"Drop your pants, soldier"
If Maine winters can be long and cold, you should try those in the Bavarian
Forest. It was here, in the mountains of eastern Bavaria close to the
Czech border, while stationed with the US Army in Germany, that I for
two years ran on winter maneuvers, appropriately yet chillingly called
Winter Shield, with the Czech border then still constituted part of the
Iron Curtain, dividing communist from non-communist Europe, and the potential
enemy was not only Communist Czechoslovakia but the Soviet Union.
The two Winter Shields now blur into one wintry memory. But it is the
first one, truly pristine if also painful, I remember most clearly.
By and large a pleasant memory, it is at the same time connected with
something distinctly unpleasant. Immediately after our return from "the
field", I landed in the 14th Army Field Hospital. It was not far
from Bad Kreuznach, the pretty little spa town on the Nahe river where
I was stationed.
The morning we were supposed to leave for the three-week exercise in
the wintry wastes of the Bavarian Forest, I reported sick. Telling the
Army doctor, not much older than me, I had noticed blood in my urine and
a swelling in one of my testicles, he took a quick look, saying I'd probably
gotten a dose of the clap.
Assuring him I had not consorted with any prostitutes (such as my friend
Minta had wanted to fix me up with) was useless. The young doctor gave
me a doubtful look, as if to say I was a "malingerer," trying
to avoid having to go on maneuvers. I almost felt flattered, since it
made me appear as "one of the guys."
So, I set out with the rest in a long convoy in the direction of Würzburg,
via Mainz and Frankfurt, with me driving the Civil Affairs jeep, Lieutenant
Stankevicius beside me, and Colonel Wilson, the CA Officer, behind us.
Now, I'd never driven a jeep before and, therefore, did so with a certain
amount of trepidation, but once having got the hang of it, I rather enjoyed
the experience. There was only one problem or, really, two, after a while.
One was that as we headed further east the roads, increasingly icy, had
huge snowdrifts on either side, in one of which, on a slippery bend, I
managed to land the jeep which carried the entire Civil Affairs Section.
But, though trying hard, I couldn't manage to get it out again. Stinky
"Goddammit, Rang," he shouted "haven't you ever driven
a jeep before?" Silly question. He knew damn well I hadn't. Easy
does it, the Colonel said.
Jumping out, the Lieutenant told me to get out too and let him take the
wheel. This was like déjà vu I thought, just like Big Brother
Bill at Bowdoin jumping out of the Wilys Jeep station wagon he was teaching
me to drive, after I'd stalled it on the steep road up into Wiscasset.
My "learning-to-drive" history was repeating itself.
Swearing like a trooper, just as Bill had, Stankevicius got behind the
wheel and with a few of the requisite rocking maneuvers, he managed to
get the jeep out of the snow drift almost immediately.
The other problem was that my swollen testicle was hurting like hell.
It wasn't the clap, he said, but epiditemitis, an inflammation of the
honey-comb-like layer of sensitive tissue surrounding the testicle. Given
some tablets, I was dismissed.
Despite continuing discomfort in the affected area, the three weeks out
in the field passed quite pleasantly and, especially for someone like
me in a clerical position, with considerably less discomfort in other
respects than most.
Since maneuver damage was expected to be considerable Civil Affairs had
its own Command Post Tent, complete with camp beds, pot-bellied stove,
chairs and desk. It certainly beat having to spend sub-zero nights in
two-man tents like the rest of the guys, with or without the clap.
During the day, I was nice and warm, and at night too, even if Stinky's
snoring kept me awake half of it. The Colonel, on the other hand, slept
as quietly as a dormouse. Wilson really was the gentlest and kindest of
souls I ever encountered in the military, modest and even self-effacing
to an amazing degree.
One dark night, as I sat reading by the light of a spirit lamp someone
stumbled across the tent ropes outsides, nearly bringing the whole works
"Goddamn fool," I yelled. "That's me," the Colonel's
voice, calm as ever, came back.
Returned to barracks, with the swelling not much better, I had to go
on sick call once more. This time I was not treated like a "malingerer,"
but instead dispatched to hospital right away, to be given a course of
penicillin and ice packs.
Years later, as a civilian, I had to have two operations to remove painful
cysts in that area, possibly the residue of a case of epiditemitis not
treated soon enough.
Maybe I should have sued Uncle Sam.