"You don't won't to go to Wildflecken, there is nothing to do there."
"You don't want to go to the 54th Engineers, they are in the field all the time."
Finally I heard, "Andersen! Your orders are ready. You are going to Wildflecken, 54th Engineer Battalion."
My heart sank, this was the place everyone was saying that you didn't want to go to.
I climbed aboard the bus bound for Wildflecken. Not knowing where I was going the trip seemed to take forever. It began to snow and I noticed that we were on a constant incline. The roads twisted and turned, having never been to the mountains I had no idea that these winding, narrow roads were normal.
Higher and higher we climbed. Heavy fog surrounded the bus and I could barely see the side of the road. My seatmate told and I exchanged idle chit-chat, he was stationed at Wildflecken and was on his way back from leave. He told me that the 54th wasn't bad, just hope you don't end up in Delta Company.
The bus stopped and the driver in his thick German accent announced that we had arrived at our destination. I gathered my duffel bag and looked around. It was cold and so foggy that I could not see my hand in front of my face. The bus pulled away - I had no idea where to go. Finally someone walked by and I asked where the 54th was. He pointed and said up the hill.
I gathered my duffel bag and started my trek through the fog up the cobblestone road. I finally arrived at HHC (Headquarters and Headquarters Company) 54th Engineer Battalion and signed in. While I was waiting for the OD (Officer of the Day) to tell me which company I would be assigned to I struck up a conversation with the PFC (Private First Class) who was on CQ (Charge of Quarters) duty. He said that I just didn't want to go to Delta Company because the were in the field all of the time. The OD arrived and assigned me to Delta Company.
The CQ came over from Delta to get me, Sgt. Casey (Who would eventually become my squad leader). He said, "Delta isn't so bad, as long as you stay out of 3rd Platoon, between the field and border duty you are out all the time." Once at Delta Company I met with the XO (Executive Officer), 1st Lt. Burnham (Who I would end up serving with again in the 101st Airborne), and he assigned me to 3rd Platoon.
Sgt. Casey then took me to my barracks room and he told me that 3rd Platoon was on border duty and would be back on the 30th. He told me what time to report to formation and where the mess hall was and then I was alone for the first time in my life. The coming days were filled with paperwork, me being assigned all of my equipment, my rifle, squaring away my wall locker and all kinds of make work duties to keep me busy.
It was now Christmas Eve and the entire platoon was still at the border. There was no one in the barracks. I decided to call home. I strolled down to the rec center to the pay phones. I stood in line and waited my turn. When a phone opened up I went in to call home, I pulled out by phone card that my dad gave me that was supposed to be good for international calls. It wasn't. I could not figure out how to use the phone to call home. I asked the guy in line behind me and he told me that I needed about 100 marks (about $40 then) in 5 mark pieces for a fifteen minute call home. Nothing on post was open where I could exchange my American money for German money. I dejectedly walked back up the hill.
For the rest of the evening and the next day I had never felt so lonely at anytime in my life. Being thousands of miles away from home for the first time on Christmas was possibly the worst day of my life. Things did eventually get better and I eventually went out on border duty. Being in 3rd Platoon of Delta Company wasn't so bad.
While this is a story about my first Christmas away from home this is a scene that is repeated almost every Christmas on every military base. Please remember those who are serving on distant shores this Christmas.