Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Remembering Kleinhau

It came to pass one day (circa 1954) while serving at Prum Radar Station in Germany that my OIC asked his men if anyone would like to volunteer to be the Supply representative for a small new outpost being constructed to serve as a radar and radio relay station. Now I should mention that there was a saying popular in this period that rolled freely off the lips of the older and wiser WW-2 retreads, as we called the guys that served in that period. The saying was simply “Never, never volunteer for Nuthin'.” As our Captain looked around there was a definite stillness and no one uttered a reply. I guess they thought a bird in the hand, like the Prum Site assignment, was better than something unknown. I noted a certain knowing glint in the eye of old timer SSgt Gibson that hinted at the well-worn slogan about not volunteering.

So it came to pass that no one showed any interest in being transferred into the unknown. So when a few days later Capt Begley asked me to consider the posting, it was a surprise and I asked a lot of questions about it. I was mainly interested in the local housing situation as by this time I was married and living in decent rental quarters in Prum. One efficiency room with a bath across the hall shared by only one other tenant couple. I thought we were pretty lucky to have found that. There was a grocery store just next door and we were right in the middle of the town. The commute to the Prum Station was about 15 minutes. Since the Capt had not visited the new site he couldn't really tell me what to expect but said I should check out a jeep and go spend a couple of days to check it out. The site would be ready for an advanced detachment to begin the movement in short order and resupply would come from Prum and also from Bitburg Air Base. Stockage and resupply would be the job of the Supply rep.

I liked the new site. It was much smaller than the Prum site. Barracks were basically completed, a small dining facility was being outfitted and the operations, maintenance and supply buildings were ready. Theo, an old grizzly former German Army sergeant, who lived just outside the site at the edge of the village was serving as overseer and watchman. And I must say he didn't miss anything that moved past his house and onward to the entrance gate of the station. I believe he gained this status by virtue of his military experience. He definitely required from me an explanation of who I was and what was I doing poking around because it was still officially in the hands of the civilian contractor with whom he had some kind of connection. After we took possession of the site he pressed his status on us and it took some time to dissuade him from messing with site activities. But I digress.

The next weekend my wife and I drove to Kleinhau to try to find a new place to live. We asked around. There were two little Lebensmittle stores and everyone was nice and helpful but nothing was apparently available. Kleinhau was a town of perhaps 45 dwellings, tops. We finally went door to door asking if they had any living space to rent. We were about to give up when we noticed a house under construction. The windows in the lower story had curtains but in the upper story, the windows were bare. We looked at each other and said, “This has got to be the one.” So it came to pass that we became the first occupants and also the first tenants of the August Jorres family's new upstairs apartment. Three lovely new rooms and a bath. We were ecstatic. Now an opportunity to buy our first furniture and furnish the house as we liked. The rent? Half of what we were paying in Prum for one room. Trying with all my might to hide any excitement, I told capt Begley I'd take the assignment.

It was a great two years. I was my own boss as sole Supply rep. I made the weekly trucking runs to Prum and Bitburg for resupply, returning with everything from spare parts, calibrated equipment, bed linen and such coveted things as pierced steel planking to tame muddy parking areas.

I learned a lot from Herr Jorres. I helped him and his brother finish the bricklaying of the home's veneer. They taught me to tuckpoint and it has served me well in numerous instances. And did I mention we had a lovely bathroom but it was not usable because the septic tank had yet to be constructed? Both families used a “one-holer” outhouse. This was not really a problem in theory, but the Jorres' has two small boys so plus the two of us made six using the facility. I soon learned that the Sears catalog we thought would be fun to put in there delayed the exit of Mr. Jorres by a lot. But what could we say? The poor guy had been a truck driver in the war and was a POW in Siberia working in a salt mine and not repatriated until 1948. The palms of his hands were like shoe leather. A sweeter, nicer person you could not meet. His wife was his childhood sweetheart and they had been working toward getting this house built for a number of years while starting their little family. The boys, Dieter (5) and Friedel (4) were tow-head blondes and we named them the Katzenjammer Kids because they both had enough energy and mischief in them to keep mother Johanna racing after them with a wooden spoon that she would apply sparingly to keep them in line.

I offered any help I could to make the septic tank project a reality. Basically, we had to dig it with pick & shovel. Finally, the project got underway and I was ready to help. I grabbed a shovel to work with August and after about 5 minutes of not getting much done, he looked at me and said. “I see I am going to haver to teach you how to dig.” And teach he did. Two weekends and we had that hole carved out of the rocky ground and ready for concrete.

It was nice to give the outhouse it's last rites. In my memory will always remain the day that Dieter took the gas cap off of my Mercedes and as I chased after him to give it back he ran and threw in in the outhouse sump. His Mom introduced his little butt to the wooden spoon over that one. But it was all in good fun. We had many happy times with this family. Unfortunately, I've never been back to Kleinhau after we returned stateside to FE Warren AFB in 1956.

An interesting aside. Kleinhau was about two miles from Hurtgen. As you probably know the Hurtgen Forest was the site of one of the largest and deadliest battles of the war. My oldest brother, Lucien, was severely wounded there. Luckily he recovered after he first regained consciousness weeks after being evacuated to the UK. With this knowledge, I definitely wanted to visit the forest where the battle had taken place. It was very hilly and the air bursts from artillery had decimated the trees. One result of this was that one of the leading enterprises post-war was the making of charcoal from all the blasted timber. The forest trails were full of placards reading “Achtung Mine Gefahr” (Mine Danger) In other words, "Do Not Venture Off The Trail." Nevertheless, as my wife and I walked into the forest one weekend I noticed a silvery glint in the sunlight, just a few meters down a very steep hill. I couldn't resist investigating further. Bottom line, we discovered two sets of dog tags and chains and scattered further down the hill we found traces of skeletons. We marked the location on the trail and I called Graves Registration in Frankfurt to tell them about the find. Next day they came and reclaimed the tags and the remains. I'm sure in the meantime more extensive searches have been undertaken. I know too that numerous people have died in the process of searching due to land mines and unexploded shells. I will always feel I helped a couple of families close an open chapter in their lives.


Blogger Anthony Tormey said...

So very cool. Wonderful . . . and sad, story. Thank you for sharing.

4:16 PM  
Blogger Shannon Barnes said...

Love to read the memories! Your writing reminds me of Mamie's. :)
Thank you for sharing,

4:55 PM  

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