Sorrows of Young Peter
“The Five W’s of Life:
WHO you are is what makes you special. Do not change for anyone.
WHAT lies ahead will always be a mystery. Do not be afraid to explore.
WHEN life pushes you over, you push back harder.
WHERE there are choices to make, make the one you won’t regret.
WHY things happen will never be certain. Take it in stride and move forward.”
With the transfer to the Falckenstein Barracks in Koblenz things were looking up for me. Our room was only slightly smaller than the one we had at the basic training camp, but instead of fifteen men only ten would share the sleeping facilities. The only drawback at the beginning was that the windows were facing one of the major north-south traffic arteries. The noise from the trucks and cars was considerable and lasted right through the night. At first I thought I could not sleep at all in a room inundated by the roar of engines and swishing of tires even with the windows closed. But little by little I got used to it and like the loud surf at the seashore at the Baltic Sea it no longer bothered me after a few days. I am sure that if the din below had suddenly stopped the silence would have woken me up.
Also the pace of our daily routines significantly slackened. We still had to line up and stand at attention for the morning and noon announcements. But there were now more instructional sessions both theoretical and practical with emphasis on specialization depending to which of three major groups we belonged in the signal corps. The linemen were responsible for connecting the various field centers during military exercises. They had from a physical perspective the toughest job. Rain or shine, heat or cold, their task was to unroll miles of cable and when the maneuver was over roll it back onto the empty drums on their backs. I had the good fortune that I was assigned to the second group. I was working inside a Mercedes truck packed with electronic gear, which I had learned to operate during my training sessions. The linemen would arrive huffing and puffing after a strenuous march through forests and fields. All I had to do was to connect the wires to the carrier frequency sets, call up my counterpart at the other end and tune up the line so that it would be capable of carrying several channels at once. It was the latest technology in those days, but miniscule by today’s standards, where thousands of telephone calls can be placed over a single wire or a wireless connection. The third and most prestigious group consisted of the wireless operators trained to set up and maintain point-to-point, line-of-sight connections. To be useful, the linemen also had to connect them by cable to our stations. I liked maneuvers of this kind, especially the ones that lasted a whole week, and often as a bonus resulting in an extra long weekend pass. It was during these action filled times that I began to reflect on the career proposal the captain had made to me less than a month ago. During guard duty, which I had to do every three weeks or so, whenever my turn was announced on the company bulletin board, I had also some time to do some thinking on the purpose and meaning of military service in a world that lived under the spell of the Cold War and under the threat of a massive attack by communist forces to take over Western Europe. While walking inside the fenced perimeter of our barracks I was searching for answers to those questions that popped up in my mind during those boring two-hour shifts in the dead of night. I composed a poem, which I included here in the hope that not too much is lost in translation.
Drearily the rain is falling.
I am walking in monotone even steps.
Nothing is moving in the semi-darkness.
Radio trucks like monsters are staring at me.
They appear to mock me,
Indeed threaten to devour me.
You servants of men!
To what end are you being abused?
Aren’t you defending freedom and peace?
If you prevent that
For which you have been built,
Then sacred is your presence.
Yeah, just stare at me!
Your power brings me joy.
And I am walking past them
In monotone even steps.
To avoid war, an army must be strong so that an aggressor will understand that nothing would be gained and much more would be lost. It was the balance of power that kept the peace in the Cold War period, in which I was a soldier.