By Bill Ward
---- — I suppose most everyone is thinking snow, cold wind with our rather harsh winter so far. I was emailing a friend in Texas who was a good friend from San Diego. He and I were in high school together and he was a career Army officer and West Point graduate; me, I was a grunt and far from a West Point grad. John mentioned I should be glad I was not out and about on some mission in this weather and I agreed. But it did bring back some memories. Although I spent three years in Germany and none of it was anyone shooting at me, I did find it necessary to be out and about in the winter several times. Germany has basically the same type of winter weather as we do here in Indiana, so I was not unprepared for playing in the snow along with the rest of the 7th Army.
I have vivid memories of one rather elongated period of time spent out and about in the cold weather of Europe and Germany in particular. I was a Forward Air Controller so I was assigned a ¾-ton truck and it had a small metal camper type hut in the bed. It was much like a slide in pickup camper of today without any of the amenities the civilian type has. It was honestly a lot like the weather we have been having recently and miserable in the least. I was going all over our sector of Germany as I was in theory the controlling FAC team in the Division. But as I had found out earlier on working out of Division Artillery Headquarters for Division Headquarters and United States Air Force Europe no one, me included, had a good idea where I was supposed to be and when.
The Russians did something to aggravate our politicians and so off we went to play out in the snow and cold. We had been out and about, all of us in the V Corp and probably 7th Army for several weeks already. I had spent most of my time with my home unit Division Artillery Headquarters Battery. Field work was hard under the best of circumstances and this was far from best. No shower for weeks on end. No clean clothes unless you were lucky enough to be back in barracks for a short time. No hot meals, if you got a meal, and many other uncomfortable things for weeks on end. It was cold, snow was heavy and a lot of it and we moved about way more frequently than any of us liked, but that was Army life.
I was lucky I had my little hut that was to keep my radios dry, fairly warm and in that process keep the operator, me, dry and warm too. But I found by pooling several of our tent halves and going communal, things could be better. About seven of us got together and pooled all our tent halves and even some other clothing items to make a huge tent ceiling. We made a circle with the walls made of snow and a trench was dug around the outside to, if needed, run the water off and away from the home away from home. We took all the tent halves we had or could manage to procure and put them together in a large canvas roof. It worked well actually and we found we could take a 5-gallon oil can with the top cut off and filled with dirt soaked in gasoline or diesel oil and make a fairly good heat source out of it. Of course we needed a chimney so the lowest of the ranks involved “volunteered” his poncho which had a hole for your head in it for the center of our hooch and for our chimney made of old empty food cans with both ends cut out.
We were told we would be in our present position for some time, so we felt it was worth the effort to do some construction. Because most of those involved were in the radio section there would be a lot of coming and going so we could get by with smaller hooch than if we were all going to be about at the same time, which we weren’t. I found that our home away from home was more than adequate and that stupid stove actually worked rather well and it kept the inside warm as toast. I was concerned about the possibility of the walls melting but once the ice formed on the inside things worked well. Snow is a great insulator, something I found out later on. We ended up with a comfortable and homey abode for the remaining days we were to stay put. I liked the hooch much better than the hut on my truck as it was warmer in the make shift tent than my radio truck hut and roomier too.
Everyone, with the exception of the gentleman who had “volunteered” his poncho as a make shift chimney, exit managed to get all their required equipment back when we finally had to move out. The poncho some how managed to get “lost” and had to be replaced by Uncle Sam. And we all swore that poncho had just up and gone missing some how and no one knew where or why. The supply sergeant, who had noticed our home, was not really sure we were being truthful but went along with us.
In the end, I believe we spent almost the entire winter season out in the country side moving up and down the demarcation line between East and West Germany. I managed to get back to barracks a day or two at a time and that made things a lot easier for me than for those who were stuck out there all winter. I hope that the Russian soldier on the other side of the border was as miserable as we were; I bet they were worse off. Our side actually cared about their soldiers, theirs, well they didn’t all that much. Just another story of the peace time Army and Cold War and some of the hardships we endured and made the best of.