Monday, April 03, 2017

Preparing for Retirement – Back to Bragg

After my last active duty tour in Germany ended on 30 Sep 2016, I returned home to Michigan.  After a few months at home, I am now back at Fort Bragg, NC for my final weeks of service in the U.S. Army.   Shortly after I leave here I will retire from the Army, having served a total of 28 years since I first joined on 11 April 1980, 37 years ago.
It’s kind of a strange feeling being here at Fort Bragg, and knowing that when I leave I will take off my uniform and hang up my dogtags for the last time.   
On the one hand, I am enjoying being around the “Big Army” again – Fort Bragg is home to the XVIII Airborne Corps and 82nd Airborne Division, as well as U.S. Army Forces Command and U.S. Army Reserve Command.  Everywhere you go here, you are simply immersed in the Army.  Troops doing PT, tactical vehicles driving around and parked by the hundreds in unit motor pools, planes and helicopters flying overhead, and the occasional sound of artillery and small arms fire from the ranges are part of everyday life.  Driving around the installation and knowing that I’ll soon be finished with it all has put me in a strange frame of mind over the past few weeks.  I often find myself reminiscing about the many experiences I have had over my military career, and feeling a bit wistful that it’s all coming to an end in just a few more weeks.
On the other hand, preparing for retirement as an Army Reservist has been an extended reminder of all the irritating bureaucratic inefficiencies I’ve experienced over the years, and has contributed to a feeling that I’m really ready to go – these are the kinds of things about the Army that I definitely will not miss.
Preparing to retire as an Army Reservist has been like a game of “Where’s Waldo?”, as I have worked over the past few years to assemble a coherent set of plans and procedures.  Like so many other aspects of serving as a Reservist on active duty, there are multiple sources of information and guidance, many of which are incomplete, unclear, or inconsistent with each other.  It isn’t as though it’s deliberate – everyone means well and there are lots of resources intended to help the soldier preparing for retirement. But as Mark Twain once said: “It isn’t what people don’t know that can hurt you, it’s what they know for sure that ain’t so.”
First and foremost, Reservists are treated differently than active component soldiers.  In the active component, when you retire after 20 years or more, you immediately draw retirement pay and qualify for medical benefits.  Reservists, on the other hand, do not draw their retirement pay or receive their medical benefits until they reach age 60.  There are some benefits that start immediately (including the option to purchase health coverage), and others that you can’t use until you’re drawing retirement pay.
These different stages of retirement/eligibility are one potential source of confusion.  
When a Reservist has served 20 years of qualifying service, they receive what is known as a “20 Year Letter”, which is the main document that proves they are entitled to retirement pay and benefits.  There are some personnel actions that must be taken upon receiving the 20 Year Letter, others that must be done at retirement, and others when you turn 60.
When you retire from the Army Reserve, you are not actually “retired”, per se.  You are actually a member of the “Retired Reserve”, unless you choose to be discharged at that time.  If you remain in the Retired Reserve after retirement, you continue to accrue a certain type of seniority which can increase the value of your pay at age 60.  People in this stage (whether in the Retired Reserve or discharged) are referred to as “gray area” retirees.  Upon reaching age 60, you are placed on the Retired List.  At that point you are fully retired, just like an active component soldier is immediately upon their retirement.
One additional complication to this is that in an effort to compensate Reservists for the multiple extended deployments required by the transformation from a strategic reserve to an operational reserve, Congress gave us a significant benefit as part of the 2008 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).  For every 90-day period served on mobilization or active duty orders in support of a contingency operation (what we used to call “war”), Reservists are entitled to collect retirement pay 90 days earlier than we otherwise would have.  For example, if you were mobilized for six months in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom and were otherwise entitled to retirement pay as a Reservist, you could begin to draw it at age 59 ½ instead of age 60. This is known informally as "Early Age Drop". There are some esoteric details as to how the actual time is calculated that have to do with fiscal year boundaries, so figuring out exactly what this means is not quite as simple as it sounds.

Most retirement-related publications and processes assume that there will be a several-year gap between when someone moves to the Retired Reserve and when they move to the Retired List and start to draw their pay (usually at age 60).  But because of the early age drop, those Reservists who, like me, have been on extended active duty since it took effect in January 2008 have several years of eligibility built up. In my own case, I will move to the Retired List the next day after I enter the Retired Reserve.  (I've actually been eligible since August 2013). This has created some interesting challenges resolving conflicting instructions and policies with respect to the timing of certain processes, submission of forms, insurance coverage, etc.  But I can live with these challenges - overall it’s a Very Good Thing.
So how does one begin the process once they receive their 20 year letter? That depends upon who you are, and whom you ask.
The central office for personnel actions in the Army is Human Resources Command (HRC) at Fort Knox, KY.  They set policies, establish processes and procedures, manage the central records repository, and manage personnel actions such as promotions, selection for military schools, awards, and retirement. They have a website that has information and forms available to help you get started.  But they are not generally the people you are supposed to talk to about it.
Individual Reservist personnel actions are usually managed by their reserve unit.  Additionally, there are several Regional Support Commands (RSCs) that cover different geographic areas of the country.  Each of these has a Retirement Services Office (RSO) that provides support for Reservists retiring in their area of responsibility (AOR).  Since historically most Reservists have been members of Reserve units doing traditional Reserve service, the system is oriented towards that model.   Being from Michigan, I am part of the 88th RSC, which covers most of the upper Midwest.  I have been getting email notices from the 88th RSC RSO for some time now.  They have informational publications and checklists, as well as regular retirement briefings that they hold in various states.  Having been on active duty almost continuously since 2006, however, I was never located anywhere near any of these briefings and was never able to go to one.  But at least I had access to their materials, and could read them and ask questions.
While I was in Germany, I went to a retirement briefing held by the RSO in Stuttgart.  It was somewhat helpful, but was oriented towards active duty soldiers.  Not only did some of the information not apply to Reservists, the people presenting it really had no idea about many of the details of reserve retirement.  So I walked away from there with some information, but there were a lot of gaps.  
As I looked for additional information about how my own process would work, I learned that a couple of other aspects of my status have further complicated things for me.

First of all, I am what is known as an Individual Mobilization Augmentee (IMA).  This is a Reservist who is assigned to an active component unit as their permanent assignment.  As such, we do not have a reserve unit, but are managed centrally by an office at HRC.  For this reason, some of the guidance put out by the RSC RSOs does not apply to us.  As an IMA, finding out who to ask questions and where to send forms at HRC is its own special challenge.  
Furthermore, I am an O6 (Colonel), which means that my records and personnel actions are supposed to be managed by the Senior Leader Development Office (SLDO), a separate office at HRC.  This made finding the correct information even more interesting.  As you might expect, there are both overlaps and gaps.
I’ve run into much the same thing here at Fort Bragg that I did in Stuttgart.  I have tried to go through parts of the retirement preparation process here so as to take advantage of all the resources on an active Army installation.  Because they are set up to deal with active component personnel, they not only do not know a lot of the reserve information, but many activities simply will not talk with a Reservist at all. Even if they are willing to help, they usually cannot access your records to do anything for you, because the reserve and active component personnel systems are on different platforms and can't talk to each other.  The RSO here at Fort Bragg simply gave me the number for the HRC RSO and said to call them.  
One group that has been very helpful is the Veterans Administration (VA).  They have an office here, and there are also representatives from several  veterans service organizations to help a prospective retiree get started with the VA.  I went to the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW), and their representative was extremely helpful in getting me started down the right path.  One thing I learned was that the VA and the VHA (Veterans Health Administration) are related but distinct entities.  You have to deal with both of them, each for different things.
So far I have at least four or five different pre-retirement checklists produced by these various organizations.  No two are alike, and each has at least one piece of information that the others lack. I have folders and envelopes full of information, including one very useful summary publication.   I have dozens of sheets of paper on which I have kept notes of conversations I have had with people in different organizations regarding various aspects of retirement, which include contact names and numbers, email addresses, websites, and process details.  I have a large box of military medical records to organize, and requests out to civilian doctors for their records of treatment I have received.  I have a to-do list a mile long, most of which has to be accomplished before the actual date of retirement.
Here are a few links that should be helpful to someone getting started in this process:
HRC Reserve Retirement  (Requires CAC or DS LOGON): 
Army Reserve Non-Regular Retirement Guide: 

Soldier For Life - Reserve Retirement Services Offices
Tricare on how to get a Retirement Physical (SHPE): 
More SHPE information on  (I never heard of it before either):  
Veterans Administration: 
VA Disability information: 
The bottom line for any Reservist approaching retirement is that you have to be aggressive and persistent in ferreting out information.  Don’t rely on one source alone, and don’t assume that just because you’ve gotten an answer that it’s the right one.  Ask your retirement questions the way they vote in Chicago – early and often.  Compare the information you have with what others around you have learned, and be prepared to adjust your understanding, read between the lines, and submit the same forms more than once to different offices.  Keep copies of everything.  And above all, be prepared to manage and track the process yourself.
Mood:  Ready to go
Music:  Joe Walsh (Life's Been Good to Me)

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Information Security

So I got to work yesterday, and I had an email saying my required annual information security certification was out of date, and I had to take the mandatory online training. It's listed as a one-hour course, but it really took all morning, due to having to wait for screens to load, plus being interrupted by actual real work I had to do. But I got through it by lunchtime.

It could be accomplished in about 15-20 minutes of reading (at the *most*) if the Army would present it that way. But instead, they insist on making an animated, narrated cartoon production of it with multiple sub-screens and interactive progress tests of your comprehension.

Leaving aside my feelings as a taxpayer about the hundreds of thousands of dollars they probably paid some contractor to produce this monstrosity, think about the enormous drain on productivity inherent in requiring every soldier to go through this training every year. Must be pretty important, huh?

As I was going through it, I couldn't help but think about the way Hillary Clinton was treated for her massive violations of information system security at the State Department. Any military person who did what she did would be out on their keister, never be allowed to work for the Federal government in any kind of trusted capacity again, and maybe even end up in prison or paying a fine.

I took a few screen shots as I went through the training - see for yourself. Hmmm - do you think SSG Harris understands that the rules should apply to him and his coworker? They certainly apply to me. But why not Hillary Clinton?

Massive, massive hypocrisy and corruption. This should not be over, by a long shot. And, oh yeah, Benghazi....

Monday, July 04, 2016

Independence Day in Bastogne and Margraten

I decided to spend Independence Day weekend in the area where the Battle of the Bulge took place during WWII, driving over the terrain and visiting museums.  I also wanted to take the opportunity to visit the American cemetery in Margraten, Netherlands, where Don Case, a comrade of my wife’s father Bud Irish is buried. It was a very meaningful and rewarding weekend.
The Battle of the Bulge was an important, major battle in the campaign to free Europe from the Nazis. It started on 16 December 1944 when the Germans launched a surprise counterattack into Luxembourg and Belgium in an effort to split the U.S. and British armies and capture the port of Anwerp.  The battle lasted until late January, and caused the highest number of American casualties of any operation in the war. It had several names, but was popularly called the “Battle of the Bulge” because of the westward bulge it caused in the Allied lines as shown on battle maps.  I won’t re-tell the story of the battle, but here is a link that tells all about it: 
My trip started out with a drive to Luxembourg from my home in Sindelfingen, Germany.  I decided to stay in Vianden, a little town on the Our river, just over the border from Germany.  I got there about 1500 on Saturday, and had time for some sight-seeing in the town.  It is a quaint, picturesque little town nestled into a steep, narrow valley, with a restored castle dominating the heights over the town.  I had read that Luxembourg has three official languages – French, German, and Luxembourgisch (which sounds to me like German with French consonants and a French accent).  I don’t speak French, so for any extended conversation I’d ask if they spoke German or English.  They invariably chose German, which was fine with me.  But for casual interactions I quickly got used to “bonjour”, “merci”, “pardon”, “au revoir”, etc.  I think my most common phrase was “Je ne parle pas francais – parlez-vouz allemagne?”    J
Naturally I had to take a walk up the hill to the castle and walk through it.  It had some interesting exhibits, including one showing the progressive development of the castle’s fortifications from its start as a Roman fortification up through the height of its power in the late 1600’s.  It subsequently fell into ruin, and was restored to be a tourist attraction beginning in the 1970’s, with reconstruction continuing today.
Vianden Castle
This castle had a couple of exhibits unlike any I’ve seen elsewhere.  One was a fully-equipped medieval kitchen, with period-costumed workers cooking and providing food samples.  It something straight out of “Game of Thrones”!  The other was in one of the larger halls, where more period-costumed attendants allowed kids to put on helmets and showed them how to use some of the weapons.  I was glad to have had a chance to visit this town and castle.  On my last visit to Luxembourg in the 1980’s, I had seen a Bing & Grondahl plate with a scene of the Vianden castle on it.  I liked the looks of it and bought it as a souvenir, even though I hadn’t actually been to visit the town.  Now that omission has been rectified. J

After my walk up to the castle, I had a leisurely walk back down through the town, enjoyed a meal at my hotel, and went to bed with the sound of the river outside my open window.  Very pleasant!
The view from the Hotel Victor Hugo

The view looking up the Our River
Sunday was my day to visit Bastogne, famous as a key center of American resistance during the Battle of the Bulge. Part of the reason I had chosen Vianden for my starting point was so that I could follow the path of the attacking Germans, observing the terrain as I approached Bastogne from the east.  This area of western Germany, Luxembourg, and Belgium are known as the Eifel, which is basically a low mountain range mostly covered with forest (the Ardennes).  The terrain is very steep and rugged in most places, although there are also high, wide, open plateaus that are mostly open cultivated fields.  It was easy to see why the Our River forms a natural border between Luxembourg and Germany, as the valley is particularly steep and narrow.
I started by driving north along the Our River until I was somewhere north of the town of Stolzembourg. Then I turned west and climbed up out of the valley.  I found myself climbing a very steep and winding road, and after reaching the top of the ridge, I descended a similarly steep and winding path on the other side.  I wanted to head toward the towns of Eschweiler and Wiltz, trying to follow more or less the southern part of the route followed by von Manteuffel’s 5th Panzer Army, along the boundary with Brandenberger’s 7th Panzer Army.   The northern attack route of Sepp Dietrich’s 6th Panzer Army and the northern portions of von Manteuffel’s sector are better known, but this was the route that led most directly toward Bastogne, and I didn’t think I had time to drive further north, turn southwest toward Bastogne, and still have time to visit the museums I wanted to see in that town. 
On the ground, it was very hard to keep track of where I was, as the terrain was so broken and wooded, and the roads so serpentine.  At one point during my descent from the first ridge west of the Our, I got out my phone and took a video.  Unfortunately, it is too large a file to load here.  :(
It was really something to drive through this area and try to imagine moving massive numbers of vehicles and men in some sort of regular order.  It would be hard enough to do without opposition, let alone in the face of resistance that included artillery, anti-tank fire and blown bridges. This just isn’t the kind of terrain that allows for the effective employment of large armored formations.  I could see how small groups of American soldiers in key positions could hold up the advance of far superior forces.
Eventually I came out of the forest into more open, rolling countryside, which lasted until I reached Bastogne.  As I approached my first destination (the Bastogne War Museum), I realized that my Garmin GPS doesn’t have quite as good a handle on the roads in Luxembourg and Belgium as it does in other parts of Europe where I’ve used it.  It took me on what was probably the most direct route to the museum, but it went from a gravel road to a two-track farm road to a muddy cowpath.  This would be fine in my Jeep, but in my little low-slung VW it was dicey.  I had to laugh – it reminded me of a postcard that I had recently bought in Germany:
 The German word for GPS is “Navi”

After surprising a mother walking with her children and coming eye-to-eye with some cows, I came out into the back corner of the museum parking lot.  It is a fairly large museum, located northwest of Bastogne on the outskirts of town.  It is collocated with a large monument to the liberation that is quite impressive.  I took some photos, but it would undoubtedly look better from the air, as it is shaped like the star symbol that was painted on American military vehicles at that time.
Mardasson Memorial at the Bastogne War Museum
The Bastogne War Museum is very well put together, and tells more than the story of the Battle of the Bulge.  It is really a museum of the war in western Europe, documenting the rise of Nazism in Germany, the German invasion and occupation of other European nations, and of the invasion and liberation of the continent by the Allied armies.  Naturally, however, it focuses heavily on the actions that took place in and around Bastogne.  It is designed to guide the visitor through the museum on a specific path to follow the chronology of the war. An audio device with headphones is provided, and is automatically activated by the exhibits to narrate your visit as you walk through.  There are three separate movies along the way, in each of which you are seated in an immersive environment and experience different aspects of the war.  (One was a sort of conference room where they discussed war plans, one was a forest scene where you felt you were on the front lines, and one was a café in a town).  It was really quite creatively done, and seemed to be to be pitched at a level that was appropriate for just about any age.
There were a large number of displays, with a mix of artifacts and photographs, along with a lot of uniforms and equipment and a few vehicles.  I only took a few photos, as most of them were things I’ve seen elsewhere.  I did think these were interesting:
General Hasso von Manteuffel's leather
overcoat, worn during the Ardennes
offensive (Battle of the Bulge)
The unconditional surrender of Nazi Germany to the Allies

Additionally, I was sorry to note that that vast majority of weapons in this museum were in relatively poor condition.  I doubt if any of them have tasted a drop of oil or been wiped down or cared for in any way since the end of the war.  It was quite disappointing to see, as they did have a pretty good representative assortment.  As a student and collector of martial arms, this probably had more of an effect on me than it might for the average visitor, and tainted my overall impression of the museum. 
In contrast to the weapons on display, the Willys MB Jeep and the German Kubelwagen they had were both in immaculate condition.  My photos, unfortunately, did not come out very well.
Overall I’d say this is a very good museum and well worth a visit, providing a good overview of the war in Europe and an understanding of the battles that took place around Bastogne during the liberation.
I next drove into downtown to visit the 101st Airborne Museum.  While there are a number of other museums in Bastogne, I knew I didn’t have time for all of them, and thought this one looked like a good bet, especially because of the special role of the 101st in the defense of the town.  I was not disappointed!
This is a privately-owned museum, and is comparatively small.  Located on a quiet street off the main thoroughfare, from the outside it just looks like a rather large brick house.  Unlike the larger museum, it does not attempt to tell a narrative or guide you through the exhibits in a certain order. It has three floors and a basement, and you simply walk around looking at the various artifacts and mannequins on display. In spite of its small size, I have to say that this is one of the best military museums I have ever been in, from the standpoint of an immersive experience.  Every nook and cranny is crammed with displays and artifacts.  The displays are very well put-together, and the collection is astonishing.  They have hundreds of small items from the everyday life of the soldier, from uniforms, weapons, and equipment to all the little personal items they would have handled in everyday life.  An amazing variety of things like soap, razors, sewing kits, C-rations, K-rations, writing paper, magazines, etc. are on display in cases throughout the museum. There are also several very realistic dioramas in which mannequins depict scenes from soldiers’ wartime experiences.  The mannequins in this museum are different from almost any others I have seen. Rather than the bland department-store type mannequins with featureless faces, blanks stares, and stiff poses, these are works of art.  They have realistic, unique, expressive faces and are placed in realistic poses. Their uniforms and equipment are accurate down to the last detail. 
The combined effect of these dioramas and the displays of personal equipment and effects was that I felt drawn-in and immersed, and at times almost overwhelmed.  It was a very personal and intimate experience, particularly in the basement, where there were graphic scenes of a medical aid station and a hand-to-hand struggle between German and American troops. 
I found afterwards that I had taken almost no photographs, probably because of how drawn-in I was to the whole experience.  I did take one photo of a display that I thought was an interesting technique. They took a photograph from a magazine, of actual people, and recreated it in every detail using mannequins wearing real uniforms and equipment.  The effect was very interesting, almost literally “bringing the photograph to life”:
 A depiction of the scene in the contemporary
photograph shown in the foreground 

About the only detailed photos I took were of a StG44 in a display case.  This is as close to one of these rifles as I’ve been able to get in a museum setting. The display of the weapon along with its accoutrements and other items is typical of the attention to detail in this museum:
StG44 - Note the MP44 markings

The magazines are also marked MP44 and MP43

The StG44 (Sturm Gewehr, or “assault rifle”) was one of the most significant arms developments of the 20th century.  Although it came too late in the war to help the Germans win, it had a profound effect on subsequent military firearms development.  The pattern of a select-fire, intermediate power rifle with a pistol grip and high-capacity detachable magazine became the standard for infantry weapons from that point forward. Interestingly, it was originally designated "MP44" for Maschinen Pistole 44".  This was an effort to hide its development from Adolph Hitler, who had disapproved of the concept.  When he finally became aware of it, it had been so successful and popular with soldiers on the battlefield that he not only reversed his decision and encouraged maximum production, but also coined the term "Sturm Gewehr" for it. (That's right - the term "Assault Rifle" is a propaganda term invented by Adolph Hitler.)   I don't know how many of them were actually marked this way - as you can see, all the items in this display are marked "MP44" or "MP43").
One item in particular caught my eye as a collector and shooter of the M1 Garand rifle.  I saw an M1 Garand clip loaded with 8 rounds of .45 ACP pistol ammunition instead of the .30-06 rifle ammunition it should have had in it. Initially, I assumed this was a mistake by the curators, until I saw another clip loaded the same way in another display case.  This second clip was badly rusted, and the ammunition corroded together, making it clear that this was a genuine battlefield artifact.
I asked the museum proprietor about it, and he told me that veterans have told them that they only had a limited number of 1911 magazines, so this was how they carried and shared extra .45 ammo. The vets told him that this kept the ammo in convenient packages that they could toss to their buddies in another foxhole if needed. Cardboard boxes would fall apart, whereas a Garand clip was sturdy and also held just enough ammo to fully load a pistol.  I thought this was fascinating, and shared it on an M1 collector site.  Apparently this TTP is not widely known among M1 shooters and collectors, although one or two people did come forward and confirm that they had also been told this story by veterans of their acquaintance. I love learning historical tidbits like that!
After leaving the museum, I spent some time in downtown Bastogne.  Unlike Germany, where everything is closed on Sunday, the town was quite active and most of the stores and restaurants were open.  I had an ice cream cone and walked up and down the main street.  In the town square I saw a display consisting of a Sherman Tank and a statue of BG Anthony McAuliffe, whose reply of “Nuts” to a German surrender demand immediately became legendary.
Memorial at the main intersection in the center of Bastogne

There was also this marker for the Voie del la Liberte (“Liberty Road”).  I either didn’t know, or had forgotten about this, but the road marks the route taken by General Patton’s Army during the liberation of France and Belgium.
It starts in Normandy and ends in Bastogne, and there is a marker every kilometer along the way.  The first marker (number zero) is at Sainte Mere Eglise.  I probably have a photo of that one at home, from my visit to Normandy in 1984. Now I have been here in Bastogne at the last one, number 1145:
The last marker at the end of the "Liberty Road"

On the way out of Bastogne to return to my hotel in Vianden, I headed north.  I wanted to drive through different countryside than I had seen that morning.  A few kilometers outside of town I came to the village of Foy, the scene of a memorable episode in “Band of Brothers”.
How could I come to Bastogne and not stop here?

I decided to drive around the village and see if I could spot the place where Easy Company had attacked out of the wood line.  I don’t know if I saw the spot or not (I doubt if they actually filmed the scene there), but while driving around the little narrow farm lanes I saw an American flag, and then came upon this memorial.  Apparently there was a temporary American cemetery here from 1945-1948. 
I thought it was interesting that the Belgian flag uses the same
color scheme as the modern German flag.  The colors black,
gold, and red are associated with republicanism and freedom,
as opposed to the Prussian and Nazi red, white and black.

I drove a little farther north, then turned east and crossed Luxembourg back to the Our River valley. I approached the town of Vianden from the west, and got a different view of the castle:
It had been a long day, but it was the kind of day I love to have.  After a lifetime of reading about the war in books and seeing it through historical photographs and films as well as in movies and on TV, it is fascinating to visit the actual historical sites and see firsthand where the events took place.  Had things worked out differently, visiting places like this would have been my actual job while I was here in Germany, but as it is, I’m fortunate to be able to be here and do it for my own personal satisfaction.  I had my evening meal (a steak and a nice glass of wine) outside at a table by the river. J  The next day would be even better.
On Monday morning (July 4th), I checked out after breakfast and headed north up the Our river. While I was still driving with eye for the terrain and noticing all the familiar place names on the road signs (Houffalize, St. Vith, Malmedy, Elsenborn…),  I was headed for Margraten, Netherlands, to visit the Netherlands American Cemetery.  My anticipation of this visit gave the day a different feeling. 
I always feel a sense of reverence and experience powerful emotions when I visit American military cemeteries.  In this case, there was also a family connection to add meaning to the visit. As I wrote earlier in my entry about Steinbergen (9 April 2016), PFC Eldon “Don” Case died in the ambush on 9 April 1945, while lying alongside my wife Teresa’s father CPL Aarol “Bud” Irish.  Bud wrote that they were lying so close together that he could actually feel the bullets hitting Don. He felt a strong sense of obligation and gratitude for having lived through that day, writing to his parents:  “I can’t explain it, but when you know that because someone else took all the bullets that might otherwise have gotten you, a person feels he just can never do enough to make up for them.”
Because this place where Don Case is buried has such significant meaning for Teresa and her family, I had hoped that we’d be able to visit it together.  But it didn’t work out that way, and I decided to go ahead and come by myself while I was here on my final military tour of duty in Germany.  
The cemetery is administered and cared for by the American Battle Monuments Commission.  Their website made it possible for me to learn about the cemetery and to look up Don Case’s grave so I would know where to go once I got there (there are 8,301 graves).  
We had known all along that for some time after the war, a Dutch family had cared for Don’s grave and had been in contact with his family.  What we didn’t know until fairly recently, however, was that each of the graves in the cemetery has been “adopted” by Dutch people, who place flowers there on Memorial Day and otherwise care for them.  This started shortly after the cemetery was established, as a spontaneous expression of gratitude.  The practice has continued on for all these years, as an enduring gesture of appreciation by the people of the Netherlands in recognition of the sacrifices made by Americans for their liberation.  There is an organized foundation that manages the process of adoption, and also works to place the adopters in contact with the families and comrades of the fallen soldiers who rest there:
Even though my decision to visit on this particular weekend was not planned in advance, I went ahead and contact the ABMC people at Margraten a couple of days before my departure, explaining our story and asking to be put in contact with the local person or family who care for Don Case’s grave.  They immediately reached out to the foundation, and I received an email the next day from Mr. Ton Hermes, the foundations’ president.  He offered to meet me at the cemetery, show me around, and explain the foundation’s work, as well as to try to reach the adopters and see if they could come and meet me that day.  It was a very generous and welcoming response, and a foreshadowing of the entire visit.
The approach to the cemetery is beautiful.  A tree-lined road out of the village leads to an impressive entrance gateway to the property. This opens onto a gently winding drive through green lawns and shade trees, ending up in a parking area at the entrance to the cemetery itself. 
A broad, shallow stairway at the entrance is flanked by a visitor center on the right and an open, covered building on the left. This building houses large maps with colorful graphic depictions of the airborne operations in the Netherlands (Operation Market-Garden), the Normandy invasion and battle across France and low countries into Germany, and a more detailed map showing the operations in the invasion of Germany in which most of the soldiers in the cemetery died. 
Inscription on the outside wall at the entrance to the cemetery
Operation Market-Garden

The Normandy invasion and operations in Northwest Europe.

The invasion of northern Germany.  You can
see the 102d Infantry Division "Ozarks"
symbol on this map in several places.

I met Mr. Ton Hermes at the entrance, and he took me into the visitor’s center to meet the ABMC staff who work there. They were very friendly, and had put together two folders of information about the cemetery, one for me and one for me to send to Don Case’s family).  The family’s folder included copies of a certificate from the foundation commemorating his sacrifice and the adoption of his grave.  On the walls of the visitor’s center are letters to the people of Margraten from General Eisenhower and President George W. Bush, as well as some historical photos.  After spending a few minutes in the visitor’s center, we walked out into the cemetery.
A long reflecting pool is in the center of the walkway to the cemetery and the main monument, an area which they call the Court of Honor.  On either side of this reflecting pool, the walls are inscribed with the names of 1,722 missing whose remains had not been found at the time it was built.  Those whose remains have since been located are specially marked.

Reflecting pool and monument

The statue and monument at the end of the pool depict a grieving mother and doves of peace, next to a war-shattered tree from which new life has begun to grow.  I felt it was fitting and moving symbol of the meaning of the place.
Ascending another short stairway into the main cemetery, I was immediately struck by the rows and rows of white crosses and Stars of David.  You can look at photos of these places all day long, but walking into one is a completely different experience. It never fails to choke me up – the impact of all those markers, each one representing a life lost in service to our country, is simply overwhelming.  The layout is beautiful – a long green lawn in the center leading to a raised mound with an American flag, wide shaded walkways on either side, and the rows of crosses on either side, curving gracefully in perfect symmetry.  It is beautifully-designed and impeccably maintained.
The side of the monument facing the graves, with the entrance to the chapel

We walked to Don Case’s grave, which I had previously looked up as being in Plot G, Row 14, Grave 27. As it turned out, Grave 27 was right on the end, closest to the walkway and under the shade of the trees.  We spent a few moments there, and took some photos. 
PFC Eldon "Don" Case

 After our visit to the grave, I invited Ton to have lunch with me.  It turned out that Monday is a “quiet day” for many restaurants in the Netherlands, so our options were limited.  I suggested we just go to my hotel and have lunch there.  We drove there and I met the people, with whom Ton was already acquainted.  I am not 100% sure, but I think they were closed for lunch as well, and very graciously made us something anyway!  The “Hotel Groot Welsden” is a beautiful little place right near the village of Margraten.  It was very comfortable, picturesque, and peaceful, and the people who run it are extremely nice and considerate. The restaurant is also first class.  I couldn’t believe how fortunate I was, considering that I had just picked it from an internet search!  I highly recommend it.
Up until this point, I had not said much to anyone about our own story, other than that our family had a comrade buried at Margraten.  Ton had wanted to tell me the story of the adoption foundation and tell the history of the cemetery, and I had wanted to hear it as he chose to tell it.  But now it was my turn. While we waited for our lunch, I showed him the copy of “A Thousand Letters Home” that I had brought for the adopters and told him the story of how the book came to be, what Don’s death had meant to the Irish family, and how Bud had always felt a sense of “survivor purpose”, trying to live the best life he could after having survived that day that cost three of his friends their lives. We paged through the book and I showed him the various letters that told the details of what had happened that day, as well as the letters to, from, and between the mothers.  In addition to the book, I also gave him a printout of my blog entry “Steinbergen”, describing my visit to the place where Don Case had died.  I hoped that knowing more than just a name and date on a cross would help to sort of “bring Don to life” for the people who had adopted his grave.
Ton and I had a nice lunch and talked quite a bit.  He is a retired Lieutenant Colonel from the Dutch Army, so we had some shared background that made for interesting conversation.  Eventually, it was time for him to leave, and I said farewell, with thanks for his efforts to get the information to the adopters.  I was sorry not to have met them, but felt confident that he would faithfully pass on the information to them when they could be reached.  All in all, it was a very interesting and satisfying time. I only realized much later that we had never taken a photo together - I think I was so absorbed in the experience that I just never thought of it. 
The day had been pretty cloudy and rainy up to this point, so I hadn’t taken many photos at the cemetery.  But shortly after Ton left the hotel, the sun came out.  I had been planning to return to the cemetery before driving home on Tuesday morning in hopes of better weather, but I decided I should try while the sun was out, and went back to the cemetery. 
This time, with nobody to talk to, I took my time just walking around and soaking in the atmosphere and meaning of the place. There is something about silence and solitude that makes me feel even more reflective and reverent in such places. When I visited Don’s grave, I placed a quarter on top of his marker. I did this not for me, but for Bud Irish, who I am sure would have visited Don’s grave had he not been diagnosed with cancer and had to cancel his scheduled trip to the 102d Division’s reunion. 
An offering on behalf of Bud Irish

The tradition of leaving coins at military graves:
When I returned to the hotel, they had something for me – Ton Hermes had come back during my absence, and had left me a copy of the book “The Margraten Boys – How a European Village Kept America’s Liberators Alive”.  It tells the story of the cemetery and the adoption tradition, and will be a meaningful memento of my trip to Margraten. 
The rest of my stay was quiet and peaceful.  I spent the late afternoon in the garden reading.  Dinner was a gourmet treat, after which I spent the evening writing the beginning of this blog entry.  Breakfast the next day was hearty and plentiful, and it was only with reluctance that I left to head back home to Germany.   My route led right through Aachen, the first German city to have been captured in WWII.  It seemed fitting that I was traveling over the route along which many of the soldiers buried in the Margraten cemetery had lost their lives.
Overall it was a tremendously interesting and successful weekend.  I can’t think of a more meaningful way to celebrate Independence Day than to visit historic places dedicated to preserving the memory of the sacrifices made by our countrymen to secure and preserve our freedom.
Music:  Silence
Mood:  Reverent

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Enemies to Allies – Cold War Germany and American Memory


Book Review:

Enemies to Allies – Cold War Germany and American Memory
By Brian C. Etheridge
Within a few years after the end of World War II, the dominant American perception of Germany changed from that of mortal enemy to that of Germany as an ally. West Germany, in particular West Berlin, became a symbol of the defense of freedom against communist aggression. How did American perceptions of Germany and the Germans undergo such a rapid, radical transformation?  This is the topic of Brian Etheridge’s “Enemies to Allies – Cold War Germany and American Memory”.  Through the lens of what he calls “memory diplomacy”, Mr. Etheridge illuminates the causes of this shift in American perceptions of Germany by examining the roles of various institutions and interest groups in propagating a rehabilitated image of Germany in the historical context of the emerging Cold War.

The central feature of this examination is the dynamic between two competing narratives of Germany, which he calls the “WWII narrative” and the “Cold War narrative”.  The WWII narrative perpetuated the view of Germany and the German people as bearing responsibility for the carnage of WWII in Europe, and of the German character as inherently warlike, aggressive, and inhumane.  The Cold War narrative, on the other hand, drew a distinction between the Nazis and the German people as a whole.  In this view, the average German had been a victim of the Nazis, whose ideology, rather than the German character itself, was to blame for WWII. The emerging concept of “totalitarianism” allowed Nazism to be equated with communism; both were species of the same dangerous ideology.  The real enemies of freedom and humanity were totalitarian ideologies and the aggressive expansion of totalitarian regimes.

Through a rich and thorough discussion of initiatives by governmental and nonstate actors on both sides of the Atlantic during the 1950’s and 1960’s,  Mr. Etheridge sheds light on the ways in which public perceptions were shaped by both official policy and popular culture. Economic, educational, and cultural exchanges, public relations campaigns in the media, and mass entertainment through movies and television were all used by various competing interest groups to advance their preferred narrative in the public mind. Official U.S. policy favored the Cold War narrative. Some veteran’s organizations and Jewish groups, concerned that the sacrifices of the war and the horrors of the Holocaust would be minimized or forgotten, resisted this narrative and continued to promote the WWII narrative’s view of collective responsibility. 

Some of the most interesting and insightful parts of the book are those dealing with the use of popular culture to advance the Cold War narrative. Movies such as “The Search”, “The Big Lift”, and “Judgment at Nuremburg” explored the tensions between the humanity of the average German and the horrors perpetrated by the Nazis in their name. The television shows “Combat!” and “Hogan’s Heroes” portrayed conflicts between the committed fanatics of the SS and Gestapo and the average German who was caught up in world events he could not control. The ethical choices of the average Germans in these shows repeatedly emphasized their humanity, thus contributing to the American acceptance of the Cold War narrative.

Although “Enemies to Allies” is a work of academic scholarship, it only occasionally slips into arcane terminology or dense academic prose. On the whole it is well-written and accessible, and provides a fascinating perspective on the” politics of memory” and how public perceptions are influenced by myriad sources of information.  It is a valuable resource for those whose interests include German history, the Cold War, or the role of public perception in diplomacy. Reading it will undoubtedly lead anyone, especially those who came of age in the late 20th century, to reflect on the sources of their own perceptions of Germany and the German people.

Mood: Reflective
Music: Beethoven, Symphony No. 7, 2nd Movement


COL Bradley J. Foster, USAR, is a student of military history with a lifelong interest in the people, language, and culture of Germany.  A graduate of Northwestern University, the University of Michigan, and the U.S. Army War College, he is currently serving on active duty with the U.S. European Command in Stuttgart, Germany.

Monday, May 23, 2016

The Swiss Military Museum

On Armed Forces Day (21 May), I drove to Switzerland and visited the Swiss Military Museum at Full-Reuenthal  ( ).  It was a remarkable experience that exceeded even my most optimistic expectations.

I find Switzerland fascinating.  They are a fiercely independent people and guard their freedom jealously. Their military is based on a small standing Army and a large citizen militia, with universal conscription and reserve service. Each Swiss Reservist keeps his military service rifle at home, along with ammunition and the rest of his equipment, with which he is expected to practice to maintain proficiency. Organized shooting is a national pastime on a far larger scale per capita than in the United States (and you thought *we* were a “gun culture”!)

Our nation’s founders held Switzerland in high regard, looking to its history and institutions as inspiration for our own Republic.  Conversely, the Swiss Constitution of 1848 was influenced by ours. 

More details here:

Although Americans seem to be more familiar with Germany (perhaps because so many of our ancestors came from there, and because of generations who have served there during and after WWII), the United States actually has much more in common with Switzerland.

I had visited Switzerland once before, in April 2010. At that time I wanted very much to visit two sites that are central to Swiss history: The Bundesbrief Museum and the Rütli meadow.

The modern Swiss Confederation dates their history to 1291, when the Federal Charter (Bundesbrief) was signed and sealed. The original document is preserved in a museum in the town of Schwyz.  This document is viewed by the Swiss in much the same way that we view our own Declaration of Independence.  I got to visit the Bundesbrief Museum and to see this original document from 1291 on display. No photos were allowed, but it can be viewed here:

The other historic site was the Rütli meadow.  This is the site where the leaders of the Waldstätten (now Cantons) of Uri, Schwyz, and Unterwalden gathered on the shore of Lake Lucerne to take an oath of mutual defense against external aggression (the “Rütlischwur”).  The meadow occupies a similar place in Swiss history as our Lexington and Concord – it is hallowed ground, the site of key events in the story of the Swiss national origin.  The exact historical date has been a matter of some debate over the years, but 1291 has come to be accepted, and the Swiss celebrate both the charter and the oath on 1 August, their national holiday.  This oath is also part of the story of William Tell, although his role has been romanticized in much the same way that Paul Revere has become symbolic of the events of April 18th- 19th, 1775.
In 1991, for the 700th anniversary of the Bundesbrief, authorities dedicated the “Swiss Way”, a commemorative hiking path around Lake Lucerne, with monuments along the way commemorating each Canton’s entrance into the Swiss Confederation.  I couldn’t help but compare it to the “Battle Road” between Boston, Lexington, and Concord.
Not coincidentally, my visit to Rütli in April 2010 coincided with the Second Amendment March on Washington, which I could not attend.  Instead, I participated by hiking a portion of the Swiss Way around Lake Lucerne to the Rütli meadow.  I wore the Second Amendment March t-shirt and presented a commemorative coin to the curators of the museum at the site.   

The Rütli meadow, viewed from across Lake Lucerne

One of the markers on the "Swiss Way"

The Rütli meadow
I am a student of military history, and love to visit museums and battlefields.  Although Switzerland has remained neutral and has not been actively involved as a nation in an armed conflict for generations, maintaining that neutrality has required a substantial investment in military preparedness. 

The most severe test of this neutrality came during WWII, when Switzerland was threatened with invasion by Nazi Germany and incorporation into the Third Reich.  How they prepared to resist such an invasion, ultimately deterring  it, is the subject of two different books by author Stephen Halbrook.  His books “Target Switzerland” and “The Swiss and the Nazis” detail Swiss national preparations during this period, and are very interesting reading. 

The Rütli meadow is important in modern Swiss history as well, in a way very closely related to my more recent visit.  In 1940, under the shadow of a threatened invasion by Nazi Germany, General Henri Guisan gathered the senior commanders of the Swiss Army in the Rütli meadow and outlined his plan for total resistance.  This was a defining moment in the history of Swiss armed neutrality and national identity.  Imagine a modern American leader gathering his commanders at Lexington or Concord for a similar purpose! 

This was the context for my visit to the Swiss Military Museum – a desire for a more complete understanding of Swiss military history, particularly their preparations for resisting a Nazi invasion.  As I said earlier, I was not disappointed!

The museum is located in Full-Reuenthal, just across the Rhine river from Germany.  It is about a two hour drive south from Stuttgart, and I couldn’t have had a more beautiful day for the drive.  Southern Germany is beautiful, and as I approached the Swiss border, I could see how the terrain (and of course the Rhine river) form a natural frontier boundary between the countries.

The museum consists of two separate facilities.  The main museum in the town of Full is located in what looks like an old industrial installation on flat terrain at the level of the river.  The second installation is up the mountain in the village of Reuenthal, and is inside an old border fortification.  I visited the main museum first.

The building is an unlikely-looking facility for a museum.  It looks for all the world like an abandoned factory of some kind, which it probably is.

Inside, however, the layout is innovative and unusual, very effectively using the available space.  Platforms on several levels are joined by various stairways and walkways, with thematically-organized collections of military artifacts on each, as well as a variety of vehicles (including aircraft suspended from the ceiling).  I will include just a few photos of things I found particularly interesting, although they in no way capture the extent of the collection).
German V-1 "Buzz Bomb" from WWII. 

A display of Swiss military bicycles - these two are modern. 

Older Swiss military bicycles. 

From the other side.  I like the way the rifle is mounted. 

They used a tactical medium girder bridge as a walkway.
 I have built this bridge in the field. 

There was an entire room dedicated to models of military
vehicles. Most were displayed in cases with labels, but
this enormous diorama of an American military
formation during WWII was quite impressive!

Outside of the main museum, in a neighboring building, is a very impressive collection of military vehicles from several nations and eras.  Again, I could not even begin to capture the entire collection, but a few photos will give a representative sample.

I saw this and thought "M38A1", but was surprised to read that
it is actually a commercial CJ-5 that the Swiss Army bought
and put into service.

An overview of the vehicle display. Visible at right center is a
US M3 Stuart (I sure wish the one at Camp Perry was this well
maintained).  At left center are two Soviet T-34's. The one with
the turret markings took part in the invasion of Germany in 1945.

One thing that repeatedly impressed me about this museum was the quality of the signage on the exhibits.  It was very thorough, and generally gave not only the history of the type of vehicle, weapon, or other artifact, but also often gave the history of the specific example on display, such as where it was used and how it came into the museum’s possession.  It may seem trite, but I couldn’t help thinking that such thoroughness and precision are very much in keeping with the Swiss character.

Another thing that impressed me was the quality of the vehicles, weapons, and artifacts themselves.  Nearly everything was in excellent condition.  Many museums will display vehicles that are in various states of decay, with rust, worn tires and tracks, missing components, etc.  But in the large exhibit hall that displayed the vehicles, it smelled mainly of fresh paint.  The vehicles are almost all in running condition, are exceptionally well-preserved, and usually included not only the vehicles themselves, but also many artifacts (such as weapons and personal equipment) stored in them so as to demonstrate how they would have looked when in active service.  I do not remember ever seeing another museum with quite this level of attention to detail.

After I had toured the museum, I visited the museum gift shop and rummaged through a variety of surplus military uniforms and equipment, as well as books and manuals.  I added two books to my library. One is called “Schweizer, Das Musst Du Wissen” (“Swiss [citizen], This You Must Know”), a quite interesting  citizen’s handbook. It is a pretty comprehensive overview of Swiss history as well as civic, political, geographic, and economic information about the country.  It made me wonder if something similar might be in order for Americans.  The other book is called “Bürger und Soldat” (“Citizen and Soldier”).   Published by the Swiss Officer’s Association in 1944, it is a collection of essays by Swiss officers on various aspects of being a citizen-soldier and the attendant responsibilities. Each is written in the language of its author (German, French, or Italian), so I won’t be able to read them all.  But it seemed a good addition to my collection of books on the subject, and should provide some interesting perspective.

After finishing with the museum, I drove up the mountain to visit the fortification.  I expected a tour something like my tours of Fort Douaumont at Verdun or Fort Schoenenbourg on the Maginot line.  While there were definite similarities, this was, in my view, more interesting and well-presented than either of the others had been.

First a bit more history:  In the 1930’s, Switzerland began constructing extensive border fortifications along its frontier with Germany.  This particular fort was built to watch over and protect a section of the Rhine river that included a dam and hydroelectric plant, as well as a flat area with an island in the river that could have served as an invasion route if the dam were to be blown up and the water level in the river lowered.  The fort consists of a large complex of very thick underground concrete bunkers, with emplacements for artillery pieces overlooking the river valley below as well as machinegun emplacements designed for close-in defense against an attack on the fort itself.
The entrance to the fort.

A plan and aerial view of the fort. (Note -
the plan and photo are 180 degrees reversed
from each other). On the plan, the entrance
is at upper left. The two outer circles are
observation and machinegun positions.
The two inner circles are the cannon positions.
The various support facilities are on the right.
Terrain model showing the location of the fort (red arrow)
and the portion of the Rhine it covered (left side and beyond)

The museum was manned by volunteers from a historical preservation society.  While not a guided tour per se, they posted themselves at a few strategic spots in the fort and explain its workings.  They all wore quasi-military clothing, and are (or were) undoubtedly reservists in the Swiss Army.  They treated me with great courtesy as an American officer, and called me “their honored guest”. 

First I climbed up into an artillery observation post, from which an observer would have pinpointed enemy movements and called their locations to the gun positions.  This was a really cool setup.  The observation telescope was on a swiveling mount, and was connected to a mechanism that traversed over an engraved graphic representation of the terrain in the valley.  Various pre-plotted firing coordinates were already marked on this metal “map”.  There were elevation and traversing controls, with a moving clear plastic square marked out in a grid.  By simply looking at the desired target through the telescope, the coordinate location was automatically pinpointed on the map, and the coordinates easily read out.

Steps leading up to the first machinegun post, and a
view of the tunnel leading to the rest of the fort.

The artillery observation post. Unfortunately, the glare
from the light makes it hard to see the graphic
plotting mechanism.

Then I climbed up into one of the machinegun posts that could set up a crossfire in front of the fort to fight off an infantry attack.  It was equipped with a mounted water-cooled MG, set up in a similar manner with pre-plotted target points and a traversing/elevation mechanism so as to be able to place fire on a designated point communicated by an observer, or to fire based on observation through a scope on the machinegun itself.  Unlike water-cooled MG’s set up for field use, this one was hooked up to an integrated plumbing system with a continuous condensation/reclamation mechanism.  Theoretically such a gun could fire almost non-stop until it ran out of ammunition (of which they had Plenty!).    Very cool.

Two of the volunteer guides demonstrating the machinegun.
The blue pipe brings in fresh air.

Finally, I climbed into one of the two artillery bunkers.  This was equipped with a 75mm cannon with a range of about 10-12 KM.  These cannon were the main reason for the fort’s existence.  The fire-control mechanism was the same as the machineguns, albeit with different pre-planned targets. The guides let me sit down at the controls, and called out coordinates for me to direct fire.  I adjusted the traverse and elevation to their specifications, and they then had me look down the open bore of the gun.  It was pointed directly at a farmhouse across the valley on the other side of the river.  Pretty neat stuff.  I was confused at first because they described the cannon as "halbautomatisch” (semiautomatic), but I saw no magazine.  It turns out that in this context, they meant that it ejects the shell casing automatically upon firing, and that when the new shell is inserted into the breech, it locks automatically.  The shell still has to be picked up and inserted by hand, however.  They told me that a crew of five men operating the cannon at maximum efficiency could get off 20 rounds per minute.  Pretty impressive.

75mm cannon with aiming mechanism.
After this, I walked down the tunnels expecting to see the predictable sort of exhibits – soldier’s quarters, workshops, medical facilities, radio room, kitchens, that sort of thing.  They were there, as expected, and were very well-presented and interesting.  But was I ever in for a surprise!  I had thought that the museum was housed primarily down below, and that the fort would simply be the fort.  But many of the rooms, as well as one of the main tunnels, were set up as museum exhibits in their own right.  There were room after room of exhibits, with a breathtaking array of weapons and equipment.  For me, as a military firearms enthusiast, it was really almost overwhelming. I wished that I had had an entire second day to visit. (I had originally planned to stay overnight, but changed my mind and came on a day trip – if I had it to do over again I’d definitely make this a two-day trip).
The rooms were thematically organized, more or less corresponding to the various major participants in WWII:

Swiss Army

British Army

Japanese and German Armies

A one-shot flamethrower.  Never heard of this before!

American and French Armies

One of the most interesting rooms displayed a variety of documents and artifacts from Swiss Nazis.  There was apparently a fairly strong Nazi movement in Switzerland both before and during WWII, which I had never heard about.  I stayed in this room for quite awhile, reading some of the documents they had on display. There were a variety of movements that had a more-or-less common threat of Nationalism, Socialism, German identity, and “Erneuerung” (renewal).  These movements were eventually all brought under the aegis of the Nazis and assumed Nazi structure and regalia.  They even had Hitler Youth.  Not a side of Swiss history that I had ever seen or read about.  I was impressed that they gave it such a comprehensive exhibit.

A Germanic Unity flag from before WWII, along with a
Swiss Nazi flag and uniform.

Nazi propaganda.

Nazi propaganda and documents.

This hallway had a quite impressive display of weapons, including a really exceptional display of pistols.  I stood and studied many of them for quite some time.  They actually had more varieties of the Mauser C96 “Broomhandle” than the Mauser museum in Oberndorf!  They also had a couple of very interesting P.38’s, one of which was an original “HP” Heeres Pistole (“Army Pistol”), which is what Walther called the pistol before it was officially adopted by the German Army in 1938 and given the P.38 (“Pistole 38”) designation.  I had never seen one of these before, except in books.

A row of Swiss K31's.  I have some friends who shoot these.

Quite a collection of Mausers.

An interesting comparison of the Mauser C96 and an
Artillery Luger with snail drum magazine.   I could
have purchased one of these Lugers at Fort Bragg for
$3500,but passed on it.  It later sold for $12,000.   Doh!

The pistol on the bottom left is a Walther HP ( Heeres Pistol),
precursor to the P.38

At  one point in the afternoon I stopped in the canteen and had a bowl of Gulaschsuppe and some bread (delicious), along with a beer.  While eating there, I noticed that they had some interesting souvenirs for sale.  The entire museum is supported by volunteers and private donations, plus what they can earn from the gift shops. Apparently the military surplus they sell is all donated.  In the canteen, they sold bottles of wine “Festungswein” or “Fortress Wine”) that is made locally by one of their volunteers from his own home-grown grapes.  They sell these bottles either  individually  or in a package of two, housed in an old Swiss Army mess kit.   I was tempted, but did not buy one of these.

The other possibility, however, was a Swiss Army Feldflasche (Field Flask), complete with fitted aluminum cup.  This is sold full of “Festungsschnapps”, also made locally by a volunteer from home-grown grapes and plums.  I found this irresistible, and so acquired another souvenir of my visit.  The volunteer in the canteen was very generous with free samples of schnapps as he retrieved, cleaned, and filled my flask, so I walked out with a bit of a buzz in addition to my new Feldflasche.  :)

My Feldflasche, filled with Festungsschnapps.

By this time, the day was nearly over.  The museum was only open from 1000-1700, and fort from 1300-1700.  I wasn’t really finished, and could have spent more time in the various rooms examining the exhibits in detail, but there just wasn’t time.   So I bid my guides farewell and found my way out.

The drive home was just as beautiful as the drive down.  I should probably have made it a bit longer trip and spent some time enjoying that part of Germany and/or Switzerland, but there’s only so much you can do.  Perhaps another time.

Meanwhile I have fond memories and some nice keepsakes, including fresh reading material for my ongoing exploration of what it means to be a citizen-soldier defending a free nation.

Mood: Exhilarated
Music:  Rossini (William Tell)