LIFE ON THE “THE FRONTIER OF FREEDOM” THE FULDA GAP (1988-1990)

by Circe Woessner

Bad Hersfeld is a beautiful town in Hessen and when we lived there in the late 1980s, it was mere kilometers from the East German border. McPheeters Kaserne was home to the 3rd Squadron of the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment, which was headquartered in Fulda. The Squadron consisted of HHC and HOW Battery, Killer Troop, I Troop, Mike Company and an assortment of support personnel. I’m not sure of numbers, but I can’t imagine that there were more than 1,000 Americans attached to McPheeters, including wives, children, teachers and other civilian workers.

Nick-named the “Outpost Farthest East in the Free World”, the 3/11th had a scrappy, hardcore reputation of working hard, playing hard, and living fast. They laughed when they explained that part of their job was to “live ten minutes” –just long enough to alarm the rest of the US Army that the Russians were coming through the Fulda Gap.

The Regiment’s official mission was two-fold: defend the Fulda Gap against a possible Warsaw Pact attack and to conduct day-to-day surveillance of 385 kilometers of the Iron Curtain dividing East and West Germany. The Regiment relieved the inactivated 14th Armored Cavalry Regiment and joined V Corps – “The Victory Corps.”

The Regimental mission in the General Defense Plan (GDP) was to strongly reinforce the United States Army Europe (USAEUR) as the covering force for V Corps. The importance of the Fulda Gap was that, to an enemy attacking from the East, it offered the shortest and most direct route across the middle of West Germany. A successful thrust through the Fulda Gap, aimed at seizing the Rhine River crossings at Mainz and Koblenz, would sever West German and NATO forces defending it.

To a young Cavalry wife, the mission of the Cav meant that she and her husband would spend up to 270 days apart as her husband rotated between border outposts, field exercises and joint training with the German military.

It was a lonely life, one that some wives decided they couldn’t handle, and packed up, taking their kids back to “the World”—sometimes forever. The divorce rate was sky high—as was drinking, fighting and domestic violence.

The wives, who stayed, found ways to adapt to the ebb and flow of troop rotation and to enjoy their tour of Germany.

PICT00133

Post-wide cookout

It was hard to find work as an American Army wife in Bad Hersfeld. The post was too small to offer many employment opportunities and few Americans could work on the Economy. I substitute taught at the small DoD elementary school in the housing area and taught conversational English in the German Volkshoch Schule in Rothenburg and painted pictures. My best friend Laura babysat to make extra money.

hersfeld 5 6

Our husbands were expected to hang out at the Officer’s club when they were in Garrison and although some of the wives hung out, too, those of us with kids, rarely did.

When the guys were out, Laura and I would pack up our kids in our old Mercury Lynx and drive around the surrounding country. We had a map and we’d head out—exploring small villages, picnicking in parks and finding playgrounds for our four kids to try out. We rarely had money, so our excursions only cost us the gas—and we had Esso coupons to use.

The boys washing the Lynx

The boys washing the Lynx

Even now, I think fondly of those day trips into the unknown, my friend Laura willing to go along for the ride, and we never were worried we’d get lost, or break down or come to a bad end. After the border fell, we ventured even farther East—going into the former communist bloc, marveling at the differences a few kilometers made.

Some wives didn’t have the use of their family car, and if they lived on the Economy, they were stuck. One wife, I remember, was fairly much a prisoner—her husband kept her cut off from the post by simply taking the car and parking it on post when his group rotated out for border duty. We’d go visit her, smuggling in food and treats, but being careful that her husband didn’t find out.

The first year Bill was stationed in Bad Hersfeld, we lived in a small town a short ways away called Niederaula.

Bill was still in Ft. Sill when we found out we were being stationed in Bad Hersfeld, so I decided to move back in with my parents who lived in Heidelberg. I was going to find us a place, so we could settle in immediately.

I am not sure how I managed it—in hindsight, we were lucky. Before Bill ever arrived, I’d gone into the Bad Hersfeld housing office, found and rented a house, and had arranged for the delivery of our furniture. That should never have happened, but maybe it was because I spoke German, or maybe because we were such a small post, everything went without a hitch, and before Bill had even set foot in country, we had a house with a yearlong lease and a household goods delivery date.

My first inclination that this was not normally how things worked. I presented myself at the HHC (which was the unit on our orders) and announced that I was LT Woessner’s wife, and the guy behind the desk said, “Never heard of him, where’s he work?” I said, “here”, presenting our orders, and he called his Captain, who said, “I’ll be damned.” He then explained to me that just because someone has orders to a place, it didn’t mean that person would actually be stationed there. Things could change at any time, and I’d be stuck.

Luckily, everything turned out all right, and we moved into our house on Heckstuck Strasse in Neideraula. Our car hadn’t arrived yet, so I was dependent on our hastily appointed sponsor, LT Dewey, who was nice, but very busy, and not interested in carting a wife and kid around any more than he could help it.

Our place in Niederaula was partially furnished with heavy antique furniture and 50’s style wallpaper. It was two stories and had a huge cavernous dark basement with a walkout door, pantries and an ancient oil furnace, which rumbled and leapt into flame.

The first week in the house, Erik and I slept in the living room, because I was too afraid to go up to the second floor. The house creaked and groaned and the furnace clattered alarmingly. Over time, I got used to the old house noises.

Life in Niederaula was slow-paced and nice. I’d walk down to the Bakerei to get fresh hot brotchen in the morning; I’d stop by the Metzgerie to get cold cuts and schnitzels.

A local hunter sold me freshly killed rabbit and venison and the neighbors kept me supplied with vegetables from their garden. Erik went to German kindergarten and I hung out with the neighbors.

The second year there, I felt like I was missing out on the military life, and we decided to pack up and move onto post. I was pregnant with our second child, and it made sense.

Our landlady asked if we wanted to take all the antiques, and we bought the whole lot for about $150.00.

Stairwell living on post plummeted me into the realities of close-knit living. We had a bottom floor apartment and all of us living in the stairwell knew what we were doing at all times.

Laura, who was to become my best friend, lived in the “maid’s quarters” in the attic of our building. Her apartment had slanted ceilings and ran long-ways.

Our apartment complex was just a few buildings up from the Max Nix store, a video rental place, with a whorehouse above it. One day I was startled as a strange man let himself into my apartment. He looked confused and embarrassed, and I quickly directed him to the brothel.

I soon got involved with the officer’s wives groups and we did all the usual “officer’s wives things”, like work in the thrift shop, plan fundraisings, baby showers, and our own amusements. One night, we had our own version of a “Dining In”. Unlike the dining ins of our husbands, we started right off out of control. The theme was “Dress Tacky” and we did. We followed all the protocol of the guy’s dining ins, but we did it with a twist.

It was great fun, but the hangovers lasted for days, so we didn’t do another the rest of the time I was there.

One day, I managed to convince the Commander’s wife to go tour the border—outside of our normal “Family Day” trip up to the OPs. She got some SGT—not sure if he was military police or what. I think we drove in a jeep.

We drove all over the place and took tons of photos, and had a wonderful time. We posed for pictures right along the electrified fence and next to the warning signs. It was a great day.

When I got home, Bill asked what I’d been doing all day, and when I told him, he was less than pleased. As I was getting a lecture, the phone rang and it was the Commander’s Wife. She asked me if I remembered what we’d been doing that day, and puzzled, I said yes. She told me that we had NOT been anywhere and had NOT seen anything, right? I was confused and said but we did go to –“No we didn’t, do you understand?” I hung up, confused, as Bill nodded sagely.

Half way through the Troop’s OP rotation, the families were invited to come out to the Outposts—All of us wives, schlepping kids and care packages, and mail, would pile onto an Army bus and we’d drive out to see our husbands out at either OP Romeo or OP India.

One trip, the young PFC driving the bus, missed the turn off and we found ourselves heading into East German territory. The poor kid was freaking out, but because there was no place to turn around, he had to keep going east. It was very tense. We didn’t know if we were going to be arrested, or shot, or worse. I said, surely they don’t want an international incident, do they? We will just explain what happened.

We came up to some East German guards who looked astonished to see us, and the poor PFC knew that we were all going to die.

I was the only one on the bus who spoke German, and so I explained the situation. After a few moments of whispered debate, the guards flagged us to make a U-turn and we headed back towards the west. We were very happy to see our husbands that day!

We were there when the boarder opened and Germany was reunited. It was a wonderful time in history.

That year, I taught East German and Eastern Europeans conversational English at the Volkshochschule and got to show them that Americans were not the enemy they’d been brought up to believe we were.

Now almost 25 years later, I look back at the years in Bad Hersfeld as some of the happiest in my career as Army wife.

ALLONS!

We are the Blackhorse Troopers, the finest in the land;

We fight for right and use our might, to free our fellow man,

Our girls wear yellow ribbons, as pretty as can be;

They’re Troopers too and loyal through, we’re in the Cavalry.

REFRAIN:

So gather round ye troopers, a story we must tell;

About the Blackhorse Regiment, its servitude in hell.

We’ve fought for freedom bravely, with honor and acclaim,

We are the Eleventh Cavalry and Blackhorse is our name.

REFRAIN:

Allons! Allons! The Pride of the Cavalry

The Best damn Regiment that you will ever see.

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24 Comments on “LIFE ON THE “THE FRONTIER OF FREEDOM” THE FULDA GAP (1988-1990)”

  1. Dave Buzzell says:

    Thanks, Circe. Say hi to Bill for me. Allons! Dave Buzzell, 58th Combat Engineers (Red Devils)

  2. Thank you for a wife’s view on your time in Bad Hersfield. I was single at that time there so never heard of the problems you and the wifes had there but it sounded like fun for the most part. I was in HWB 3/11 ACR from 83-86

  3. Edward says:

    I really miss the times I had there. Howitzer Battery 3/11th Cav. 88-90

  4. Jim Shurling says:

    Loved the story. I was there with your husband. Best damn regiment that you will ever see! My son and dau-in-law are at Holloman AFB. I’m gonna have them look your museum up. I’d like to visit it in Feb when we come out there. ALLONS!!! SFC (Ret) Jim Shurling.

    • imclellan says:

      Our Exhibit Sacrifice & Service: The American Military Family will be in Lovington, NM October through November 2014–that’s not too far from Hollomon AFB. Our museum is actually on line, but with exhibits and programs all over the state–and our footlockers travel nation-wide. We have a website museumoftheamericanmilitaryfamily.org .

  5. Wallace Bartlett says:

    Nice to see that world through a wife’s eyes. Thanks!
    Wallace “Bart” Bartlett – HWB 3/11 87-90

  6. Mathew Rowland says:

    WOW! Blast from the past. My wife and I loved our time in HWB and Bad Hersfeld. Our youngest son was born there in 93 just before we left.

    I remember your husband as our PL and then XO.

    I was one of his FDC NCOs

  7. Jan Ancker says:

    How cool! Thanks for the goofy pics, how well I remember getting chewed out for being on the border that day. Huahh.

  8. Reiner Methe says:

    Nice to see pictures from OP India. I lived in Lüderbach, near OP India. Please give me more pictures from this time in my country. I´d a picture gallery on Lüderbach in Hessen, Methe and Reiner Methe on Facebook, please look at this. Endschuldigen Sie bitte mein schlechtes Englisch. Könnte ich Ihre Fotos zu privaten Zwecken verwenden? Viele Grüße aus Lüderbach, Hessen, Deutschland.

  9. Reiner Methe says:

    Lüderbach, 27.April 2015

    Meine Schwiegermutter, Ursula Gonnermann, wurde 1983 vom Fuldaer Hauptquatier der US-Streitkräfte als Food-Service-Worker auf OP-India bei Lüderbach eingestellt. Sie hat dort in der Küche zusammen mit einigen anderen Servicekräften aus der Gemeinde Ringgau den Köchen des 3rd Squadron 11. ACR geholfen. Nach der deutschen Wiedervereinigung im November 1989 ist sie in Rente gegangen.
    Im Jahr 1986 wurde auch meine Frau, Sabine, als Full-time Food Service Worker auf OP India eingestellt. Alle privaten Servicekräfte auf OP India wurden zum 30. November 1989 gekündigt.
    Danach wurde das Camp von der US-Army geschlossen. Im folgenden Jahr versuchten die Zivilangestellten der McPeethers Kaserne aus Bad Hersfeld die Gebäude weitgehend vor Vandalismus zu schützen. Mit der Wut und der Sammelleidenschaft einiger Bundesbürger hatte wohl niemand gerechnet. So wurde das gesamte Lager fast komplett zerstört. Was nicht gebraucht wurde, fiel dem Vandalismus zum Opfer und wurde mutwillig zerstört.
    Nachdem das deutsche Bundesvermögensamt, als Eigentümer dieser Liegenschaften, versuchte das Lager zu verkaufen und feststellen musste, dass sich keine Käufer fanden, kam es in Eigentum des Bundeslandes Hessen. Hessen hatte allerdings kein Interesse daran und fürchtete, dass große finanzielle Kosten auf das Land zukommen würden. Der Versuch es auf die Kreise und Kommunen weiterzugeben scheiterte. Ebenfalls der Versuch unserer Großgemeinde Ringgau, das Camp privat zu verkaufen. Letzendlich scheiterten alle Verkaufsversuche, obwohl es mehrerer Interessenten gab, am Geld.
    So wurde der Auftrag vom Bundesland Hessen, Hessisches Baumanagment Regionalniederlassung Nord, zum kompletten Rückbau der Liegenschaft erteilt.
    Dem damaligen Ortsbeirat der Gemeinde Lüderbach ist es jedoch gelungen, den Turm vor dem Abriss zu bewahren. So stet er nun seit dem Ende der Auflösung des Lagers leer, vom Vandalismus gezeichnet da.
    In der letzten Vorstandssitzung des Lüderbacher Förderverein e.V., ich bin hier 1. Vorsitzender, habe ich das Thema Turm OP-India auf unsere Tagesordnung gesetzt. Wir haben beschlossen, den Turm zu sanieren und im ehemaligen Beobachtungsraum eine kleine Dokumentation über die Zeit des US-Camps OP-India unterzubringen.
    Am 21. März 2015 haben wir angefangen den Bauschutt und die Hinterlassenschaften des Vandalismus zu entfernen. Wir nennen das hier bei uns, Baustelle „besenrein“.
    Jetzt haben wir etwas Zeit um uns Gedanken zu machen, wie und wann wir die Sanierung fortsetzen wollen und können. Zu diesem Zweck habe ich Kontakt zur Gedenkstätte Point Alpha, in der Rhön bei Geisa, und zum Grenzmuseeum Schifflersgrund bei Bad Sooden-Allendorf, aufgenommen. Ich bin bei Facebook der Gruppe, 3rd Recon Squadron 14th & 11th Armored Cavalry, beigetreten um Kontakt zu Veteranen zu bekommen, die bei uns auf OP-India Dienst gemacht haben. Ich habe schon viele ehemalige GI´s dort erreicht und viele, viele Bilder habe ich auch zur Verfügung gestellt bekommen. Danke dafür, auch an Euch von we-served-too. Es sind großartige Bilder, Danke.
    Viele Grüße aus Lüderbach, Heimat von OP.India, von Reiner Methe

    P.S. Sobald die Arbeiten am Turm weitergehen werde ich Euch benachrichtigen.

    Google-Translater:

    The mother of my wife, Ursula Gonnermann, in 1983 set by the Fulda headquarter of the US armed forces as a food service worker at OP India at Lüderbach. She has helped there in the kitchen along with some other service staff from the community Ringgau the chefs of the 3rd Squadron 11th ACR. After German reunification in November 1989, she is retired.
    In 1986 my wife, Sabine was set as a full-time food service worker at OP India. All private service staff on OP India were canceled on 30 November 1989.
    Thereafter, the camp was closed by the US Army. The following year, the civilian employees of the McPeethers barracks in Bad Hersfeld largely tried to protect the building against vandalism. With rage and passion for collecting some Germans probably no one expected. Thus, the entire camp was almost completely destroyed. What was not needed, the vandalism was destroyed and was vandalized.
    After the German Federal Property Office, as the owner of these properties, the camp had tried to sell and determine that there were no buyers, it came into ownership of the federal state of Hesse. However, Hesse was not interested and feared that large financial costs would come to the land. Trying it failed to pass on to the counties and municipalities. Also, the attempt by our large community Ringgau, Camp private sale. Ultimately all failed attempts to sell them, although there were more interested in the money.
    Thus, the order of the state of Hessen, Hessian Baumanagment Regional Branch North was issued to the complete restoration of the property.
    The former town council of the municipality Lüderbach however, managed to keep the tower from demolition. So he’s stet empty since the end of the closing of the camp, drawn by vandalism there.
    In the last board meeting of the Friends of Luder Bacher eV, I’m here 1. Chairman, I have the theme tower OP India placed on our agenda. We have decided to renovate the tower and accommodate a small documentary about the time of the US-India OP camps in the former observation room.
    On March 21, 2015, we have started to remove the rubble and the legacies of vandalism. Here we call it with us, Construction Site “broom clean”.
    Now we have some time to give some thought to how and when we want to continue the rehabilitation and can. To this end, I have contact with the Point Alpha memorial, in the Rhön at Geysa, and Grenzmuseeum Schifflersgrund at Allendorf recorded. I’m on the Facebook group, 3rd Recon Squadron 14th & 11th Armored Cavalry joined to get in touch with veterans who have made service on OP-India with us. I have already achieved many former GIs there and many, many pictures I got also provided. Thank you for that, even to you from we-served too. There are great pictures, thanks.
    Greetings from Lüderbach, home of OP.India, Reiner Methe

    P. S. Once the work go to the tower I will notify you.

    • Reiner Methe says:

      It goes on,

      now it’s finally time. On September 10, the new trail P 21 Point India will be inaugurated in Lüderbach. The tower of OP-India has become the name of the P 21. We have removed the traces of destruction on the tower and installed a large information board about OP-India in the tower room. Veterans from the United States will also come to this celebration. We are looking forward to it. On the tower are also expected soldiers of the US Army Europe. The tower with us and another tower in the nearby Ifta in the nearby Thuringia and the so-called Baumkreuz are part of the new hiking trail. In this way, we want the young generation to gain an insight into the history of Germany, which ruled directly on the German frontier during the Cold War. Here are the Link to the hiking trail P21 Point India http://www.naturparkfrauholle.land/nc/wandern/premiumwege/
      Please look at the P 21 Point India.
      I will send you any pictures from our works.

  10. John Gillis says:

    Thank you for your written post. It brought back to me many GREAT memories I had serving with the 11th ACR in Bad Hersfeld. It’s one of the most memorable times in my life. I served from May 1987 to May 1989 as a forward artillery observer (13Fox) with the Howitzer Battery (HHB). My field assigned unit was “L” Troop. I don’t remember many names. I do remember 1stSG Ford of Lima Troop but I can recall many faces of soldiers that I spent much field time with as well as those who partied at the NCO Club & bowling alley during the midnight game sessions. lol 🙂
    Bad Hersfeld was, and my still be, a beautiful city. I really enjoyed it’s rich history and architecture. Thanx 4 the memories. Greatly appreciated.
    ~J~

    • John Gillis says:

      Correction: forgive me, it’s been a long time. My unit designation was HWB not HHB, although my section, the “FO’s” were transferred from the HWB bldg to the HHT bldg in Apr 89′, a month and a half before I left stateside to Ft. Lewis, WA. What happened after that, I don’t know. Again, thanx 4 the mems and a wife’s perspective. ~J~

    • g2-58698e234d9b1d1adfecfd66cdcafe5e says:

      Good to see you here! I remember riding in that FIST-V with you as Leadhorse Redleg! You taught me a lot those first few field problems as a “Butter-Bar” Thanks for putting up with me.
      Marcus Chalfant

  11. g2-58698e234d9b1d1adfecfd66cdcafe5e says:

    Holy cow! I was just doing some looking around on the Web and found this! I remember you and Bill fondly. I see friends in those pictures (like Margaret Kirkman and Laurie Abraham) Cherie and I also look back on that time as one of the best parts of our lives.
    Hope all is well with you and yours. Cherie and I are doing fine, living in Charleston, SC.
    Marcus Chalfant

  12. g2-58698e234d9b1d1adfecfd66cdcafe5e says:

    Circe,
    How cool to have found this! I was just surfing the Web and pulled up your article. It sure brings back a lot of memories. Cherie and I still think of our time in Bad Hersfeld as very special. Everyone we talk to agrees, Pete and Jana Mansoor, Hans and Margaret Kirkman, and a bunch of others.
    Hope you and Bill are doing well. We are! And we live in Charleston, SC with our 21 year old son who is attending The Citadel currently.
    Great seeing this! Send my best to Bill!
    Marcus Chalfant

    • Hi Marcus! Thanks for finding the site. This blog is one of several belonging to the Museum of the American Military Family & Learning Center–we’re now a little over 4 years old–telling the military story from the family perspective…Bill says hi. Hi Cherie!
      C

  13. Norman Fuss says:

    Neat story and wonderful pictures. Was there at the same time – L Troop, K Troop and M Co. Still in and working in USUREUR HQ in Wiesbaden. They have a great museum at OP A – which we worked for a while. I’m hoping to do my retirement there. Began my career on the border and hope to end it there as well. ALLONS!


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