Thursday, August 28, 2008

Vets recall Cold War

Pictured are men from the Army 41st Tank Battalion reunion. The (front row l-r), Jim Thompson, Cates Rowlf, Bob “Frenchy” Fontaine and Adrian J. Morchinek; (second row l-r), Jesse Ledbetter, James Eads, Mel Earnest, Ed Biza, Charles W. Scheetz, Robert Yablonsky; (back row l-r), Denton Schultz, Bob Johnston, Bill Zimblich, Lee Herl.
BDN photo by Donna Clevenger

By Donna Clevenger
BDN Staff Writer

The men who served during the Cold War may not have seen the drama from World War II, but they still have valid stories to tell.

A tight-knit group of soldiers of the Army’s 41st Tank Battalion who served in Germany from 1956-1958 have been coming to Branson since 2001 for an annual reunion.

There was a lot of tension between the Soviets and the U.S. according to the men from the 41st.

Operation Gyroscope was a plan to encourage draftees to re-enlist. However, most of the men who attended the reunion this year only served their 18-month-long tour. As young 18-21 year olds, they were stationed in Germany just 11 years after the end of World War II.

“It was frightening,” Ed Biza, Company A cook, said. “I had celebrated my 21st birthday. During the Hungarian Revolt, we were just a few minutes away from the Russian military — everything was in a high state of alert. When we thought about it — it was quite frightening.”

Biza said the Russians were formidable.

“Here we were, a bunch of kids, just fresh out of high school,” he said.

While the men did not see active combat, they were in an area where both sides remained on high alert and were fully armed at all times.

Others in the group wanted to also talk about the good times. They admitted to going out to check out the German girls. So what do they do each year?

“We talk about the good times,” Bob “Frenchy” Fontaine said.

Drinking German beer for the first time was quite different. Most all of the beer was brewed in a small brewery where there wasn’t much quality control. The men laughed together recalling the shots they had to take after most of them drank contaminated beer and suffered the consequences. After laughter and camaraderie, they turned to more serious talk as they spoke of a visit to Dachau, the first Nazi German concentration camp opened.

“It had been 11 years, but you could still smell it,” Denton Schultz said.

Most agreed that the German people were tense and somewhat resentful of their presence.

“They wanted peace too,” Schultz said.

“They wanted what we could give them too,” Robert Yablonsky said.