During World War II, Heidelberg was one of the few major cities in Germany not significantly damaged by Allied bombing. It was believed, since it held no military or transportation threat, the Allies spared the picturesque city to serve as a future Headquarters for American military after the war. On December 9, 1945, US Army General George S. Patton had a car accident in the adjacent city of Mannheim and died in the Heidelberg US Army hospital on December 21, 1945.
The city of Heidelberg lies in the Rhine Rift Valley, on the left bank of the lower part of the River Neckar. It is bordered by the Konnigstuhl and the Gaisberg mountains. Considered to be the warmest city in Germany, climate related, the countryside was sprinkled with almond, fig and olive trees. Amongst the tree life, especially near the river, it was quite common to find wild African rose ringed parakeets.
The history of Heidelberg the city, in contrast to any city in the United States, was deep and rich. The city was home to Heidelberg University, an internationally renowned public research university. The university itself, founded in 1386, was the oldest university in Germany and 5th oldest in Central Europe. As a result of the university, the youthful energy of the city was contagious and appealing even as an American soldier. To a 19 year old single man, the city was nothing short of being spectacularly romantic. Half the way up the side of Konnigstuhl mountain is Heidelberg Castle. The Castle, first mentioned in literature during the year 1214, seems to guard the entire valley with its ancient splendor. It has been destroyed and rebuilt several times in throughout the centuries, however it can still be seen throughout the entire valley.
When I arrived at the barracks in early June 1990, I was surprised to see the “open bay” living quarters we shared. I hadn’t been in an open bay sleeping room since Medic School. Even though not even a year had passed since Ft. Sam, it felt like a lifetime ago. A dozen field medics, including myself, were assigned to M.P.T. at Heidelberg Army Hospital. We came from all over Europe and from different types of units. A few came from the 3rd Infantry Division, a few from the 3rd Armored Division, one or two from the Eighth Infantry Division, me…. and some dude from…. fucking Gay Moose! I couldn’t believe it. All the way from Weisbaden Airbase to Heidelberg Army Hospital and I couldn’t escape the cookie mongers of Gay Moose. I didn’t know him nor had I ever seen him on base. However, I knew automatically I wouldn’t like him. It became my mission, when the time presented itself, to warn everyone in my M.P.T. class that their cookies would be disappearing.
Our new supervisor Sgt Tamarant, a female L.P.N., asked us to introduce ourselves, one by one, to each other. I knew this was the perfect opportunity to expose the selfish cookie thief from Gay Moose.
As we began to introduce ourselves to each other I began to notice something distinctly different about myself compared to my classmates. The majority of them seemed to sincerely like each other yet I couldn’t relate to any of them. I didn’t know what it was at first. We dressed in the same uniforms, came from field units, and were all American soldiers living overseas. We had EVERYTHING in common. Strangely, as I listened to them, one at a time, explain to the group why they chose to serve the United States, “the greatest country on earth”, I felt different.
These men came from long lines of men who served in the Army. Some dated their soldier lineage back to the Revolutionary War. Their family business’, so it seemed, was military service. I began to reflect on my own decision. Listening to men speak of duty, whose fathers died in Vietnam, was gut wrenching. I began to feel extremely inadequate. One by one they talked. Some stories were heartbreaking while others were inspiring. Every last story they told was patriotic and commendable. I didn’t fit. My hands began to sweat and my mouth went dry. Then Spc. Daniel Manion, of the 32nd Combat Support Hospital aka Gay Moose, spoke.
Dan came from New Jersey. He was of Irish decent and didn’t mention his family at all. He told the group he enlisted in the Army, “Because chicks dig soldiers… and I’m all about the chicks man.” As everyone stared at him in disgust, he followed up with, “Does anyone have a fucking cigarette? Not one of those nasty German squares either man… I needs me a red white and blue one ya fuckin freaks”. I liked him immediately.
Over the next three months Dan and I became very close. We would all have to sit through and participate in an “uncomfortable procedure” assisting nurses and doctors. We rotated through the maternity ward, the I.C.U., the emergency room, pharmacy and watched babies come into the world. We participated in minor surgeries, X-Rays, CT Scans and various disease treatments. However, the “uncomfortable procedure” would be picked by the teaching staff.
One soldier assisted a cesarean section, another assisted with a compound femur fraction. Some sat through major surgery while others spent extra shifts in the E.R.. Dan drew the short straw. He was chosen to manually extract Mrs. Alvarez’ fecal impaction. Apparently, Mrs. Alvarez hadn’t had a bowel movement in quite sometime. Herbal remedies and medication wasn’t working. Dan would have to administer an enema then pull out all of Mrs. Alvarez’ fecal matter with his fingers.
Dan’s reply to the assignment was, “Hey! Have any of you fuck wads tried Metamucil? I mean come on… Hasn’t any of the fucking Alvarezeseses heard of fucking Metamucil?” The staff was stunned. I absolutely loved this guy Dan Manion. The more time I spent with him the more I felt like we were family. My own “uncomfortable procedure”, the removal of anal condyloma, or anal warts, didn’t seem so bad.
The day Dan returned from fecal impaction extraction, he purposely brought home a surgical glove smothered in Snickers and chased some of our classmates around the barracks with it.
Dan and me were a good fit. He pissed off everyone he ever met but couldn’t fight his way out of a wet paper bag. I didn’t like anyone who wasn’t part of 12th Evac., outside of my mama, little sister, the B town Crew, Elle and Dan.
Dan got tickets to see Pink Floyd play in Berlin the weekend of July 4th, 1990. He wanted me to go with him so badly. However, I met a girl in the Hospital and decided to stay back with her in Heidelberg. In a matter of fact way he told me, “This is history man. You are fucking it up over some chick? Wait… yeah ok. Well I’m going anyway. Fuck you.” Dan went to see Pink Floyd play their album “The Wall”, at the Berlin Wall the year it came down, by himself.
Dan came home to the barracks at the end of the weekend with two girlfriends, who were bisexual, and rubbed it in my face.