OPINION
Published on January 19, 2013 By Big Fat Daddy In Misc


I'm sure you have done the same thing.  Made a move in traffic and then realized it was a mistake and could shortly become a really bad time.  I had pulled out to pass an inter-city bus on a hill.  I was on my way from my post at Bad Kissingen to the Border Camp at Wohlbach.  In between the towns of Nudlingen and Munnerstadt, the two-lane road winds up a hill and then down the other side.  The vehicles from the tactical units were not allowed to go over 40 mph.  When we went out on a mission we were supposed to have a vehicle commander (we called them truck commander or  TC) with us.  Always two in the cab, unless we were part of a mission of three vehicles or more;  then only one TC was required in the lead vehicle.  This was a two-truck mission but my platoon sergeant stretched the rules a bit and only had a TC in the first truck.  

Somewhere after we left Nudlingen, the bus got between us.  This made me nervous;  I had only been in the platoon for a few weeks and this was one of my first missions.  I didn't want to get separated from the lead truck.  

As we started up the hill, the bus began to slow down.  I was gaining on him and I decided, in order to avoid getting any farther behind the lead truck, to pass the bus while I still had more momentum than he did.  I waited until I was pretty close,  then pulled into the oncoming lane.  I moved up next to the bus.  But instead of getting around it, the bus began to pick up speed and my truck, an old M-49C...a 2 1/2 ton fuel tanker...began to lose speed.  I was just about even with the front of the bus and the driver was looking at me with a very wicked smile on his face.  I wasn't losing ground but I wasn't getting around the bus either.  

 

Then, up the hill a half-a-mile or more, a truck came around the curve.  I decided it was time to get back in my own lane...the alternatives being a head-on collision with the oncoming truck or pushing the bus off the road.  So I started to slow a little to let the bus move ahead.  But he didn't.  I couldn't believe my eyes.  He matched my slow-down and kept glancing over at me with that evil grin.  In my mirror I saw that there were other cars that had moved up behind the bus and they didn't seem to be giving me the chance to get back in the correct lane, either.  

For a matter of a few seconds this was what you might call a "High Pucker Factor" situation.  If I hit the brakes and let everyone go by, I would be sitting dead on a hill with little or no chance of getting going before meeting the oncoming truck.  There was no place on the left side of the road to duck into;  all that was left was to try to force my way back in behind the bus.  I slowed  as much as I dared and shifted down to keep enough RPMs to get some response from the truck.  Then I started moving over.  The bus finally moved past me and the cars behind it got the message and slowed enough to let me over - albeit with multiple horns and shouts and gestures.  I was able to move over, avoiding all the ugly possible outcomes, and having made a major dent in German-American relations, keeping enough forward momentum that I was able to get to the top of the hill...very slowly...where I found a very angry TC and driver waiting and wonderingwhere the heck I had been.

So...I got my butt ripped by the TC, nearly killed by the maniacal German bus driver, (aided and assisted by a string of German car drivers and the speeding-down-the-hill German truck driver)...plus I was in need of some maintenance on my uniform - I'll let you figure that out.

Interesting side note:  My life did not flash before my eyes.  What did flash before my eyes was the image of my platoon sergeant's face; red, distorted by anger, and inches from my own as he sprayed me with spittle chewing and screaming and...well that's the picture I saw.

German drivers in the 1960s thought of American Army truck drivers as untrained, inexperienced, careless, dangerous, and arrogant.  They thought of themselves as extremely well-trained, very careful, and efficient.  See, they have to go to six months of drivers' school, had dozens of hours of behind-the-wheel training, and paid outrageous amounts for their cars, their insurance, and their gas.  By the time they are let loose on the public, they are all that they think they are.  Guys who have gone to Germany have come back and told stories about how "crazy" German drivers are.  They aren't.  They are good.  But they are arrogant, too.  When a GI sees a German driver do something in traffic that the GI thinks is crazy, the GI doesn't realize that the German usually has evaluated the move, and determined the odds of getting through it, and then, if the odds are favorable,  he commits to the move.  Unless he is drunk...then the Germandriver is crazy.  Unfortunately, German drivers are really drunk a huge percentage of the time.

  US Army truck drivers were on the average about 19 years old, had been to a five-week truck driver school, and were inexperienced, untrained, careless, dangerous and thought they were the best thing on the road.  On the day I decided to pass on the hill,  I had been an Army trucker for a total of a month, was just shy of 18 years old, and thought I was ten feet tall and bullet-proof.

Just a few weeks after this incident, I was on my way back from filling my tanker in Wildflecken;  it was a snowy afternoon.  The roads were slick and the snow was building.  A German bier truck was plodding along and I came up behind him pretty quick.  The road was winding but I thought I had a clear shot to get around the truck.  I was in the oncoming lane on an outside curve and the bier truck started drifting over into my lane.  I blew my horn but he kept coming.  At the apex of the curve I had no choice but to drive off the left side of the road.  The snow was about two- to three-feet deep, which effectively hid all information about the terrain next to the road, so I just held on tight and hoped for the best...for me and for the 1200 gallons of gasoline I was carrying.  

After about six feet, the ground next to the road dropped off, not too sharply but sharper than I would have liked.  I had locked up my brakes as I left the road but had the good sense to release them as soon as I hit the drop-off.  The truck came to a stop about forty yards off the road...upright and up to the fenders in snow.  There were four trucks on this mission and fortunately I wasn't the last one in line this time.  The driver of the last truck saw what had happened, stopped on the road,  and walked into the field to make sure I was okay.  Then he helped me back the truck out of the field.  Getting back up on the road was a real battle but eventually I did.  For the next couple of miles I left a trail of mud.

In both cases, the German drivers knew exactly what they were doing, and did it on purpose to embarass or injure the American driver.  You would think I would be smart enough to avoid having that kind of thing happen twice.  It actually happened many times, not just to me but to thousands of young Army drivers.  Why?  Because we were untrained, inexperienced, careless, dangerous, and arrogant.  After a few years, I learned to avoid the situations that could put me in harm's way.  I gained experience, became more careful,  and less dangerous...

Kind of a long ramble...maybe I should be grateful to all those German anal apertures who made me learn to be better... but who also injured, maimed, and killed a whole bunch of young GIs.  Do I sound bitter?  Not really;  inexperienced and untrained GIs have returned the favor for years.  What do they say today?  "It is what it is"....or "It was what it was".  I spent a lot of years in Germany, I loved it there, and drove all over the country in all kinds of vehicles and all kinds of weather...you just can't take it personally.


Comments
on Jan 22, 2013

I never had the misfortune of driving in Germany - just being the object of the Germans ire when I rode my Bike.  Thinking back now, what I took for recklessness  was probably cold calculation on their part as they contemptuously made sure I knew that roads were for cars, not biked (I was never hit, but I had enough near misses to wonder about them).

And in a land where a simple house is only affordable by the rich, Germans see their cars as Americans see their houses.

on Jan 23, 2013

I spent some time on a bike over there, too, Doc.  Funny thing is that bikes DO have equal usage rights in Germany...but the car drivers don't care...and yep, you nailed it on the car vs house comment.  Thanks for stopping by.

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