by Chuck RitenouR
I have drawn on many of my personal experiences, to create this work. Though some of the events actually occurred, they have been exaggerated for the use of entertainment. The names have been changed to protect the guilty as well as the innocent......if you believe this story to be the whole truth and nothing but the truth, I own a bridge in New York City I'd like to sell to you.
In 1972, I found myself engaged in the life and death struggle of war. My war was not fought in the rice paddies of Viet Nam. My war was not one of dodging bullets and fighting hand to hand. My war was fought in Germany where boredom, jealousy, drug and alcohol addiction as well as racial intolerance were the enemies we fought. Too often, those enemies won.
I arrived at my first duty station, Eastman Barracks, Dachau, Germany with another "buck" private, Jimmy Wise. Jimmy was a young black man from Memphis, Tennessee. We not only had homesickness and fear of the unknown in common, we also had music. I had played guitar in several small time rock bands and he had been a drummer for a soul band. We had had very little sleep during the three days it took to travel from Dulles National Airport to Shannon, Ireland to Stuttgart, Germany to Dachau. I felt like we had become "buddies".
Eastman Barracks was the first official concentration camp (KZ-Lager) and was established in March of 1933. It also served as a Nazi SS (Kaserne) barracks during my father's war. Dachau in 1972 was more a village than small town located about 13 kilometers northwest of Munich, Originally set up to incarcerate political dissidents, it is estimated that more than 42,000 prisoners lost their lives at Dachau. Compared to the number of political prisoners, POWs and European detainees, the number of Jews interned there was rather small. There were giant eagles holding empty wreathes below several of the windows. The swastikas had been chiseled out of them, but the eagles and wreathes remained. Behind the barracks, was a building which held a crematorium used to dispose of the bodies. It held a two chamber oven. There is also a larger crematorium with several room size gas ovens which was added in 1943. It is generally agreed that Dachau was not a "death camp". Most deaths at Dachau were the direct result of disease, malnutrition and over work. I remember the water from the water fountain outside the First Sergeant's office had a very unpleasant taste and particularly nasty odor. I would come to believe it was the taste and smell of death.
We reported to our first sergant's office with our orders in hand and waited to be presented to the "BC", Captain Leatham - Battery Commander. The Battery Clerk, David Lanier took our orders and passed them to First Sergeant Fletcher, a giant of a man who after a glance passed them back to the clerk. "Take Private Wise to see the "BC". Private Ritenour have a seat on the bench just outside the office until Spec Four Lanier fetches you." I remember thinking how it felt like I was sitting outside the Commandant's Office at the military school I had attended.
It wasn't long before Jimmy came through the office door and said, "I'm on a gun crew under Sergeant Smith. Don't have to report 'til tomorrow. Gonna find my bunk and get some sack time." Before the door closed completely, Specialist Fourth Class Lanier motioned me in. I followed him to a door at the back of the office. He knocked on the door and a voice from beyond the door said, "Enter."
I walked in came to attention and saluted sharply. "Sir, Private Ritenour reporting for duty".I said. Capt. Leatham did not looked up, "stand at ease", he said. Sitting behind his desk looking over my orders, he smiled. "Your orders state that you have accepted an army appointment to West Point. I'll have to find something special for you to do while you're here. Son, have you ever heard of Special Weapons?" To which I replied, "No Sir." "Where are you from, Private?" he asked. "Virginia, Sir. I'm from a little southern town, Front Royal, Sir." I answered wondering where his questioning was going. "Did you go to high school in Front Royal ?" "Yes Sir, I attended Randolph Macon Military Academy for two years, but graduated from Warren County High." I answered. "Hmmm, yes I can see you've had some military training." he said his eyes never leaving my folder file of orders.
A few minutes passed as he looked over my orders with renewed interest as if searching for a mistake. His uniform was starched and spotless. The brass cannons gleamed as did his captain bars. His eyes never left my papers. His hair was cut high and tight. Finally, he said," I attended West Point, class of '62. Its a tough school. I don't know you're future plans, but I suggest you not chose infantry nor artillery. West Point is known world wide as an excellent school of engineering." His eyes seemed to be saying something, but at the time I could not fathom what it was. "Well Private, assuming you will qualify for a secret clearance which no doubt you will, you will become a member of Charlie Company's Special Weapons Team. It is a position of immense responsibility, a position of intense learning and training, but it is also a position of special priviledges. Private, I want you to tell the clerk that you have been assigned to Special Weapons and your bunk is to be assigned accordingly. Private Ritenour, tomorrow morning at 0800 hours, you are to report to Sergeant Larue. Sergeant Larue will be your Special Weapons Section Chief. You are dismissed." Then, Battery Commander Leatham stood, accepted and returned my salute. I executed an "about face" and left the office. I remember thinking as I closed the door to his office, there is no God in heaven as powerful as a Battery Commander on Earth.
Lanier was waiting for me as I exited the Battery Cammander's office. "Where did the "old man" assign you." he asked. I replied, "Special Weapons." "Well then, you'll be rooming with the Special Weapons Unit and six members of the Battalion Police when you're above ground." he said sounding as if he were dissappointed. "Above ground" I somehow managed to stammer. "Well buddy, there are only five other guys as special as you and you will be with them from here on out. You will however, be attending battery formation in the mornings ay 0700 hours. Don't be late. You may be assigned regular guard duty until comfirmation of your security clearance arrives at battalion headquarters. It could take a few days or a few weeks depending on your past. When are you to meet Sergeant Larue?"he asked. "0800 hours" I answered. "Once you've met with Larue, you'll be assigned a bunk and wall locker in a large room with your unit and those battalion police which you will occupy when you're above ground." he said emphasizing "above ground." "Oh yeah, and Ritenour be very, very careful what you say and do around those guys. Tonight, you'll bunk with Wiseand eleven new replacements from Boston in the "cruit room". Brealfast is served 0530 until 0645 in the mess hall. Try to get some sleep, you'll need it. The "cruit room" is up the stairs third door on the right. Wise should already be there as well as the other eleven "cruits" that arrived late last night. Now, get the hell out of the First Sergeant's office!! " he shouted.
I picked up my duffle bag and started up the long curving staircase. The door to the "cruit room" was wide open. Several of the new recruits were playing cards and drinking beer. Jimmy Wise was fast asleep on a top bunk. "Has anyone claimed this bottom bunk ?" I asked. No one looked up front the card game so I flopped down on the bunk beneath Wise and closed my eyes. The room was dark and empty with the exception of Jimmy and myself when I opened my eyes again. There was a knock on the door. I tripped over my duffle bag on my way to answer it. A thin guy with green tinted round glasses smiled at me from the hallway. "Hey y'all, my name is Smitty. I'm Lanier's assistant. I was wondering....do either of you smoke? What I mean is, do you wanna drop by our room? We're having a little party with the new recruits from Boston. Smokin' some kickass black hash, you know hashish. Well, I mean you're invited ifn y'all wanna come."
I had used marijuana since I was 13 years old, but had never smoked hashish. Wise sat up and said, "Yeah man, its been a long time since I had anything to catch a buzz on." "How 'bout you ? You wanna drop by?" Smitty directed to me. "Sure, why the hell not." I heard myself saying. I had been in Germany less the 48 hours and already had been invited to a drug party. We followed Smitty into the room several doors down the hall from the "cruit room". Inside, we saw all the Boston guys, Lanier and a battalion police officer, the name George on his fatigue shirt. Lanier handed a huge pipe to Wise and said,"hit it slow and easy. First toke is a killer." As Lanier introduced us around. Lanier said, "Private Ritenour is headed to Special Weapons." I told everyone to call me Chuck and that Wise and I had both been musicians. "Back in the world, you were musicians. Lanier said laughing. "Here you're either "lifers" or "grunts", "juicers" or "dopers" and the only thing that truly matters is the number of days you have to serve before you can get back to the world." Lanier shouted above the laughter caused by Jimmy Wise coughing and gaging on the huge draw he had taken from Lanier's pipe. "Now, its your turn."He said to me. "You're either one of us and can be trusted or you're one of them, an outcast." I took the pipe and inhaled the pungent smoke deep into my lungs. I sat crosslegged on the floor becoming part of a huge circle and took my turn as the pipe went 'round and 'round. Someone produced a guitar and handed it to me. It was an old Framus twelve string with six strings on it. After tuning it for several minutes, I played and sang several songs by Crobsy,Stills & Nash and a few tunes from Neil Young's solo albums. Later that night, I stumbled down the hall to my bunk. I remember drifting off into a drug induced sleep thinking Private Ritenour, the West Point candidate had disappeared and only Chuck Ritenour the musician remained.
Smitty banged on our door at 0600 hours. "Better get your asses up to the mess hall ifn y'all want some breakfast." he shouted from the hall. I hadn't taken my fatigues or bootes off prior to passing out on my bunk. I stood up, shook Jimmy and said, "Come on pal, let's get some chow." Jimmy moaned and asked, "what time is it? Its still dark outside. I ain't all that hungry. I need a few more minutes of sleep." I looked around the room. Everyone else had already left so I followed my nose to the mess hall.
The mess hall was located about 1,000 yards north of the barracks. There was a line of GIs about 25 feet out the door. I got in line. This was the first time I witnessed the mess hall line ritual. This ritual was observed by all the blacks and hispanics and consisted of a ritualistic hand shake followed by the words "alright, blood" while pounding your heart with your fist. After the greeter had greeted every hispanic and black in line, he returned to his spot at the end of the line. None of the whites participated in the ritual. The line moved quickly and I made it to the first food station in about 5 minutes. "What's good ?" I asked the black sergeant serving at the first station. "This honky wants a ham and egg omelette, side order of grits, a biscuit and black coffee. Now get the hell out of my chow line." he shouted. I could feel the burn of embarassment on my cheeks and managed to say, "Good morning sergeant, that sounds fine."
I made it back to the barracks with 10 minutes to spare. Battery formation began as a general milling about, smoking, coughing and spitting on the ground. The new recruits were put together in a squad and sounded off as their names were called. After sounding off, the new recruit was directed to his assigned gun crew or unit. My name was not called and now I was the only one standing where once 13 men had stood. The First Sergeant said, "Private Ritenour, you are to meet Staff Sergeant Larue outside my office in twenty minutes. You will be back here at 1030 hours for guard mount and inspection. Don't be late. You are dismissed."
I left the formation and headed straight for the bench outside the First Sergeant's office. I would not be late. Staff Sergeant Larue was average build. He had dark hair and bloodshot eyes. I think they were blue. There was a three inch scar on the left side of his face running along the jaw line. "You Ritenour ?" he barked. I stood at attention and answered, "yes sergeant" "That's Staff Sergeant, you green ass cruit now follow me to the armory. I need to assign you a M16 and a .45 caliber hand gun." " Staff Sergeant Larue, I've never qualified with a .45 pistol, but I'm and expert marksman with the M16." He turned and looked me up and down and said, " I was up all night off base at Ludwig's guest house drinking whiskey. I got a damned headache and the last thing I want to do is deal with your sorry ass. So shut the hell up and let's get moving. You have to make the guard mount and your uniform looks like you slept in it. I got an iron and board. You'll need to get your shit together. You've been assigned to my special weapons squad and you will not, I repeat you will not embarass me or my unit!"
At 0900 hours, I was on the firing range. It took only a few minutes and three shots for me to sight in my assigned M16A1 rifle. Five shots and five bullseyes later, I was handed an M1911A1 army .45. "Have you ever handled a pistol ?" Larue asked. "I've used a .22 semi- automatic a couple of times shooting at pop bottles." I answered. "Ever hit one?" he asked. "Well, no sergeant. I've never been very good with a hand gun." I replied feeling the heat in my cheeks for the second time that morning. "The M1911A1 is a single action, semi-automatic, magazine fed, recoil-operated hand gun chambered for a .45 ACP cartridge. You better damned well know that the next time an officer or a noncom asked what you have in your holster." he barked. "The pistol had two types of safeties; a manual safety and a grip safety." The grip safety gave me some problems at first as well as the weight of the weapon itself. Larue set a target silhoutte at 25 meters and said, "Fire away." I emptied the clip without striking the target once. "Reload and try again." he said. I fired a dozen full magazines at the silhoutte.....no hits. "Damn it, Ritenour if you can throw that pistol and hit the target in one try, I'll qualify you as a marksman." he said shaking his head in disgust. I threw the pistol and hit the silhoutte dead center. "That's better. You're a marksman!" he said as he walked away.
"Come with me." he shouted. I followed Larue back to the barracks and to the Special Weapons room where he produced an iron and board. "I hope to hell you have a set of clean fatigues." he said. I dashed back to my bunk and dung a clean set of very wrinkled fatigues from my duffle bag. I spent the next half an hour ironing and spit-shining my combat boots.
As I stood at parade rest with my freshly ironed uniform and spit shined boots, I silently repeated the three general orders for sentry duty. General Order Number One: I will guard everything within the limits of my post and quit my post only when properly relieved. General Order Number Two: I will obey my special orders and perform all my duties in a military manner. General Order Number Three: I will report violations of my special orders, emergencies, and anything not covered in my instructions to the Commander of the Relief.
We stood at attention in two rows as Sergeant of the Guard barked. " Second Lieutenant Marsh is Officer of the Guard and will inspect this formal guard mount." Second Lieutenant Marsh was about six foot tall with sandy blonde hair and dark brown eyes. I watched him from the corner of my eyes as he stopped ocassionally in front of a guard. The guard would move his M16 from the attention position to the port position opening the the bolt catch and looking in the barrel for a live round. The Lieutenant would make a move to accept the rifle snatching it very quickly from the guard's hands. While inspecting the weapon he would question the guard before returning the rifle to him. When he stopped in front of me, I made the inspection arms move which I had made hundreds of times at Randolph Macon smoothly and without mistake. Lieutenant Marsh asked," Private what are the two types of orders you can receive?" "Sir, a guard may receive general and special orders" I answered in a loud confident voice. When he had finished inspecting the guard mount he saluted the Sergeant of the Guard and said, "Carry on." The Sergeant of the Guard said, "Attention. You will be in formation in front of he guardhouse at 1930 hours for location and shift assignments. The first shift will start at 2000 hours and you will be relieved at 2400 hours by the second shift which will be relieved at 0400 hours. Private Ritenour, you have been chosen to be the Battalion Commander, Colonel Knapp's orderly and driver. You are to report to the Sergeant Major at BattalionHeadquarter immediately. Once you have been relieved you may return to the barracks and will have no further duties assigned until Battery Formation at 0700 hours."
Battalion Headquarters was located about 300 yards west of the main battery barracks which housed three self-propelled eight inch howitzer batteries. Each battery had four guns with a crew of six as well as cooks, drivers and clerks. There is also a Fire Direct Center consisting of 4 men which gives coordinates to all four batteries. Each battery has its own Special Weapons Unit and provides men for the unit military police.
I knocked on the Sergeant Major's office door and the six foot six graying man weighing about 240 pounds motioned me in. I saluted and said, "Private Ritenour reporting as the Battalion Commander's orderly and driver, Sergeant Major." He gave a soft chuckle and said, "Colonel Knapp wants to get a look at you." At that he knocked on the door at the back of his office and said, "Private Ritenour is reporting for duty,sir." The voice behind the door said, "send him in, please." I entered the Battalion Cammander's office stopping five feet in front of his desk, came to attention and saluted saying,"Private Ritenour reporting for duty, sir." He looked up and returned my salute while seated and said, "At "the Point" you'll be encouraged to say sir before and after." "Sir, yes sir." I stammered feeling the heat in my cheeks yet once again. "At ease, private. Tell me a bit about yourself." he said. "Sir, I'm from a small southern town in Northern Virginia, Front Royal. I attended Randolph Macon Military School my sophomore and junior years. I attended the local public high school my senior year and graduated in the top 5% of my class." "What made you return to a public school to complete your secondary education?" he asked. "Sir, I considered the cost of a private school more than my parents should endure." I answered. "Very good. I won't need your services today. You are dismissed." Colonel Knapp said. I replied, "Yes sir, thank you sir it was a pleasure speaking with you." I saluted, executed a crisp about face and closed the door behind me. "Sergeant Major, Colonel Knapp said he wouldn't need me today is there anything I could do for you?" I asked. "No son, thanks for asking you're the first one that ever has. Return to your barracks and use this time to get settled in with Special Weapons. I expect we'll have your clearance in short order."
I decided to explore the barracks complex. Walking down by the motor pool, I saw about 250 men dressed in fatigues pushing large brooms. They were sweeping the gravel from one side of the motor pool to the other and then back again. While they were doing this, about a dozen men were performing preventive maintenance on two jeeps and several duece and a halves (2 1/2 ton trucks). I saw Jimmy and the Boston cruits pushing brooms. A small blonde haired cruit from Boston flipped me the bird. It would be the beginning of friendship along the lines of King Arthur and Sir Lancelot.
My NAC clearance (National Agency Check) arrived at Battalion Headquarters three weeks later. I was moved out of the cruit room which after day one I had had all to myself. The Special Weapons/Battalion MP room was just down the hall and it was huge. It could easily have been adequate space for 25 bunks and wall lockers. As you entered the door, the room had been divided in half by placing wall lockers back to back creating a room partition and a four foot wide hallway allowing you to enter either side without disturbing the occupants of the other. The army issue wall lockers were dark green in color and were two foot by four foot by seven foot and divided vertically in the middle by a pair of doors. On the right side, a horizonal bar six feet from the bottom was bolted to hang your dress uniform and pressed fatigues with a small shelf above it for storing belts, brass and your shoe shine kit. Your dress shoes, combat boots and non military foot wear was stored beneath the uniforms.The left side was divided in the middle horizonally by a shelf. The upper section had a double hook for hanging things. The lower half consisted of two metal drawers to store your socks, underware and small personal items. Mounted on the inside of the right hand door was a 12 inch by 18 inch mirror. The double doors had a latch system which allowed for a personal combination lock to secure it. As you entered the door to the room, the left side belonged to the battalion police to the battalion police held six bunks and foot lockers located at the foot of each bed. Foot lockers were equiped with combination locks for storage of miscellaneous personal items such as magazines, civies, letters from home and small non-parishable snacks. The other side belonged to Special Weapons and was likewise equiped. Each side of the room had two huge windows looking down on the parade ground. Beneath the first window on the right hung one of the giant eagles clutching an empty wreathe. Between the windows on the inside of the room were big hot water heat registers which during the winter rattled, clanged and gurgled. Dean George, the battalion MP showed me how to cook canned hams on the register by opening the can enough to let steam escape. It took about four hours to cook a five pound canned ham during the winter.
Further down the hallway from the barracks rooms were the showers and toilets. The shower stall ran the width of the back of the room and a row of toilets with doors faced the showers. Cleaning the tiled floor was a duty reserved for punishment. Nearly any infraction could be used to get a man assigned this undesirable nightly duty. The "Day Room" was located at the end of the hall. It was equiped with two televisions which picked up the local German channels. Several overstuffed couches and large coffee tables faced them. I spent very little time sitting on those couches watching American television shows trying to understand the dubbed-in lines delivered in German. There were also card tables, a pool table and two foosball tables. In order to play these games you had write your name on on the chalk board and challenge "the winners" when your turn came up. After the evening meal at the mess hall, most of us hung out in the day room while a few would walk into the village and party at Ludwig's Essen and Hofbrauhaus, a small pub in the center of the village serving food and alcoholic beverages. We were paid at the end of the month.
My first visit to Ludwig's Gasthaus was on Monday the thirty-first day of January of 1972. I had been underground studying the US Army manual on The Use and Development of Explosive Devices the previous week. I had been designated as SW driver and had passed the very simple driver's course for the deuce and a half modified van and trailer which transported the explosives that would be used to destroy the weapons carried in the van itself. Learning the ins and outs of explosives was merely the second step in becoming a special weapons specialist. Sergeant Larue had given me a three day pass as a reward for making Battalion Colonel Knapp's driver/orderly which began on payday and ended at 2000 hours Wednesday evening at eight pm. I had also been promoted by Captain Leatham to Private First Class which meant I would get a small raise to $333.88 a month. It was always paid in cash by the paymaster. They would set a table up in front of the First Sergeant's office. Then, we would line up according to rank and be paid one by one. Two Battalion MPs stood to each side of the table with their M1911A1 .45 pistols hostered on their side. I hadn't had any money for several weeks and was feeling like a rich man. Having counted my money twice, I ran up to my room and changed into my dress greens for a night on the town. My civil clothes "civies" had been lost by American Airlines on the flight between Shannon, Ireland and the military airport in Stuttgart Sergeant Larue was already changed into some "civies" and said, " Me and a couple of the boys are going to Ludwig's tonight. There's a cab on the way to pick us up at the front gate. Wanna tag along?" Larue came in late nearly every night while our team was "above ground" stinking drunk. On several, occasions he had urinated in bed. I had some reservations about hanging out with him and his drinking buddies and replied, "I was thinking of grabbing the train into Munich. I don't think I could possibly keep up with you and your gang." Larue said,"Hell boy, Munich will still be there tomorrow. I want to introduce you to Ludwig and his two daughters. Who knows, you might even get lucky." No one ever told me about Ludwig having any daughters. I hadn't spoken to a woman since I saying good-bye to my mother and sister five weeks ago before hopping a plane to Germany. "Hell yes, count me in", I said. "Alrighty then, let's move out trooper" he said slapping me on the back. This would be my first of many great adventures in Germany.
At the main gate, I was introduced to Whit, Yaz and Morgan. Most of us went by our last name or a shortened version of it. Whit was short for Whittington, a specialist fourth class on Company A's Special Weapons Team. He had been in Germany for eight months. Yaz was short for Yazashonus. He was a MP and roomed across the wall lockers from us. Morgan was the Staff Sergeant for A Battery's FDC and had been in the army for 22 years. Larue, Whit and I jumped into the back seat of the black 1965 mercedes benz. Morgan jumped in the front seat and handed the driver a five dollar bill (roughly 15 marks) and said, "take us to Ludwig's Gasthaus, you kraut bastard." The driver laughed and put the cash in his shirt pocket and said, "ja Amerikana Segeant and I keeps da change, yes?" "Ja, ja, you keeps the change" Morgan replied.
Eastman Barracks was about five kilometers from the village and a ride to Ludwig's fetched about six marks. Five American dollar was equal too about eighteen marks. Sergeant Morgan liked to think of himself as not only a man of the world but also a "high roller". The streets were uneven cobblestone and very slippery from the recent snow.. The houses were rather small by American standards, but very well maintained. Most front yards were small and had small statues of knomes or religious figures in them. Every house had the snow removed from the enterance way and the small figures. As we entered the gasthaus, a short rotund man behind the bar yelled "welcome, welcome back my gute freunde." Larue yelled, "we want a table, two fifths of Guckheimer's, and our new pal, Chuck would like to meet your daughters.". "Now you know meine frau puts the children to bed early", Ludwig laughed. Larue laughed and slapped me on the back and said,"guess you won't be getting lucky tonight afterall."
The waitress that brought the bottles of German whiskey and four drinking glasses on a tray to our table looked to be about five foot two and had dark brown hair. Her eyes were brown and she had a musclar body accented by a pair of huge breasts. Larue grabbed her and pulled her into his lap. She somehow managed to put her tray on the table without spilling anything. "Meines Geliebten, meines Geliebten Ich habe dich vermisst", Larue said and then he kissed hard on the mouth. While everyone in the gästehaus, was laughing their asses off, I sat there in silence fuming at the joke Larue had played on me and the fact that I didn't understand a single word of German. The waitress pushed herself off of Larue's lap and gave him a playful slap in the face. "Nächste Mal leck mich am Arsch, Mark Larue" she shouted. The laughter swirled around the room. Larue yelled above the laughter, "Ludwig, haben Sie noch die alte Gitarre?" Ludwig went into a room located hehind a curtain next to the bar and emerged carrying an old battered acoustic guitar and handed it to Larue. "Mein Fruende, wird Chuck singun unde spielen fer uns" Larue annouced and handed the guitar to me. Ludwig asked, "nicht Chuck kenne keine amerikanische Country-Musik?" Larue looked at me and said, "well do you?" "Well do I what?" I asked. Morgan laughed and said, "do you know any country music?" "Is that what he said? How do I say "Hell yes?" I asked as I tuned the guitar. "Holle ja" he said. I looked at Ludwig and shouted,"Holle ja!" as I did a bluegrass trick lick and launched into "Truck Drivin" Man". From that point on, we couldn't buy a drink. I played guitar and sang til closing time at 0300 hours. It seemed I had drank at least one glass of everything Ludwig had behind the bar. I had shots of shapps, whiskey, cognac, vodka, rum. As I was handed a shot, someone would yell "Prost " which meant cheers, but when someone yelled "prost ex", it meant you had to chug the contents of the shot glass. Every shot was followed by a pint glass of thick warm German beer. The four of us must have been quite a sight early that morning as we staggered arm in arm through the main gate singing "Truck Drivin' Man". I spent the next two days in my bunk trying to recover from my first night of binge drinking, so much for my three day pass. Larue was right though, Munich was still there.
To the south of the parade grounds, stood an old wooden tower. At one time, it must have been a gun tower overlooking the prison yard. It was the only one still standing. I had noticed soldier seemed to be comig and going in and out of it several times a day. Looking up at what had once been the gun turret, you could on accasion get a glimpse of someone standing there. No one seemed to want to talk about the tower which made me very curious. By Thursday morning I had begun to feel better. The medic at the infirmary had told me alcohol poisening wasn't easy to get over, but I wouldn't die.. He was right. I didn't die, but I remember wishing for death as I wasted the last two days of my three day pass. Larue came up to me after battery formation and said, "Go sign out your sidearm with a full clip of live ammo. Meet me by the tower in fifteen minutes." "Yes, Sergeant", I replied and headed to the armory, double time. When I returned, Larue took me to the large steel door at the enterance of the tower. A small camera had been installed above the door. Larue held is badge up and told me to do likewise. In a few seconds, the was opened by Doug Haun, a member of Charlie Company's SW Team. "I was beginning to wonder if you'd ever let Ritenour into the hole." he said. We entered into a small room with a steel spiral staircase which went down on the left side of the room. On the right side of the room, a ladder went up to the gun turret. On a rack near the ladder stood six M16A1 rifles. All locked and loaded. I looked up at it and Larue said, "If we ever need those, we'll be in very deep shit. We seldom post a guard up there, only during a tech-opt." Larue motioned for me to start down the steps. The steps spiraled downward about thirty feet opening into a large room with couches, coffee tables and reading lamps. "This your day room when you're below ground", he said. Rick Gross, another member of our SW team was sitting in an overstuffed chair reading a manuel which was about three inches thick. I had never seen another one like it. "Hey Ritenour, you'll get the chance to read our "bible" today. You and Sergeant Larue are releaving Doug and me." Sergeant Laure said, "not so fast Gross. You and Haun will be staying inside with us. Better go grab a cot and a few hours sleep. Johson and Fisher will be here in four hours to releave us. It'll be four hours on and eight hours off untill next Friday." There was a wide hallway with a very high ceiling. It had a string hanging 100 watt bulbs running overhead. Larue motioned me to follow him down the hall. At the end of the hall, were two large steel door with a combination latch between them. Just to the left was another large room. In it were eight television monitors mounted on the wall. They covered every inch of the room below it. Below the monitors was a large built in table. A telephone, a duty roster and a book of cross word puzzles were on the table. Just below the monitors was a list of vital phone numbers. I noticed "Amalfi's Pizza" was one of those numbers. In the middle of the table sat a buttom which looked like a door bell. Above it was the words, USE IN CASE OF EMERGENCY. "That room" he said as he pointed at the room below, "is a "no lone zone". No one should ever be in this area without someone with them. No German Nationals are ever to be admitted to that room. Once daily, two members of the SW Team on guard duty here will enter that room and change the detonation cord on all the charges while Sergeant of the Guard, that's me, waits right here with his hand very close to that buttom. Under no circumstances should anyone other than myself touch that buttom while Charlie Company in on guard duty. Guard duty rotates between Company A, B and us. One week below ground gets you two weeks above with no formations to make or duties to perform except keeping your shit straight in the barracks." He turned and looked me in the eyes. "One screw up in that room could mean disaster for everyone. One screw up in that room could land your ass in a military prison for life. Do understand, Ritenour?" he said to me with a fierce look on his face. "Understood", Staff Sergeant Larue, I said. "Now have a seat. Let's watch television, but no changing the channel." he said as he flopped himself down on one of the two swivel seats. I sat down beside him and began wondering just what the hell had I gotten myself into. "Sergeant" I said, "Can we really order pizza?" He looked at me and said, "That's your only question? Yes, we order it and its delivered to the front gate. Then, one of the battalion police drop it by for us. Try the "pizza amalfi" its a ten inch with ham and cheese with an egg sunny side up in the middle." "Geez, that sounds great, I missed breakfast this morning. I had to get cleared for duty at the infirmary." I said. Larue laughed and said, "you sure are a wussy when it comes to drinking. Now shut your trap so I can close my eyes and dream of being back in the world. What happens when we're below ground stays below ground." Larue rocked his chair back and put his feet up on the table. Soon he was snoring. Yes,he was sober and he was asleep while on guard duty.