Harry’s Army Service -  Harry Baya
other_5_army_service_letter.doc,  other_5_army_service_letter.html
last updated: May 22, 2020

Other 5: Harry’s Army Service – A letter to Marshall Baya

Hi Marshall,  [ homework assignment,  October 24, 2018]

The United States fought in WWII (World War Two) from 1941 to 1945.  There were two "theaters" ( large areas) where we fought.   We had two enemies, Germany and Japan.   Germany is in Europe (with France, Italy etc.) and Japan is far away, next to China.  My father, George Emery Baya, fought in the Japanese theater.   Our side won the war.  We occupied the countries we beat.   The U.S.  had 500,000 U.S. Army troops (men) in Germany when I was there.  This was in 1963, eighteen years after the end of the war.  I think they now have something like 10,000 U.S. Army troops in Germany.

I was in Germany from 1963 to 1965.  Grandma Bonnie and I got married in 1964 (I came home to her house in Westfield, NJ for that)  and she lived in Germany with me for one year.  We both took a one week long U.S. Army course in German and learned to speak German. After I got out of the Army we bought a Volkswagen camping van and drove all over Europe for about three months.  We came back to the states and I took a job in Columbus, Indiana.   We lived there five years and that is where your father was born.

I was in the army during the period referred to as "the Cold War".   The U.S., and many other countries, were worried that Russia (which was much bigger than it is now) would try to conquer Europe.   Russia (also known as the USSR, Union of Soviet Socialist Republic) had been on our side fighting Germany.   At the end of WWII Germany was divided in half and Russia got 1/2 and we got the other.  Our half was called "West Germany" and theirs was called "East Germany".   So the border between the Russian empire and our side (the free world) ran through the middle of Germany.   My first year in Germany was in a U.S. Army post called Wildflecken and it was about 15 miles from the East German border.  I was in the 54th Engineer battalion.   In the Army the Engineers are in charge of building things like roads and bridges.  They are also in charge of demotions.   Demolitions consists mostly of blowing things up with TNT or something like it. 

We, and a lot of other U.S. Army forces were on the East German border to fight the Russians if they tried to invade Europe.   Historically the way to invade Europe from that direction is the "Fulda Pass", which was about 40 miles North of us.   If the Russians invaded our job was to blow up all the bridges in our area.  There were other Engineer battalions North and South of us who would do the same.   Also in that area with us was the 7th Armored Cavalry unit.  They had lots of tanks.   If we got the signal to go to war the Cavalry would defend the border and we would blow up the bridges behind them - so they would be kind of trapped.   The idea was that we, and the cavalry, would slow down the Russians while the rest of the U.S.Army would retreat to the other side of the Rhine river.   After we blew up our bridges we would go there too.   The expression we used to describe going to war was "when the balloon goes up".   If the balloon went up we would blow up the bridges and race to the Rhine river.    That never happened.

However, during the third month I was in Wildflecken President John Kennedy was assassinated.  A lot of people thought this might be the start of the Russian invasion.   We were ordered to get in our vehicles (trucks, Jeeps, and construction equipment) and to "go in the field".  This meant we were living in tents and ready to roll on very short notice.  We stayed in the field for about two weeks before they decided everything was OK and we went back to live in the U.S.Army housing in Wildflecken.  That was the only time that every soldier was given bullets ( "live ammunition")  for their guns.   Whenever we went "in the field" we took bullets with us, but we did not give them out to the men.  We went in the field to practice our fighting and camping skills several  times a year, usually only for a few days.

While I was in the army we would practice building bridges.  Usually we built "Baily Bridges" (click to read about them) which was like building a giant erector set.  We would build them, then take them apart and put the pieces back on the trucks.   Sometimes we would also build floating bridges (Pontoon bridges).   As part of my learning to be a commander I was put in command of an exercise to build a floating bridge.   I had Sergeants who worked for me and knew how to do this so my main job was to supervise.  They would sometimes ask me to make decisions, but usually they knew what to do.   What I did not know was that it was tradition to throw the bridge commander (me) into the water when he completed his first bridge.  It was in the middle of the winter and the temperature was below freezing.  I was very surprised and very angry.   The men working for me on the bridge loved it.  They threw me in and laughed at me, especially when I got so mad.   I got over it.

The other thing I wanted to say a little bit about is that in the Army (and in the Navy and Air Force),  every one is either an officer or and enlisted men.   The officers "outrank" the enlisted men.  This means that officers are supposed to be in charge of everything and make the important decisions.  Officers can give orders to enlisted men and they are required to obey.  I think there are about 20 enlisted men for every officer (that would be interesting to know).   Every one has a "rank".   People can be promoted to higher rank.  The lowest ranking officer is a Second Lieutenant so that's where I started.   A 2nd Lt has gold bar on his shoulder)  Next up is a First Lieutenant, then a Captain, then a Major, then a Lt. Colonel, then a full Colonel ( a "bird" Colonel, because they wore metal Eagles on the shoulders to show that they were Colonels), and after that there are 5 levels of Generals (they have metal stars on their shoulder).  My father was full Colonel.

Though Officers outrank all enlisted men, there are lots of enlisted men who stay in the Army for many years and they know a lot more about everything than do Junior officers, like 2nd Lieutenants.   Senior enlisted men have the rank of Sergent (lots of livers, indicated by the number of stripes on their arms).  Junior officers, like I was, learn to work with and trust their sergents and we don't give a lot of orders.    We ask them what we should do.   I'm told it's a little different in combat, but I can assure you that in building a bridge a 2nd Lieutenant had better listen to hise Sergents and do what they tell him.

So now you know more than you want about the U.S. Army.   I was proud to serve my country and enjoyed my time in the Army.  I did not learn that much because we did not have a lot to do.  That was fine with me.  I did not want to fight in a war.   I was lucky.  My tour of duty was over in July of 1965.   If it had ended even a few months later I would have almost certainly been forced to stay in the army and would have been sent to fight in Vietnam.  I did not know that.  No one knew that. I was just lucky .

I hope your paper goes well.

                        Grandaddy Harry