First Duty Assignment

I was last to board the Boeing 707 in New York for the long flight to Germany. It was January, 1968 and the weather was miserable. The flight progressed well until we approached the continent. Our unscheduled fuel stop at Heathrow International Airport in England was delayed while work crews cleared ice and snow from the runway. Our diversion from Frankfurt was due to some very bad weather. After a rather skitterish landing, we were allowed to leave the airport and head downtown for a few hours of sight-seeing while we waited for the weather to improve. I had a great time pushing large English pennies into very old-fashioned game machines. Also, it was nice to be indoors as my summer dress uniform wasn’t dealing with the English winter climate very well.

After about 4 hours we were ordered back to the aircraft and we completed our journey to the Frankfurt airport. Apparently, someone at my new base was expecting me as two E-5’s appeared out of nowhere and gave me a ride in Triumph TR-4 sports car from the airport to my new base in Hanau, some 15 kilometers to the northeast. I wasn’t very comfortable being crammed in behind the seats but it sure beat standing out in the cold, waiting for a train. It wasn’t long and we were pulling through the main gate at Francois Kaserne, what I thought would be my new home for the next two and a half years.

I was assigned to “B” Battery of the 1st TAB (Target Aquisition Battalion) of the 26th Artillery, V Corps, as a radar operator. Our radar was the AN/MPQ-10 artillery tracking unit. It took a team effort to maintain and operate the beast. Maintaining proficiency proved to be very difficult. In the 13 months I spent in Germany I think I only sat behind the scope for a total of 45 minutes. It wasn’t that we didn’t want to operate the machine; the problem was finding in-flight artillery projectiles to track.

Beyond radar duties, life at the base probably wasn’t much different than any other over-seas peace-time base; guard duty, KP, vehicle maintenance, classroom refresher training, etc. Free time could be spent downtown or at the enlisted men’s club where there was always cheap beer and some form of entertainment such as a live band. Other than the surprise practice alerts, there were really only two significant outings a year; one to Grafenwoehr for 2 weeks of intensive war-games and also a week or two at Fulda for more training in the field. The only real alert occurred in the winter of ’68/69 when the Russians decided to invade Czechoslovakia. We went out and hid in the woods near the Czech border. Somehow, I don’t think our radar would’ve been of much use in the woods had the Russian’s decided to come our way. Fortunately, they didn’t.

About 10 months after I arrived in Germany, our battery was moved to the south, near Babenhousen. I liked Babenhousen as it was much smaller than Hanau and had a “country” feel to it. My fiancée and I planned to be married in June and I was busy making arrangements for an apartment off base. One of my team members was scheduled to return state-side at about the time my new wife would arrive and he was willing to sell his nice little Volkswagen to me for a very reasonable price. It was a real classic; oval rear window and mechanical turn signals. By mechanical I mean they were the type that swung out of a slot located just behind the door opening, something like a train semaphore. The car was blue- grey in color and in pristine condition. I was really looking forward to my remaining time in Germany. We could do a little traveling and maybe get in a little skiing in southern Germany, not all that far away. Unfortunately, the Army had other plans for me.

I was just beginning my second year in Germany when my orders came down for Vietnam. I’ll never forget that day. The First Sergeant caught me coming down the stairwell in our barracks and loudly announced, “Stafford, you’re going to Vietnam!” Needless to say, I was stunned at the news. As it turned out, four of us in radar section were given orders for Vietnam that day, which included my two friends, Mark and Rick from AIT days plus Ken, who arrived in Germany about a year before us. That evening, all four of us went over to the EM (Enlisted Man’s) club and got organized (drunk). The next day I sat down and wrote a very difficult letter to my fiancée.

After about 3 days of processing out of the battery and packing, we caught our flight home. I think all of us were given a 30 day leave before we had to report to Ft. Sill, Oklahoma for 6 weeks of training and preparation for Vietnam.