April 14 2013
Dearest Old Bolds, Friends, and Family,
Last night Charley and I landed in San Francisco after a long day of
flights and delays and a medical emergency on board. Thank goodness
the emergency was not ours.
In fact, I'm incredibly impressed, as I always am, with Charley's
ability to endure and enjoy long, action-packed days. When we landed
so late last night in a stinky plane full of whining, crying,
fussing children he swung his arms and proclaimed he was ready to go
dancing! I suspect that part of his exuberance had to do with
hearing blissfully blocked by the pressure differences. But the
attitude was pure Charley.
But I'm getting ahead of myself. Where did we leave you last? I
believe in Dallas.
This week the next leg of our trip encompassed the beautiful state
of Louisiana. First, we stopped at Ft. Polk, where we were greeted
in fluent German by the museum curator, and then his staff and base
personnel. They laid out a wonderful repast on their tables in the
back, and tendered gentle southern hospitality, allowing Charley to
rest, eat, and take a pit stop before starting the interview. For
this kind consideration, I am grateful.
Once they had had a chance to ask some questions, they took us out
to the field where the POW camp had been, showing us quite a few
pictures of the way it used to be. Like in Alva and Ft. Smith, there
wasn't, unfortunately, much to see now.
We moved to double-time tempo when one of our guides had worked out
a surprise, last-minute reception with the Base Commander. Whisked
off to his office, the Commander presented Charley with a
Commander's Coin, honoring Charley for his high level of integrity,
honor, service, and duty to country. He also wrote a kind message in
and signed a book about the history of the base for Charley to take
with him, and stood shaking hands with Charley while flashes went
off from multiple directions.
After another thoroughly pleasant visit with the curator,
historians, and base personnel, we were sad to leave.
The next morning we went on through the Armadillo Death Zone highway
stretch (they must throw themselves at the cars here with reckless
abandon) to the small town of Jeanerette, where the museum was able
to provide a few newspaper articles, but unfortunately no clues
about the location where Charley could have been while he took part
in the sugar cane harvest in the fall and winter of 45-46.
Then it was onwards to New Orleans. We had been outrunning a storm
the whole way, but had a chance to drive down Bourbon Street, check
in to our Garden District hotel, and unload before the pelting rain,
thunder, and lightning hit. The next morning we went to the National
We went stealth, because I wasn't sure what kind of reception we
would get. I had started a phone and email conversation with one of
the curators in February, but when I suggested someone might please
take us on a personal tour and in the back to show Charley some of
the German uniforms and weapons they keep locked up there, my emails
and phone calls were no longer returned. I was pretty disappointed,
and sad, because I had assured Charley everywhere we went in the US
museum personnel would be thrilled to meet him. Now I had to tell
him with embarrassment and a little heartbreak, that we wouldn't be
receiving a reception here.
I paid for my ticket, and then saw that WW2 veterans get in for
free. Did this go for German WW2 veterans as well? We didn't
directly ask (due to our previous dropped correspondence - would we
really be welcome here?). Charley and I debated - should he say he
was an (honorary) member of the Sherwood Rangers Tank Regiment -
which is true - and try to pass himself off as British?
We settled on a course of quiet integrity - a sort of "if they don't
ask, we won't tell" policy. Having settled that, I brought him to
the welcome desk and said I had a WW2 veteran. When I filled out the
form with his name written in the German manner, gave his rank as
corporal, and stated that he fought in Africa, and "now" lived in
Germany, there were a few quizzical looks.
Nonetheless Charley was given a lanyard and pass, and we moved on to
the exhibitions. We hadn't gotten far when we were pulled to the
side by a bright-eyed, young historian-curator who had come looking
for us. He wanted to know where and with whom Charley had fought.
Busted! We thought. Are they going to take away his free pass now?
With relief we found the historian was actually excited to meet
Charley, and wanted to interview him, not take away his free pass.
He was working on a future exhibition about Africa, and was very
keen to talk to Charley about his experiences.
We were a little skeptical at this sudden change of heart by the
staff, and needed some time to talk privately to let Charley decide.
Charley was not really sure at first, but finally agreed, hoping
perhaps the historian, since he was interviewing Americans who
fought in Africa, would help him find the 1st Armored Division
Americans who knocked out his tank in Africa.
Clearing his schedule, the historian took us to his recording
studio. On the way there we bumped into an 82nd Airborne paratrooper
who was greeting visitors, and who snagged Charley. Soon they were
sitting down close to each other, enjoying close fellowship, mutual
respect, and belly laughs. Only reluctantly parting, we moved on to
the studio, but before we could get started, our All American
paratrooper had brought a friend who had fought alongside, and
wanted to meet Charley.
Thus we watched these three WW2 combat veterans exchange their
respects, while our historian friend kept repeating that the
privilege of being present with all these men is what he lived for.
And with that, we warmed up to our new historian friend.
They had a nice chat on record, and then we were met by a senior
curator who did take us on a private tour of the vaults where their
German weapons are kept. Charley was delighted to be able to handle
the old MG34 machine gun type they had had on their tank, as well as
a machine pistol similar to the one which he had carried in Africa.
When the staff offered to take Charley to view the Sherman, we
waffled. Charley has seen plenty of Shermans over the years. Seeing
our ambivalence, the staff tendered the offer to take a peek inside
the tank. With that, Charley's eyes lit up and we consented.
A ladder was provided and Charley scrambled nimbly up and in with
the help of the curator while I took pictures. Then it was my turn.
I got up and made it in, but only with a little awkwardness. You
see, not expecting to have this sort of experience drop in our laps,
I again found myself with an inappropriate wardrobe choice. To put
it plainly, I was wearing a skirt.
Surprisingly, the Shermans clearly were not designed with
ingress/egress in a skirt in mind. But modesty be damned! I
certainly wasn't going to let an opportunity like this one pass me
by, and I didn't. Charley and I thought that might be the last tank
we had a chance to climb in and around until we go drive a Russian
tank in Germany this summer. However something magical happened
today that I need to tell you about, but first we gotta eat!
On that note, we'll leave you while we continue our San Francisco
All the best from Fisherman's Wharf,