NOTE: The author, a former Spearhead infantry scout from Los
Alamitos, CA, now lives with his wife and son in Copenhagen,
Denmark, where he moved in 1990. His true story below chronicles
a visit to Kirchgoens that had many surprises, good and bad,
but a visit that had to be done. 3rd Armored veterans planning
a return trip to Germany - and their old stomping grounds - might
well prepare themselves for similar surprises.
By Kirk "Cal" Callesen
"And once you're gone, you can never
go back." - Neil Young
In May, 2001, I returned to Ayers Kaserne in Kirchgoens, where
I was stationed for 3 years with the 3rd Armored Division in
1975-78. With the Division's deactivation in 1992, the 1st Brigade
left Kirchgoens forever after a stay of something like 35 years.
I had served as a Corporal E-4 with Combat Support Company, 3rd
Battalion, 36th INF in the Scout Platoon (CSC 3/36 Inf), 1st
Brigade. My MOS's were 11D Armor Recon Specialist and 19D Cavalry
Luckily, after much effort, I was able to get official permission
to enter the kaserne from both of the German government offices
that had authority over the facility. Yes, there was a security
guard, and ex-GI's can't just expect to just wander in, as I
suspect is the situation with other former U.S. Army facilities
I went back to "The Rock" to seek out the ghosts
of my youth. To exorcise some of those demons that have inhabited
my dreams and to shake them loose. I had no idea really what
was left, but I pictured things pretty much the same as I had
left them in 1978, some years ago. The trees would be larger
and the weeds would be higher than last year but otherwise it
would be the same as it always was.
I intended to explore every nook and cranny that I could get
access to. Some things I could remember as clearly as if it was
yesterday and others were a little bit more hazy because they
had been constructed after my time at the kaserne. I really can't
say how the Army left the place because I wasn't there. But,
I can imagine it was like most things in the green machine. Clean
the billets up for the new tenents. Leave them the way you found
them. Leave the keys in the door locks. Then the gate was locked
for the last time.
I took a cab from my hotel in Butzbach and, when I told the
driver I wanted to go to Ayers Kaserne, he smiled. It had been
a few years since anyone had asked to go there, let alone an
American and the smile was for things past. Because when you
think about it, the cab drivers probably had more contact with
GI's than anyone else. Good and bad. Those wonderful payday Friday
nights when you had money to burn and a thirst to quench. Standing
out at the taxi stand, waiting your turn for the ride into Butzbach
and a quick drink before the train to Frankfurt. And those returns
to the 'Rock', and your barracks and bed, when you were lucky
enough to get a cab (or depending on your condition even FIND
I got out of the cab at the main gate like I had so many times
before. The "Ayers Kaserne" sign above the gate had
been removed, but the UP shack was as it always was. The German
security guard had me sign in and that was that. I was on my
own. For starters, I planned to walk up the main road to Battalion
Headquarters (3/36) because that was the first place and the
last place I was at Ayers. A driver from brigade had picked me
up there for the trip to Rhine-Main airbase and the flight home,
so I figured it was fitting for me to begin there. Little did
I know, that an awful reality was about to set in on me.
Battalion HQ was a shell of its former self. The doors and
window frames were gone. The rooms were bare of all things Army.
There were no signs that this was any kind of headquarters. The
radiators had all burst, leaving wide black stains on the floors
where pools of water must have lain. I later found out that the
entire heating plant for the kaserne ended up in Poland, but
nobody knows how.
I walked further up the road to Brigade Headquarters to check
it out because during my entire time there I had never been inside.
Mere mortals and enlisted just did not walk into Brigade HQ without
a valid reason and I never had one. Its doors and windows had
also been stripped. Bits of the ceiling tiles crunched under
my feet as I walked through the building on the carpeted floors
now stained with the winters of days past. It was a breezy day
and the wind found its own way in and out of the building making
eerie noises while it passed through.
I looked out the front door and noticed that the flagpole
had been cut down. Gone was that glorious pole with its brass
ball at the top. Legend had it that inside the ball was a .45
round for anyone who desecrated the flag. Must be a heavy re-sale
market for used flagpoles somewhere.
An even worse fate had befallen most of the barracks. With
the exception of the first row of barracks (that is to say the
"old'" 3/36 down to the "old" 2/36), everything
else behind that row was either in a partial state of demolishment
or stripped of all useful materials. And when I say stripped,
I mean stripped bare. Bits and pieces of whatever could not be
reused were left where they fell. Gaping holes showed where electrical
boxes were once mounted. It appeared that the windows went first.
After all, they were the newest parts and probably fetched the
most German marks on the resale market. There was, I knew, a
huge market in eastern Europe for used building parts.
The plumbing fixtures were gone, including, for some really
unknown bizarre reason, the toilet stalls. I can't picture a
big market for used toilet stalls, but who knows. And lastly
all the electrical stuff had been stripped, which entailed pulling
the wiring from the walls and ripping all the fixtures from the
I found keys in some of the barracks doors, not the front
doors mind you, but, the individual doors of the barracks rooms
themselves. Sometimes there was one key, and other times sets
of four or more keys. These sets of keys told me that these small,
empty rooms were once the home up to four GI's. There would have
been four lockers, two sets of bunk-beds and one desk with a
chair. Not really a lot of room, but that was before the recent
Army concept of "personal space" had been thought of.
I made my way out to the PX. Damn, that was the place. Everything
that you could possible want was there. Looking back though,
it came as no surprise that we all dressed the same way off duty;
we all bought our stuff from the same place. Just about everyone
I served with (Enlisted) had to leave Germany with a stereo set-up.
The bigger the better --quad, reel to reel, and floor speakers.
It was battle of the bands sometimes in the billets. Rock vs.
Soul vs. Country Western, all at once. As I walked through what
was left of the PX, it was hard to remember what went where.
The support columns for the building still had the mirrors pasted
all around its circumference as if to give even more space.
Here too, everything of value had been stripped. The beauty
shop was empty and dark, as I made my way to what was the barbershop.
I remember the lunch-time haircuts the most. Those times I was
"advised" during morning formation to get a cut. I
really dreaded the older German barbers at lunch time. They always
had beer breath and were a little 'shaky' when using the straight
razors on the back of your neck. The barbershop was all gone
now, and not a clue where it once was.
The bookstore's glass doors were shattered. One of my section
Sgt.'s wives had worked there. It made buying certain "adult"
reading materials an exercise in creative speech making; the
old "ah, yes, the really good articles" lie. The snack
bar was an empty room. Just the counter remained. The phrase
"I'll buy, you fly" echoed in my brain as I recalled
those snack-bar runs from the motor pool and from the billets.
It was the only place in a ten square mile area to get a decent
grilled cheese sandwich. I even heard that it became a Burger
King in the '80's.
The mini market was in the same building. The memories came
thudding back with every step. Ration cards clipped to buy individual
packs of smokes. Buying odds and ends to help spice up the dull
C Ration diets when going to the field for weeks on end, and
buying cleaning supplies and shoe polish.
I walked out the rear of the snack bar and checked the two
billets in that area. In my time I believed they housed D-122
Maint. and the 503rd MP Company. These barracks too had been
stripped, even the paneling from the day rooms. I could never
figure out why they were called "day" rooms, because
nobody could ever use them during the day. The original wall
murals that were painted by some unknown GI artist were once
more visible, as the newer wall paneling had been pulls off and
taken away. What did the panel thieves think when they saw the
murals? I was really starting to feel like some sort of archeologist
who was exploring the ruins of a lost civilization. But I knew
what went into the murals because every unit had an "artist"
who did one. It was a thing called unit pride that motivated
them to do it.
I next went and checked out the gym. The fine parquet floors,
so immaculately cared for in my time, were now rolled into half
waves and were swollen from the leaking roof. They would soon
rot away, I was sure. The gym had always been the scene of a
never-ending basketball game with the "shirts" against
the "skins". The hoops and backboards were now gone.
The post theater was my next stop. Damn, I had some really
good times there. It was a place to escape for a while -- to
get lost in a movie. The newer movies were always a little late
in coming to The Rock, but they never showed to an empty house.
Of course, it was hard to quietly sit with so many guys without
some noise or guys trying to shout to the actors on screen about
hidden dangers ("Man, look out she's got a gun"), as
if the actors could hear them. Most of the rows of seats were
still there, but the screen has been torn down and nothing remained
of the theater snack bar or projection booth. I remember the
battalion meetings there when the COL would walk down the aisle
while we stood at attention. "SEATS!" and the briefing
or de-briefing would begin.
The fire station was in really good shape, but still showed
signs of "party use" by the German volunteer firemen
that now used those billets for rescue training. Great holes
were punched through the walls, among other things. The education
buildings, where all new GI's had to take "head start"
classes, were completely empty. The "class-six" store,
where as an 18-year-old, I could buy what I could not in my home
state, was empty. Ow, how many hangovers did that place cause?
My walk through the kaserne had left me in time-warp shock.
I was in the past, but surrounded by the present. Things change
after so many years, but they are the same in your memories.
When you see them again, you get overwhelmed by the events that
took place so long ago. I remember 'this and that' I can't forget
(nor do I want to).
As I walked past an empty place that I knew as the "rod
and bottle" club, I remember when, as a PFC, an E-6 that
took me there for my first "liquid" lunch. I was allowed
to have two beers for lunch, with no food. It was a very popular
lunch-time spot, but like most "fun" things, it too
disappeared. A new commander brigade commander came, and there
were new rules.
The "newest" building on The Rock when the Brigade
left in 1992 was apparently the 2/3 FA billets. This was the
only nearly intact barracks left. Unbelievably, the floors still
had that GI shine. The only items that had been "recycled"
were some of the built-in wooden wall lockers. It was a building
built in the "new" Army style. Two or three-man rooms
with a private shower and toilet. The rooms also had cable TV
and phone connections, built-in wall lockers, and TA-50 lockers.
Hell, if I had these kinds of accommodations, I never would have
left! In 1975-78, we had lived in four-man rooms (with none of
those luxuries) that held five, but seemed like they should've
been two-man rooms.
My next stop was the Bachelor Officers' Quarters (BOQ's).
OD dust bunnies were on the floors in the rooms, and it seemed
as if everyone had just left. The interior smelled like cologne
and shampoo. This place had been locked up tight, and even the
smells from 1992 couldn't get out. Was that possible?
The kaserne messhalls had also been similarly stripped. I
saw one dishwashing machine that looked as if it simply would
not be removed and what was left, still bolted to the floor and
wall at an angle that suggested brute force was not enough to
convince it to leave. The bowling alley was a complete mess and
just a shell that had been a foreign-refugee collection point
for donations. It was filled from top to bottom with used clothing,
rugs, TV's, toys, pots and pans, etc. The EM club was falling
apart structurally on one side from rot. The chapel was locked
tight, but otherwise seemed untouched. The unknown "vultures"
who had preyed on the kaserne at least had the decency to leave
a house of worship alone.
The only barracks I couldn't get into was my old HHC and my
own CSC 3/36, where I had lived on the third floor. They were
locked up tight, and sadly there was no way I could figure to
get in. Looking through the windows, I was startled. The interiors
unexplainably seemed untouched, except for the absence of beds,
tables, etc. They looked clean and undamaged.
I have some pictures taken during my visit that I hope will
soon be posted with this "diary." If your are a "Rock"
survivor yourself, you may not recognize some places in the pictures,
but others you can't forget. Perhaps you will meet a ghost of
your own creation, perhaps not. I'm glad I went. I don't think
I would go back though. To see it as anything less than it was,
or what it is now, is not very easy. And the purity of memories
does not have much to do with reality, so I think I've said goodbye
for the last time.
Kirk "Cal" Callesen
CSC 3/36 Infantry, Scout Platoon, 1975-78