At the time of Father’s sudden and unexpected passing, death had given me in quick succession several reminders of our transitory life here on earth. In the fall of 1963, I was serving in the signal corps of the German Nato Forces in Bavaria. On November 22 at the Maxhof army barracks, I listened to the American Forces Network (AFN Munich). The DJ suddenly interrupted the Country and Western music and, after a short pause, announced that President Kennedy had been shot in Dallas, Texas. Later that night, AFN reported that he had died of his gunshot wounds. I was shocked by the news of this tragedy, as I had taken a liking to this great man for his courage to force the Soviet Union to remove their missiles out of Cuba. I liked the way he had publicly committed himself to the security of West Berlin. His famous statement, ‘Ich bin ein Berliner,’ will remain with me for as long as I live. Then, in January, our staff sergeant Wohl had a fatal accident when his VW beetle collided with a public transit bus on an icy hillside road in Feldafing. Three comrades and I accepted the sad task of becoming his pallbearers. I will never forget the widow’s heart-rending sobbing in the front pew when the officiating priest addressed her with a few consoling words. A couple of weeks later, almost if death intended to remind me again of its presence, I lent sixty marks to a friend so he could buy a train ticket to attend his grandmother’s funeral.
Then, on February 26, an order came for me to see the captain for an important message. A little puzzled and worried about this unusual event, I went to the captain’s office. After I sat down, he informed me with genuine regret that my father had died of a massive heart attack on the night of February 25. The officer granted me a five-day compassionate leave, effective immediately. Numbed by this horrific message, I could not respond with a single word. The captain, deliberately ignoring military protocol, shook hands with me and spoke kind words of condolences.
Only a small number of family members, aunt Meta and Anna, Erna’s relatives and friends attended the funeral in Michelbach. I wrote and dedicated a poem in German to my dad, my best friend and helper. The poem ended with a line in Latin:
Viventium, non mortuorum misereor.
I feel sorry for the living, not the dead.
If Father were still living today, he would proudly look at his many descendants: five children, eleven grandchildren and many great-grandchildren. Perhaps one day, some of them will be interested in the fascinating story of their wonderful grandfather and great-grandfather Ernst Klopp. I hope that they will read it and get to know the roots of the Klopp branch of their family.
My next project will be writing about my father-in-law, Walter Panknin, and his family.