And as if we didn’t have enough traveling on our own, there were the countless trips that were forced on us when we had to convoy our unit’s vehicles to conduct training at various places around Germany. You generally didn’t like going to the field, but some field exercises were different. They were less of drudgery and more of an adventure. Each year we had the Return of Forces to Germany (REFORGER) exercises, which were a very big deal with many thousands of soldiers and units criss-crossing Germany for a few weeks for training on our war plans (for the defense of Germany against possible Russian invasion during the Cold War). REFORGER would always put us into the fields around some quaint, picturesque little town where the locals welcomed us, wanting to meet and talk to the soldiers, and to share beer or wine with us on the sly. My two years were over practically in the blink of an eye. I loved the experience enough to ask for a second tour many years later after I had left active duty, gotten my degree, and earned a commission through ROTC to reenter service as a second lieutenant.
For this second tour, I had someone to share it with, which made all the difference in the world. My wife and I had been married for two short years at that point, and we didn’t have children yet, so we took maximum advantage of our travel opportunities, sometimes on the spur of the moment because we had the time and there was nothing else to do. We made a few forays down to Garmisch at the foot of the Alps where we rode the long train up to the Zugspitze, the highest mountain in Germany. The funny thing about this trip is that we stepped out of the train at the top and practically walked right into a buddy of mine from ROTC in college, Mike Steigler, who was also now on active duty as an armor officer and stationed in Germany as well. I was amazed at this chance occurrence. Probably just another example of God’s impeccable timing. My wife and I also made gradually bolder trips skiing a couple of times and driving into the Italian Alps when my wife’s family came over to visit. The foray through the Italian Alps took us through some stunningly beautiful scenery of craggy, snow-tipped mountains and gushing, mountain streams and waterfalls. While the trip was generally very enjoyable, we had a few mishaps that were tailor made for the National Lampoon Vacation movies. If you’re going to travel, be prepared to look stupid at some point, and have the humility to get out of it as best you can with as much good humor as possible. People make mistakes, and a stranger in a strange land can make all sorts of hilarious blunders while meaning well. But all the people we encountered in our travels were good-natured and patient. Attempting the language persistently, remaining humble, respecting whatever customs and traditions of which you are knowledgeable, and being open-minded to new experiences goes a long way toward making new friends.
In our foray over the Italian alps, we ended up driving down through the south of France, along the Mediterranean coast. In a small town there, I misjudged the clearance of the van I was driving and side swiped a commercial van that was parked where it shouldn’t have been. God was surely with me then because I didn’t speak a lick of French, having put all my effort into my German skills, and no one around spoke English or German. I had one of those guide books that gives you the basic phrases to get around, find a hotel, eat, and find the bathroom, none of which fit the situation. So, I and the driver whose van I had hit made the best of the situation with improvisational sign language. I figured out that he wanted us to go to the police station with him, where he would report the accident. I had visions in my head of being locked up in small dark French jail cell with only bread and water to eat and nothing but Jerry Lewis movies to watch for entertainment when they would let me out of my cell, if I was lucky. But, as I said, God was with me that day. I didn’t understand any of what the driver and the gendarme (police) officer at the station were saying, but I figured out enough by body language and tone of voice that the driver was being blamed for the accident rather than me because he had been parked in a no parking zone. You cannot imagine the sense of relief. And thankfully, I had purchased the extra insurance from the rental place, which I usually decline knowing that my regular car insurance will cover it. But with language issues and two different countries, this insurance ended up being my salvation. I still remember the look on the face of the rental attendant a few days later when I showed her the sizable scrape about two inches deep and a couple of feet wide all down the side of the van. But I had purchased their insurance, which promised to cover all accidents, so there was nothing she could say.
We finish on this topic tomorrow. I pray for a joyous Christmas to all my readers. I pray that you will find the peace and good will of God in your life through Jesus and that you will treasure the love of family and friends during this season.