Dad's Adventures in the Army of Occupation

James French (around 1948)

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When I graduated from High School, the war was over, but I wanted to join the service and see the world (and avoid being drafted). Because of my interest in ham radio, I signed up to join the Army Security Corps, however, they had no openings. They suggested I either make another selection or just wait back home to be drafted. So, I asked what was available, and they said, since I had good math scores, I might do well in Finance. That sounded better than the draft, so I signed up and was sent to Germany in the Army of Occupation.

At first I was stationed in Heidelberg, a beautiful town that had not been bombed by the Allies on the direct orders of Eisenhower. Since the Army was moving into Cost Accounting, I studied that and took other Finance courses at Heidelberg University.

Later I was posted to Karlsruhe. There we were quartered in an old Panzer Tank station that for some reason had survived the war unscathed. We were told to pick our own quarters in one of the larger buildings, as no one else was there yet. Naturally, since my ham radio rig was being shipped from the US, I picked a room in the highest part of the building: a fourth-floor tower room.

There we settled in comfortably. We had the housekeeper make us some curtains, found some old over-stuffed chairs, and, of course, the ham radio worked great. I called home many times.

One day when I was out, I found a stash of ox-blood shoe polish in a store. Although not appropriate for Army footwear, it seemed to me it would make great floor polish. The housekeeper spread the shoe polish on the floor, buffed it to a sheen, and WAS IT EVER BEAUTIFUL!

Naturally, our quarters were too comfortable to meet military standards. Once a General came to inspect the building. He took one look at our cozy digs and had a fit! "When I come back, this had better all be gone!" he bellowed. My roommate was all ready to comply, but I pointed out that the General would be unlikely ever to return. We decided to ignore him, enjoy our comfortable room… and he never did come back!

Since this was right after the war, there was very little available in the stores. A popular item for Germans was canned horsemeat, canned in Iola, Kansas, only a few miles from my own home!

A few days before my birthday, I was walking with my buddies down the road when we saw in a store window a beautifully decorated birthday cake! We were amazed, given the shortages of EVERYTHING, but here was this stunning cake! The guys wanted to get it and have a birthday party for me. The storekeepers kept assuring us we didn't want to buy that cake, but we kept arguing that we DID, until they finally gave up and sold it to us.

On the appropriate day we gathered to celebrate my birthday and enjoy that wonderful cake. We cut the cake and prepared for a big treat. SURPRISE!!! The cake was made without eggs or sugar, and was frosted with Barbisol Shave Cream!!!

I was stationed in Karlsruhe to start a Swiss Leave Center so that soldiers could take their leave in beautiful Switzerland. I was to manage the project money, for which we needed liquid cash rather than army scrip. I would go periodically to Nancy, France to get Swiss francs and US dollars with my German driver in an old Volkswagen bug. I would come out of the bank with two briefcases. My driver, who theoretically didn't know what was in the cases, would always say, "Let's just drive and keep on going!" I would (regretfully) say, "No, let's just go back home…" The Volkswagen was hardly an armored vehicle, and all I had was an army 45 to guard the cash - frankly, I was so unimpressed by the 45 that I would rather have had a handful of rocks. Luckily, we were never beset by thieves!











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