Inside the NAB compound, the MAA assigned me to a room, and my “shipmates” were assigned transient quarters, awaiting onward transportation.
My roommate was a Teleman Seaman named Christie, from Nyack,
NY. I dropped my seabag next to the bunk, we exchanged the usual welcome aboard remarks, and he told me where to check in. Digging out my service jacket and orders, I headed for the admin building. They issued me a temporary liberty card, a ration card for cigarettes, coffee and booze, exchanged my dollars and change for script, or ‘funny money’ and I signed for, and got my second medal; the Navy Occupation Medal with European clasp. There was a 30-day "Cinderella" probation period on liberty; we had to be in by midnight. After that, if we had an overnight address, we could wear civilian clothes and stay "on the beach" except for duty. The guy checking me in suggested using the address of a bombed out bank building on Burgermeister Smidt Strasse for my address when I filled out the forms. I found out later there were about twenty of us “living” there. Then I went to the second floor and walked around the open gallery of the building to Naval Communications Unit Eight. There I met the OIC, LCDR Tincher, and his assistant, LTjg Steve Robinson, the Chief-in-Charge RMC Wood, the Admin Chief and traffic checker TMC Faile, and the Ops Chief RMC Szymanski. After 3introductions, Wood assigned me to RM1 Vargas' watch section, currently on a 72-hour break, which gave me time to unpack and get my bearings. The best place for that was the club.
I didn't start standing watches until I completed a three-day indoctrination class. We got lessons in cultural and social amenities, a history lesson, and beginning German language. The usual dos and don'ts, plus a chaplain's lecture on morals thrown in for good measure.
The base history was unusual. On 11 November 1950, the CNO disestablished NAB Bremerhaven and established Naval Activities Bremen Enclave, effective 1 July 1951, with military control vested in Commander Naval Forces Germany, and management control under the CNO. A new mission issued at that time directed that the activity be prepared, organized, trained, and equipped for combat operations incident to the establishment and conduct of port operations in any port on the continent of Europe. In addition it would train officers and men to perform military demolition, radiological safety, and armory duties. Last, it would provide logistic support to other naval activities in Europe. Among these last were to aid the staffs of CINCNELM in London; COMNAVFORGER in Heidelberg; a Naval Technical Unit in Berlin; fleet units visiting Germany and European waters; the MSTS Bremerhaven and Communications Unit 8, to serve U.S. naval forces in the Northern and Eastern Atlantic. Authorized personnel complement was 20 officers, 199 men, and 186 German civilians. On 24 March 1950 there was also established a Rhine River Patrol, a separate command with its commanding officer, 12 officers, 193 men, and 57 German civilians to conduct training in boat handling, river navigation, and demolition, and patrol between Bergen and Karlsruhe. 4As of March 1954, the Bremerhaven Enclave consisted of the U.S. Naval Advance Base; Communication Unit 8 and Communication Unit 32 (a half-team of Communications Security Group personnel); Minesweeping Readiness Unit; Weser River and Kiel Canal Patrols; a Port Security Unit; Ship Maintenance and Repair Facility; Special Projects (the USS Northwind and USS Westwind); and a combined MSTS/NCSO. The base was a former German Submarine Officer Training School. It was like being in another Navy. It's hard to describe it. Tucked into a bend of the Geeste River, the base, on the land side, was surrounded by a brick wall. The riverside was protected by a chainlink fence, but there were openings leading to stone steps which went down to boat landings every 100 meters or so. The red brick buildings were laid out around a parade field. A cobblestone street ran (one way) around the field, and a sidewalk abutted the buildings. As you entered the "Navy" gate, the cobblestone street led to an archway through the building. Between the gate and the arch, the street curved up and to the right through a small, well-manicured park. On the right, against the wall was another street that led between the wall and the buildings, to a parking lot. After going through the arch, on the right was an entrance to the building. On the first floor, on the left, a hall went past the Navy Exchange to the club entrance. Stairs led to the second floor to the mess hall over the club and Exchange, the other side of the landing was a barracks, the third floor was all barracks.
It was like no other barracks I've seen then or since. The floors of the hallways and heads were tiled, while the floors in each room were wood parquet. Rooms were double occupancy. Lockers were double door, floor to ceiling. Plenty of space, compared to what I had been used to. Bunks were the usual metal frame, but the mattresses were thick. We were issued sheets, our shipboard mattress covers wouldn't fit. There was no barracks clean up, and no locker inspections. German nationals would clean our entire barracks. Special treatment could be had for a few cigarettes, or a couple of marks. The first thing I had to get used to was peeing on the wall. There were no urinals, just a tiled wall with a pipe across the top that let water run down the wall into a trough along the bottom. You stepped up on the tile platform and let go. The crapper stalls were along the other wall. The crappers took some getting used to, also. There was a "shelf" in the back that your feces dropped onto. I learned that was for you to observe your stool for anything unusual. The paper was like thin corduroy. You had to crumple it up to get it soft, otherwise you'd sandpaper your crotch. You stood before you flushed, otherwise you might have to wash down. In a separate room were the shower stalls, basins and mirrors. The quarters under the roof were for the single German Nationals that worked in the barracks, mess hall, supply, etc.
We shared this compound with the Army, although we occupied the majority of the buildings. I really didn't understand their function, most of the "doggies" were Military Police or admin types. The Army Finance Office was next to our admin building, and they had a small club and two barracks. The majority of Army was located north of the city on a former German 5grass airstrip, which was dubbed "The Staging Area." Our Communication Technicians (CT's) had a listening post there, also.
6The "Navy" gate led out to a cobblestone street, which had one building across from it. Open fields beyond. There were two large gas storage tanks down the road to the right. To the left, the street ran for at least a kilometer before entering the southeast part of town. (Mostly residential). The "Army" gate on the other side of the base opened onto a street that led to the commissary, the Army PX and snack bar. On the left side of the street were a couple of German stores, and Otto's Bar, then block long rows of apartment houses before you got to a main thoroughfare. Believe it or not, the soldiers came around to use the Navy gate, and we hiked out the Army gate, because there was an unwritten pact between the gate sentries that they wouldn't check the other service too closely.
The mess hall was really a restaurant. It was in the same building as the barracks, on the second floor. It was decorated with murals on the wall, tablecloths and bud vases on each table. The Navy cooks oversaw the German nationals that actually made the meals. When you went in, you sat where you wanted. A waitress would bring you a slip of paper with menu items, and a pencil. You'd cross off what you didn't want, and turn your coffee cup or glass over, depending on what you wanted to drink. She would serve your drink, pick up your slip and take it to the kitchen. In no time at all, she would be back with your entree. When you finished that, she would bring you the next item, and so on, until your meal was finished. No bill, no tipping, although you learned to leave a Deutschmark, or a cigarette or two. There was no line, no meal pass, just walk in during meal hours. For those going on the midwatch, the messhall opened at 2300. At "midrats" (for midnight rations) your name had to be on a list submitted by the unit, otherwise you didn't partake. It was generally a breakfast menu, self-service, and you picked up a brownbag with a sandwich and fruit when you left.
On the first floor, beneath the mess hall was the Club. As you entered, you passed the hat check room, through double doors to the barroom. If you went past the bar on the left, another set of double doors took you into the restaurant and ballroom. On the other side of that was the Chiefs/Officers club. Outside, the next entrance down the sidewalk was to the small Navy Exchange, and the main entrance to the restaurant/ballroom/CPO/Officers club.
7The crew assigned to USNAB BHVN, Navy Number 913, FPO, NY, was small, maybe 225 people, and everyone knew one another. The base supported the Rhine River Patrol, the Kiel Canal Patrol and the German Coast Guard. My first job was radio operator, and we stood watches, 3 eves (4 to 11), 3 mids (11 to 7), 3 days (7-4), with 3 days off, which we called, simply, 3-3-3 & a 72. The radio shack was on the second floor of the HQ building. It was an impressive place, marble pillars outside, big wood doors leading into a main court. Reminded you of a courthouse back in the States. Inside were a marble floor and four pillars supporting the balcony that ran around the second floor. The first floor was the various offices for the staff. Marble stairs straight ahead led to the 2nd floor. At the top of the stairs, you turned right and straight ahead was the entry to the message center. Further down the hall was another door made of steel, which was an emergency exit from the teletype center. On the left, the hall led to another comm unit, part of the secret outfit that snooped on the airwaves, called communication technicians. Once in the message center, you stepped through a secure doorway into a long room which was radio central. Through another door was a smaller room for teletype relay. Those circuits terminated in London. Next door was a secure cryptographic room. Our receiving antennas were on the roof, with lead-ins coming through the window sills. The transmitter site was in the bend of the Geeste River, and there were three Electronic Techs and two Radiomen manning it, with Chief Sczymanski in charge.
8RM1 Vargas was one great guy. Actually, all the guys at NGB (station call sign) were great. On our watch in radio, were a couple of 2nd class, a 3rd class and me. My mentor was an RM2, Jim Jefferies. He started me out monitoring 500 KCS, the calling and distress frequency. When I became proficient, I backed up the main Navy ship/shore circuits. When Jefferies was sure I could handle them, I starting working in earnest. No one at sea really knows who he is communicating with, but the reputation of the station is made by the operators. Our goal was to get as many as we could, stick with the ship once contact was made, and not abandon them when atmospherics got bad. We would shift them to another frequency (freq, pronounced freak) and let the other operator know they were coming over. Then we would make sure contact was made or we 9would try to maintain contact on the original freq. We also had a couple of local nets for the "Schnell Boots" (Fast Boats) as the Germans called them. They were the original German Coastal Patrol, our equivalent of Coast Guard. Now they were manned by a repatriated German crew, but they had a U.S. Navy Chief or 1st Class Bo'sun in charge. They usually carried a U.S. Navy Quartermaster as navigator. When they were close in, they communicated by voice, but if they were going up the Kiel Canal or out in the North Sea, they took on a Radioman for CW code. The Brits handled English Channel distress calls, but we backed them up on radio coverage, and occasionally on a rescue if close to our area. 10The commander of the Naval Advanced Base was Capt. Moses, a nice older gentleman, never got shook up, and it was reflected in the operations. LCDR Tincher was not one to fret the details, either. As a result, we were a close knit radio gang, and we all were proud to participate in the activities of the Advanced Base. They had a ceremonial drill team, which I volunteered for, since I had experience in boot camp. There was nothing new to master, just getting to know the other members. We practiced once a week on the drill field or a supply warehouse, depending on the weather. We did change our form of "silent" drill because the Army had a ceremonial guard also, and we didn't want to have the same sequence they did.
11The word came out that effective on the first of May, West Germany would become a sovereign nation to be known as the Federal Republic of Germany. The talk among the guys was that it may lead to increased tensions and maybe we would have to use our latest training. The signing took place in Bonn with diplomatic fanfare, and we listened to it on AFRS, and read about it the next day in the Stars and Stripes. Then those who had not already gotten the Navy’s Occupation Medal received one, and now I had another geedunk ribbon beside the National Defense Service medal.
12My first impressions of Germany are lasting ones. The ordinary German people worked hard to rebuild. There was much accomplished by the time I got there, but so much more to do. Transportation was excellent. A good sized town had a strassebahn (streetcar) system, and at the end of 13the lines were busses to go even further into the country. The trains were on time, comfortable and while high priced for the ordinary German, when they needed to travel, the train was the way to go. Very few Germans had cars. They were the old rich or the "neuveaux rich," businesses that came after the war. And those who profiteered in the black markets. The motorcycles and motorbikes were more prevalent than cars. And bicycles by the hundreds. In between the curb and the sidewalk, about one-half meter wide was the bicycle path. If you strayed off the sidewalk, all they had to do was ring the bell on the handlebar, and you were supposed to get out of the way. So, the priority went to streetcars and busses first, cars and motorcycles next, then bicycles, and then pedestrians. Pedestrians didn't have the right-of-way, they were fair game for the wheeled assortment.
14I remember the winter was cold. I bought a beige car coat with leather loops and wood toggles from "Robbie Robinson," an RM2 that was leaving. I had that coat for years, because the style was sporty and timeless. RM3 King was always hard up for cash, and when he wanted to borrow $25, I asked for collateral and he put up a powder blue suit. When he was past due, I kept the suit. I also wore it for a long time. I wrote to Dad and had him send my dark blue suit and some shirts and ties I had at home. So, by March, I had a good selection of "civvies."
15At first, I hung out at the club. You had to "learn" to drink German beer. It had a higher alcohol content, and three beers drank quickly on an empty stomach could put you on your butt. Beck's Bier was the popular brand, brewed in Bremen. Heinekens, a Dutch beer, and Tuborg, from Denmark were also favorites. Bartenders, barmaids and the one waiter, "Herr Ober" were German. Opening at 1600, the club stayed open till 0200, seven days a week. The crowd ebbed and flowed. The Army got paid once a month, on the first. The Navy paid on the first and fifteenth. The club manager, SK1 White, would not, could not, let you run up a bar tab. Not so in the Army club. So the soldiers and WAC's (there were no WAVE's in Germany at that time, they came later) would come to our club until their cash ran out, usually around the 20th, then stay in their club, running up a tab for the last 10 days or so. I never went to the Army club because there was gambling going on, even against the rules, and I had no desire to do that. So our club was the place to start. The nice things were the convenience, prices, dances on the weekends, and the comradery.
16When we stood watches, the three evenings (1600 to 2345) got us into chow early, we did our tour, then made it for the club. The evening watch, with the exception of married guys, 17or those with serious Frauleins, would close the club. When I had midwatches, I usually stayed up in the mornings after breakfast, and crashdived (hit the sack) around 1500. I'd get up about 2230, shower, go to the mess hall for midrats, and get to work at 2345. To transition from mids to days, I would crash about 0800 after the last midwatch, sleep till 1500 or so, and have the evening meal in the messhall and hit the club. Back in the sack about 1 or 2, I'd be ready to do the three day watches. The days were always a pain because you were under scrutiny of the day workers and admin types. 18We usually went ashore in two's, three's or more. We would catch a cab or strassebahn outside the Army gate, and go to the Hafenstrasse. There were two bars side-by-side, the Rote Muhl (Red Mill), and a name I've forgotten. On another street, not far, was the Odeon, which we radiomen frequented. The Odeon wasn't a typical seaport bar. One barmaid I recall was named "Trudy" probably short for Gerturde. She was a typical Bavarian, big, blonde, buxom, brash, and brazen. If she wasn't from Bavaria, she should have been. She ran the bar, learned your name and what drink you preferred. She listened to your chatter, while making sure you were treated okay by the girls, and that you treated them okay. I’d run into Trudy later on. The prostitutes didn't sit around waiting for a pickup. The girls in the Odeon worked tables, serving food and drinks. They didn't go with just anybody. If they had a "steady,” they stuck with him. Some guys actually moved into the gal’s apartment. But, there was an understanding, if the opportunity arose while their steady had the duty or was TDY, then they could ply their trade, no questions asked. TE1 McAnena's steady also had a merchant marine crewmember of a USNS ship. When they were in, Mac moved back to the barracks for 3-4 days. When the “Merchie” got underway, he moved in with his girl. Mac got out of paying rent and utilities that way.
Couple of remembrances of the Odeon. It was the RM hangout, but others came in to drink, dance and eat. I remember RM2 “Sad Sam” Sample, a short guy that reminded me of Popeye. He had round pink cheeks and his eyes squinted to tiny lines when he’d laugh. I never saw him in civvies, and lots of the time he would come into town in undress blues. I was at the Odeon one night when he came in and sat next to me. We had a couple of beers, and he ordered a bockwurst, a foot-long hot dog. It came with a slice of crusty bread and a blob of mustard. When they served him, he took out his false teeth and put them on the plate. Pointing to them, he said, “You go ahead and eat, I’m gonna drink another beer.” That was hilarious. I also saw 19him drop his teeth into a glass of beer while he went to the head, “So the
bartender won’t dump it out.”
New sign & entrance ca. 1956
RM2 “Drunken” Duncan also owned a barstool, and RM3 “GQ” Concepcion was a frequent visitor with his “steady,” Marie, whom he eventually married.
RM2 R. V. Lett’s disposition was not the most cordial, and when he had a couple of beers, it became less so. Sober, he was a smart-ass with a cocky attitude. He was married and lived “on the beach.” I never met his wife but they said she was a beautiful oriental. They had a small baby. One night he had a spat with his “old lady” and 20snatched up the baby and came into the Odeon. The prostitutes went gaga over the kid, passing him (or her) back and forth while Lett had a couple of beers. He started telling about his domestic troubles and the fight he had, saying he punched her out — words to that effect. Well, the prostitutes in the bar took it on themselves to punch him out. They left him sprawled in a corner and took the baby back to its mom.
Another story about Lett. It was just after morning colors when a cab deposited him at the Navy gate. He was in uniform and staggering drunk. Capt. Moses just happened to look out the window of his office on the second floor of the admin building to see Lett on his hands and knees, crawling through the gate. He called the guard shack and told them to “put that man on report.” A couple of days later, RM2 Lett appeared at Captain’s Mast. 21The skipper told him what he had observed and asked him to respond. Like I said, Lett was a smart-ass, but he was no dummy. He told the Captain yes, he had been drinking but he was not drunk. He said he had given the cab driver a bill which the cabbie changed. As he came in the gate, he tripped on the curb, dropped the coins, and was merely down on his hands and knees, retrieving them. I guess the Captain believed him, and let him off. I know it to be true for I was on watch the morning of the mast and he came into the radio shack to report to Cdr Tincher and bragged to Chief Wood. Another time, the guys from our watch section were sitting at a table having a round. Four air force guys from the Staging Area came in and sat at another table not far away. I paid them no mind, and I’m sure the others didn’t either. One of these fly boys came up to Varga with a 22cigarette dangling from his face and asked him for a light. Varga reached down for his lighter in his trouser pocket — Navy bellbottom pockets were like a watch pocket behind the 13-button flap. The Air Force guy sucker punched him in the face and bloodied his nose. We all jumped up, and the fisticuffs started. The fight spilled out into the street. Varga got up off the floor, chased the guy who attacked him out into the street and beat the living dog manure out of him. 23After that brawl, if a soldier or airman came in, they would be served one beer, and then politely asked to leave. The Odeon became the “sailors” bar and radioman’s hangout after that.
We were all trained in handling demolition charges, some more than others. The group I was with went to an Army training area near Osterholz, north of Bremen. RM2 Jefferies, ET2 Detter, RM3 King, TESN Smith and me learned to cut, burn and time fuse line. Then we cut a three minute fuse and crimped on a cap. They issued us a small block of C-4 and we had to go into a big hole (blasted out by previous training) to set the charge and wait for the whistle. Two blasts, get ready, one blast, pull the fuse igniter make sure it was smoking (lit) and walk away. We had two minutes to get out of the hole and under cover. If the fuse igniter failed we hollered and an Army observer would run up, clip off the dud igniter and stick on another one. In any event, we succeeded. In the afternoon we got a demonstration of a thermite grenade which would destroy electronics equipment, especially crypto machines.
The drill team was practicing for Armed Forces Day, May 22, 1954. The year before, the Rhine River Patrol had a contingent go to Berlin, this year it was USNAB's turn. We drew our gear, white leggings, guardbelt, gloves, scarf, chrome helmet and M1 carbine, with white leather sling, in plenty of time to wash, scrub and polish the gear. We were allowed to take our blue weekend bag with shaving gear and skivvies, but no civvies. Friday morning, we boarded the Bremerhaven-Berlin Duty Train. We were handed individual orders and a guide packet for Berlin. The cars were rigged for normal travel. We traveled down the Weser River to Bremen and Frankfurt, then on to the border crossing at Helmstedt. By then, we had the evening meal, and the German train crew changed over the compartments to sleepers. At night, we traversed the Russian Zone, Magdeburg, Potsdam and ended at the American Sector train station in Lichterfelde about 0700.
24There we loaded onto Air Force busses, and were taken to Tempelhof Air Base, made famous by the Berlin Airlift of Apr. 1948 to Sept. 1949. In the ellipse of the front entrance stood the "Broken Bridge" monument. We dropped our gear in a dormitory, and were led to a standard messhall for a full course breakfast. There, some airmen let the cat out of the bag on the conduct of the Rhine River contingent the previous year. They were a little too boisterous before, and sloppy performance during the parade detail, gave us swabbies a bad reputation.
25By 1000, we were bright-eyed and spit shined for the Saturday parade. There were 2,000 Army, 1,000 Air Force 26and us, a 50-man color guard. The soldiers and airmen had formed up on the tarmac, while we waited in a hangar. After the VIP's, (U.S., U.K. French and Soviet officers and diplomats) and their ladies arrived, the Army Band struck up, and we marched down the line, taking our place in front of the grandstand just at noon. After the National Anthem, we retreated the colors across the tarmac to the middle of the formation. There were speeches, and after an hour of basking and baking in the sun, the order to pass in review was given. It took at least 20 minutes before we stepped out, and another 15-20 minutes of marching to get to the reviewing stand. We passed through some arches, halted and were told to report to the dorm. After turning in our carbines, they turned us loose about 1430 for liberty, until 1900, Sunday. I'll tell you, 50 sailors in Berlin make few waves.
27ET2 Dick Detter had been here before on courier duty. ET3 "Red" Miner and me headed out to do some sightseeing, using the Air Force provided tour. We saw the Russian memorial in the British sector, and the Russian cemetery in Treptow Park in the Russian sector, the Reichstag building, Brandenberg Gate (no wall, yet), Unter den Linden, the wide boulevard in the east, and the Kurfurstendamm, the center of Berlin in the American sector. It was ten years since the war ended, but there was still much to clean up, restoration and building to be done. Ruins and weed covered open spaces where buildings once stood remained. We got back about 1730, showered, shaved and picked up Detter, to head out for the nightlife.
We got to the Resi Bar about 2000 after a meal in a swank restaurant. There was a cover, and we got a great table, (left front), near the dance floor. The original Resi Bar was in a part of the city which fell into the Russian Sector when the city was divided, but the owner moved lock, stock, and beer barrel to the American sector. I've never been in a place like it before or since. There was a stage with water jets and colored lights. In front of that was an orchestra, at least 30-pieces. A huge ballroom, surrounded by tables, then broad steps up to an arc of booths, at least three levels of booths, all facing the stage. High up in the ceiling over the entrance was a sort of control booth. Each table/booth had a pneumatic tube and a telephone, with the number atop a pole, thus, you could either write a note or telephone between the booths and tables. Inside to the right, double doors led to a dining room and a beer bar. The restrooms were between the ballroom and the dining room. Waitresses served drinks in the ballroom in the usual garb, black dress with white apron, white cuffs, collar and a white tiara in the hair. Waiters wore tuxedos. In the 29ballroom, only wine and champagne by the bottle, were sold, no beer and no mixed drinks. You couldn't buy them in the bar and bring them into the ballroom . . . strictly verboten! Prices were high, but it was top shelf. The mark was 4.20 to the dollar, so a 25-mark bottle of wine, expensive for the Deutschers, was $6.00, a bargain for us. Since it was a first-class establishment, the clientele were also, for the most part. Oh, there were a few sleazy characters, and no doubt a high-priced prostitute or so, but mainly, upper class.
1Agnes in Resi control room reads note before forwarding
30The band would play a set of three numbers, and then take a short break. Every hour, after a music break, the stage curtain would go up, house lights would dim from an already dim setting and colored lights from beneath the control booth played across the stage. The orchestra would play, and water jets would pulse and spray to the music. Intensity and height would vary; lighting would go bright and dim or change color, making the water jetting up and falling back look like dancers. Absolutely marvelous, the simple ingenuity was beautiful. After 5-6 minutes, the music faded along with the water jets, stage lights dimmed, and the curtain closed. The house lights came up to a romantic dimness, and the orchestra started another set.
31I had danced with different girls, not only looking for a good dance partner, but also looking for someone to end the evening with. Believe it or not, one of the girls was an American WAC who tried to convince me she was Deutsche. Detter was a short guy, maybe 5' 4" and was happier guarding the table and drinks while Red and I made it on the dance floor. Detter also handled the phone calls and notes. There were plenty. Later, and further in the back booths, another gaggle of sailors had gathered, but they were there to party, not to dance.
By and by, I had to make a head call, and made my way around the ballroom during a dance. Most were dancing, and I bobbed and weaved the tables, got up to about the third level of booths, and was making my way along, when I noticed a very pretty, petite girl sitting in the aisle, sort of blocking my way. I tried to catch her eye as I went past, but she was conversing 32with another girl in the booth. I did my thing, and on the way back to my table, I brushed past her again, getting a closer look and liked what I saw. Something absorbed my attention; something about her that made me feel I should get close to her. Was it infatuation? Was it a hidden feeling for emotional attachment? I don’t think these things crossed my conscious mind, but something inside awoke a feeling of excitement.
33I made note of the number of the booth, and when I got back to the table, I grabbed the phone, and dialed the number. Detter asked, "Who you callin' now?' I said, "I gotta find out if a girl I saw is with someone." Naturally, the girl who answered played coy, making sure I had the right number, which one I wanted to speak to, that sort of stuff. I asked to speak to the petite girl sitting in the aisle with a pinkish-gold dress. (At least that's what I saw in the dim light.) 34She finally got on the phone and in hesitating German, I asked for a dance. She said I would have to come to the booth to ask, since she didn't dance with just anyone. I said okay, and hung up. Detter said, "Where you goin'?" I said, "To dance with a dream." When I got to the booth, the orchestra was still playing, but it came to an end before we made introductions. While the band was on a break, we talked, in my hesitating German, and her fair English. Her name, ‘Helga’, I thought was really distinctive. We agreed we liked slower music, and she agreed to dance with me. On the dance floor, my initial impression was unchanged; she was absolutely dazzling and very beautiful. Thin, petite, about 5' maybe 100 pounds, dressed immaculately, hair styled to fit her face, and a hint of cologne.
35As we danced a couple of sets, through her broken English and my sad attempts at German, she told me that she and her girlfriend had come in much too late to get a booth, and they were seated with others whom they did not know. I asked her to come to our table for a drink. She agreed, and when introduced to my buddies, Detter said, "If you don't make out with her, I'm gonna cut your grass!" which I took as a left-handed compliment. And meaning of course he would try to move in. The waiter got her a chair, and a glass, and we prosted a glass of wine. After some small talk, I learned she was single, and didn’t have a boyfriend. We danced a couple more sets; she was an excellent dancer and made me look like Fred Astaire.
36By this time it is past midnight, and the crowd is boisterous; the place is packed to the rafters. At the next break, we went to her booth and persuaded her girlfriend, Inge Matzik, to join us. They gathered up their things, and followed me to the table. The waiter scrounged up another chair, and as I seated Helga, I asked, "Why don't you make me the happiest guy here?" She asked, "What do you mean?" I said, "All you gotta do is say 'Yes'." She said, with a smile, "Okay, yes."
37I have no idea what motivated me to ask, I didn’t consider for a moment the difference in language and in meanings of the words. Without knowing her, I knew I wanted this young woman to marry me. Without her knowing, she swept me off my feet and I assumed at some point in the future she would marry me.
38I ordered another bottle of wine. A lady with a tray of flowers threaded her way through the crowd. I motioned her over, asked how much for all of them, she mused for a moment, and set her price. I don't remember how much, but I bought the whole tray, and laid them in Helga's arms. We smoked, drank, made small talk and danced into the wee hours. Sometime during the festivities, I took off my high school class ring, and pressed it into Helga's hand. She resisted, but I insisted. My idea was that the ring would be a bond, meaning we would surely see each other again. Also, Detter was still making remarks, even though he became Inge's de facto 39escort. We talked about what we could do the next day, agreeing to meet at the underground (subway) station at Tempelhof the next afternoon at 1300. Early in the morning, as a matter of fact, well after last call had been made and served, the crowd had departed except for a very few hangers on, including us. As the cleaning women were sweeping down, Detter and Inge, Helga and I, along with Red who did not find a girl that night, hailed a cab. Red in front, Detter and I in back with the girls sitting on our laps, we had a merry time.
40As the cab drew up across the street from 68 Wassertorstrasse, Helga's apartment building, she said there was no need to see her to the door. In fact, at 0430, a clear dawn was breaking. But I got out of the cab, helped her step out, and by not letting go of her hand, walked her to the doorway, with Inge following. I thanked her for a wonderful time, and quickly pulled her hand up to my lips. Kissing the back of her hand gently, I said, "I will be waiting for you at one o'clock." I let her hand go, and turned back to the cab, waving as they entered the apartment house. We were not far from Tempelhof, and we arrived in time to have an early breakfast, trade experiences with some other sailors, and crashed for four hours.
41Detter and I were up at 1100, showered, shaved, and headed out front of the air base to arrive at the U-Bahn station at 1245. We bet they were not coming, and had just about given up, when about 1315, Helga and Inge emerged from the stairs. We hastened over, and respectively took their arms to march off down the avenue, turning a lot of German heads. Her smile was infectious, unleashing my imagination. I hoped her magic stayed forever between us two, and at that moment in time I wanted the whole world to know I loved her.
42They took us to a park where a German fest was in progress. There were rides and a midway with various games of skill. I steered Helga to the shooting gallery, and put 5 marks down on the counter, telling the girl I would shoot till that was gone. Detter also stepped up, and soon we were plinking at the prizes on the backstop. We did not realize we had drawn a crowd, partly because of the uniforms, but mostly because the young German guys wanted to see how well we could shoot. We didn't pick up on it, but the girls had been taking snide remarks from German guys because we were in uniform, and they knew we had picked them up. Our shooting skills impressed everyone. Detter and I were crack shots, claiming several dolls, silk flowers and other baubles. As we turned away from the counter, the onlookers were three deep, and the girls were happy that we were halfway good. We heard some loud remarks, asked the girls what 43was said, but they told us to pay no attention. We walked for some distance, then started giving away those trinkets they didn't want to keep as souvenirs to small kids.
44I don't remember what we did for a meal, although we must have had something to eat and drink following the afternoon in the park. The day ended in the late evening in front of Tempelhof Air Base. We traded addresses, kissed and hugged, said our good-byes, gave them enough D-Marks for cab fare, and went inside to gather our gear and get to the busses taking us to the train station. The train departed at dusk, getting to the Russian checkpoint a little after dark. The train commander and a couple of MP's got off, went into the station to give them a roster of who was on board, and climbed back on. We watched the countryside slide into pitch-blackness as the train rolled at high speed. 45The station platforms in East Germany were dimly lit, and as we raced through, caught glimpses of Russian soldiers with the familiar machinegun slung over the shoulder. It was eerie . . . good word, eerie.
46I wrote nearly every day. On those days when nothing was happening, I'd send a card. In June, shortly after returning to Bremerhaven, I was assigned a couple of weeks on the schnell boats to patrol the Kiel Canal from Cuxhaven to Brunsbuettle to Kiel, and back. When the boats were operating more than 50 miles from port, they had to have a radioman for CW; on short hops a German would do, but on long trips they assigned one of us. We reported the names, flags, direction, drafts, etc., of ships in the canal. At Kiel, the German crew requisitioned stores for the return trip. We'd lay over one day to check out the harbor, then head south to Cuxhaven, checking on northbound traffic. The canal is about 130 kilometers long, but the speed limit is very slow, because the dikes are not very high. To prevent a ships wake from washing over the top, they had to travel slowly. A freighter would take almost 6 hours traveling about 20 km per hour.
47All the crews liked that assignment because of the friendly receptions all along the canal. Young girls would stand on top of the dike and wave at the passing ships. The skipper of our boat (a BM1) would nudge the shoreline with the bow and the crew would wave the girls down to the water’s edge. They’d toss them chocolate, cigarettes and other goodies. There were favorites that the crews looked for each time they made the trip. I can't remember, maybe four 48trips, and the boat returned to Bremerhaven, and I returned to regular watch standing. Since I got the assignment at the last minute, and during the trips, I had no time to write, so Helga thought I had fallen off the end of the earth. There were several letters from Helga and I wrote her a long letter explaining why she had not heard from me.
49After I got back to Bremerhaven, and now that I was engaged, I had some serious things to do to straighten out my life. I was going with the German gal who worked the hat check room in the club. I had to explain to her that our personal attraction would have to come to a screeching halt. It was not pretty; she cried in a fit of hysteria. I collected the few things of mine from her apartment and left. The next day, in the club, she returned a shoe shine kit I had overlooked, and acted as if nothing had happened. In the small world of the Navy, I’d run into her again. RM2 Landis was a short, curly headed, jovial Pillsbury doughboy type. I think his girlfriend’s name was Trudy, I may be mistaken, but he ended up marrying her. ET3 Charles and I went to the wedding reception in the High House downtown, and had a ball. However, late in the evening, the question came up about my engagement. 50A lot of the people gathered did not know I was going through the process to marry a German, and I received a serious lecture from the Chaplain’s daughter and Maggie, the recreation center director, both of which I had been closely familiar with, up until that point. After that evening it seemed like I developed a case of leprosy.
51In July, Detter and I arranged for Inge and Helga to visit Bremerhaven. They came by train, and we put them up in the Hafen Hotel, across the Geeste River from the base. Detter was a dayworker, and we timed it so they arrived when I started my day string. That way, I had evenings off, followed by my 3-day break. We toured the hafen, Speckenbeutel Lake and park, Bederkesa Nature Park, Bremen, and other sights, plus the best restaurants and nightclubs, including the EM club. Late one afternoon, alone in the room, I guess I became a little too forward, and she pushed back, rejecting my advances. Put out at first, I regained my composure and we got to know each other better, and made plans for my return to Berlin.
52As best I can recall, it was over the U.S. Labor Day weekend that I took leave. I've forgotten the all arrangements, but I ended up in Inge Matzick's apartment for a couple of days because she had a spare room, a rarity in Berlin. The real reason was Helga did not want to introduce 53me to her mother or the neighbors yet. When we talked about the future, we agreed we needed to get to know each other better. At first, what looked like insurmountable tasks for Helga to move to Bremerhaven and for us to be married, was the fact Helga was not yet sure that she wanted to do this crazy thing. I recall the September visit was short, and the parting was tearful. In the ensuing months, we mailed the paperwork back and forth as the process began. I wrote Dad for copies of his marriage license and my birth certificate, and he refused. He wrote back he didn’t like the idea of me marrying a German. I ended up writing to the clerk of Allegheny County Court for the papers I needed.
54In Comm Unit Eight, the watch sections were undergoing changes. I was sent to the transmitter site for six months. A one story building, our bunk room and lounge was in the front, and the row of transmitters was behind a block wall. On the east end of the building was a repair shop. A German National, Waldemar worked during the day. His title was technician, although he was not much more than a “gopher.” I remember when civilian personnel came down for his job evaluation, we took apart a little used transmitter, hooked up some test equipment and spread out some tools. Chief Sczymanski tutored him on what to do and say. We busied ourselves in the shop, while the Chief helped Waldemar get through the interview. It worked, and Waldemar got a pay raise. I remember also, he shared his lunch with us, in particular, he cooked up some horse meat. It tasted sweeter than beef which was a rationed staple for the Germans in those days.
55The crew at the site consisted of the Chief, ET1 Williams, ET2 Detter, ET3 “Red” Miner (or Minor), a new ETSN, D. Montgomery Charles, and myself. I learned all the transmitters in less than a day and stood a couple of watches with Williams, then stood watches alone. Well, not really alone, because we were single except the Chief and Williams. There was usually another guy around, and always somebody for relief at evening chow. After that you might be alone if everyone went to the movie or the club. You would check and adjust the frequency and power output of the transmitters each hour and before turning in. Then you’d be on call from the watch supervisor at Radio Central in the admin building.
The beat frequency oscillator (BFO) [a calibrated measuring device] would be adjusted (called extrapolation) to the desired frequency. Patched into the transmitter you were checking, you would tune for a null. If you could hear a ‘motorboat’ sound, you would unlock the freq dial, and ‘zero out’ or bring the oscillator of the transmitter into sync with the BFO. Then lock the dial, being careful not to knock it off freq with the clamping screw. Some of them were very sensitive, especially the newer ones. Just inside the door was a monster of a transmitter, the TDH. It was tuned to our main frequency 12.8 kilocycles (now MHz). Very stable, it required little adjustment. I only remember zeroing out the oscillator section. The old standbys, TBM, TBK and TBLs (shipboard transmitters I had learned on the O’Hare) had a lot of leeway and were very stable, also. Next came the power output adjustment, which required the transmitter be keyed (activated), called peak the grid and dip the plate, which were the final adjustments of the power amplifier tube. But we went one better. Without taking the transmitter “off the line” to check the final stage, we watched for the radioman to key it from his position in radio central. While he was ‘dit-dahing’ we held a fluorescent tube alongside the transmission line to the antenna and it would light up in our hand. We would then “touch up” the final output dial to get the brightest light. It worked invariably. If the transmitter was idle, we adjusted it normally.
LM-13 Frequency Meter 125 to 20,000 Kcs @ 0.01% accuracy
Collins TDH-4 transmitter cabinet >7' tall
57There were two TCS radio-equipped jeeps assigned to the site. We used them to run back and forth to admin, chow and the post office. They were really for use of the C.O. and X.O. if the balloon ever went up. Long before my stint at transmitters, I was assigned on the Watch, Quarter and Station Bill as driver/radio operator of a jeep for General Quarters. My job was to chauffeur the X.O. to the Columbus Quay terminal where he was in charge of the Kaiserhofen pier area. Don Rump was assigned to the other jeep; he was to run the C.O. wherever he wanted to go. On a cold winter’s day we had a GQ drill, I got my jeep and someone drove the other to the admin building. Rump was off-watch and the MP’s rounded him up from downtown. He was tipsy, but not enough to show it. The XO came down and we headed for the Kaiserhofen. A little while later, Rump checked in, saying he and the old man 58were “underway.” We exchanged messages, and I could hear Rump slurring his words. When the drill was over and we got back to the admin building, several of us stood around waiting for the CO and Rump. To our amazement, the jeep pulled up in front of the building with the Capt. Moses driving, and Rump, in the passenger seat, was smiling and happy as a lark. He was also drunk. It seems that Rump invited the CO for a beer and they stopped at the Odeon (the RM hangout on Hafen Str.) Afterward, the Captain decided he should drive back to the base because Rump had slipped into a ‘slightly’ intoxicated state. It was a good thing Capt. Moses had a sense of humor, Rump didn’t hear anything further on that episode, but the tale got wide dissemination across the base.
59Shortly afterward, in a discussion in Otto’s, Chief Sczymanski and Chief Wood got an idea to find out what the range of these transceivers with a whip antenna really was. So Rump and I were detailed to drive north toward Hamburg, checking in every twenty kilometers or so. Back at NGB, they plotted us on a map to determine distance and signal strength. And we did the same. Our instructions were to shift to CW – Morse code – if we were unable to establish voice contact. We knew CW would reach further than modulated voice, but they were more interested in voice. 60So, we gassed up, checked over our gear and pulled out around 9 a.m. We headed across the Heide, or German marsh plain, dutifully stopping every so often to check in. Once we established the outer voice limit, we stopped for lunch in a gasthaus, had a couple of beers and headed back. What Rump had done was chart a course leading past several gasthauses, where we stopped to make a radio check and sample the pilsner. We got back to Otto’s Bar about 4 p.m. in time to catch the two Chiefs having an on-the-way-home beer. Both Rump and I had 61a ‘list’ when we came in, and the Chiefs drove us back to the transmitter site. Luckily, I only got a verbal ass-chewing by Sczymanski, and Rump got his from Wood. And we were replaced on the Watch, Quarter and Station Bill. Our mobile radio operator days came to a screeching halt, but we had a whole hell of a lot of fun.
One day the gang was sitting around shooting the breeze over a cup of coffee, when the subject of religion came up. Chief “Ski” was a Catholic, and most of the rest were Protestants. The Chief went into a great dissertation about Easter and the pagan myths surrounding it. I said something about the Barabas play I saw in church, and that kicked off another wild lecture by the 62Chief. He was quite convinced that religion was a sham, and churches were a crutch for the great unwashed and unknowing, and a social gathering place for people of like mindedness. I contemplated that episode for many moons, finally concluding there was a great amount of truth in his observations. Also, the military’s chaplain corps, Catholic priests, Jewish rabbis and Protestants all lumped together came to mind. I’ve visited very few church rituals after that, barring weddings and funerals.
63It was about this time that the winter bowling teams were forming. Chief “Ski” entered a team, which he named “Guttersnipes,” and I signed up. Our team was not too good, and a watch section supervisor, RM1 Edmund “Ed” Burke took me under his wing and taught me some finer points of the game. My average climbed to 130, plus/minus 5, enabling me to bowl each week. Our last game of the season, we played the team we were tied with for last place. Ski told us to bowl for the 7 or 10 pin only, so we would end up in last place and be eligible for the award of ‘Gutter Gus.’ I carried that tiny trophy of a fat guy standing on his ball with his thumb stuck in the hole for years. Now all I have left is the little brass plate.
64My relief, RM3 Fulton came down from radio central for break-in training about a month before I was to return. One evening I got back from chow, Detter and Fulton were nowhere around, and Minor and Charles went to chow, leaving me alone. The phone rang. The MAA told me they had Fulton in the brig and I was to get his personal gear together and bring it up to them. I got his ditty kit together and when the others returned from chow, I headed for the MAA’s office. They gave me the key to his locker and told me to inventory his gear and pack his seabag. I asked, but they would not tell me, what he was in for. So, with the help of Charles, I got the job done and lugged his stuff to the MAA. Next thing you know, he was gone! RM3 Fulton was a big guy, blonde hair, fair complexion. 65He had been in the Air Force, gotten out and joined the Navy, which did not make him young compared to the rest of us. But, we knew he was a tin can sailor, and scuttlebutt had it that a sailor on his former ship, (USS Sellars?) with a penchant for men, kept a diary, which was uncovered when he was caught in some deviant behavior. Fulton’s name was in his book, and the NIS had him shipped back to the States. Never found out what happened to him.
66When I did return to radio central, I was put in TE1 Louie Whigg’s section. He was a tall, thin guy, a former postal clerk. The old PC rating was absorbed into the Teleman rating and he didn’t know too much about radio work. We helped him along, kept him and the section from falling in trouble with the traffic checker, and he was a good supervisor. Our section continued 67to rake in the traffic from ships at sea, and we flip-flopped between first and second in the statistical game of message errors rooted out by Chief Faile. I worked the ship-shore circuits in earnest. I was envious of RM1 Winfree, RM2 ‘Mickey’ Spillane, RM2 Jefferies and RM2 Landis who used speed keys on the circuits. Using the Vibroplex key in the training room, I built up proficiency, being both chided and encouraged by passersby. Eventually RM1 Winfree came to my aid, and I learned that only he and Spillane had ‘tickets’ or speedkey certifications. We got Chief Faile to send a letter to CinCNELM in London for a test, and when it came in, he and Winfree passed me. Soon, I was one of the few, having gained card number NELM-13-55.
68Our coffee mess had a large 220v German hotplate with two burners. On mid-watches, Louie would bring in a big pot and all the chili fixings. He’d start cooking as soon as the eve watch departed and by 4 a.m. we had a chili feast. Or he would make some other concoction, Navy Bean Soup or spaghetti. My old RM school classmate Lou Boughton checked in and was on our watch for a while, then he was hijacked to another section. We had pinochle games. Double deck. On watch we never played for money, but there were money games in the barracks, 50¢ a game, penny a point and 25¢ a set. TE3 Colby was darned good, and he and I used to partner at the Recreation Center tournaments. We had signals that no one ever detected and were champions for quite awhile. 69We won baubles such as cuff links, tie bars, pen knives, small stuff like that. He taught me how to count cards and when to lead trump and other strategies. 70We won baubles such as cuff links, tie bars, pen knives, small stuff like that. He taught me how to count cards and when to lead trump and other strategies.
The fleet-wide exam for advancement was coming up, and I made the statement that I really didn’t care if I made third class, I was having too much fun as a seaman. Louie and the other petty officers in the section took me aside and told me I’d better be ready. Then Chief Teleman Faile, a good natured, soft-spoken admin chief and traffic checker, counseled me. He said that if I did not make 3rd Class, there was a good chance I would not be allowed to ship over and if I got married, I would not be able to get Helga to the states with me. So, with all that urging, and the on-watch study program, I did my correspondence courses and got checked off on my practical factors. I passed the exam and was promoted to RM3 on Nov 16, 1955. Looking back, as I sewed on the ‘crow and chevron’ I must have made up my mind that being a Navy radioman was not a bad career choice. That eagle and red stripe looked mighty fine on the left arm.
71I got the first leave period, Christmas 1955, traveled by the duty train to Berlin and by U-Bahn 72to Kotbusser Tor, then a cab to 68 Wassertorstr. I was in civvies and carried a leather suitcase. Helga met me in the stairwell and warned me about her dog, Prinz. Well, he and I got along very well. Up on the landing, when her mother Renate and I hugged, it was as if we had known each other for ages. She was not quite as tall as I, and she looked as beautiful as her daughter. Her dark hair was salt and peppered, her eyes sparkled and her smile was warm. And she was deaf. But she could read lips, unfortunately the words had to be German, she knew almost no English. We went down the hall and into the apartment they shared with the Hertel’s living in a similar room next door. A large high-ceilinged room, with two windows overlooking the street and a coal oven in the corner was their space. 73A table and chairs stood near the center of the room and two beds along the walls. They had gone to great pains to make sure the place was neat, and the blankets on the beds were stretched tight. The first thing I did was flop my heavy suitcase on Mutti’s bed. (Mutti, the German word for mother, pronounced moo-tee’) Helga told me later her mother looked quite surprised and put out at that move. I opened the suitcase, dug out two pounds of coffee and handed them to her. All was forgiven, I could put my suitcase anywhere I pleased after the gift of American coffee.
74Helga bought, and we pitched in to decorate, a Christmas tree. I was surprised that the Germans put real candles on their trees. The neighbors visited, and I met so many people I couldn’t keep them straight. Toward evening, Helga went to the kitchen to make supper while Mutti and I played gin rummy. She beat me.
75Helga came in and told her she needed a few things from the store, then went back to the kitchen. Mutti put on her coat, but before she left I handed her a 10-mark bill and mouthed the word, “cognac.” She smiled broadly and nodded her head vigorously; she knew what I meant.
76She returned in about 20 minutes with the food and two bottles of cognac. She put them on the table, pointed to the labels, nodded and put her fingertips to her lips, and kissed them in a gesture of exquisite taste. She said, “Gans Prima, Mel.” (Excellent). She was hanging her coat in the chifforobe when Helga came in. Naturally, the first thing she saw was the bottles.
77In German, Helga asked her mother where she got the money for the liquor. Her mother replied, in German, she found 10 marks in the street. There was no one around, so she thought, why not buy some cognac and celebrate? Helga turned to me and asked, in English, if I gave her mother the ten marks to buy the cognac. I answered, in English, I think her mom was trying to tell me she found ten marks on the street and used it to buy the cognac. It was an incident that we always talked about afterward, but I must admit, I knew just enough German to catch the drift of what Mutti and Helga said. We had enough liquor to treat everyone who came to visit for Christmas.
78Before Christmas, I showed Mutti the engagement ring I had bought. Then I pointed back and forth to Helga and me. She nodded and smiled broadly. We became engaged on the 22nd because the German tradition held that an engagement on Christmas may not last.
79The days passed too quickly. We completed her personal history statement and applied for a police report, birth certificate and her parent’s marriage license, which she would mail to me. After I returned to Bremerhaven I went to the transmitter site to let Charles and Detter in on the latest scoop. That evening, Charles and I poured over a Stars and Stripes newspaper, plagiarizing an engagement announcement which I mailed to Freda Rutkowski, the social editor of the Valley Daily News, my hometown newspaper.
80It was several weeks later when the article with Helga’s photo appeared. It happened to be a Tuesday, the night of the Hilltop Volunteer Fire House meeting. My Dad rarely read the society page, and as he was getting ready to go to the meeting, the phone started ringing. My classmates began calling, and Dad told me as fast as he hung up, the phone would ring again. He got to his meeting late, and several of his firemen buddies also asked him about it. By the time he told me the story years later, he joked about it. But Bob told me Dad was very upset that I was going against his wishes.
81Helga and I wrote almost every day, and each payday I sent her a German money order for 100 marks to help her and her mother. I gathering all the paperwork needed and in April 1956, submitted the package to Navy Headquarters in London. Now it was a waiting game. I consulted with Chaplain Metzger and set a tentative date in June for our marriage.
82I can’t recall how I got the apartment on Schiller Strasse, most likely through the Army Housing Office. I rented a furnished one-room apartment, share the bath and kitchen, from the Kretchmer’s. They were very cordial (at first) and I moved in before Helga got to Bremerhaven in May, but I didn’t take much from the barracks. Went to the hospitality locker and checked out kitchen items.
83Helga arrived mid-May; I met her at the train station and got her settled in the apartment. She got on well with Kretchmer’s, and checked in with the German unemployment office. I slept in the barracks, not wanting any improprieties from the people in the apartment building, and it was convenient for work. I spent all my waking hours with Helga; we ate out a lot. I went shopping in the commissary and brought her small items from the PX that she needed.
The final approval from London arrived, and to satisfy the Germans I had to take some paperwork to the Landrat (State) seat in Bremen. Helga and I went by train on one of my days 84off, and turned in the paperwork, along with the required fee. Then we went to see Chaplain Metzger. I didn’t realize it, but all this time Helga was having second thoughts. It was a big, big decision for her. She would be leaving her mother behind, getting into unfamiliar surroundings and an uncertain future in the U.S. Even though she had a sister in upstate New York, she was frightened . . . I think that is a good word. She had a private meeting with the Chaplain, and then he spoke with me, telling me to understand Helga’s concerns. He said she had some serious doubts, about leaving her mother, going to the states, and hold on to the relationship. I should let her go back to Berlin to reassess her future, and be prepared if she were to decide against marrying. A determined optimist, I had no reason to believe she would not come back, so I saw her off. The wedding would be delayed.
85Much later she was to tell me that Mutti convinced her that she should not be concerned about anything but her future. A week later she sent me a telegram, “I am coming back tomorrow forever.”
86Unfortunately, I had a watch, but I got a shipmate to meet her at the train and get her to the apartment. She was upset about that. Also, Chaplain Metzger’s schedule for July took him out of town, so we had to forego a chapel wedding.
87Wednesday, July 11, 1956, her mother’s birthday, started out as a typical German day — wet. It rained almost all day. In the morning about 10 a.m., Helga and I took a cab to the Rathaus. The Kretchmer’s, who agreed to stand in as our witnesses, followed in another cab. We waited outside a small conference room until we were called in. The officials, two men and a young woman acting as interpreter, sorted through the paperwork. They had us take seats across the table from them. While they were arranging things and passing our papers back and forth, I nudged Helga. “This is your last chance to say ‘no’” I said. She smiled and nodded, then nudged me back.
88The ceremony was short. They spoke to me first and I answered “Yes” in English, then “Ja” in German. Next, was Helga’s turn; “Ja” and “Yes.” They signed the marriage certificate, stamped it, and said, “Funf Mark, bitte.” Five Marks, please. I paid, they handed me the papers and a receipt, and we were married.
89We caught a cab back to the apartment and set things up for a party. The Schmidts’ from down the street (Kretchmer’s friends), the Kretchmers, and ET3 D. Montgomery Charles, Don Rump and his wife, Sonia stopped and had a few drinks, and others dropped in, offering congratulations, having a drink or two, then departing. I also remember many raps on the table top, shouts of “Prost” and they succeeded in getting me very drunk. Sick. I hugged the thunder 90mug before going to bed that night.
91Those early days were ecstatic. We slept on a couch, and when one wanted to turn over, we both did. I still had my room in the barracks, so I would walk to the base, perhaps a 20 minute hike, change clothes, stand watch, shower, change clothes and go to the apartment. Because of the 3-3-3 & 72, I had a lot of time off during the day. For mid-watches, I would go in about 6, and crap out until mid-rats. I’d sleep a few hours after a mid-watch then go to the apartment. After a day-watch, she would meet me in the club and we would eat dinner in the restaurant. We did commissary and PX shopping, quickly taking up married life. Don Rump and Sonia, Smitty and Marie, Winfree and his wife (name?) Landis and Trudy were the expatriate group with local wives, and we had a loose association of socializing, drinking and dancing.
92Helga went to the Army hospital for a routine checkup. She told the military doctor a German physician said she would be unable to have children. He put her in therapy, heat to the abdomen, and after several sessions assured her she could have children.
93Helga, being very generous, shared some of our delicacies with the Kretchmer’s. What we did not know at the time, we were digging a hole. My mid-watches always included clean-up, including waxing and buffing the floors. In the supply room I found several nearly empty cans of German floor wax that should have been tossed. So I emptied them into one can, making it half-full, and took it to the apartment. Helga used it in our room, and then told Frau Kretchmer she could use some on the kitchen floor. That would come back to haunt us.
94In early September I took the fleet-wide examination for RM2. October 23, 1956, students in Budapest, Hungary organized demonstrations which swelled to tens of thousands. They were entirely peaceful, shouts of "Imre Nagy to the government!" and “Ruszkik haza!” (Russians, go home!). Stalin’s statue was toppled and the Red Star over the Parliament Building was torn down, protests turned to revolt with the takeover of the radio station and they broadcast the “16 points.” Eventually police opened fire, killing unarmed demonstrators. Hungarian tricolors appeared in windows with the hated Soviet coat of arms ripped from the center. It became the symbol of the ‘56 uprising.
95Imre Nagy (Naj) was appointed Premier on the 26th. Next day, thousands of industrial workers left their jobs to join the student demonstrators. Soviet forces machine gunned a crowd of marchers, killing an estimated 500 people — Peter Fryer in his book Hungarian Tragedy, gives a moving account of their heroism:
96“...Even the children, hundreds of them, had taken part in the fighting, and I spoke to little girls, who had poured petrol in the path of Soviet tanks and lit it. I heard of 14 year-olds who had jumped to their deaths onto the tanks with blazing petrol bottles in their hands. Little boys of twelve, armed to the teeth, boasted to me of the part they had played in the struggle . . . Budapest uprising must have been the cleanest revolution in history, large boxes placed in the main thoroughfares bearing the notices: "Give to those who remain alive!" The unguarded boxes were filled with bank notes. Periodically, small boys would collect and deliver the money to its proper destination . . . the Hungarian Commander of Killian Barracks, Col. Pál Maléter, went over to the revolutionaries' side along with his troops.”
97Premier Nagy waited until it seemed the revolution had succeeded before he announced on October 28 that the Soviet troops would withdraw from Budapest. Cardinal Mindszenty was released from prison and arrived in Budapest on October 31, the day considered to be the zenith of the Revolution. On November 1, Soviet General Malinin met Pál Maléter to discuss Soviet withdrawal. Actually, Soviet troops were moving to take possession of key points of communication. By November 3, Soviet forces moved eastward toward the Austrian border. Then, Radio Moscow announced that the U.S. had invaded Hungary, and 16 Soviet armored divisions swept in from Russia and Rumania to retake the country. 98The Hungarian government made frantic efforts to organize a resistance. At 3 a.m. Nov 4, Soviet and sympathetic Hungarian police arrested Maléter and the defense committee. Armed resistance continued until Nov. 14. Transportation workers went on strike and farmers withheld food from the authorities, instead feeding the tattered resistance. Nagy and Maléter were executed while Cardinal Mindszenty fled to exile in the American Embassy, where he stayed 15 years.
99In the wake of revolution, 200,000 Hungarian young people fled to the free world which generously embraced them as heroes of an immortal fight for freedom. The last words from the clandestine ‘Radio Free Hungary’ were, “Civilized people of the world, in the name of liberty and solidarity, we are asking you to help. Our ship is sinking. The light vanishes. The shadows grow darker from hour to hour. Listen to our cry. Start moving. Extend to us brotherly hands. . . God be with you and with us."
100Outside of a UN resolution calling on the Soviet Union to desist, no western country came to the aid of the Hungarians during their hour of need. In Bremerhaven, my shipmates and I helped some of the flood of refugees’ board civilian transport ships for England and the U.S. The Germans set up tent cities between Bremen and Bremerhaven to accommodate them, while the US Army supplied busses and other transport to get them through the processing centers. We heard rumors of deserting Russian troops being processed, but I personally did not know of 101any. But it hung heavy in our unit that we did not go to their aid while the revolution could have been won.
One article summed it all up, 102“... nine weeks ago ... we Americans have shown the Reds that however much we may lift our voice we will never lift a finger to disturb the reign of the Kremlin tyrants over their ill-gotten slave empire. We need not feel sorry for the dead Hungarians. To them the words of Patrick Henry were real, not rhetoric. Will any of us die so well? The tragedy of Hungary is in Washington, not in Budapest." (David Heyser, Washington Star, Dec. 28, 1956).
103I didn’t know it then, but those Hungarians I did come in contact with on the quay in Bremerhaven were from my father’s country. Had I known, I may have done more. Hindsight is always one hundred percent obvious.
104Helga’s sister Marion and her husband Bob were making arrangements to get Mutti to the states, and Helga and I agreed to bring her to Bremerhaven. It was November 1956 when she came to stay with us. I had not checked out of the barracks after we got married, because I did not rate subsistence, so Mutti and Helga stayed in the one-room apartment and I slept on the base. I didn’t take any leave, but we had a ball for the short time she was there. What I remember most was the ten-pfenning slot machines in Butzeris’ bar up the street. We would drink cognac or beer and drop coins into the machines, some evenings we won enough to cover the bar tab.
105I had a tooth attack. My lower molars were coming in and put me in great pain. The dentist cut them out and packed me up. I was put on the binnacle list and went to the apartment to recover. I took the pills according to directions but that night the pain became excruciating. I popped all the pain killers he had given me, and the next morning was as sick as a dog. I ended up being admitted to the Army hospital for three days. My jaw was still swollen when I was released and reported back to work.
106Helga made all the preparations for her mother to travel to New York comfortably. They shopped for traveling clothes, a nice suitcase, and I made sure she had an extra ration of cigarettes. It wasn’t a big party, a few friends of ours met in Butzeris’ Gasthaus to say goodbye. We put her on the SS Berlin and she set sail for New York City just before Christmas.
107As I alluded to earlier, friction with the landlady came to a head. It wasn’t too long after Mutti left, Helga located another apartment on Shillerstrasse with an older couple for much less money. We signed the lease, and started to move. We lugged Helga’s suitcases and boxes of food and a few things we had collected, it wasn’t much. But then, came the potatoes and coal. We had bought a sack of spuds and several sacks of coal briquettes, storing them in the basement. Don Rump came over to help me move them from one cellar to the other. But, the landlady changed the lock on our cage in the cellar. I threatened to break the lock and she told Helga that is what she wanted me to do so she could call the Polizei. She was unhappy that we were leaving without notice, and wanted to keep our winter’s supply of coal as a penalty. Rump and I retired to Butzeris for a beer and a strategy session. 108He suggested we call the MP’s and ask them to bring an interpreter. A few moments later, a jeep with two MP’s and a German that looked like he stepped from a Gestapo recruiting poster, wearing a leather overcoat and slouch hat, appeared. MP’s always attract a crowd and soon there were kids and a few adults standing around on the sidewalk. Rump and I briefed them outside and the German asked the MP’s to let him handle it. Helga, he and I went inside and sat in Kretchmer’s living room, while Rump and the two MP’s stood in the hall. After an exchange, the interpreter told them what they were up against; what they were doing was against the renter’s rights. The old man got the keys and went down and opened the cage door. He even helped Rump and I carry the sacks out and prop them against the side of the building. 109I gave two kids a couple of cigarettes each to guard the remaining sacks while Rump and I lugged a sack down the street to the new place. After three trips, stops in Butzeris for refreshments and a couple more cigarettes to the kids, we were finished, looking like a couple of coal miners. I bought beer at Butzeris. The new place we moved to had a bar on the first floor, so we inaugurated that one, too. After we were acquainted with our new landlord, the Ahler’s, he and I would chip in and go down to the bar, buy a liter jug of beer, bring it upstairs to the apartment and finish it off in the evenings.
110Chief Faile transferred out (I’d meet him again much later) and was replaced by RM1 Bob Packard. He wore gold hashmarks, attesting to over twelve years of good conduct. He was the first First Class I saw wearing gold, usually the others wore the red stripes, maybe because they were bad boys sometime earlier in their careers, or didn’t want to buy the expensive gold stripes. He was about my height, but skinnier, and strutted around like the cock of the walk. After a couple of run-ins with him over message errors I made, we became good friends and beer drinking buddies, although he was not too well like by some others.
Christmas 1956, he and his wife Ruthie, a shapely woman with a bouffant hairdo, invited 111us for dinner. They lived in government quarters near the train station. They told us she would be going in for surgery and would probably need some care afterwards. We volunteered to help, and it was February 1957 before we left their place. Shortly after that, they left for Edzell, Scotland. The Navy was building a new station there and NGB was closing. RM’s still having time on their overseas tours were transferred, while those of us who where short timers or should have been long gone, were extended to close down NGB.
112On March 31, 1957, the few of us remaining gathered in radio central for a ceremony. At 23:59 we sent out on all frequencies we guarded the Q and Z signals for we are shutting down. I had the honor to set on our main frequency, 12867 kilocycles, and transmit the final “AR” or in navy communication parlance, “the end.” I recorded in the log several ships acknowledged with “R AR” and our main rivals, NHY (Port Lyautey) and NSS (Washington, D.C.) also replied.
NGB had been in existence since 1945, when the Navy took over a small Army Signal Corps operation. I was proud to be among the relatively small number of RM’s that built and maintained one of the best reputations for passing traffic from ships at sea. We reached around the world, relaying traffic from ships in the Atlantic, North Pacific, working ships in Antarctica, as well as our bread-and-butter, the Sixth Fleet in the Med and Persian Gulf. For years afterward, I’d meet RM’s that told of getting through and sending messages to NGB.
113Helga and I traveled to Bremen for some German paperwork, then on to Hamburg for her entry visa for the states. The consulate was in a building that reminded me of our NGB admin building, ornate, imposing and staffed by German nationals. I assumed it would be a formality, but the German gal behind the desk, supposedly helping Helga, became rather obstinate. I did not fully comprehend the language, and Helga said we would have to come back. That was unsatisfactory. I told the girl I wanted to speak to an American, and it was a while before a man, an Asian, came from the back. A quick explanation that we were on a short fuse, and I asked his help to see us out today. He made it so, and Helga got her passport stamped by a very disgruntled clerk.
114The physical work of tearing down the station, inventorying, boxing up the equipment, and seeing it shipped out to places like Eritrea, Sidi Yahia, and Naples while some remained for the CT’s use out at the Staging Area was done in a week or ten days. With all that accomplished, everyone chose to fly back to the states, while Chief Sczymanski, his wife Giesele, Helga and I took the slow boat ... the USNS Maurice Rose, departing Bermerhaven in April.
115Before we left, Helga got the good news that she was pregnant. Since my grade was not high enough to rate a cabin, Helga was put in with unaccompanied dependents, while I was stuck in with the Army below decks. Making a stop in Northampton, England, twenty-one Air Force guards brought three AF prisoners aboard. They robbed an AF exchange, were courts martialed and were being sent back to the states to serve their sentences. 116. After we got underway, the Navy military liaison officer put me in charge of the brig. Not a pleasant job, although I did get to see a lot of Helga that way. I set up the watches, arranged for meals and exercise periods for the prisoners. I was not easy on them, reveille at 6, inspection at 7, breakfast at 7:30, lockdown until 11:30, lunch, lockdown until 14:00, exercise until 15:00, during which time the Sgt-in-Charge and I tore up the cells, 16:30 dinner, inspection at 20:00 and taps at 22:00.
117We hit rough weather and I jokingly told Helga she had better not get sick, being married to a sailor meant she had to set the example. Even pregnant, she didn’t succumb to the ship’s rocking and rolling. We made friends with an Air Force couple transferring to Wright-Patterson AFB in Ohio. They had their car aboard, and offered to drive us home, since Pittsburgh was on their way. One mistake I regretted for a long time afterward. A couple of us guys were playing cards and Helga wanted to go out and see the Statute of Liberty. I didn’t think it was a big deal at the time, and she went up on deck with some others. I know now I should have gone; she talked about seeing the lady for years afterward.
118The ship docked at Ft. Hamilton, the prisoners were off loaded, and we claimed our baggage and met the Air Force couple in the cafeteria. I bought us two ham sandwiches and two half-pints of milk for $1.50. I told Helga the picnic was over, we are in the land of the big PX where prices are doubled. After they claimed the car, we loaded our belongings and started across New Jersey to the Pennsylvania Turnpike. I helped drive and we arrived at 1712 Juniata St. early in the morning; the sun was just coming up. I found dad was up and waiting for us with coffee and donuts from Grady’s bakery. The AF couple joined us for a half-hour then shoved off on their journey.
119After the rough time he gave me about getting married, dad was very cordial. When we told him Helga was pregnant, he said, “Well, that’s what you got married for.” My brother Bob 120and his wife Ruth, came in a little later, and hit it off right away with Helga. While I hated to leave her, Esther McClain next door, Beverly Borushko up the street and Bob and Ruth said they would take good care of her until I got back.