The Road to Berlin
November, 2005 Newsletter - Section 9

By Al Pitzer (58-60)

Berlin Memories - by Al Pitzer

It was a cold snowy morning in January, 1958 when two C-47s took off from Rhein Main headed for Berlin. Inside one were four recent graduates of the the Army Language School in Monterey, California. Bill Brendle, Paul Molter, Jimmy Edmonds and I were feeling pretty smug about our good fortune to be headed to Berlin, that town of great historical significance. In the other plane were our duffels and B-4 bags. More on that later.

As we flew I thought about the past three days. The dorms at Kaiserslautern AFB and the ops. Center of HQ 6910th RGM at Simbach. The door into the ops. Center was an old army blanket and we took turns standing guard outside this fortress as our security clearances had not caught up with us. No way were we newbies going to be allowed to step through that olive drab covered portal and start battling the red menace.

On the morning of the third day, we were told to report to the orderly room. Figuring that this would be assignments to shifts and a sentence to remain at Kaiserslautern and eating GI prepared meals (still gives me nightmares), a miracle was about to occur. An excited young A/3c was waving orders at us and ranting, that he had been trying to get “there” for two years and we, after only two days, were on our way to “paradise“. At the end of his emotional tirade I asked enthusiastically, “Where is paradise?” and he replied “APO 742 dummy.” Well I was elated, but still ignorant and asked once more, “And this APO 742 is where?” He answered with one magical word, “Berlin.”

Back in the gooney bird we were preparing to land at Tempelhof, dropping through the thick clouds and fog, looking at the apartments seemingly at the ends of the wing tips, we sat down and taxied to a stop. We were met by MSGT Robert Jung, the greatest first sleeve I ever experienced in my brief career. He welcomed us and apologized as it seemed the plane carrying our gear decided not to land due to poor visibility and returned to Frankfurt. He went on to say that since it was Friday afternoon, it would not be possible to issue us passes to get off base, but he would arrange for us to obtain shaving gear and tooth brushes. He directed us to the orderly room for sign in and room assignment. There we were met by a somewhat miffed clerk, Marvin Barnwell. (How is it possible to remember some of this stuff, when I can’t remember last week?).

Anyway, Marvin was a vision, resplendent in his European cut, five button suit coat and pointy Italian shoes. He assisted us in obtaining our bedding and showed us to a third floor seven man room. His job done, he said he was “cutting out“ for the weekend. So, here we are, three days in the same clothes, no place to go but the chow hall and that oasis called Club Silverwings. Three of us paid our associate member dues and started to learn the ways of nickel beer and ten cent drinks. Molter did not join. He was newly married and spent the next 18 months going nowhere, except the chow hall, Columbia movie and operations and slowly going nuts.

Our initial home on the third floor was lovingly named Stillman’s locker room, a name stolen from a noted Los Angeles gym. After a few weeks, we four were joined by other recent graduates of Monterey, Georgetown and Syracuse. Enter Harry Smith, John McClure, Paul Carico and the inimitable Joel Schoenkopf. Life was great. Three swings, three graves, three days and three days off. How did we survive? Frequently after the last graveyard (long change) before days, several of us would rush back to our rooms, shower, put on suits and hit the Strasse. First stop a bakery to enjoy a large slice of seven layer German torte. This was followed by a visit to as many bars as possible to determine last man standing before weaving and stumbling our way back to TCA. Kinda makes me a little nauseous today just thinking about it.

The young airman in Kaiserslautern was right. This place was paradise. We discovered the Resi and Resi Keller, the Neue Welt, the Riverboat and Badewanne and of course the Viktoria Eck, Rancho and Haenel Eck. We worked and were serious about what we did, but also lived very large.

One morning in 1959 I got off graveyards and had a dental appointment in Dahlem. While sitting in the shuttle bus which ran between Tempelhof, Dahlem and McNair, two of our guys walked by on their way to operations. One had on a one piece OD jumpsuit, low quarter shoes and some sort of rain cap. The other was wearing those hideous gray fatigues, loafers and a 6910th baseball cap. The only others on the bus were two fully-classed A’d Army lads. Their uniforms decorated with regimental crests, shoulder braids and all other means of military decorum. They observed the passers bye and one asked the other, “Who are those guys?” The reply, “Oh those are some Air Force guys“. The first responded “Whose”?

While 1959 saw a number of significant events such as the discontinuance of Military Payment Script “MPC” (which still looks like Monopoly money) replaced by green backs, there was one earth-shaking event which changed history and affected some of our lives forever.

I was working graves on Feb. 4th 1959. Cold, snowing and nothing was flying. It was a Sunday night, and as usual, we tuned in to the BBC top ten program. A proper British gentleman announced that the previous day, American music had lost three rock and roll performers, Charles Hardin Holly, Ricardo Valenzuela, and J.P. Richardson in an airplane crash. As they say, we looked at each other incredulously and said, “Not Buddy, Richey and the Bopper”! It really was the day the music died.

Later that year, August I think, after a night on the town, a number of us congregated in Don Sokalski’s room to hold a Buddy Holly tribute as Sok was the first to own the newly released LP, The Buddy Holly Story. As Tommy Sanders, Harry Smith, Aden Hamilton, Bob Casper and I listened to “That’ll be the Day” “Peggy Sue” et al, Dale ’Oly’ Olson decided to perform his legendary act of chin ups on the outside ledge of Sok’s window, a mere three stories above the main TCA parking lot.

We got ourselves a new commander in 1959, Major Gentry. Fortunately I never was in his cross hairs, but I do remember one morning while walking to work along the front of the building. Here was Major Gentry standing on the steps to Club Silverwings checking to see who and how many of the guys were returning to base at that hour. Seems the major had a special disdain for those thought to be living off base with German girls.

I don’t know how those of you who followed feel about the joys of eating while in Berlin. For me the chow hall was great, except for Sunday night when C or K rations were served. Never could quite stomach bologna swimming in gelatin or cheese that tasted like dirty socks. Ah, but there was the French Officers Club where for twenty DM you could get a four or five course dinner with wine. In 1959, twenty DM was the equivalent of about five bucks, hard to believe today. There was this great roasted chicken place on the Ku-Damm called Huehner Hugo, where they served roasted chicken sections or larger portions if one desired. John McClure and I were frequent diners at this fine establishment. We had both grown somewhat larger than our svelte basic training days and therefore would each order and consume a whole chicken each at each visit. We would sit in the front of the store in plain view of all who passed by. It was somewhat disconcerting to see a crowd gather outside, peering through the window to watch us eat.

My three years passed quickly. There were so many occurrences and activities which I now look back on and smile. We played football, baseball and basketball against the Army and AACS guys. We had some pretty good teams. My old pictures of Pat Farrell, Tom Sanders, Oly Olson, Gino Eubanks, John McClure, Bob Henson, Bob Ritzhaupt, Ed Cummings and the rest of you I remember fondly (you know who you are), bring back wonderful memories.

Gotta go now, but one other thing. My years in Berlin gave me the privilege of making life long friendships. The lady who now shares my life and two guys in particular. I never had a brother, but in a way I do. Harry Smith was my friend and roommate almost 50 years ago and he is as special to me today as he was then. Dale Olson and I visit from time to time, and when we do, it’s just as if we were still in that great town growing up, being proud of our work, the uniforms we wore and in our minds, the legacies we were leaving------------- OTVAL

© 2005, The Berlin Island Association

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