My Tour with the 24TH in Germany 1959-1962
By John Herren, Colonel, USA, retired, Bethesda, Maryland
In February 1959, I was part of a group of young 2nd Lieutenants fresh out of Airborne and Ranger schools checking into our first Army assignment, the 2nd Battle Group, 2nd Infantry, 24th Infantry Division. We were stationed in Gablingen on an old German Air Force base about a 20-minute drive from Augsburg. The Division was spread between Augsburg and Munich.
The Division replaced the 11th Airborne Division, which had been demobilized (Our NCOs told us that the reason they brought in the 24th was to repair relations with the local German populace, which were pretty bad because of the airborne troopers off-duty conduct).
“A” Company was like a number of companies in the Battle Group. Company commanders were Reserve Officers who had fought in Korea and had been promoted but were subject to reductions in force (riffed) when the Army downsized.
They were old, experienced Captains who, with the help of some good career NCOs, knew how to run an infantry unit.
Although most companies had an Executive Officer, there was a shortage of officer platoon leaders. I found myself as the only one in my company, which was the case throughout the Battle Group.
My First Sergeant, Willingham, was old school, having fought in WW II and Korea. Most of the troops, and definitely the NCOs, were more scared of him than they were of the CO. He would sit at his desk with his feet propped up, a cigarette dangling out of his mouth, and read the riot act to NCOs and soldiers he had summoned to his office.
I don’t think he had much use for brand new 2nd Lieutenants, but he gave me good advice, and he told me when he saw me doing something dumb; he really taught me a lot about soldiers and leadership.
The enlisted men in my company were generally from the Midwest. They had been drafted in 1958, and joined the Division right from Ft. Riley.
Many of them were single. The married ones were not authorized to bring dependents over, but some did anyway. They lived on the economy with no Army support.
They were a good group of men and in their short two years in the Army became real soldiers.
We all were tested many times by our field training at Hohenfelds and Grafenwohr, and at Wintershield I and II. Those days bring back memories of freezing cold, long marches, C-rations, and a mess hall that always seemed to arrive late.
We trudged across frozen and snowy terrain carrying our sleeping bags and wearing heavy thermo boots. This was during the era when the Berlin Wall went up and we were preparing for a possible Russian attack on Germany.
There were also Army Training Tests (ATTs), Unit competitions, Spartan barracks, and the isolation of Gablingen where German bus service was the only way for enlisted men to get into town when they were off duty.
My platoon had one of those ATTs shortly after I arrived, and we came out tied for first place in the Battle Group, which boosted my standing, and the platoon’s, with the First Sergeant and CO.
When we weren’t in the field, there were the daily inspections, morning runs, weapons cleaning and training, and classroom instruction on various subjects, including the prevention of venereal disease.
One particular subject got our Division Commander, Gen Walker, relieved when he pushed an anti-communist “Pro-Blue” program on the Division. He had purchased the books himself and ordered the officers to read them and teach classes to the troops.
One kind of inspection our NCOs and the officers always dreaded was the short-notice drop-ins by our Assistant Division CO, Gen Maroun. One time he came to “A” Company, which we had hustled to prepare, making sure the troops and barracks were in pristine condition.
The only soldier who didn’t measure up was a redheaded PFC who had just joined us; he needed a haircut and didn’t have a clean uniform. We made sure he was not in sight of the General.
Gen Maroun seemed pleased with the inspection. But as he and the CO were walking outside the building after the inspection, who should the General see carrying garbage out the back but the redhead! Gen Maroun zeroed in on him, and on our CO.
Sports were big in the Division and I was assigned to coach the Battle Group basketball team for a couple of months before a Special Services “jock” lieutenant showed up to take over.
Our team eventually won the USAREUR championship that made our Battle Group Commander, Col Ward, very happy.
For a young lieutenant on his first assignment with troops, my days with the 24th Division in Germany were a great learning experience that got me off on the right foot in pursuing an Army career.
I owe that good start to the officers, NCOs and the young soldiers I was privileged to lead.
Some years ago I learned that the men of “A” Company had started having biennial reunions. This is an example of the bonding effect that serving together in a good division like the 24th had on these young troopers.
I salute them for their effort and for their service during the Cold War!
John Herren, Colonel, USA, retired, Bethesda, Maryland
The Taro Leaf, Vol 63(2) Spring 2009, pg. 41.