Remembrance Day
November 18, 2012

My dear American Old Bold Pilots, British Sherwood Rangers, and friends of all creeds,

First, to my beloved Old Bolds, I am so sorry my work and personal travel schedule stopped me from being with you around Veterans Day. To you I owe my deepest gratitude for your sacrifice and service. Thank you for all you did to ensure that I, my generation, and those who follow would have a beautiful and easy life.

Secondly, today I grieve with my German friends on their day of remembrance for those who have fallen while fighting for their country and, more recently, our alliance as well.

It's dark and quiet here and we don't have anything on our agenda until 11 am, so I can steal a few minutes to write.

After a weeklong business trip the first week of November, I had two days to straighten things out at work, pack and jump on a flight from LAX to Frankfurt. From Frankfurt it was a short hop to Hamburg, but my bags must have been having a party without me in Frankfurt because they arrived in Hamburg 8 hours after I did and one of their locks was broken (shut, of course). After we had houdinied our way in to it, I was at least able to retrieve my toothbrush, which above all other items was the one I longed for most of all.

After a great night's sleep and repacking in some bags provided by Charley, we went to a florist and picked up 13 roses and then hit the road in Charley's classic Mercedes. The sun was shining until we neared the cemetery at Becklingen when a layer of icy mist rolled in, providing a more appropriate setting for our visit.

This time we came prepared. After our visit to Charley's former British opponents in Africa - the Sherwood Rangers - in May, I spent some time
researching in their reference books to see who exactly of the Sherwoods was buried in Becklingen and how they had died. It was a very sad list, including teenagers, of course, mixed in with experienced veterans who were caught by snipers, rounds that exploded in overheated tank guns, and in tanks that 'brewed up' when hit by German Panzerfausts, all just days before the war ended. In one case, two men had died in a tank that was 'brewing' while two others who tried desperately to get the hatches open from outside to let them escape were mowed down by machine gun fire.

We were accompanied on our trip by a German Bundeswehr soldier who has taken responsibility - in a way adopted - Becklingen's Commonwealth soldiers and their families. For families who live in New Zealand and other far off places, he provides a vital link to their loved ones buried in Germany forever who will not be forgotten by their families. Somehow it is even more touching when one thinks of all the German soldiers who never received a proper burial and whose families never knew what happened to them. Even now, as American delegations still search for those missing from WW2 and thought to lie in German soil, no government-funded search parties (that I've heard of) do the same for any of the hundreds of thousands - perhaps millions of German soldiers - whose final resting places remain unmarked and forgotten, even though their families still suffer terribly from the uncertainty surrounding their deaths.

After coffee with our friend we drove on to the tank reunion location in a town that has housed troops for centuries. There we met up with our friends from the Feldhernhalle and Hermann Goering Division, the HG division being an airforce paratroop tank division. Um hmm, imagine that.

It was wonderful to be in the company of these kind, funny and hospitable men. Unfortunately, each year there are fewer and fewer of them able to travel, and every moment with them is precious, just as it is with all of my British, French, Canadian and American veteran friends.

On Friday we had lunch at officer's mess on base where a hearty and traditional ham and pea soup was served (unfortunately, I, the Cali vegetarian, had to forgo such a delicacy). Then it was time to get ready for the Serenade and Gentleman's evening. During the Serenade, the military band played some traditional marches for 45 minutes by torch light as we sat outside in freezing (literally!) temperatures in formal evening attire. A great number of the attendees were between 86 and 100 years old. Considering we use heat lamps in our outdoor cafes in SoCal when the temperature dips below 65 degrees, you can imagine why the Germans made such tough and respected adversaries!

At the Gentleman's evening I was graciously admitted this year without a
murmur, and honored to be seated with my 'African' friends at the Gross
Deutschland table. This didn't make too much sense, because there was an Afrika Korps table, and without Charley and Guenter, it lacked substantial (two-thirds!) representation. But never mind, I got to meet some veterans that had fought with this elite GD unit, and the last remaining 8th Panzer Division representative to boot. (K, I got his info for you)

All too soon it was over, but the party continued on in our hotel restaurant. Once we had a few drinks, I started the boys off singing the Panzer Song, which Charley has taught me by heart and which we sing, arm-in-arm on our walks.

Nobody else in the restaurant seemed concerned, as the song is not political, and this is, after all, a long-time and current tank troop town. But one of our party who is my age, was, how shall I put it?, ummm, gravely concerned, that we might be offending tender sensibilities. I got a bit of a dressing down as an instigator and troublemaker.

Who me?

The next morning the veterans laid wreaths on the stones representing their  divisions, while we suffered through the bitter cold amidst the unhurried, hour-long military pomp and circumstance. And with that, another tank reunion had passed.

Today, on this 'People's Grieving Day', we remember all who served and fell on all sides, in the many conflicts. And we rest and visit my friends in the Ruhr area before the rest of our adventure starts.

Thinking of you, my friends, and sending all my best thoughts and wishes. Stay tuned, and don't move that dial!




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