UNEXPECTED REUNION

by Allen Dale Olson

Two days before Christmas 1957 I was walking my new bride, Joan, (married barely five months) up the steep Rottendorferstrasse from the Rezidenz in Wurzburg, Germany. We were headed for what was then Leighton Barracks, my home for several months during the U.S. and Allied Occupation of West Germany.

It was Joan’s first experience outside the United States, and she was somewhat frightened about being in Europe, especially in Germany. We had both been in high school during World War II, and Germany, as the Enemy, was still very fresh in her mind.

Suddenly a three-wheeled mini-van swerved off the street, bounced over the curb, and came to a stop right in front of us. The driver leaped out and ran right up to us shouting loudly. There was no doubt that Joan realized that her fears of Germany and things German had been well founded…

… In July of 1955 I boarded a bus on Leighton Barracks along with some 60 other soldiers for a ride to the Wurzburg train station to transfer to a troop train for the long trip to Bremerhaven where almost half of the First Infantry Division would board the USS Upshur for the eleven-day Atlantic crossing to New York.

Wurzburg had been good to me. My barracks building was not unlike a college dormitory. I had met several Germans, both on and off post and had learned a lot about the city and its history. One of the Germans I met was Oskar. I know he had a last name, but I never knew it. He was a janitor who cleaned our rooms. Most soldiers either ignored Oskar or berated him if something in their room was not right.

I used Oskar to teach me some German words and to tell me about the city. In turn he used his knowledge of the German worker underground to let me know when the Military Payment Scrip (which we used instead of dollars) would be called in for re-issue. He taught me to use the city bus system and how to travel by train in Germany.

The day the busses came to take us to the train station, Oskar and other workers stood in the barracks doorways to watch us go. When I walked past him, he stepped forward to hug me…

… Beneath the flapping leather helmet atop the shouting driver’s head was the face of Oskar. He had been driving up Rottendorferstrasse to make a delivery and had spotted me in his rearview side mirror. Before I could say a word, he threw his arms around me so enthusiastically that Joan thought I was being attacked.  If there had been anyone else around, I know she would have screamed for help.

It didn’t take very long for her to realize that this was a friendly embrace, and Oskar was delighted to meet her and told her over and over in both German and English how much he had appreciated me when he worked for the Army.

He, too, had married during the two years since we had seen each other, and now he was working for a private German delivery company. He would have driven us the rest of the way up the street, but his van – one of those with only one front wheel – had only two seats, one for the driver. It was one of the most emotional reunions I have ever experienced but a valuable one, as it reassured Joan that maybe after all I was a pretty good guy.

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