Mainz, Germany on the Rhine River
Yesterday was a remarkable day for Dad as we visited Spangdahlem Air Force base near Bitburg. The base has grown significantly since Dad was here in 1952. At that time there were about fifty men assigned to the base. Today, there are over six-thousand men, women, and their families who call Spangdahlem home. The highlight of the day was the opportunity for Dad to meet the crew chiefs at the base – the folks who keep all of the airplanes flight-worthy. Dad served as the crew chief here when there was only one airplane at the base. Later more planes and personnel arrived. A couple of reporters interviewed Dad. One asked him what he considered to be one of the best things about serving at Spangdahlem. Without hesitation, Dad replied that it was the people – the friendships and camaraderie.
No matter where we are or where we go, friends can make life better. When Dad arrived at Spangdahlem he did not know anyone else on the base. But, it wasn’t long before he knew all fifty guys who were serving here. One person I heard a lot about when I was a kid was a fellow named Harry Morales from New Jersey. Harry owned his own Jeep. That Jeep carried the two of them on adventures throughout Europe. There were no good road maps available at that time, but Dad had a world atlas that they used to plot their routes. Once when traveling from France to Spain they consulted the atlas and decided that the shortest route had to be across the Pyrenees. They followed a road up the mountains to a dead-end. They eventually found a route near the Bay of Biscay and made their way to Madrid. When Harry returned home, Dad loaned him $300.00 to purchase a new vehicle. Dad said that Harry promptly repaid the loan.
Dad also met and befriended people who lived in the communities near both Wiesbaden and the Spangdahlem air base. Yesterday, we entered the addresses of a few of the folks he had met in Luxembourg into our GPS and then set off to find them. Sadly, we learned that some had already died and others no longer live in the area. But, it was still good to visit the places where Dad enjoyed so many dinners with local families. This morning we traveled to Mainz, a city located across the Rhine River from Wiesbaden. While serving with the Air Police in Wiesbaden, Dad and his buddies would travel by bus to Biebrich, a borough of Wiesbaden located on the Rhine River. Dad and his buddies became friends with the Kraft family who owned a boat club and restaurant on the Rhine. We found the boat club but learned that the folks Dad knew as a young airman had passed away. However, the boat club and restaurant are still in operation.
A lot has changed over the past fifty-six years. The barracks where Dad lived while serving in Wiesbaden are no longer there. They have long since been torn down and replaced by a bank building. The English proprietor who owned the restaurant where Dad and his friends would eat spaghetti has died. Morales and the other guys he served with all scattered to the winds to start their post-military lives. Over the years they lost touch with one another. The kind families who would invite Dad and his friends to their homes for dinner are no longer here. And, the folks who owned the boat house and restaurant along the Rhine River have also died. But yesterday and today, Dad and Paul and I visited the places where they once lived. Visiting these places awakened many of Dad’s dormant memories of happy times. And, visiting these places did something inside of me. I felt a deep sense of gratitude for the kindness that each of these individuals showed my Dad when he was a young man far from home. Although they are gone, the effects of their kindness live on.