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Colling had finished the day’s paperwork, and carried the last items needing Ferguson’s and Harris’ signatures to the master sergeant’s desk. Outside the window, the rear of the ¾ -ton truck that came each week from the PX at Kummersfeld was surrounded by soldiers seeking to purchase razor blades, shoe polish, candy bars, cigarettes, and other incidentals.
Colling commented, “Sarge, it sure would be nice if we could have our own PX here.”
Ferguson, without looking up from the papers he was signing, said, “Yeah, but Regiment isn’t gonna give us anyone to run it, even if we could get them to agree we could open one.”
“I could run it, Sarge.”
Ferguson looked up. “You could, huh?”
“Yeah. It can’t be much different from running a drug store, and I helped my dad run his since I was thirteen.”
“And who am I gonna get to be battalion clerk?”
“I can do it in the evenings, after work.”
“Regiment will never approve it.”
“They would if we had a soda fountain. We could build the PX around that.”
Ferguson snickered and said, “And where are we gonna get a soda fountain?”
“I know where there’s one.”
“And where might that be?” asked Ferguson doubtfully.
“Frankfurt. While I was there waiting for the train, I helped out a guy in supply. I saw the fountains with my own eyes, all crated up and nowhere to go. I could give him a call and make sure they’re still there, then go and get one.”
“Assuming they’re still available, and are not now in some USO club in Frankfurt, how do you expect to get it here.”
“Like I said, go get them. You know those Henschel trucks that Sergeant Delonzo has? One of them would do.”
“And how do we get diesel fuel? Those babies don’t take gasoline, you know.”
“We could trade one of the artillery outfits gas for diesel. Their prime movers use diesel, and everybody wants gas for their jeeps.”
Ferguson rubbed his chin, thinking over Colling’s proposal.
“It might work,” said the sergeant, “Jesus, how long you been thinking about this?”
“Only just now, Sarge.”
Ferguson was openly dubious at the extemporariness of Colling’s plan, but he pushed the telephone over towards Colling and said, “Go ahead and see if you can call him.”
Colling took the paper he had written Blackshear’s number on from his wallet and dialed. A woman’s voice came on the line, informing him that the number was not a local one, and asked him where he was attempting to call. Colling informed her, citing Blackshear’s unit and the fact that it was located in Frankfurt. He was told to hold the line, and after a few minutes punctuated by static, he heard Blackshear’s voice. “Woodrow? This is Jim Colling. Remember me?” said Colling.
“Yessuh, I do. How is you, Mister Jim?”
“Just plain ‘Jim,’ Woodrow. I’m fine. Wondered if those Peerless fountain setups were still there?”
“Jes’ tak’n up room, Jim.”
“Is it possible I can come get one?”
“If you got a requisition, sure you can.”
Colling asked for the item number, and wrote as Blackshear called out the sequence of numbers. When he had finished, Colling thanked the corporal and hung up.
“It’s all set, Sarge. If you can get the Major to sign a requisition, all we need to do is go pick it up.”
“When you get it here, where are you going to put it?”
“Where the Germans had their canteen,” replied Colling.
“It’s on the other side of the dispensary, two doors down from ours here. There’s water lines in there, and electricity. Klaus…I mean Charley, should be able to help us set it up.”
It took three days for Ferguson to work out a swap of 100 gallons of gasoline for the same amount of diesel fuel. The master sergeant of the division’s 105 millimeter battalion was happy to make the exchange, which both NCOs agreed could be “lost” on their inventory records. At the same time, Delonzo had the German trucks’ gray paint covered with olive drab, and large white stars replaced the crosses on their doors. The 40th Infantry unit designation was added to the bumpers. Zinsmann provided a crash course in deciphering the truck’s dashboard, and explained the shift pattern for the transmission.
The cab of the Henschel was wide enough to accommodate three men, and Ferguson selected Sergeant Pierce as ranking NCO, and Snuffy Smith as driver. Colling would go as interpreter and to find their way to the warehouse. Ferguson insisted they arm themselves, and issued Smith and Colling pistol belts with holstered .45 automatics. Pierce wore his own, and told Colling to bring his M-1 rifle as well.
The highways of Germany had suffered during the last two years of the war. Because the priority of the occupation forces was the restoration of the country’s railway system, roads were a secondary consideration, and not well suited to significant long-distance travel. The Henschel had to negotiate potholes, craters, and areas where pavement had been stripped away from the roadbed. Few bridges remained intact, and twice their heavy truck had to be ferried across rivers by barge. On most other occasions, they used Bailey or pontoon bridges erected by Army engineers parallel to the wreckage of destroyed German structures.
The drive to Frankfurt took three days. Two over-night stays were needed because they dared not travel at night, due to the condition of the roads. On both nights, they were able to find billets with other units they encountered along the way, and considered themselves fortunate that they did not have to sleep in the truck’s cargo compartment.
Arrival by motor transport followed a different route than the railway that Colling had used when he departed Frankfurt, and it required stopping and asking directions several times before they found their way to the rail yards where the quartermaster warehouse was located.
As the Henschel pulled up, and Colling dropped down from the cab, Blackshear greeted him effusively, and Colling noted that the Negro wore sergeant’s stripes.
“I see you’re moving up in the world, Sergeant,” grinned Colling.
“Yessuh. And I got me more help since you was here.”
Colling introduced Pierce and Smith, and Blackshear invited all three men to follow him into the warehouse. Colling noticed that repairs seemed to have been completed on adjacent storage facilities, and additional Negro quartermaster troops were working on their loading docks.
Blackshear pointed out the large crates marked “Peerless.” They did not appear to have been moved since Colling last saw them. The Negro sergeant called out to a group of his subordinates, telling them they needed to load one of the soda fountains onto the Henschel truck parked outside. Blackshear told Snuffy Smith that he could back their truck up to a loading dock to the rear of the warehouse, and soon the three white men and the quartermaster troops were pushing the heavy containers into the Henschel. Blackshear commented with some amazement at the size of the German vehicle, and Colling’s resourcefulness in finding it.
As the men were loading the last of the wooden crates, Blackshear took Colling aside and showed him a stack of smaller cardboard boxes. “Those is the supplies you is gonna need. They’s ice cream mix, flavorin’s, stuff like that. It may take you awhile to get that stuff through regular channels. This way, as soon as you is set up, you be in business.”
“I hadn’t really thought about that part of it, Woodrow. I owe you a thanks.”
“Think nothin’ of it, Mr. Jim. You done got me out of a tight spot once’t, and I is glad to help you out.”
With another round of congratulations to Blackshear on his promotion, Colling climbed into the Henschel, and he and his companions pulled away from the warehouse. The return trip was of equal duration, but their familiarity with the route meant there were fewer surprises, so that the two men not driving the truck often used the time to sleep.
When the big Henschel pulled up in the courtyard of the Grabensheim kaserne, Ferguson strode down the headquarters’ steps to meet them. He quickly assembled a crew to unload the soda fountain components, uncrate them, and move them into the canteen. Colling discovered that Klaus had used the six days that they had been gone to construct a long counter along one side of the large main room of the former canteen that Colling envisioned would be the PX dining area, if approval were given to establish one. The place had been furnished in their absence with tables and chairs that Colling assumed had come from the Herrensee resort. Colling was amazed that the German had accurately estimated the space necessary to accommodate the ice cream freezer, refrigerator, sinks and other pieces of fountain equipment. When Colling asked him about the source of his information, Zinsmann responded that Sergeant Ferguson had provided an American magazine with a picture of a typical drugstore fountain. The German had also had water and electrical service installed in the proper locations. Colling was concerned that the Peerless apparatus would be of American voltage and current, but on inspection, the refrigeration compressors proved to be equipped with European style electric motors.
Once everything was operating as it should, Colling turned to the problem of filling the freezers with ice cream. The Peerless company, in putting together the components of the soda fountain for Army use, seemed to have thought of everything, and included with the fountain equipment was a ten-gallon churning tub freezer in which to make the ice cream. All that remained was to locate the milk and cream to be added to the dry mix that Blackshear had had the forethought to send with them.
The district around Grabensheim boasted a number of dairy farms, and Colling was aware that a small milk-processing factory lay on the outskirts of town. Taking time from supervising the completion of the work on the fountain, he sought out the manager of the plant in the man’s office. Colling explained that the Army was interested in purchasing cream, to be made into ice cream. He explained that the Army had the flavored dry mixes, and the means to turn it into the finished product.
The German manager, Herr Braun, a ruddy-cheeked rotund individual whose access to the factory’s output had undoubtedly helped him avoid the decline in nutrition experienced by others in the population in the preceding years, reacted cagily to Colling’s inquiry. The dairy was already a supplier of milk and butter to the American forces in the area, and even under fixed price controls, was enjoying a fair degree of prosperity. Colling could see that Braun was visualizing additional Marks flowing into his pockets, and was obviously calculating how gullible the young soldier might be. The German was surprised when Colling rejected his first price, and when the American mentioned the price limits set by the occupation government, quickly realized that he would be making a profit from the sale, but not to the degree that he had anticipated. A deal was struck for the kaserne to pick up a regular supply of fresh cream each week, with Colling to take the first shipment of twenty liters with him immediately.
A notice had been posted on the battalion bulletin board, offering additional pay for any soldier interested in employment behind the counter in the canteen. From the candidates who presented themselves, Colling selected three men who were able to demonstrate that they knew how to prepare sundaes and sodas. Banana splits would have to wait until the mess hall would be able to supply their main ingredient. Following the instruction booklet that came with the fountain, Colling found it easy to turn out a few gallons of ice cream. For the time being, he limited the choice to chocolate, vanilla and strawberry.
It was a Friday evening when the last syrup dispenser was filled and tubs of the newly-made ice cream dropped into the freezers. Since the following day was Saturday, Ferguson posted a notice that it would open for business at 13:00, after the battalion’s routine weekly inspection had been completed.
The opening was a rousing success. Major Harris insisted on a ribbon-cutting, and the battalion’s officers were the first to be served. Most of the men had not tasted fresh ice cream for many months, having to content themselves with the small Dixie cups of the dessert that were served from time to time in the mess hall. By mid-afternoon, Colling was forced to send to the German dairy for additional cream, and was running the ice cream machine steadily to keep up with demand. Men from the Regimental Headquarters Company and the First Battalion at Kummersfeld began arriving, and it was necessary for Ferguson to order a line formed outside, and allow men to enter only as others left the building. There was some decline in business at supper-time, so that Colling and Ferguson were able to tally up the day’s receipts. Even at two Marks or 20 cents per dish, and three Marks or 30 cents for a sundae, there were several hundred AMC Marks and over $50.00 in U.S. coin and currency in the cash box under the counter.
After the mess hall stopped serving supper, the PX began to fill up again, but the crowds were not so great that Ferguson had to re-institute the waiting line. At about 19:00, Colonel Harrington arrived with two other officers from Regiment. Instead of their standing in line at the counter to place their orders, Ferguson ushered them to a table, and the colonel ordered a chocolate sundae. His fellow officers followed suit. Colling brought the ice cream on a tray, and as he placed a bowl in front of each of them, Ferguson introduced him to Colonel Harrington. The regimental commander was a tall, lean man with gray showing at the temples of his crew-cut hair. Serious and dignified, but with a slight twinkle in his light blue eyes, the man was everything Sergeant Ferguson had led Colling to believe he was, and Colling understood why so many of the men in the regiment who had fought beside the Colonel had such a high opinion of him.
Harrington nodded his head in appreciation as he tasted his sundae, and he commented to Colling, “Good ice cream, Son.”
Colling was standing next to Ferguson beside the table, uncertain as to whether he should come to full attention, and he answered, “Thank you, sir. Glad you like it.”
The Colonel went on, “I understand you and Ferguson were responsible for getting that repair work over there under way,” nodding his head in the direction of the barracks across the quadrant.
“Yes, sir. I just served as translator for Sergeant Ferguson. He organized the work, sir.”
The Colonel smiled and said to Ferguson, “Good work, Sergeant.”
Ferguson answered seriously, “Thank you, sir.”
“Sergeant, is there any chance you can ‘organize’ some repairs for the Third Battalion? They’re in tents at the airfield, and the Luftwaffe barracks would be better quarters if they could be put to rights.”
“I can have PFC Colling bring our German contractor out there, sir, if you’d like.”
“Do that, Sergeant. Just have this Zinsmann fellow go out there and make an estimate of what has to be done, and how much it will cost, then he and Colling can report to Captain Barretson here,” he said, nodding towards one of the officers seated with him, who acknowledged the introduction. “The Captain is commanding the Third until they get a new CO.”
Colling was awed that Harrington would have knowledge of Zinsmann’s name, and had additional respect for the man. He now understood why Ferguson felt the way he did about Harrington.
Ferguson promised Colling’s services to the Colonel and the two enlisted men excused themselves. Once out of earshot, Ferguson said, “See what I mean about the Old Man? He knows everything that goes on.”
“Maybe this will be an opportunity to get him to approve us having our own PX here,” said Colling.
“Could be, could be,” answered the sergeant.
The soda fountain continued to be popular for the remainder of the weekend, and Ferguson decided to limit its weekday hours to 17:00 to 20:00, so that Colling would be able to perform his clerical duties. The other men employed there used some of the hours it was closed to clean the place and manufacture a stock of ice cream.
On the Monday following Colonel Harrington’s invitation, Colling drove Klaus to the airfield near Kummersfeld. The installation had been carved by Luftwaffe engineers from the middle of a pine forest. During the fighting, the field had been subject to several air attacks that had caused considerable damage. Since the surrender, the runway had been filled and repaired by the U.S. Army, and a wooden control tower erected to replace the modern concrete one destroyed by Allied aircraft. A small detachment of Army Air Force personnel manned the field, which was being used primarily for emergency landings.
The complex of two-story barracks built by the Luftwaffe was roofless and windowless, although its concrete walls remained for the most part intact. Klaus surveyed the damage, making his usual notes, and when he was finished, they drove to the orderly rows of squad tents housing the Third Battalion. The first sergeant they found in the headquarters tent directed them to Kummers-feld, where he informed them they would find Captain Barretson.
The headquarters of the Third Battalion was located on the ground floor of the large city hall located in the town’s center. Colonel Harrington had commandeered the building primarily for the use of his Regimental Headquarters Company, but had also provided some accommodation for the nearby Third Battalion. Colling was reminded to some extent of the Grabensheim kaserne when he saw that the Rathaus walls facing the main street were decorated with color paintings of figures in Bavarian costume.
The Third Battalion’s orderly room was manned by a staff sergeant, who admitted them into Captain Barretson’s office. After Colling presented himself and saluted, the Captain invited the two men to be seated. With Colling translating, the officer asked questions and accepted Zinsmann’s explanations of the repair work that was required. Materials were, as always, a major consideration. Barretson assured them that lumber and roofing materials would be found, as well as the plumbing and electrical wiring requirements that Zinsmann outlined.
Eventually, they came to the matter of paying the workmen. Colling explained to Barretson that the First Battalion had paid for its work by using a combination of AMC Marks and cigarettes. Barretson’s response was that the Colonel had so informed him. Without further comment, the captain indicated that the Third Battalion would be able to enter into the same arrangement, a tacit suggestion to Colling that they too must have received a cigarette over-shipment.
With a handshake for Barretson, Zinsmann promised that he would have a work party on site by the end of the following week, and that if the materials were made available, and weather permitting, the repairs should be completed by mid-December.
As they were leaving his office, Barretson advised them to go to the Regimental Head-quarters office across the hall from his own, as Colonel Harrington had something for them. When Colling identified himself, the master sergeant behind the desk handed him a manila envelope addressed to Major Harris. During the ride back to Grabensheim, Colling wondered what its contents might be.
Ferguson opened the envelope immediately when Colling delivered it to him, and after reading the documents inside, announced that the Colonel had given his permission for the Grabensheim kaserne to open its own PX. There was also a note from Harrington suggesting that the Red Cross office in Kummersfeld be contacted, and a request made for some Red Cross girls to host a party, perhaps a Halloween party, in the new Grabensheim soda fountain.
Over the next few days, Colling was engaged with obtaining inventory from the Kummers-feld PX and setting up a portion of the old canteen as a store. He also recommended to Ferguson that two men from D Company be assigned on a part-time basis to work in the PX. His normal duties as battalion clerk continued as well, although Ferguson permitted him time away from the office to see to all the things that needed to be done. He had forgotten about the Colonel’s suggestion concerning the Halloween party, until Ferguson instructed him to type up a flyer to be posted on the bulletin board announcing the affair would be held at 19:00 on Tuesday, October 30.
The Red Cross girls arrived in a ¾-ton truck driven by a sergeant from regimental headquarters. They quickly drew a crowd of admirers, who vied for the chance to help them carry in the boxes of decorations and other things needed for the party. Shortly afterwards, another truck arrived carrying a five-piece band, and when the doors opened at seven, the waiting throng quickly filled the PX to capacity. A place had been cleared for use as a dance floor, and the band was playing a variety of swing tunes. Colling was busy behind the counter, acting as cashier, and assisting in serving the refreshments. He had not had time to watch the girls’ arrival, and was conscious as he worked only that the women were young and attractive, and all dressed in gray frocks with white blouses. Red Cross patches were sown on the front of their dresses. There was much laughter and carousing as the young women encouraged the participants in an apple-bobbing contest. When the women took partners to dance the jitterbug on the tiny dance floor, the watching soldiers enthusiastically showed their appreciation, which drew Colling’s attention to one of the girls in particular.
Blonde and very pretty, she knew how to dance, and was drawing more than her share of applause, cheers and whistles from those watching. Colling was trying to figure out how he could best introduce himself when he realized Ferguson was standing beside him. He realized that his attention to the blonde must have been obvious when Ferguson spoke in his ear in order to be heard over the din, “Forget it, Colling. Red Cross girls are officer territory.”
Before he could respond, Colling was called away to take someone’s money, and later, when he was able to do so, he observed that all three of the women were surrounded by officers. In the blonde’s case, by two very attentive first lieutenants that he did not recognize, and whom he assumed had come up from Kummersfeld for the event. When the girl threw back her head with laughter at something one of the lieutenants said, Colling turned away and retreated to his duties behind the counter. Later, when the party was nearing its end, he realized that he had not seen her leave. He assumed he would probably never see her again, and relegated any thought about her to the back of his mind.
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