprise dominated the emotions of the guard who came out of the shack to confront us.
“Avey, I might have known it’d be somebody like you.”
I couldn’t say we were friends or even casual acquaintances, but it might be suggested that somewhere between El Paso, Texas and Juarez, Mexico we’d crossed paths. “Hey Sanchez. Fancy meeting you here.”
Sanchez glanced at his watch, over to the guard shack, and then back to us. “Does anybody but me know you’re out here?”
“That would be seriously doubtful.”
“Are you drunk?”
“I don’t believe this. I’m going to the guard shack. When I turn back around, I best not see anybody standing here.”
“You can count on that. You’re all right, Sanchez. I owe you one.”
“No you don’t.”
Billy and I gathered what little strength we had left and scurried through the gate. All we had to do was go about a half mile, enter the barracks, change clothes, and fall into formation with everyone else. After what we’d been through, this should be, to indulge a cliché, a piece of cake.
We arrived at our location with a few minutes to spare, though it soon became obvious that something wasn’t quite right. There was no formation, not even the beginnings of one. We were the only soldiers in the area. Even if we’d been a few minutes late, somebody should have been hanging around.
Billy and I exchanged glances then ducked into the particular barracks where we were temporarily being housed with hopes of finding everyone still in their bunks. We’d just cleared the stairs to the second floor and turned the corner, when we were met my Sergeant M. He was one of those soldiers who wore starched fatigues, shiny boots, and a smoky-bear hat. He was a drill sergeant. More than that, he was our drill sergeant, and, as everyone who’s been in the service knows, the goal is to remain anonymous to drill sergeants, not to draw their attention.
“Where the hell have you two been?”
Fearing we’d been busted, though never giving up hope, I found a response. “We had a late night and fell asleep in our civvies (civilian clothes). When we heard the commotion, we ran outside to join the others. We realized we were out of uniform so we came back in to get dressed.”
Sergeant M. was a tall, lanky guy, with a powerful, but high-toned voice. He’d always reminded me of a blue heron. He stalked over to a row of windows that looked out over the base then motioned for us to follow. “You’re supposed to be on the convoy to Baumholder.”
We watched through the windows as the last of the small, armored, personnel carriers clanked out of the area.
Sergeant M’s eyes widened as he leaned forward. “And there they go.”
I tried to hold it together but the image of the giant, squawking blue heron was just too much. I began to laugh.
Billy threw an elbow into my side then shot me a what-the-hell-are-you-doing glance.
Had I kept quiet, we might have gotten by with taking a jeep to catch up with the convoy. As it turned out, the sergeant bellowed for us to grab a duffel bag and cram some clothes and whatever else we could muster in about three seconds into it. After that, he marched us outside and over to the mess hall where a couple of deuce and a half trucks were being loaded.
“You’ll ride with the cooks,” the sergeant said, “and since you’re already with the chow boys, you’re on KP duty.”
The dreaded words no soldier wants to hear. KP duty or kitchen patrol equated to long hours of pure hell, a nightmarish combination of dishwashing, food preparation, and floor mopping.
Billy and I tossed our duffel bags into the closest truck and climbed in. The ride to Baumholder was probably long and bumpy. I slept most of the way. I seem to remember Billy saying that it could have been worse, and that at least no one had noticed we’d been temporarily AWOL.
And then, “Wake up, Yoncas.”
I’m sorry I’ve dragged this story out, but it’s turned out to be much longer than I’d thought. Stay tuned for part IV, where I promise to wrap it up.
Thanks for reading.