Germany has a lot of forests.  Some parts of Germany have been under a forestation program for literally hundreds of years.  They are very fond of their trees.  There are some wild areas; not many, but I spent some time in a rain forest near Wurzburg...it had ferns and everything, it was very cool.  By far, though, most of Germany's forests look like parks.  They keep the ground clear of brush and limbs.  One way they do that is kinda cool:  they let the poor folks go through the woods picking up dead, fallen branches.  Keeps the ground clear and provides fuel for the poor folks.

Any GI who ever went on manuevers in Germany is aware of the manic way they keep track of the damages caused by military vehicles.  Every scratch on every tree, every rut in a muddy field or forest track, every broken fence, just everything that gets the least bit of damage is carefully noted and diagrammed and turned in to the U S Army  claims office for reimbursement.   I gotta tell you, it is impossible to drive a truck or tracked combat vehicle around in those woods without scraping a tree or something.  And Comrade (this is what the GIs call German nationals) is out there in the dead of night or heat of battle, keeping track of every bit of it. 

And trees aren't the end of it.  Run over a chicken going through a village?  You get charged for the chicken and all the eggs she would have laid in her life.  Get a rooster and you get to pay for all the future hens and roosters he would have sired.  It gets pricey.  

I learned about all this as a 17-year-old Private driving a fuel truck in an armored cavalry squadron.  It was drilled into us that the trees cost  "a thousand g-- d--- dollars" every time you knock one down.  I don't know if they really cost a thousand dollars in 1964...but they did in the 1970s...more about that later.  So we were threatened with dire punishments if we trashed a tree.  My boss, the Support Platoon sergeant, was always telling us "Somebody's goin' to jail!"   No one ever did, not for nailing a tree, anyway.  

Being in the fuel platoon, we had the extra potential for major damage:  Fuel spills.  We were yelled at and threatened like crazy.  

All this was in preparation for a monster winter field exercise that was starting in January, 1965.  We were going to be "out" for at least three weeks and all of it was "runnin' and gunnin'".

In the sixties, when we went to the field, we MOVED!  We followed the tanks all day and spent almost the whole night getting them all fueled up for the next day's moving.  Lots of driving, precious little sleep, and all of it in woods and the mountains and off-road or on narrow little logging roads or paved roads between villages that were barely wide enough for one vehicle at a time.  It got really tired out there.  

The strangest thing was that once we left the Kaserne and started the pretend "war", all the tanks and other tracked vehicles seemed to be in a contest to see who could rack up the most destroyed trees.  The M60A1 tanks were very good at creating new roads...they just drove wherever they wanted to go,  and trees up to about a foot in diameter were just pushed over.

But I was a private, and a very young, inexperienced private at that, and I was scared to take out a tree so I avoided it as best as I could.  But one late, dark, snowing, cold, and sleepy night, driving around in "black-out" mode (just think about driving around in the dead of night with no lights on) I managed to get  on the wrong side of a high-crowned logging road and my fuel tanker slid sideways and lodged itself between to fairly substantial trees.  I tried everything I had learned in my trucker school and everything I had learned in my platoon and everything I could think up on my own...and nothing did anything to get me out of that mess...in fact, it only made things worse.

I don't know how the word got to him, but after a while my platoon sergeant showed up.  He looked it over and asked me why I didn't just drive out of this mess.  I explained about not wanting to trash any trees and jacking the truck back and forth to get out of there just made it worse.

Let me tell you about my boss. His name was Stantz.  He was a huge man;  he was very strong.  He shaved his head (this was long before it was as stylish as it is today) and constantly chewed on the inside of his cheek.  He had a way of walking around that made you think he was on patrol somewhere in his mind;  he was always looking around, sizing up his surroundings.  He was a scary man.  I had already experienced how powerful he could be when he was mad...I didn't want him to be mad.  But he was.

He grabbed a handfull of my field jacket and pulled me out of the truck and at the same time pulled himself into the cab.  He was seated behind the wheel before I hit the ground.  

Stantz put the truck in first gear, shifted the transfer case into low, then dumped the clutch and jammed the gas at the same time.  My little truck roared and bucked; all six axles were throwing muddy clumps of grass and forest stuff all over the place.  He stopped and jammed it into reverse and did the same thing in reverse.  As he backed up a little, I could see that the trees in front of the truck were chewed up and one sapling was broken.  He stopped and put it in first gear again and romped on it.  With a little space to build up some momentum, he hit those trees again.  The smaller ones broke off immediately;  the thicker ones (none of them were more than six inches in diameter) bent, then shook and bent more, and then, with a huge crack, they all snapped off and my little fuel truck leapt out of its fix and back up onto the road.   I ran to get into my truck as Stantz stepped down out of it.  To my amazement, he was smiling.  He told me"That's the way ya do it, 'Cruit"  Then he walked off giggling and mumbling about how much fun that had been.  I looked back at the damage;  in the pitch black it looked really bad...I couldn't imagine what that little thicket would look like in daylight.  Anyway, that was how I learned about how important the trees are;  as one of the old hands said to me, "Hell, 'Cruit, it ain't your money!"

Oh...yeah...that thousand dollar tree?  The famous tank warrior of WWII, George S. Patton, Jr, had a son, George S. Patton, III, who became a general of tanks, too.  He was stationed at EUCOM Headquarters in Stuttgart, Germany to do some required staff time.  He was given a house on Floridastrasse, the street on Patch Barracks where a whole bunch of Colonels and Generals lived in a semi-upscale looking neighborhood.  General Patton had a tree in his yard that he took a disliking to.  He called the Post Commander and told him to remove it.  The Post Commander, a colonel with the worst job a colonel could have, explained to the general that it wasn't that simple.  The colonel had to make a request to the German authorities who had to contact the German forest master who then had to inspect the tree and determine the effect on the rest of the trees if the tree in question was removed.  Then all the findings had to go back the other way beforepermission could be given.  Patton's answer was simpler than that:  "Just make it happen...SOON".

When a week went by with no action, the general went out in the yard with a chain saw and cut the tree down.   When the authorities discovered the tree had been removed, all hell broke loose.  There was even a threat to arrest the general.  But all the smoke cleared with nothing more than a stern discussion between General Patton and the Air Force Four-Star general who was Patton's boss at EUCOM (where I'm sure there was some serious adjustment of attitude).  The discussion...and a check to the German Forstmeister in the sum of $1000.00, seemed to make it all better.

on Apr 24, 2013

I never thought of the trees while I was in Germany.  They were just "there".  Good thing I did not have a chain saw.  I love my chain saw!

on Apr 26, 2013