Damn, where in the hell could he have gotten to? Al and I were on our second round trip between the worksite and the company area and we still haven't found Sgt. Herman.
He never showed up at work, although he had left the company area in his car before the rest of us had left in the truck. Now Al and I were trying, unsuccessfully so far, to find out what had happened to him.
This was one more needless aggravation. We had been working 12-hour shifts with no days off for four months, ever since the Russian missiles had been spotted in Cuba. Everyone was tired, and the last thing any of us wanted to do was drive through a heavy snow storm, looking for someone who was, in all likelihood, drunk in some bar.
We had already checked the Club, and the German establishments within a reasonable distance, but so far had no luck. We had even checked the roadside ditches and he still hadn’t turned up.
We had just turned onto the road that ran by the worksite and were approaching a side road which ran through a tiny village and then on to a dead end and the East German border. I noticed a light shining through the snow.
“Turn right,” I said to Al.
“There’s nothing out there but that village on the border,” he said.
“I saw something,” I answered. “Just drive down a little ways and we can check it out.”
As we made a turn I could see the lights of the village.
And between us and the village, lights were apparently shining up from the ditch along the roadside.
“Lights!” Al said.
“I know, I saw them from the other road. I don’t know why we didn't see them before.”
We pulled up in front of the lights and immediately realized that this was Sgt. Herman’s car. I flung open the side curtain of the jeep and hopped out into the road.
“Stay with the jeep,” I told him. “I’ll go check the car.” I slid down into the four-foot deep ditch, which now contained a foot of snow. I yanked open the driver’s door, not knowing what I would find.
There lay Sgt. Herman, amidst the overpowering stench of Ahsbach, a German version of Cognac. He seemed to be breathing OK, in fact he was snoring. Most of the order seemed to be coming from the back seat. Apparently Sgt. Herman’s private stock did not survive the accident intact.
Since Sgt. Herman was in one piece, I checked the car out. I walked up and down both sides of the car. All the major parts were where they were supposed to be. I walked around the driver’s side and slide beneath the wheel. The keys were in the ignition, so I put the car into neutral and turned the key. The engine started immediately. “Great,” I thought, “at least I’ll be able to drive it to the site, if the transmission isn’t damaged.”
The jeep pulled up in front, and Al jumped out, leaving the engine running.
“I found a guy with a tractor in the Gasthaus,” he yelled over the noise of both engines. “He says he’ll tow the car out for 100 marks.
“No problem,” I answered. I rolled Sgt. Herman to one side and yanked out his wallet. He had plenty of money in it, so I removed $25 and stuffed it in my shirt pocket. I stuck the wallet in his jacket pocket and rolled him back upright.
I stuck my head out the door. “The Sarge has plenty of money,” I yelled.
“Good, because here comes the guy with a tractor.”
Al jumped back into the jeep and moved it out of the way, as the tractor slid to a stop in front of the car. A German civilian jumped down from the seat tractor and stumbling around to the back, hauled out hauled out a heavy chain, and hooked it to the rear of the tractor. He handed the other end to Al, who slid down to the car and hooked it to the front bumper.
“Do you think it’s gonna hold there?” I asked.
“I hope so,” he answered, while scrambling back up to the road. “There’s no place else to hook.”
The farmer climbed back into the tractor seat and put it in gear. I left the car in neutral and closed the door. In what seemed like seconds, the car was out of the ditch and back on the road. The farmer approached me with his hand out. I handed him the $25 and, in a fog of beer fumes, he climbed back in his tractor and headed off into the snow towards the village.
“Now what?” Al asked.
“We’ll take him to work with us. He’s not hurt, so we’ll let him sleep it off there. If the First Sergeant sees him, he’ll be in big trouble. We’ll just keep it amongst ourselves. I’ll follow you and I’ll wait at the bottom of the hill while you drive up. Then I’ll start and will hopefully be able to make it by driving in your fire tracks.”
“OK,” Al said and headed for the jeep. He climbed in and started off, with me following.
Things went pretty much as planned, and I parked Sgt. Herman’s car next to the generator shed.
I tried to get him inside, but he was too limp and I couldn’t manage without help. I went inside. Al was perched on one of the desks with a coffee in his hand.
“How about some help?” I hollered.
“Sorry, I wasn’t thinking,” Al said.
He set his cup down and we both went back outside. Between us, we managed to drag Sgt. Herman out of the car and inside. We dumped him in an out-of-the-way corner and covered him in a blanket.
Just another night in defense of our country.