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 WW2 museum.

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 museum
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 adventures.

All the best from Fisherman's Wharf,



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