The daily routine of life on a military post was often boring, but once in a while something would happen to shake things up a bit.
The news reports flashed across the radio on AFN and broke into the daily programming on TV—all one channels of it that we had in Europe.
Somebody had stolen a M-60 tank from a Barracks in Mannheim and was tearing through both the Army installation and the city of Mannheim, Germany.
In the end, several people were injured as the person, later identified as a lovesick soldier, drove the M-60 through the parking lot between Schuh Theater and the Bowling Alley and then on into the very crowded downtown Mannheim area. The soldier plowed the tank through a Strassenbahn before reaching a bridge where he was confronted by German and American police on both sides.
In a panic, the soldier attempted to turn a 50 ton tank around that was longer than the bridge was wide. Physics took over, and the tank flipped over, plunging into the river. The next day, several hundred onlookers, myself included, watched as a huge river barge came down the river and plucked the flooded tank from the bottom of the murky water. Needless to say, the soldier did not survive.
I’m not sure about the rest of the 12 year olds living back here in the States, but I doubt many would be able to say they witnessed such an event. While perhaps the most unique event I was personally witness to, it certainly wasn’t the only different experience that I was part of. Being an Army Brat, the life experiences that we were part of sometimes defy description. Trying to explain some of the events that I saw, or lived through would prove to be hard to explain later in life. Only a Brat would understand.
Like listening one Saturday afternoon as the thump of rotor blades washed over our apartment on the backside of Lincoln Street, only to see a AH-1 Cobra circling for a landing in the sports field behind our quarters. Kids came pouring out from just about every housing unit along the street to catch an up close glimpse of the fighting machine.
It turned out the pilot had a training session to attend and realized that flying the Cobra would be more effective than driving the long distance down the Autobahn, only to find out that there wasn’t a cleared landing zone on the Barracks just behind the field. So, as any good Army pilot is wont to do, he improvised and gave us all a grand show.
How many kids woke up in the fall to the sound of a dozen or so M-60s firing up their diesel engines? Many a morning’s quiet was shattered as these beasts roared to life before rumbling off to REFORGER maneuvers. From my third story window, I had a front row seat to the show, and it was incredible.
How do you adequately explain regular bomb threats and the occasional protest just beyond your doorstep? We saw it all. Granted, sometimes the bomb threats were called in by a student who didn’t want to take a certain test on a given day, but they were always taken seriously. Classrooms would pour out away from the school buildings as the MP’s brought in the bomb sniffing dogs.
Sometimes, the search took so long that classes were simply cancelled for the rest of the day. And as the threats became more regular and the protests increased in number, we began to grow accustomed to stricter and stricter access regulations to the post. Cars were searched and Military Police patrolled the posts, always with their M-16s strapped to their shoulder.
It was a sight that I grew used to…another part of growing up Brat. Years later, with the events of 9/11 unfolding, I recall going to the Detroit Airport to pick up my best friend. Military patrols were set up, and many civilians here felt uneasy at the armed show of force. But for me, this was no big deal…another day of being protected from the bad guys.
Not all of our situations were so dire or serious. For instance, one year during REFORGER, my father was then NCOIC of the 1st CEC, located on Spinelli Barracks. As he was preparing for the massive movement of equipment that was to come, a soldier came dashing into his office, hysterically flagging my father down. “SFC Kidd, SFC Kidd, your car has been hit with significant damage to it!”
I can’t repeat the exact thought and colorful phrasing that passed my father’s lips, but he had immediate visions of either a deuce and a half slamming into his precious Opel, or worse…a M-60 completely flattening the car out. As he ran to the parking lot, he was confronted with the sight of one of the officer’s wives. In her station wagon. That she’d backed into my dad’s car with! While the front fender was dented, he was relieved that it wasn’t spread out under the tracks of a tank.
So, while other kids back home pretended to be soldiers, Brats lived it right next to their homes and their ball fields. Before I was 13, I had ridden in more military vehicles than most people here in the States would ever even get to see close up. And while I’ve attempted to share these stories with people I’ve met since moving on into adulthood, only those that grew up with the strained sounds of that massive diesel rumbling just across the wire will ever truly understand.