Jim Colling Adventure Series

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Chapter Two

September-October, 1945

The morning formation was not a lengthy affair. A first sergeant whose name Colling had not been told called the troops to attention, then stood them at ease. He proceeded to read off the names of squads and sections with their assignments for the day. From the quiet groans, Colling was able to guess which were the least favorable. Colling’s name was not called, and he concluded he should just report to Sergeant Ferguson. The formation ended with a brief lecture concerning the anti-fraternization regulations, with a reminder that it was a court-martial offense to become friendly with the German population, especially the female part. The first sergeant glared when there were snickers from the ranks, but finished his monologue as required. The men were called back to attention, then dismissed.

Colling had changed into fatigues immediately after breakfast, and when the assembly was dismissed, he went straight to Ferguson’s office. The same corporal who had been there the evening before was sweeping the floor. He looked up as Colling entered, “Sergeant’s not here yet.

Have a seat over there.” Colling took one of the four chairs set against the wall. He sat quietly, cap in hand, for a few moments, then offered, “Anything I can help you with?”

The corporal hesitated, “Yeah, I guess so. Take this cloth and dust everything that don’t move.”

Colling was dusting the top of a file cabinet when Ferguson strolled into the office. The sergeant frowned when he saw Colling had been put to work doing what was supposed to be the corporal’s responsibility. “Found a helper, Hughes?” Ferguson said to the corporal. Hughes straightened quickly and replied, “Yes, Sergeant.”

Well, that’s just ducky, Corporal. You’re relieved.”

Corporal Hughes took his jacket and cap from a coat rack on the wall and hurriedly left the office. Ferguson turned to Colling, who had been standing quietly beside the file cabinet. As the Sergeant’s gaze caught him, Colling stiffened to attention. “Private Colling reporting, Sergeant.”

I recall, Private, that you were supposed to report yesterday.”

Yes, Sergeant. When I finished getting my gear stowed, I came back here and the corporal who was just here, Corporal…?”

Hughes,” Ferguson completed Colling’s sentence.

Yessir. Corporal Hughes said you weren’t here, and I should come back this morning.”

There was silence for a few moments as Ferguson stared at him, and Colling considered it best to not be the first to speak.

All right. You passed two jeeps parked outside.” Colling nodded his head. Ferguson continued, “You’ll find a bucket and rags in the latrine at the end of the hall. Wash the jeeps and when you’re done, report back here. Sorry, but there’s no soap.”

Sergeant, can I have permission to go and see if I can get some soap over at the mess hall?”

Okay. But I want to see you scrubbing those vehicles in short order.”

Colling assured the sergeant that he would take only a few minutes. He retrieved the bucket and rags from a locker in the latrine and carried them outside. He noticed a water spigot projecting from the wall close by, and tried the handle. Water gushed out. Leaving the pail beside the water tap, he hurried to the tunnel across the square that would take him to the rear of the mess hall.

Two Germans were hosing out garbage cans beside the door to the kitchen. They wore the blue smocks and loose trousers common to European laborers. One was wearing a hat that looked as if it would have been more at home on a bank clerk, while the other had a slouch cap pulled down to just above his eyes. Colling spoke to them in German, “Bitte, have you soap?”

The man with the hat seemed surprised, then answered, “Yes, over there,” pointing to two cakes of yellow Army soap lying on the steps.

And perhaps another hose?” asked Colling.

Not here. This is the only one.”

You said, ‘Not here,’” said Colling. “Does that mean you could find for me a hose, for say, two cigarettes?”

The man in the slouch cap answered first, “For three cigarettes for each of us, I can get you a hose, but not so long.”

I only need perhaps four or five meters.” Colling pulled a pack of Lucky Strikes from the pocket of his fatigue jacket. He extracted six cigarettes and held them up. “I need the hose right away. And a cake of the soap, too.”

With a gesture that he would return quickly, the German with the slouch cap trotted away through a gate opening onto the street next to the kaserne. Colling handed one of the cigarettes to the other German, who lit it immediately, and inhaled deeply with an expression of satisfaction on his face. He looked at Colling and gesturing with his cigarette, asked if he would join him. Colling replied that he did not smoke, and the German grinned and predicted that Colling would have many pleasant days in Germany, speaking the language, and being able to put his cigarette ration to many beneficial uses. Colling introduced himself and learned that the German’s name was Helmut Eisenschmit.

And you do this work for the Army?” asked Colling.

Yes. It’s good work. There are only four of us, to do all the ‘KP’ as you Americans say, but we get all the leftovers from the kitchen before anything is thrown away. Your mess sergeant is a good man.”

Now I understand why I haven’t heard about KP duty,” responded Colling.

Yes, Herr Colling. It is good for the Americans that you do not have to do ‘KP,’ good for me. Ach, here comes Rudi with your hose.”

Rudi came running up with a length of hose. It had been cut from a longer length, and only one end sported an attachment, and Colling noted with relief that it was a fitting that could be attached to the spigot. He turned over the other five cigarettes, picked up a cake of soap, and ran back to the jeeps.

He was rinsing off the second jeep when Ferguson came down the steps. “Where’d you find the hose?” asked the sergeant.

Bought it off the German KP’s, Sergeant.”

Hmm. How much?”

Six cigarettes, Sergeant.”

Ferguson laughed. “Cooley had to give ‘em a full carton to get one for the mess hall. And they swore that it was the only hose left in town.”

Helps to be able to talk to them in their own language, Sergeant.”

You speak German?”

I sure do, Sergeant. Learned it at my grandma’s knee.”

Ferguson considered for a moment. “I don’t suppose you can type.”

Sure can, Sergeant,” said Colling, using a wet rag to wipe off the jeep’s rear wheel.

When you finish up here, come inside.”

Yes, Sergeant.”

Colling wiped the last moisture off the hood of the jeep and stood back to admire his work. Carley walked by, a mop over his shoulder. “Ferguson’ll have you washing Major Harris’ Kraut car next, Colling,” he said, without turning around.

And you’ll still be swabbing floors, Bill,” responded Colling.

Colling drew to attention in front of Sergeant Ferguson’s desk. “Reporting, Sergeant.”

You ever type a morning report, Colling?”

No, Sergeant, but if you show me how, I can.”

Ferguson took Colling through a door into the next room. He pointed to a bespectacled corporal painfully typing at one of three desks that crowded the office. “This is Corporal Worth, Battalion Clerk. He’ll show you what to do. Worth, this is Private Colling. He says he knows how to type, so show him how to do the morning report. If he’s good enough, he’ll be here permanently.”

When Ferguson had returned to his own office, Worth informed Colling that the sergeant was an impossible task-master, and that he, Worth, was anxiously awaiting the day when he would receive his discharge orders, which should be any time now. The clerk showed Colling the morning reports, and how they were to be completed. Every man in the battalion headquarters detachment had to be listed, with his situation. Was he available for duty? On furlough? In the hospital? A.W.O.L.? Transferred or discharged? Everything had to be typed to perfection, and Colling could see from the number of incomplete discarded forms in the wastebasket that Worth had made several fresh starts in his efforts. Corporal Worth explained that once the roster for the headquarters detachment had been completed, each of the morning reports sent over from the battalion’s four company clerks had to be checked against the previous days’ for accuracy. Any discrepancies had to be called to Ferguson’s attention. The battalion adjutant, Lieutenant Averback, was on leave in Paris, as were most of the battalion’s officers. Only Major Harris, the battalion commanding officer, and the line officers in charge of the three companies that were located in their outlying assignments were present with their units. Worth offered his opinion that when those officers who were on leave did return, the others would depart on leave themselves, or receive their discharge orders. All of which meant that Ferguson as Non-Commissioned Officer in Charge was effectively running the battalion.

Even though Colling did not ask, Worth continued to provide a non-stop narrative about the battalion as Colling typed the report. Major Harris was shacked-up with the good-looking blonde wife of a Wehrmacht colonel who was missing on the Eastern Front, at the colonel’s mansion outside town. The battalion commanding officer only came to the kaserne a couple of times a week, driving the German colonel’s Mercedes. The Major did not seem to be taking the anti-fraternization rules seriously.

Colling found that, in spite of Worth’s continuing monologue, with a little concentration he was able to complete the required form with a fair degree of ease. He finally pulled the document out of the typewriter and handed it to the corporal, interrupting him in mid-sentence as he was describing Major Harris’ Kraut woman’s apparently considerable physical attributes. Worth looked over the report and looked up at Colling in amazement. “I usually take all morning to finish one of these. You done it in less than an hour.”

Should we take it to the Sergeant,” asked Colling.

If we do, he’ll find something else for us to do, and it might not have anything to do with working in the office.”

I think we had better take that chance,” replied Colling. Worth told him he could do what he wanted, but he was going to stay at his desk.

Ferguson raised his eyebrows when Colling laid the morning report in front of him. The sergeant examined it carefully, and seeming to find no error or omission, told Colling he had done well. He then asked, “How much education you have, Colling?”

It’s in my 201 file, Sergeant.”

Your 201 hasn’t arrived yet.”

Two years of college, Sergeant.”

Why were you drafted? You had a deferment, didn’t you?”

I did, Sergeant, but two of my best friends who signed up out of high school were killed in action. I thought it was time I took my share of responsibility.”

I thought the Army stopped taking enlistments right after V-E day,” said Ferguson.

That’s right, Sergeant. I would have enlisted, but I had to volunteer for the draft instead. Then at the reception center, after I was processed in, I asked for a year’s extension, so it turned out the same. I’m in for three years.”

If you want my opinion, that was kind of stupid, son. I joined in ’25 because I couldn’t find a job, and considered myself lucky when they took me. If you hadn’t asked to extend, you’d still be back in the States now, instead of here.”

Yes, Sergeant,” was all that Colling could say.

Well, anyway, you’ve got the job as battalion clerk.”

Thanks, Sergeant, but I wouldn’t want to see Corporal Worth lose his job.”

He won’t. He needs to stay around to show you what to do. Besides, he’s got eighty-five points, so he’ll be heading home soon.”

Colling had read and heard about the point system that determined when men would be discharged. He could not say that he understood it fully, but he knew that eighty-five points were enough to put a man at the head of the line.

It turned out that Ferguson’s prediction about Worth was accurate. The corporal’s orders for discharge, along with those of over 200 other men in the First Battalion, arrived from Divisional Headquarters within the week, directing them to report to Antwerp by the 20th of September for embarkation to the continental United States.

The movement of so many men required the drawing of multiple sets of documents for each of them, consisting of the paperwork associated with turning in their equipment, arranging for termination of dependent allotments at the correct time, reimbursement for domestic travel once ashore and discharged, and all the other details that had to be addressed in the transition from military to civilian life. All of this meant that Colling spent long hours in the clerk’s office. Worth was so distracted with his anticipation of a renewed life far from the Army that he was not of much help. Consequently, Colling found himself regularly working far into the evening. While Ferguson did not participate in Colling’s labors, it was clear to Colling that the sergeant was appreciative of his efforts.

Three days after he had assumed his assignment as battalion clerk, Colling was reminded that he had not been paid since before leaving the States, when Sergeant Ferguson informed him he was arranging transportation for him to visit Regimental Headquarters in Kummersfeld in order to draw his pay for August from the paymaster, and to make sure he would be paid regularly at the end of each month with the rest of the battalion.

It was nearly two weeks later that Ferguson asked Colling to step into his office. Tossing a set of private first class stripes to Colling, Ferguson said, “Might as well have these. The Major agrees. You’ve only got four months in, but you deserve a promotion. Times sure have changed. Took me nearly two years before I made PFC.”

Colling thanked the sergeant, then somewhat hesitantly, said “Sarge, when are they going to repair the kaserne?”

We have a requisition in with the Engineers, but roads and bridges have priority. It looks like C Company is going to have a cold winter.”

If I could make a suggestion, Sarge…”

Yeah, what?”

You might be able to find German workers who could do the job.”

What would we pay them with? We have a petty cash allotment for minor expenditures, but there’s not enough to cover a major construction project. We can draw up to 5000 Marks a month, that’s only $500.00 a month. Of course, I haven’t used anything since we been here, so we got a credit of 15,000 Marks on the books right now. But that’s still not enough to do much.”

Sarge, I’ve been talking to the German KP workers, and they’ve been pretty friendly. If we can get the guys in the battalion to give us their unused cigarette rations, the Germans will work for cigarettes instead of money.”

You think you can buy the materials with cigarettes, too?”

The Germans I’ve talked to say there’s a lot of materials that can be salvaged, especially from those buildings across the street that were hit by the same bombs that hit the kaserne.”

It will cost to salvage. The government isn’t willing to pay for it like they do in the cities. This place wasn’t hit hard enough to make clearing rubble a problem.”

Well, it was just a thought, Sarge.”

Hold on,” said Ferguson, “Don’t be so quick to give up. Come with me.”

The sergeant led Colling out of the office and down the hallway. They came to an unmarked door. Pulling a ring of keys from his pocket, Ferguson unlocked it. A storage room lay behind the door. Stacked from floor to ceiling were large cardboard cartons labeled with the names “P. Lorillard and Company” and “American Tobacco Company.” Colling realized that he was looking at several thousand packs of cigarettes.

Ferguson, obviously amused, explained, “The Battalion received this shipment of cigarettes the last week in May. Remember, Uncle Sam handed out free cigarettes to all units in combat. We missed our allotment for three months, from February to April, and then this caught up with us. Some kind of a snafu. We got our monthly allotment for May, but these are for the three months we missed. They sent it all at once. Two cartons a month for a full battalion, a thousand men. That’s six thousand cartons you’re looking at. They started issuing tobacco ration cards in June, and everyone has to buy their own smokes now. I been trying to figure out what to do with them. A couple of more months and they’ll start to go stale.”

Could we use them to pay for the repairs?”

We could; we sure could.”

You want me to see if I can find some Germans who can do the job, Sarge?”

I’ll give you a pass off the kaserne and a travel authorization for a jeep. But you’ve got to keep up with your work in the office.”

Colling first went to the mess hall, looking for the German KP workers. He found Eisenschmitt in the kitchen, scrubbing pots with another worker.

Helmut,” said Colling in German, “How goes it?”

Ach, the young American who does not smoke,” answered the German with a smile.

Jim Colling,” said Colling. “I’ve come to see if you can direct me to a someone who is a builder. Someone who can repair the kaserne.”

Yes, Colling, I now remember your name. I see you have now the PFC made.”

Do you know such a person?”

Yes, I think you may find that a man, Klaus Zinsmann by name, could do this work.”

Where might I find him?”

If you take the Ludwigstrasse, that is the main street through the town, you will come to a side street, an alley. Zinsmann lives at number 8, Trebensallee.”

Colling thanked Eisenschmitt and returned to the orderly room. He explained to Ferguson that he had the name of a possible contractor to do the work. The sergeant handed over a signed travel authorization and told him to take one of the jeeps parked in front of the headquarters.

While Ludwigstrasse was lined with shops and stores with mostly empty display windows, and formed what had once been the commercial center of Grabensheim, it was a winding cobble-stone affair that went uphill from the square in front of the railway station. Colling’s jeep bounced over the stones as he drove slowly in first gear, looking for Trebensallee. He nearly missed the oval blue and white sign on the side of a building that marked a narrow passageway with an arched entrance. He pulled the jeep over and parked it against the curb, making sure that there was enough clearance remaining between it and the street to allow other vehicles to pass. While there was little or no German motor traffic, Colling gauged there was enough space to permit an Army deuce-and-a-half to pass, and felt he had left ample room.

Number 8 was identified by the fact that it was located between numbers 7 and 9; its worn black-painted door bore no marking of its own. Colling rapped, and when there was no response, knocked again with more force. He caught a glimpse of the curtain being pulled back slightly from the window to the right of the door, and knew that someone was at home. He knocked again and called out Zinsmann’s name. A voice from inside responded, “Moment, bitte.”

The door opened and Colling was looking at a hard-faced man buttoning his shirt. He told Colling that he did not speak English. Colling replied in German, “I am looking for Klaus Zinsmann.”

On American Army business?” asked the man, glancing up and down the alley to see if Colling had anyone with him.

Somewhat. Are you Klaus Zinsmann?”

After a second’s hesitation, the man answered, “Yes, I am Klaus Zinsmann.”

I understand you are a builder. Is that so?”

I was a builder, yes.”

I am here to offer you a job reconstructing the kaserne. As you know, it was damaged by aerial bombs. If you can find a crew of men to do the work, the Army is prepared to pay you.”

What authority do you have? You are only a private soldier, not an officer.”

I come because I speak German. My superiors do not. If you will come with me to the kaserne, I will arrange for you to speak to my sergeant.”

Zinsmann went to get his coat and hat. He did not invite Colling to enter, but Colling, standing at the open door, could see into the interior of the apartment, which appeared worn but clean. Colling sensed a woman’s touch, and could hear Zinsmann speaking to someone in the rear of the place. He assumed Zinsmann had a wife.

The German came back, putting on his coat. Colling led him to the jeep, and after assuring the man that a German riding in a U.S. military vehicle was authorized by his orders, Zinsmann got into the front seat.

Accompanied by Colling and Ferguson, Zinsmann inspected the damaged buildings, scribbling in a small notebook as he went from room to room. As he assessed the damage, he sometimes directed questions in German at Colling, some of which Colling was able to answer, and those that he could not, Colling translated for Ferguson. Colling made it clear that materials would have to be salvaged, since the Americans could provide little, if any, that were new. This did not seem to bother Zinsmann unduly.

When Zinsmann announced that he had finished, the three men went to Ferguson’s office. Zinsmann remained standing in front of the sergeant’s desk while Ferguson and Colling were seated. Ferguson did not offer the German a chair.

Ferguson directed himself to Colling, “Ask him if he can do the work.”

Colling asked the question in German, and Zinsmann began speaking, referring to his notes. When he had finished, Colling turned to Ferguson, “He thinks he can complete the work in three or four months, if we can find the building materials. He knows of some men in the town who will form a crew to do the work, if the Army can pay more than what they are usually paid. He knows carpenters, masons, electricians, plumbers, and so on. He thinks he will need about thirty men.”

Ferguson responded, “Tell him I need the job done in eight weeks, no more. Tell him we will pay 10 Marks a day to each of his men, 20 Marks for him, in Military Currency, plus a carton of American cigarettes a week. They’ll have to work six days a week, twelve or more hours a day. If he does the work okay and on time, he gets an additional ten cartons of cigarettes.”

Colling translated the sergeant’s offer into German. Zinsmann thought for a moment, then proposed, “The work will be done as he says, but I will receive two cartons of cigarettes a week.”

Colling relayed the message, “Sarge, he says he wants two cartons for himself every week.”

Okay,” said Ferguson, “But he doesn’t get the second carton until two weeks into the work, when I see how good a job he does. If it looks like progress is being made, then he gets his two cartons a week, and the extra carton for the first two weeks. If things don’t go well, he gets fired, and so does his crew.”

When Colling conveyed Ferguson’s response, Zinsmann nodded his head in approval, “It is done, then. Tell your sergeant that the kaserne will be repaired as I have promised, if he can tell me where we will get lumber and bricks and so on.”

Ferguson answered promptly when Colling stated Zinsmann’s qualified response, “Tell him that he will find most of what he needs in the bombed building across the street from the kaserne.”

But Sarge,” said Colling, “I thought that place is off limits to any salvage work going on over there, and besides, can we get authorization to do that?”

Yeah, we already have it,” replied Ferguson. “The old couple that owned the place, it was a furniture store and warehouse, were both killed in the bombing. After we talked about it, I checked with AMGOT, and their three sons were all killed in action, so they got no heirs. That means the property goes to the government and right now all German government property is subject to seizure and use by the Allied forces of occupation. The Major says he’ll stand behind it if we just go over there and take what we want.”

Are we going to use any of our guys to do the salvage?”

Yeah, along with the German crew.”

What about asking if there’s anybody who wants to volunteer to do the reconstruction work, too? I bet there’s lots of guys who would like to do that kind of work, rather than close order drill, guard duty and cleaning the barracks.”

Good idea, Colling,” said Ferguson. “Spread the word in D Company, but not the headquarters, that anyone who wants to work on the construction gets relieved from regular duty. We still have to have enough men to provide guards at our assignments, so if there’s a lot of volunteers, I’ll have to cut off the number who can volunteer. Anyhow, we’ll see how it goes.”

Colling told Zinsmann that he would have extra help from the Americans, and about the salvage plan. Zinsmann asked, “You will be acting as interpreter, so that on this job, the Americans I will be able to communicate with, yes?”

If Sergeant Ferguson approves, I can.” Turning to Ferguson, Colling told him what Zinsmann had asked.

You can for awhile, but I know of a couple of guys who can speak a few words of Kraut. Sergeant Dorfman, for instance. He ain’t as good as you, but he never had any trouble bossing prisoners around. Tell him,…what’s his name, anyway?”

Klaus Zinsmann, Sarge.”

Yeah, Zinsmann. What’s the American name for ‘Klaus?’”

I don’t think there is one, Sarge.”

How about ‘Charley?’ Yeah, I think we’ll call him ‘Charley.’”

Colling informed Zinsmann that Ferguson had just bestowed the name “Charley” on him. The German shrugged, then said, “Charley it is, if the sergeant prefers it so.”

Colling went on to explain to Zinsmann that there would be German-speaking soldiers assigned to the American work force, but that if there were a need for detailed translation, that he would be available.

The response from the men of D Company to working on the construction project was more enthusiastic than might have been expected, and Ferguson, with Colling’s help, was able to pick men who had some experience in the building trades, and they discovered that there were experienced carpenters, electricians, masons and plumbers serving in the company. When Colling wondered out loud why the Army had not assigned those men to the Engineers, Ferguson just laughed.

The task of clearing away the damaged portions of the kaserne progressed simultaneously with the extraction of lumber, bricks, roof tiles, wiring and piping from the destroyed furniture warehouse. The store’s stock in trade had been severely depleted by rationing imposed by the war, so the warehouse was nearly empty when American 500-pound bombs came through the roof of the structure. What little that had remained of the furniture had been carried off to be used as firewood by scavenging towns-people.

When he could find time from his work in the battalion office, Colling spoke with Zinsmann about how the work was progressing, and the German seemed pleased. He showed Colling the stacks of salvaged materials that were growing in the parade ground’s gravel drive, and was most proud of their ability to extract several huge undamaged roof beams.

Ferguson also made it a point to oversee the salvage, and he instructed Dorfman that he was responsible to see that his men and the Germans worked cooperatively with each other. Notwithstanding Dorfman’s tendency to speak German markedly louder than he did English, there seemed to be little friction between the two groups. In fact, Colling noticed that the Americans were using bits and pieces of German in their conversations, and that the Germans were doing the same with English.

The damaged portions of the roof of the kaserne had been removed, and the first of the replacement beams was being lifted into place when Zinsmann approached Colling in the battalion office. “It is time we obtained the other building materials that are needed,” said the German. Colling had not looked forward to having to inform Ferguson of the additional things that would have to be purchased, especially when the balance in the battalion’s petty cash fund was being depleted by their paying the German workers.

What is it that is needed?”

Cement, plaster, some plumbing fixtures, some pipe, and so on. I have made a list.”

Colling read Zinsmann’s notations, trying to calculate the cost of what he saw, and doubting that most of the items would be available at any price.

I have a suggestion to make,” said Zinsmann.

Colling looked up, and the German continued, “You are aware, of course, of the hotel at Herrensee?”

Yes,” said Colling. The existence of the lake-side resort several kilometers to the north was well known to the men at the kaserne. During the summer months, Major Harris had provided a truck on weekends to take men there to swim, but the advent of cooler weather had brought the visits to a halt. The hotel itself was empty, with only a small staff remaining in residence. Colling knew that the battalion day room couches and easy chairs had been brought from the hotel on Harris’ orders. No one seemed to know how the hotel workers were paid, why they remained, or, in fact, how they survived.

You are perhaps not aware that the hotel was a favorite of certain Nazi Party functionaries.”

Colling confessed that he did not know that.

It is true,” continued Zinsmann. “The Party took possession of the resort some years past, long before the war. I believe that the property is held in title by the NSDAP, or should I say, ‘was’ held in title. Your American government now owns it.”

If that is so, what does that have to do with your list of building materials?”

I am given to understand by sources with whom I am familiar, that there were plans to expand the hotel which were curtailed by the surrender. Certain Party officials had even at the height of the war the ability to divert scarce items to their own use. I think we will find in the cellar of the hotel that it contains much of what is needed for the kaserne.”

As Colling, with Zinsmann at his side, drove the jeep up the long gravel driveway leading to the hotel, he was impressed. He had joined the battalion too late to take advantage of Major Harris’ swimming arrangements, and this was the first time he had seen the place. The hotel itself was a large white three-story structure facing the lake. The hotel lobby and restaurant were contained in a central building that was flanked by two wings extending in opposite directions. A landscaped lawn and gardens led down to the water’s edge, where a flag-stoned terrace fronted the lake. The entire complex was surrounded by woods that screened and isolated it from the outside.

They were greeted by a thin balding German who stood nervously behind the registration desk. Colling suspected that the man’s previous experience with Americans had left him with the mission of trying to prevent the hotel’s property from being further diminished as much as possible.

When Colling greeted him in German, he seemed taken aback.

You speak German well,” he said without much enthusiasm.

Thank you. What is your name, please?” asked Colling.

Fritz Müller.”

Herr Müller, my name is James Colling, and this is Herr Zinsmann, under contract with the American forces. We have come to retrieve the building materials which are stored in your cellar.”

Müller eyed Colling and Zinsmann carefully, obviously weighing whether they did actually have knowledge of what was in the hotel’s basement. He answered only when Colling repeated his statement more forcefully. “Yes, yes. The building materials. It has been such a long time, I cannot guarantee that they are all in order.”

Show us, please,” said Colling.

They were led through a spacious dining room and the kitchen behind it, then down a set of stairs into a cavernous cellar. Colling and Zinsmann followed Müller through several chambers until they arrived at one in which was stacked with not only lumber, but a quantity of sacks, buckets and crates. Zinsmann examined the containers excitedly, telling Colling that it looked like everything they would need was there.

Colling noted that the materials were stacked near a ramp leading down from what he guessed was an outside entrance to the cellar. He confirmed this with Müller, and asked that they exit using the ramp. Müller informed him that the door was padlocked from the outside. Colling told him to find the keys, and Müller took them around the hotel to a set of double wooden doors set into the ground. When Müller removed the padlock, they were able to walk down the ramp to the stored supplies. After they were outside once again, Müller replaced the padlock, and Colling asked him for the key. Müller seemed reluctant, but handed the key over without argument.

On their return to Grabensheim, Colling informed Ferguson about what he had learned, and drove the sergeant to the Herrensee, their jeep followed by two 2½-ton trucks. The transfer of everything in the cellar took two trips with the trucks, but by nightfall, the materials were stacked neatly in the kaserne’s cellar.

As the trucks were driven away to the motor pool, Ferguson asked Colling if he would like a beer. In Ferguson’s office, the sergeant opened a foot-locker that Colling had seen against the wall behind the desk, and pulled out two bottles of beer, handing one to Colling. It was cold and wet, and Colling realized that the footlocker must have been made into an ice chest of some sort.

Sensing Colling’s curiosity, Ferguson said, “Little trick I learned in Panama. Galvanized steel lining. The boys in the motor pool made it for me.”

The German beer bottle had a ceramic stopper held in place by a spring, and Colling pushed it up to open the bottle. He took a long drink as Ferguson did the same. Ferguson leaned back in his chair, took out a cigar and lit it. After he exhaled a cloud of smoke at the ceiling, he said, “Major’s going to be very pleased. And if the Major’s pleased, the Old Man will be pleased.”

You mean Colonel Harrington?” asked Colling. He knew the regimental commander’s name, but had never met him.

Yeah,” replied Ferguson, and after pausing in thought for a moment or two, he went on, “You know the Old Man was in the First War? He was a second looey. Graduated from V.M.I. in ’17 and went right over. Got the Silver Star and the Croix de Guerre. In those days, the Silver Star wasn’t a medal, just a star on the campaign ribbon. He never has said what he got ‘em for. But if he was anything like he was in the Hurt-gen, he earned ’em.”

What happened in the Hurt-gen, Sarge?” asked Colling, pronouncing the forest’s name in the manner favored by his fellow American soldiers.

A shadow crossed Ferguson’s face, and when he spoke, it was with a hoarseness that Colling had not heard before.

The ‘Meat Grinder’ was what they called the Hurt-gen Forest. Bastogne and the Battle of the Bulge get more publicity, but the damn Hurt-gen started before either one of them did, and went on ’til they were over. They just kept feeding men into it. Whole divisions were used up. We were lucky that the 61st didn’t go in until late. We got to Belgium in October of ’44, and we weren’t sent into the line until early December. Three other divisions were sent in and were so chopped up that they had to be pulled out. That was how we got picked. The 28th Division was pulled out and we had to go in.

The Second Battalion was leading, in the center, and we were trying to advance. That was the orders, ‘Advance.’ Our battalion was on the right, and the Third was on the left. Nobody could see shit. Everybody was catching hell, and most guys just hunkered down. The artillery was hell. The Germans were firing airbursts in the trees, and guys were taking pieces of wood that was like shrapnel. Even us guys in headquarters were taking fire. I ain’t never seen nothing like it, and I hope I never do again.

Anyway, the Old Man sees that the Germans have counter-attacked against the Second, with tanks. Those big sons-a-bitches, Tigers. Two of ’em. And the Old Man comes running through the battalion HQ area, carrying a carbine, and he tells me and the other guys to get the headquarters troops together, everybody, and get into the line behind the Second. And we did it. The Old Man is right there with us, popping off that carbine and cussing a streak. Somebody from one of the line companies put a satchel charge into the tracks of one of the tanks, and stopped it. Bazooka guys finished it off, once they could get close enough. The Old Man led five guys against the other, and Private Higgins, a fucking assistant cook, managed to climb up and get a grenade through the hatch. He got killed right after. The Old Man got hit, not bad it turned out, but two of the guys with him bought it. Old Man put Higgins in for the Medal of Honor, but I don’t think they gave it to him. They did give the Old Man the D.S.C. Bastard deserved it, I tell you.”

Colling had noticed that when Ferguson was wearing dress uniform, a red and blue ribbon was among the others above the left breast pocket of his jacket, and he asked, “Is that where you got the Bronze Star?”

Ferguson looked away. “Yeah. Old Man thought I deserved it for some reason. But there were a lot of guys who deserved it more.” He paused in thought for a moment, then took a long pull from his beer. He put his cigar to his mouth and inhaled, and still in thought, blew a cloud of smoke towards the ceiling.

Colling asked, “What about Major Harris?”

The Major is a good officer. He was ahead of where we were, with B Company. He was the company CO then. The Old Man moved him up to Major when Major Sellars got wounded. Sellars was our old battalion CO. Harris has seen more action than I think anybody in the battalion. He was National Guard before the war. He was in on North Africa, then Sicily, and the invasion of Italy. They shipped him to us after we got to England. He was a captain, and he was a ‘seasoned’ officer that they thought we needed.”

Colling had heard from some of the men who had been with the 40th Infantry for awhile that the regiment had arrived on the continent of Europe in the fall of 1944, and had not been part of the Normandy invasion, or the advance across France. He asked, “None of the guys seems to know. The 40th is a regular regiment, but how is it that it’s in a high-numbered division, the 61st?”

Ferguson answered, “The 40th and the other two regiments in the 61st are all regular regiments. They were ‘orphan’ regiments that were not assigned to any division when the war started. The 40th was in Panama, and the 64th was in Trinidad. The 70th was out in Colorado some place. In ’43, the Army decided to pull all of these regular outfits into one division, and so they moved everybody to Fort Collins, Colorado and created the 61st Division. We was supposed to be a mountain division, but they gave up on that. Fact is, even before Pearl Harbor, they had bled off most of the personnel from all three regiments to provide experienced regular soldiers in the new outfits that were being put together.

Anyway, they filled up the ranks with recruits and draftees to bring the 61st up to strength, then shipped us out to England. We got there in September of ’44, spent a couple of weeks there, then went to France. They put us through more training in France, then we moved into Belgium, then the Hurt-gen. After that, we were pulled back out to get replacements, which we needed a lot of after the Hurt-gen, and then the division was part of Patton’s drive south. That part of it was mostly skirmishing, but we did take some casualties.”

They sat quietly for a few minutes. Ferguson took another beer from the footlocker, and offered a second to Colling, who declined.

Colling inquired, “How long were you in Panama, Sarge?”

Five years. Got a wife and three kids there. She’s Panamanian. I hope I get sent back there after this tour. I been in since ’25, and I been to China, to the Philippines, Dominican Republic and Panama. Been stationed at three posts in the U.S., none of which I would like to go back to. Only Panama. But you got to go where Uncle Sam sends you. Anyway, as soon as I know, I’ll make arrangements for Anita and the kids to join me, wherever it is. I don’t know how she’ll like being away from her folks.”

Well, Sarge, thanks for the beer,” said Colling as he stood up, “I got to be at work in the morning, so I’ll call it a day.”

With the supplies from the Hotel Herrensee, the construction work proceeded very rapidly. The Germans worked every day of the week except Sunday. Ferguson held a payday each Saturday afternoon in his office, where he counted out Military Marks to the workers and handed them their carton of cigarettes. The Americans working on the repairs did so only five days a week. Saturday mornings continued to be reserved for inspections, according to Army tradition, after which the men who did not have weekend duty were free to leave the kaserne for the day. Ferguson granted a few overnight and three-day passes, but only for trips to Munich or the Garmisch recreational area. Overnight stays in the area surrounding the kaserne were discouraged. Day travel passes were granted to men wishing to visit the post exchange and movie theatre in Kummersfeld, and Major Harris ordered a truck to provide transportation for that purpose.

Colling spent some of his off-duty hours drinking beer and conversing with other soldiers whom he had come to think of as friends. On several occasions, they rode the truck to Kummers-feld to see a movie. Colling’s friends asked if they could use the jeep he drove during the day, and he had to explain that Sergeant Ferguson had authorized him to use the vehicle strictly for official business, and he did not want to risk losing the privilege by abusing it.

When not engaged in these pursuits, Colling explored the kaserne. Much of the space was not suited to serving as housing for troops, and much of the building was not fully utilized. Colling visited the rooms that had been designated the battalion dispensary. Next to it he discovered a large vacant collection of rooms that appeared to have been used by the Germans as a canteen, located on the same side of the quadrangle as the battalion orderly room. Most rooms were bare of furnishings. He questioned Zinsmann, and was told that the townspeople had been told that the kaserne was a designated training center for some unspecified Wehrmacht specialty. No artifact remained in the facility to suggest what it might have been, except for the Henschel trucks.

They were gray-painted monsters with black Wehrmacht crosses still on their doors and sides. They were rated at 10 tons, appeared to be brand new, and had diesel engines. Since all the battalion’s American vehicles used gasoline, fuel for the Henschels was not immediately available, and so they sat parked, side by side, inside the motor pool garage. They had not been moved since they were discovered when the battalion took over the kaserne. Colling made a mental note to keep their existence in mind should the need arise.

Leisure activities filled only part of Colling’s schedule. While his assignment as battalion clerk relieved him of sentry duty and cleaning and polishing responsibilities other than his office and personal equipment, Major Harris insisted that everyone participate in morning calisthenics, fire-arms practice on the firing range, and a monthly ten-mile hike. Harris required the battalion headquarters detachment to support D Company, the battalion weapons company, and Colling found himself answering to the company’s senior NCO, First Sergeant Mike Hornsby, when it came to soldiering. Consequently, Colling learned how to serve the .50 caliber machine gun, the 57 millimeter gun, and the 81 millimeter mortar. He also gained new, but never fully appreciated, experience in carrying his allotted share of the dismantled machine guns and mortars, and ammunition for them for ten miles, wearing full field equipment.

Colling was also subject to the Saturday morning barracks inspections conducted by Major Harris or another of the battalion’s officers, accompanied by one of the senior NCO’s. Colling found he actually had an easier time passing inspection than others did who had been away from basic training for a longer period of time.

The first batch of his mail from Belle Cors finally caught up with him. Most was addressed to him at his basic training unit, but the most recent envelope carried his address at the 40th Regiment, 61st Division and the Army Post Office number. His mother was the letter-writer for his parents, although his father would sometimes pen a line or two at the bottom of the last page. Her correspondence was filled with news about his hometown, primarily concerning friends and acquaintances he had known in high school. Some of his mother’s news was about the marriages of his contemporaries; some about those who would not return from the war. She included an ample number of clippings from the local newspaper to supplement her own account of things. One clipping was a wedding announcement concerning a girl of whom he had been particularly fond. She had married someone who had graduated from their high school a couple of years ahead of them, recently discharged from the Air Force as a captain. One day, as he read yet another clipping describing a bride’s dress and the church decorations, the thought came to him that it was like news from another world of which he was no longer a part.

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