First Day

We landed at Rhein-Main Air Force Base, in the outskirts of Frankfurt, Germany. as a bunch of young, naive and very green airmen, freshly graduated from electronics training. We didn't know much about this strange, new land into which we had just been deposited. Although my two years of German at Canisius College didn’t come close to making me fluent, I was designated the official translator for the group. As the saying goes, “In the country of the blind, the one-eyed man is king.”


Our next two days were spent in the American enclave of Rhein-Main undergoing orientation to get us prepared for what we might encounter once we were released on the unsuspecting Germans. In retrospect, the Germans were quite  safe. For example, our instructors took great pains in explaining that prostitution was legal in Germany and therefore, we should avoid certain areas and locales. This part of the orientation was taken so seriously that we asked to have everything repeated, only slowly enough that we could get it all down on paper.


Finally, the big day came when we received a twenty-four hour pass and set loose into the Federal Republic of Germany. Just so we would be easier to track, it was mandated that we could not wear civilian clothes for our first month there, so we changed into our Summer dress uniforms, called Jungle Jims, They earned this name due to their resemblance to what the Great White Hunters wore in so many B movies of the time. They were tan cotton and so starched that you could hear them crack the first few times you moved your arms. Conspicuous we were! We wouldn’t have lasted two minutes at one of those enticing, yet forbidden bars before the Air Police would have arrived to escort us back to base. At long last, we boarded a bus, which drove us to the center of town and unloaded us into Europe, on our own, for the very first time. 


Frankfurt was a very modern city, thanks to the efforts of the Royal Air Force and our own B17s and Liberators. The downtown area had been flattened and the original, centuries old buildings were just a memory fifteen years after VE day. Our group of airmen broke up into smaller bands and began exploring. I was part of a trio, which included Tom Sawin, who became a good friend of mine over the next couple of years. We wandered randomly through the streets for a while, looking in the store windows and just observing the locals. By American standards, almost all of them were well dressed and many of the men carried briefcases, even if they didn’t wear a coat and tie. It wasn’t until later that we discovered that the briefcase usually contained lunch and a change of clothes. This was a bit of deception since no one wanted to appear to be anything other than a white-collar worker. It being a warm day in early September, we didn’t consider it unusual that many men wore sandals. It was puzzling to us that they wore them over white socks. The women were attired in dresses with no jeans or slacks to be seen. All in all, they were a good-looking crowd of people.

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