Army & Europe - Harry Baya
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Last updated May 12, 2020

Chapter 10: Army & Europe


While at M.I.T. I was enrolled in the R.O.T.C  (Reserve Officers Training Corps).  My memory is that when I entered MIT all students were required to take four years of ROTC.  That requirement was change at the end of my sophomore year.  After that year ROTC was required for only the first two years.   Most MIT students dropped out after two years.  I chose to stay in.

My parents and sister came to  my graduation in June of 1961.  On graduation weekend I was given my commission as a 2nd Lieutenant in the U.S.Army Corps of Engineers.  My father was there for that ceremony.

I stayed at M.I.T. for the next two years to get a Masters degree in Industrial Management.  Though I was given credit for two years of active reserve duty I had no contact with the army during that time.

I completed my Master’s thesis in June of 1963, not in time to be awarded the degree that spring.   By the time I was awarded the Masters degree in the fall of 1963  I was in Germany in the U.S. Army.

Ft Belvoir

I left M.I.T. and went to Tampa for a brief visit before going on active duty in the U.S. Army and attending Officers’ basic training at Fort Belvoir, Virginia.  I was a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.  I think the basic course took about 11 weeks and I stayed on for two additional weeks for ADM (atomic demolitions) training.   I then spent a week or so in Tampa before flying to Frankfurt, Germany.  

Wildflecken, Germany

From Frankfurt I took a train to Wildflecken, Germany to join the 54th Combat Engineer Battalion at the army base.  I was met at the tiny train station by a sergeant in a jeep, in heavy mud, who took me to my room in the Bachelor Officer’s quarters.

Wildflecken is about 50 miles South of Fulda, Germany, and about 70 miles East of Frankfurt (rough guesses).   At that time We were about 10 miles west of the border between West Germany and East Germany.  East Germany was occupied by the Russians and was part of the Soviet Union. We knew there were Russian troops stationed on the other side of the border from us.

I was a platoon leader in C company of the 54th battalion, under 1st Lt. Frank Kennefick for the next year. In November of that year, 1963, after I had been there less than two months, we were called into the field on full combat alert, carrying live ammunition the only time that I did this while in the army, ready for war.   President John Kennedy had been assassinated.  There was concern that this was the start of WW III.

Our job, then , and when I left the unit in the fall of 1964, was to be prepared to blow up bridges near the East German border to slow down the advance of Russian troops if they chose to invade Germany.  We referred to this with the expression “if the balloon” goes up.   Another army unit assigned to our part of Germany was the 14th Armored Cavalry who were also tasked with slowing down the a Russians invasion.  While we were blowing up the bridges and the Cavalry was fighting the invasion the rest of the U.S. Troops in Germany  would be retreating to the West side of the Rhine river.  The 14th Armored Cavalry, mostly tanks, would be on the Russian side of the bridges we were destroying.

[I would like to write more about my experience in Wildflecken ]


While in Wildflecken I wrote a letter proposing marriage to Bonnie (Lila Ann) Birdsall and she accepted.  I came home to the states to get married in her parents’ backyard in Westfield, New Jersey, in September of 1964.   My family was represented by my parents, my sister, my cousin Fred Alexander, my uncle Jimmy (mother’s brother) and my father’s cousin, Frances Hosch and her husband, Louis.   Frances and Louis lived in nearby New York City.  None of my Baya relatives came.  I think this was probably because Bonnie and I had not chosen to get married in a Catholic ceremony.  All of my Baya family, except me, were then Catholics.   My mother later told me that my father considered not coming.

A number of my MIT fraternity brothers came.  Jim Kee, my best friend and classmate, was my best man.  Andy Stokes, who was probably the best male friend I ever had and who died two years ago was also there.  I recall that Jim gave me a small wooden Buddah, which I think I still have, with a note that said “As this pilgrimage you make, may Buddha bless the steps you take.”   My friends and I were playing Frisbee in the backyard when I was called in to dress for the wedding

We spent a few nights at the Carlisle hotel in New York City and then honeymooned on the Queen Elizabeth luxury liner to Europe.   Here is our engagement announcement in the New York Times :

Lila Birdsall Affianced To Lieut. H. P. Baya 3d

Special to The New York Times

Miss Birdsall is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and Katharine Gibbs School in Boston. She is a research assistant in economics at the New England Council for Economic Development in Boston.

Lieutenant Baya is a graduate of the Colegio Americano in Caracas, Venezuela, and Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he also received a master's degree from its School of Industrial Management. He is stationed in Germany.

I thought I would be staying in Wildflecken and rented an apartment for us in the nearby town of Bischofsheim an der Rohn.   However, I received orders transferring me to Karlsruhe, Germany, shortly before our marriage and  we only spent a few nights in that apartment before moving to Karlsruhe.

Karlsruhe, Germany

Karlsruhe is a beautiful city on the Rhine river within 100 miles of Heidleburg, Germany.  It is the home of a well known German university.  The U.S. Army base there was called Smiley Barracks and probably had less than 3000 troops. 

I was assigned to the 109th Panel Bridge company of the 555 Engineering group.  I was a platoon leader.  My memory is that our company  had over fifty  5-ton dump trucks and some heavy equipment like cranes and bull dozers.  Our trucks normally carried the parts to a Baily Bridge set, a kind of giant steel erector set that we could use to build bridges over gaps.  Bonnie and I rented the floor of a house off base and Bonnie got a job as a secretary in the army base.

Europe, VW  Bus

I took an overseas discharge from the U.S. Army in July of 1965.  I did not know it at the time, but had I extended my tour, even a month or two, I would almost certainly have been sent to Vietnam.  The second half of 1965 was a time of tremendous troop build-up in Vietnam.

We bought a brand new VW camping bus with a pop up roof and traveled around Europe for about three months.  I loved it.  Madge joined us in Rome and went to Spain with us.  .  We went to England, Holland, Norway, Denmark, Austria, Swiztserland, Yougoslavia, Greece, Italy, France and Spain during the trip.

Bonnie returned to the U.S. at the end of the trip and I stayed in Europe hoping to get a free flight home.  I don’t think I got one and eventually had to buy an airline ticket.

Westfield, New Jersey

Bonnie and I stayed in her parent’s house in Westfield, NJ, while I looked for a job. 

While in Westfield we got the household shipment from Germany.  This contained every thing we owned, including things we had bought in Europe, all of my books and papers, and all of the 35mm slides I had taken while in Germany.  The shipment was a large wooden crate, about  16’ x 12’ by 12’.  The U.S.Army ship bringing this container from Germany to the U.S. was in a collision with another ship in the North Sea and the hold was flooded.  Our stuff had been underwater for weeks and almost everything was ruined.  We got a check for $5,000+ from the insurance.

I lived in Westfield while I looked for a job.  I had the following offers:

IBM in Cambridge, Mass, as a system engineer, a job held by my good friend and fraternity brother, George Felts.

Standard Oil in New Jersey as an applied mathematician.  My MIT advisor, Professor Zenon Zannetos told me I was not a mathematician and should not take this job. I wonder now.

Turner Construction company, based in New York city, but possibly working wherever construction was being done.  This would have required me learning to be a real engineer and would have been a very different career.

Touche Ross, one of the elite accounting firms.  I would be slotted to end up in their computer department but would first have to spend two years becoming a CPA.  I did not want to spend those two years doing that. If I could have gone directly into the computer area I would have given it much more serious consideration.

Irwin Management Company in Columbus, Indiana.  I will write more about this, I hope.  The offered me the highest salary, $11,000.  I took that job.

Laurens Mill in Laurens, S.C, where I had worked in the summer of 1961.  I do wonder how that might have turned out.

Though I was very happy with most of my experience in Columbus for the next five years I don’t think it was a particularly good career path.  I now think the job at IBM would have been better for me professionally.