Precisely 70 years ago a young German prisoner of war got on a boat in New York and sailed homeward with one of the last groups that were released from Camp Farragut, Idaho. He had served on the cruel Eastern Front in Russia and received the German Iron Cross for delivering food to his dying comrades under fire in the pocket of Welikie Luki, the ‘little Stalingrad’, in the winter of 1942. When the opportunity arose some time later in Northern Italy, he ran. He ended up on the cotton plantations of Arizona and the beet root fields of Idaho and Montana. His eyes would light up whenever he spoke of “the Amis” later in life.
When Brig. Gen. Klink of the Landeskommando Hesse pinned the Bundeswehr’s silver Cross of Honor on that POW’s granddaughter – me – last week, I was completely taken by surprise. My first thought was: this looks just like grandpa’s Iron Cross!
But how undeserving I felt. I’ve had it easy, relatively speaking; never had to make the decisions that generation had to make; never had a gun put into my hands under a ruthless regime that changed the face of Europe forever. I got to experience the good part – seeing my country come back together, after spending my childhood on the wrong side of the German-German border and longing for freedom that seemed unattainable; serving Holocaust survivors in Israel and Ukraine as an ambassador of the people whose prayers I stand on and who made it through 40 years of communism in my part of the world; then landing a job with the very “Amis” grandpa appreciated so much.
People made me feel part of the team from day 1 back in Hanau’s 104th ASG, some 15 years ago, took me to lunch on day 2 without asking about my title, and let me interpret, which is what I had trained for, and even thanked me for it! I’ve received more opportunities to grow than I could have dreamed of. How memorable was the 10-week public affairs class in Ft. Meade, Maryland, and the experience of American team spirit as we worked through our assignments, between visits to the Shenandoah Valley and the Naval Academy in Annapolis.
Four years later I got the opportunity to build up a team myself. Wiesbaden was calling. Networking days, media interviews, days bent over strategic paperwork to develop our PAO vision… Going from a sleepy little spa town to becoming the Army’s gravitation center in Europe; digging for Roman ruins as we were building a new housing area, developing new partnerships with the surrounding towns and especially our friends from the Hessian Forces Command.
Everything I know I’ve learned from that team — you! How to speak proper English (“We’re not British!”), how to cut five words out of a sentence and it’s still complete, how to take care of people.
When I had the privilege to accompany the commander to an award ceremony at Point Alpha for Kohl, Bush and Gorbachev, the key players of German reunification, in 2005, I realized I would never again have the right not to keep going, reaching for the impossible and believing for miracles to happen.
Thank you, USAG Wiesbaden!
Be blessed, find your calling in life and thrive in it.