|Weapons for Peace - A
New Start for a New Time
By Alfred Opp, Vancouver, British Columbia
Edited by Connie Dahlke, Walla Walla, Washington
By the time the war in Europe ended, the US Army
was sitting on a huge arsenal pile that was becoming
out-dated before the last shot of the war was fired.
The Atomic-Jet Age was well on its way, built on the
technological and scientific advances made during
the war effort. The American forces in Europe had
more hardware sitting around than they knew what to
do with. To ship it all back home would involve enormous
shipping costs. Both post-war funding and the merchant
fleet were limited. It was the Soviets who helped
the Americans make a decision.
Russia had the Eastern Block smothered under a tight
blanket, armed and ready to defend their socialistic
ideas from a capitalistic onslaught. The shouting
match between the two powers increased as time went
on. The tension of another confrontation was real.
The fence protecting the West from onslaught by the
East started to sag under the pressure of Russia's
It was the existence of the Atomic Bomb that put
the damper on the fireworks. The Soviets were into
the propaganda game but were cautious about pushing
the US too far, as they were unsure how the US might
react. For Germans, this new wrinkle gave our feelings
an added scare. Were we doomed to suffer through another
war - a nuclear war at that? Western European nations
had to start thinking defensively. The fear of being
swallowed up by another Monster had them thinking
about their own protection. These nations all needed
weapons to defend themselves. The Americans made a
smart move and decided to sell their used arsenal
to their allies. But before this US equipment went
on the market, it had to be checked out and overhauled
as needed. The US Army turned to the German people
to get the work done. One such refurbishing plant
was set up in a town near where we were living. This
town was central to many smaller villages. The plant
was set up to restore motorized vehicles of a variety
of makes and styles - nearly every kind except tanks.
The workers were a mix of refugees, farmers with no
particular trade skills, handicapped war veteran's,
and people like me who had training in an out-dated
trade that had no future. We were all in need of help
to get back on our feet. In the US Army-run facility
they treated us well and paid us union wages. It worked
out very well for everyone.
The plant did everything needed to get these vehicles
back into shape. Part of the success story was the
use of standardized parts that could be used on a
variety of vehicles. The US Army had that down pat.
Every vehicle left the plant running well, with a
new paint job, upholstery and logos to suit the new
The workers worked in shifts. All sorts of disabled
people were employed in this effort, including war
veterans who were blind, or were missing one or both
arms or legs - we had them all. I was in the upholstery
department sewing tarps. We had a guy with no arms
who was our courier taking work orders from one department
to the next. Then we had another guy with no legs
who was our comptroller. A blind man sorted nuts and
bolts. A guy who had lost touch with his world was
our go-get pal. That man for years had been in a Russian
war camp and when he came home he was a complete wreck.
Then his wife left him and he was finished. All he
did was talk to himself. By being patient with him
and including him, we found he had a lot to say.
That first year, the army gave us a Christmas party.
The company picked us up and got us back in buses.
The hall was nicely decorated for the occasion. They
gave us a nice dinner with a Santa in attendance all
the way from the good old USA. He gave everyone a
bag of sweets with each of us promising to be good.
The Major gave a warm speech thanking everyone for
the good work we did. We all gave him a standing ovation.
The evening closed with all of us feeling good.
Two months later the company gave us a «Falshings-Party»
- a Masked Ball. For this occasion, everyone showed
up in a colorful outfit. This type of party is very
popular in the German speaking Catholic areas of Central
Europe such as Austria and southern Germany, but especially
in the Rhine region. This custom seems to go back
to very ancient times when the people felt the need
to chase off ghosts and witches. Mask-makers past
and present have shown great talent in the expressive
masks they make for the «Falschings-Party. «Various
dances are staged throughout the evening for the masked
participants to enjoy. If someone showed up at the
party without a costume, they were given a funny hat
to wear so they could join in the fun. We young people
went all out to dress for the occasion. I went as
a pirate with black pants, a white shirt and a red
scarf tied around my head. A bit of shoe polish did
the trick for makeup - it was cheap and effective.
I escorted the daughter of one of my co-workers who
wanted to go to the party, but not particularly with
her dad. So I was a good guy and "helped out."
Linda was also a good sport who was a little older
than I. She knew a little English, but I did not.
For this event, the Americans were our invited guests
and were seated in a select area to watch the evening
The first half of the evening involved some clowning
around, showing off our costumes and silly tricks.
This came to a conclusion with a vote of the "people's
choice" for the best costume. After that we got
a beer and a bite to eat. Then the dance band took
over with traditional German dance music - Polkas,
Waltzes, Folk Dances and all the Latin numbers. During
the dancing I noticed a young American lady with a
big smile sitting in the visitors' box. As my buddies
and I sat down after one of the numbers, I bragged
to my buddies that I was going to get me that lady
for a dance. They thought I was nuts. "They'll
grab you by the pants and throw you out" they
teased, with grins and laughter all around. I wasn't
afraid, and decided to go for it. Before I headed
over to the visitors' box, my date gave me a quick
lesson in English: "May I - Please - Thank you."
. . . "May I - Please - Tank ju - " . .
. I walked right up to my American lady and said,
"Please." She just about jumped out of her
seat - not because of me, but because she wanted to
dance. Her beau sat there and didn't move a muscle.
He had the looks of a Drill Sergeant. I gave her my
arm and we made our way down the steps to the dance
floor. Once we were on the dance floor, I noticed
how well-dressed she was, in a pretty dress and high
heels - she looked gorgeous. She was of a short build
with a youthful look.
And so we danced. What a dancer she turned out to
be. She swirled around with ease, her skirt flying.
All I had to do was lead. All the time we danced,
she talked. All I could say was, "jajaja, jaaa,
" that was it. I didn't understand a word she
said. She went through the Polkas and Waltzes with
ease, never missing a beat. I was in good shape from
doing sports, but she never missed a step, didn't
break a sweat. After dancing a few rounds, I walked
her back to her seat thinking, "What a nice lady
she is." I thought by now the Sergeant would
show some displeasure. He showed absolutely no reaction.
When I got back to my seat, my buddies swarmed all
over me, patting me on the back and hoisting their
beer glasses in celebration, as if I had just scored
the winning goal in overtime. I was disgusted. What
was the lady thinking of me now, with those fools
celebrating on me like I was the “Deer Hunter”.
But there was nothing I could do.
As was customary, later in the evening the band leader
announced “Damenwahl“ - ladies choice.
Here the ladies could have their choice of a dance
partner. My lady didn't understand that at first.
When she saw what was going on, she made her move
to do the same. In hopes she might reciprocate, I
asked Linda to wait - she didn't mind. My American
lady came down the steps and walked straight to our
table, took me by the hand and led me to the dance
floor. At that moment, she put my heart and thoughts
We both reached out to have a good time, the American
lady and the German refugee. We tossed aside the barrier
of contempt and took down our masks to show our true
feelings. When I walked the lady back to her seat,
she smiled and squeezed my hand, and so did I. Now
I could understand what she was saying. All humans
have feelings. As it turned out, it wasn't a «Fool's
Party» after all.
Alfred Opp is the author of "Pawns
on the World Stage" - the memoirs of his
childhood in Teplitz, Bessarabia and the experiences
of his family in war-torn Europe (Poland during 1941-1945
before they fled to East Germany in 1945, then the
reconstruction of West Germany 1945-1955).