Five Nobel Prize laureates call upon the U.S. and Soviet Union to halt the nuclear arms race. September 21, 1970
WHACK! WHACK! The woman sitting behind Second Lieutenant Robert Gold and his wife Sharon in the cramped charter airplane hits her kids for some minor infraction. “An enlisted man’s wife,” Sharon says to Robert.
An hour ago on take-off the plane had barely been able to rise up into the air. Sharon gripped the arms of the seat as the plane struggled like a fat woman pulling on nylons. “Must be all the luggage we’re allowed to bring,” Robert said.
The head cold comes on without warning. One moment Sharon feels fine, the next she feels as if a steamroller has knocked her into the ground.
When the plane lands at the army’s airport in Frankfurt, Germany, Sharon and Robert claim their eight suitcases and take a shuttle bus to the army transient hotel. Robert does not have travel orders that will allow them to go on to Munich.
Sharon is convinced she will die sitting in the lobby of the transit hotel, so Robert asks the registration clerk for a room. The clerk insists they must wait four hours to see if a room is available. Sharon coughs, spreading germs in all directions. This galvanizes Robert to try again.
Now the clerk realizes they are on permanent duty assignment rather than traveling on leave. He gives them a room and Sharon immediately collapses into bed.
“I’m going to go see if I can somehow get travel orders,” Robert tells her.
He’s soon back to report that the orders are being cut along with two train tickets to Munich for the next morning. He is to return in a couple of hours to pick up the documents.
Then Robert leaves again and returns again. This time he reports that he found the office closed for the weekend. Luckily he also found an MP who broke into the office so Robert could get their orders and tickets, found lying on a desk.
The next morning Sharon and Robert take an army shuttle to the Frankfurt train station, where they shove their eight suitcases onto the train.
As the train pulls out of the station and through the train yard, Sharon stares out the window at the railroad cars sitting on the sidelines. Could these be the same train cars that took the Jews to their deaths during World War II?
Sharon has taken a Jewish American fiction class as an undergraduate at Michigan State University. One scene from the novel “The Pawnbroker” stands out in her mind: Men, women and children crammed standing up together so tightly that the protagonist in the novel cannot bring himself to reach down and rescue his child from the human waste sloshing on the railroad car floor.
Sharon yanks her eyes away from the train yard. Germany is better than Vietnam she again reminds herself.
Hours later the train pulls into the Munich bahnhof – train station. Sharon and Robert struggle to get their eight suitcases out onto the platform. Around them dark-skinned men loiter.
“It’s Oktoberfest in Munich,” Robert says. “I learned about it in high school German class. It’s like a city-wide carnival with even more beer drinking than normal.”
“Who are these men?”
“Gastarbeiters – guest workers – from Turkey. To do the jobs the Germans don’t want.”
“Is your high school German good enough to get us a taxi and ask for the American army base?” Sharon asks.
In only a few minutes Robert is back at her side. “I have a taxi,” Robert says.
“Wohin?” asks the taxi driver.
“Amerikanisher kaserne,” Robert says.
The taxi driver turns into McGraw Kaserne – no MP or gate Sharon notices – and drops them and their eight suitcases off in front of a humongous grey cement building. The duty officer in the front entrance glances at Robert’s papers, Sharon, and the eight suitcases. Then he speaks to Robert.
“You’re assigned to the 18th Military Intelligence Battalion. This is the 66th Military Intelligence Group. We cover for the 18th on weekends as they have no duty officer then. We’ll drive you back downtown to the transit hotel and you can report to the 18th tomorrow. How did you end up here?”
“I asked the taxi driver to take us to the American base.”
The duty officer laughs. “You’re lucky there’s only one kaserne now. Before the preparations for the Olympics there were four.”
Sharon gets into an army vehicle with Robert, the eight suitcases, and a young enlisted driver. Back through the night-time streets of Munich to a transit hotel.
This time there’s no hassle for a room. As Sharon and Robert gather up their suitcases, a tall man enters the lobby and asks the reception desk for them.
When Robert identifies himself, the man announces he is Captain Mike Patrick and that he is their sponsor. “The duty officer called me. We all are lookin’ forward to havin’ ya’ll for dinner.”
The captain explains they are heading back to right near where they first reported to the duty officer. “Did you know that the 66th headquarters building was the headquarters of the Luftwafte during World War II?” the captain says.
In spite of her fever Sharon shivers. The Luftwafte – the Nazi German air force – was responsible for the blitz in London. This merciless bombing killed so many people and destroyed so many buildings. How creepy that the 66th has headquarters in such a tainted place.
At the captain’s quarters they meet his two young children and his plump wife, who thankfully serves fried chicken rather than the ham Sharon feared might be served.
Now Sharon looks around the living room at the army’s putrid blue upholstered furniture. The captain’s wife informs Sharon that “there’s also upholstered furniture in a shade of yellow.”
Sharon smiles at the captain and his wife.
Welcome to the U.S. Army in Europe Sharon says to herself – ground zero in the Cold War.