Dear All

I hope this email finds you all healthy, happy and well. Just wanted to send you an update on my trip so far.

On Thursday last week I flew to Dallas to visit my friend and fellow WW2
historian George Cone. I hate to put myself in the same category, however, since he's been doing this for 30 years. We had a wonderful time visiting and looking at some of the unique items given to him by WW2 veterans over the years. Unfortunately, he was not able to join me for this trip, so he sent me off on Friday to fly the coop alone (if I can mix my metaphors!). It seems apt!

After a wonderful Lufthansa flight I landed in Frankfurt Saturday morning,
picked up my rental car, and drove immediately direction Stuttgart to interview an AfrikaKorps veteran. The weather was truly outstanding. May is a beautiful time of year here.

We had a lovely interview over 3.5 hours or so and then had luscious cake baked by his wife while we enjoyed the sun in their garden. Then I got a room at a darling, modern, boutique hotel near his house.

Although I was very jetlagged, I had taken his letters to his parents while he served, and needed to scan them in. I scanned six hours until midnight while looking out my window at a gorgeous, lush green valley and old stone viaduct bridge, and only got a fraction of the missives - mostly what he sent from the Russian front his first year of service.

I woke up at 3:30 am. Since I was awake, I started scanning again. At 8 I had one of the best breakfasts I'd ever had in Germany - wonderful scrambled eggs (unusual to find) and of course fabulous dark German bread.

At 9 I stopped by to return the letters and wish my new friends farewell, before spontaneously deciding to drive through Ludwigshafen on my way north.

My friend Robert Sweatt's bomber had hit Ludwigshafen before it was shot down over Normandy, and I remember the mission records detailing the 3-mile long BASF plant target along the Rhine river.

I found the river and parked at an old, shutdown factory parking lot by a walking path. Across the river I could see the BASF factory and only imagine what it must have been like to be a resident of that city during the war.

Seeing an older lady walking her dog, I decided to introduce myself and ask her if she had lived there during the war. She hadn't, but told me the story of one of her friends (now deceased) who had. She encouraged me to visit the city's archives the next day, but since I'm on a mission I told her it would have to wait for another trip, gave her my card, and left. As I drove over the river and by the factory back to the Autobahn, I was truly amazed by the current size of the BASF industrial complex. It stretched along the river for miles and miles - three miles after I thought it had ended I was still passing entrances.

Onwards I drove northward in my Ford Fiesta. (Warning to Mom - please skip to the next paragraph now) As I was minding my own business in the middle of
three lanes, driving around 160 km per hour (you do the math), suddenly 6 or 7 cars came up in all three lanes, swerving around me and blowing by with inches to spare at a speed that made it look like I was going backwards. I just held on to the steering wheel as my little ship got buffeted by the tubulence and puttered on.

Safely arriving in Muelheim AD Ruhr after 5 hours on the road I visited with my longtime friends Kerstin and Marc and baby Fabian. Then we went to visit Kerstin's parents, eating more luscious cake in the sun overlooking their wildly blooming, huge garden.

Monday morning I played with Fabian while Kerstin got ready to go to her work at the University of Duisburg (she teaches Japanese int'l relations), then they were off. I went into town and added minutes to my German cellphone, grabbed some cash at the bank, and walked the 45 minutes back to the house remembering this place as it was 20 years ago when I lived here. 20 years ago!! How the time flies!

I got a call from the nice lady from Ludwigshafen, who upon reflection decided to offer her help by going to the city archives to research for me. Sometimes I'm just overwhelmed and awed by the goodness of people, and it makes me really happy.

Then I jumped back into the car for a 3-hour drive north to Hannover, arriving at the small village where a German Knight's cross holder lives. I
was warmly welcomed into the house where he was interviewing with a historian who is writing his story.

His wife returned home after a 3-day road trip adventure with three historians, one Finnish, who had come to interview Knights Cross holders, the son of Von Ribbentrop, and SS veterans. The house here is constantly inundated with historians from all over the world seeking out stories, often more than one at a time. Regine says she feels like the head of an institution for crazy people with all the people coming and going.

After a supper spread where I was one of three visitors, we drank and talked until 10 pm when I nearly fell asleep on the couch after all the food, wine and jetlag. They put me up in a room upstairs - one of the other historians is in the room across the hall - and we're all to have breakfast at 9 this morning.

After I interview Guenther, who is 90 and exhausted by the daily interviews but such a good sport, I'm off to Hamburg this afternoon, with a stop at the British cemetery at Becklingen on the way.

Hope you don't mind my rambling mails...there are going to be more of these, so prepare yourselves :-)

Signing out for this morning,



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