Cruising the Autobahn In a Much-Mended Jeep

JUST when I had forgotten my Army days, I met a friend I hadn't seen in 25 years in a video store. We'd both worked 10 hours a day in an Army motorpool in Dexheim, Germany, in 1969 and 1970. Bob was a very confident kid, 19 years old. He loved to boast about California, how many girls liked him, how fast his car was, and how great a surfer he was. Everything he said sounded like a Beach Boys' record.

We were working in the motorpool - up to our chests in grease and oil and hydraulic fluid - changing oil, changing tires, repairing tires, taking engines apart, and trying to maintain a fleet of vehicles on precious few spare parts.

We wore the same oil- soaked, rust-stained fatigue uniforms each day, and there was a lieutenant from the airborne unit who liked to comment on our appearance.

"How come the two of you look so awful all the time?" came the familiar complaint. It was difficult remaining polite.

"You can always tell who works the hardest, sir." Bob said. "They are the ones who get dirty, sir...."

By Thanksgiving 1969, the jeep was all rebuilt and ready to lead convoys through town after town on the way to maneuvers. Thanksgiving dinner was a box of C-rations: ham and egg chopped up and vacuum-packed in a green can with a huge dose of preservatives.

In December, we lived in a place called Baumholder, up in the mountains and evergreen forests near the Czech border. The temperature was a zinger, 25 below zero.

My jeep did not like winter. It did not like the skid chains I fastened on with bailing wire and kept throwing them off rebelliously on the autobahn. The jeep heater would not work, and all the Rube Goldberg inventiveness wouldn't make it work, either.

Once in a great while, when the jeep was not giving me trouble, we would get a one-day pass and could drive into the nearby towns of Oppenheim and Nierstein. I would go to the disco in Oppenheim and beg the German girls to dance with me. But they shook their heads "no" every time. They pretended not to understand English. Then the DJ would play a Beatles song, and those girls knew every vowel. Their favorite was "Come Together."

Working on the jeep helped my wounded self-esteem.

In the spring of 1970, a war broke out between Jordan and Pakistan. Our colonel had it in his mind to involve us in this conflict. I was trying to find a fuel pump for my jeep that would work, and the idea of going to Jordan didn't sit well with me with only 60 days left in the service.

We were on standby alert for 48 hours. I had seven fuel pumps for my jeep, and none of them worked. The colonel took a parts inventory. Nearly 80 percent of the vehicles in the motorpool would not run because there were no spare parts. The alert was called off. The Middle East would have to get along without us.

I often wonder what became of my jeep. It's probably being used for target practice.

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