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
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
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
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
At the Gentleman's evening I was graciously admitted this year
murmur, and honored to be seated with my 'African' friends at the
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
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!