Flashback - The Year 1963
A momentous year for Rolf, the United States and the world. One that would change the direction of history.
Re-Adjustment and Military Service
In the middle of 1962 Rolf faced the prospect of being drafted, or having to enlist in the US Army reserve. He elected to go for six months active duty with a 54 months Reserve obligation. With his war experiences still relatively fresh on his mind, Rolf had a deep fear of the military and anything to do with war.
The training division in New Jersey was the 78th Infantry (The Lightening) Division, which has a long history and fought in Germany during WWII. Ironically it was the first unit in Berlin, that marched down the Kaiserdamm on May 8, 1945 during the Russian victory parade; a spectacle Rolf was forced to witness with his grandfather by the Russian occupation troops.
When he arrived in Fort Dix for basic training, he quickly started to excel at all aspects. He became a marksman and was physical fit to withstand the most rigorous training. He went to advanced training and was offered to attend officer candidate school, requiring a six year commitment. Rolf refused.
A few weeks later he was called into the commanding officers quarters were he was introduced to two gentlemen in civilian clothing. They were attached to the Army Intelligence Services.
Telling Rolf that they knew about his father being a communist and his aunt living in East Germany, he was asked to go AWOL, be deported and use his contacts to move to East Germany and go under cover. He would have lifetime security with a fairly large amount of money being deposited into an offshore account every month.
The term ‘lifetime’ was relative, as Rolf knew that STASI, East Germany’s counter intelligence service was highly efficient.
Asking what he was supposed to do there, Rolf was told, to just live quietly; he would be trained before leaving and upon arrival be contacted when needed.
Rolf respectfully declined and left active duty.
A Unit of the Lightening Division(78th( on May 8, 1945
A Company of the 78th Infantry Division marching down the Kaiserdamm from the Brandenburg Gate/ It would be another two months before US troops, along with British and French Forces arrived in Berlin for permanent occupation of their assigned zones.
In the background the ruins of the Reichstag and the diplomatic district.
In the background the ruins of the Reichstag and the diplomatic district.
The Year 1963 - Flashback
On September 17, 1962 Rolf reported for active duty in Fort Dix, NJ, in order to complete his required military obligation.
Very little news was available, as during basic training there was virtually no opportunity to go off base; or watch television anywhere. So it came as a complete surprise, when in late October 1962 the trainees were ordered out of the barracks and put into underground shelters, being told only that there was the possibility of a nuclear attack. Rolf was unable to get any rest, the nightmares returned with a vengeance. It had been less than twenty years since he was caught in the middle of Berlin in a bunker, under constant air attack; and finally the climactic Russian assault on the city.
1963 had started off promising. The Cuban missile crisis was over and the world had pulled back from the brink of nuclear war. Rolf was resting in his bunk in Fort Dix and was counting the days to his release from active duty, scheduled for March 17.
After basic training Rolf was offered to stay in the service, go through officer candidate school and be assigned to Army Intelligence; ultimately to return to Germany and go undercover on the Eastern side.
The money would have been good, however, Rolf was keenly aware of the fact that the East German counterintelligence service “Stasi” was highly efficient and that it had been almost impossible to infiltrate the country. He decided to decline the offer and return to civilian life, finishing his obligation in the US Army Reserve.
Having been in the country for over two years, he had been largely unsuccessful in making any progress in his quest to accomplish his goals. He was frustrated and knew that he was not making the right decisions. He had very few options. One of them was to return to Germany and admit that he had made a mistake. Germany was booming and he would have little trouble to re-integrate. Deep down he was too proud to admit defeat and accept his Uncle Franz’s standing offer to bring him back.
His thoughts wandered to his release date. He knew that the company he had worked for was required to take him back at the same rate of pay, which was $71 per week. That was an improvement from the $55 he had been hired at a little more than two years earlier.
On the date of his release he was taken to the Port Authority bus terminal in New York by the service and given his final pay amounting to about $40 for the 17 days of active duty.
Rolf was on his own again and returned to Newark, went to his old rooming house on Lincoln Park; and the following day reported for work, across the street. The area had further deteriorated and was basically a slum.
At work, Rolf was told by the manager that the company would be implementing an IBM computer based processing system over the next three years and that the staff was going to have to work a lot of overtime to convert the manual system. To Rolf, who had been involved in early computer systems implementation in Germany, it seemed strange that a major American corporation was only now converting to mechanized processing. He sensed an opportunity, but was taken aback by the strong resistance of the branch staff to the upcoming changes and the lack of confidence in the new computer systems.
That attitude would not change for several years.
He looked at this as an opportunity to make some extra money and get himself into better living conditions. Over the past two and a half years Rolf had not had any type of social life, had not dated and had virtually no contact with his mother and his Uncle Franz. He was embarrassed to talk about the conditions he lived under.
He often thought of Karin and the life he had given up when he left Germany.
In early June 1963 the systems conversion began and Rolf the extra income to rent a small efficiency apartment in East Orange, NJ. It was ugly and small, but compared to what he had lived in it was pure luxury. Rolf got himself a charge card at Bamberger’s and bought some furniture and clothing. Those were his first major purchases in the US.
He also bought himself a stereo unit, so for the first time since his arrival he was able to listen to albums that he had brought with him from Germany. He still did not own a television set.
On June 26, 1963 Rolf went to the bar at the Essex House Hotel after work late at night, watching the news. It showed President John F. Kennedy at the Berlin Wall making his famous “Ich bin ein Berliner” speech. Rolf had a very hard time looking at this. There was suddenly an overpowering urge to go to Berlin. He had tears in his eyes. He went to his apartment, turned on some music and thought about his life. Rolf remembered those days in 1961 when the wall had gone up and American and Russian tanks had faced each other at Checkpoint Charlie. At the time, Rolf had come very close to return and be with Karin in Bavaria, as war seemed to be imminent. It would, however, be over four more years before he set foot on Berlin soil again.
In September 1963 Rolf was promoted to Assistant Office Supervisor; and in early November he was offered a position out of Head Office to travel to the US branches, implementing the new procedures. It was a little more money, but he was not anywhere coming close to even begin to accomplish his goal of becoming an International Business Executive. This fact weighted heavily on his mind and would continue to do so for another ten years, when the path finally opened up.
As 1963 drew to a close, the Kennedy assassination created additional turmoil as Rolf was unable to comprehend the fact that such a thing could happen in an advanced civilized society. The war in Vietnam was heating up and the possibility to be called back to active duty was a constant threat.
Rolf was on assignment to Annapolis over the holidays and was alone as ever. He still did not date and had little contact with his only friends in the country, his original sponsors.