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The Slugger and the Singer

Here we recall the efforts of two people in Germany in the early 1950s, LTC Ralph F Miles and Ms. Annette Markell. They were innovators possessed of imagination and drive that took them from what they saw to what they wanted to see. The events pass through Bad Kissingen for brief seconds, really these are Bad Hersfeld centered stories but the troopers at Daley Barracks probably knew their names and might even smile at the recollections.

A soldier and boxer, a song writer and troop entertainer - such decidedly different people but so much the same. Let’s clear the ring, set the starting line, bring down the house lights and remember that passion and vision can lead to events greater than imagined.

Battledown and the Charity of Sport

Touchdown! - The Musical.
___________

The Preliminary Bout and Overture

1950: The 24th Constabulary Squadron in the Hessian - Bavarian Border Region and Overall Environment

The US Constabulary mission in Germany was changing as units begin to consolidate, were relieved of duty or reassigned. The missions that led to the creation of the force only a few years earlier: civil policing, control of refugees, suppression of smuggling and maintenance of general order were rapidly passing away.

The local German police forces were very quickly reestablished at the end of the war, this led to a return of general civil order and a gradual yet steady control of smuggling.

The refugee problems were daunting but between the Allied forces and the United Nations Relief Organization, a degree of order was imposed over the hundreds of thousands of people adrift in Germany. Some were deported, many more were resettled - seldom the best solution but often a pragmatic balance. The days of Constabulary troops putting down riots in DP camps had passed, the road patrols were ending, putting on a crisp uniform to stand watch in some town was not necessary.

The East - West German border region remained a problem and here, the US Constabulary mission lingered. As political differences between East and West became apparent, and the first runs of barbed wire went up, clearly some American units with some level of operational expertise was needed to maintain a continuity on the border.

Behind them, deeper in Germany, combat units were being formed, were receiving new equipment and training. For the moment, the Constabulary units in the border area were the watchers - they knew the area, the trails and terrain. In Hesse and North - Central Bavaria - the men on the border were from the 24th Constabulary Squadron.

Semper Custos

The 22nd Constabulary Squadron was re - flagged to the 24th Constabulary Squadron in late 1949. Their border patrol mission ran from the northern point of the US Occupation Zone, Hebenshausen to Cobug in the south, a distance of 225 miles. From Coburg running southeast, border responsibility belonged to the 15th Constabulary Squadron. Squadron HQ for the 24th and A & B Troops were at Hersfeld with D Troop at Fritzlar and C Troop stationed in Schweinfurt. In mid 1951, C Troop moved to Bad Kissingen along with the 2 - 14th Recon Battalion.

The 24th was subordinate to the 14th Armored Cavalry Constabulary Regiment and once the 14th was designated to shed the Constabulary role and re - equip as a combat formation, the roles over the next few years were set. Men of the 24th patrolled the border while men of the 14th ACR began the training process to return to a combat role and in this capacity, the 24th survived to be one of the last Constabulary units in Germany.

The line Constabulary Troops were hardly the large units one might expect to find in a recon outfit. Platoons averaged about 21 personnel, they had jeeps and M3 six wheeled patrol cars - the standard Constabulary equipment set. From 1950 until the end of their mission in early 1953, as Constabulary units were drawn down elsewhere in Germany, some men and equipment filtered to the 24th but the reality was the units transforming back to the combat TO & E’s had first priority and many times, the 24th felt it was under manned with old equipment and sagging soldier morale. Something needed to be done.

It was certainly a challenging environment for officers, NCO’s and men. Creativity and innovation were the Orders of the Day. Long days and nights on the border trails might have been common, but many troopers would fondly recall the aggressive sports programs and outreach to German charities that they found with their units in Hersfeld, Fritzlar and Schweinfurt / Kissingen. And what about the entertainment?

Battledown!

Life Magazine
20 March 1950

Mayhem in the Mud

“ In 1943, an Army Major named Ralph Miles, remembering the childhood game of “ capture the flag “ invented an adult version which he called “ battledown “. Designed to toughen recruits and provide training in tactics and leadership, Battledown had more in common with Bastogne than with any boys game. Last Fall, when he was stationed at Camp Hood, Texas, Major Miles introduced his game there. Recently eight battalion teams from the 2nd Armored Division squared off in the mud for a battledown tournament. “

“ The 35 members of each team, wearing boxing gloves, attacked from opposite ends of a field obstructed by hummocks and muddy pits. Almost any type of assault was permitted, the objective being to down the opponents flag. The game is not especially popular with the men, who call it “ murder pits “. The Camp Hood tourney resulted in no fatalities but it produced 11 minor casualties and some of the muddiest Americans since Guadalcanal. “

And the Charity of Sport

Following assignments during the war, Major Ralph Foster Miles departed for Germany and a position as Deputy Squadron Commander, 24th Constabulary Squadron, located at Bad Hersfeld. He was passionate about sports, the more physical the better and particularly, boxing.

Years earlier, while attending a prep school in upstate New York and for a short period after, he fought in an unsanctioned club circuit and then while at Saint Lawrence University, fighting under the name of “Red O’ Brien “ he had ten professional fights and a 4 win / 4 loss and 2 draw record. A significant football injury from prep school days hobbled his ring skills, he was happy to get up off the canvas and gain a draw in his last fight and Miles was ready for a new profession. He joined the Army in 1933, gained a commission and served stateside in the years preceding the war.

Little is known of his war record. The 1952 24th Constabulary Unit Yearbook reported that while stationed at Fort Knox in 1943, Major Miles had run the first Battledown competitions. He then served with the Americal Division in the Pacific. By 1950, he is at Hood, has resurrected Battledown and Life Magazine ran the story through which he gained a brief moment of notoriety, not only with the public but apparently the Department of the Army as well. They saw some value in the “ mayhem in the mud “ and asked him for the official rules.

Later that year, Major Miles was reassigned to the Constabulary in Germany and the HQ 24th Squadron at Hersfeld. A local US Newspaper ran a brief article on Ralph Miles with this quote, “ guts, speed and the desire to win “ , were the goals of Battledown. The rules - few: force on force, 35 men per team with boxing gloves in a muddy field. Capture the flag meets Mad Max and Thunderdome. Charge through the mud, climb the muddy hill, take the flag and win the day - the best reward is that the game is finally over.

Some decades later, tuff mudder ((https://toughmudder.com/ ))comes to pass and you have to pay for the privilege of mud an’ blood but that is yet another story.

How many times was Battledown visited upon the soldiers of McPheeters Barracks is anyone guess. The yearbook features a series of photos that appear to all be from the same event so perhaps it was only approved as a one - time - only fracas. Finding veterans for that unit has been problematic so, there are no first hand recollections. Thanks … Major Miles!

The Sweet Science and Track Stars

Battledown may have garnered some local headlines and left many troops with sore ribs but this was hardly Major Miles’ most lasting contribution to the Constabulary. Through his vision and force of will, he instituted a series of boxing and then track and field events, his “ Summer Games “ that brought military athletes from three countries and German sports clubs together in fellowship and completion with the ticket sales proceeds going to local German charities. A grand impresario of amateur sport.

The 24th Constabulary at Hersfeld had taken over a few previously established outreach to local German population programs from the 22nd Constabulary to include significant sponsorship of a local orphanage. The unit yearbook recalls that in 1951, Miles and his boss, SCO LTC Perry E Conant, wanted to increase the American level of support and create new programs to improve local relations. And it should be noted, these Army unit supported charities in Germany were not unique to the border region and in fact were more or less expected in each garrison town. Doing the minimum is one thing, doing more than expected was quite another.

Operation Chrysler was one of their first projects, a raffle open to both Americans and Germans, first prize - a new American car. Where they got the money to secure the car and who actually won is anyone’s guess, but the yearbook reported a net profit of over $1800 dollars, all of which went to either the orphanage or other worthy charities.

Among other local initiatives from this period were a German Soap Box Derby race for kids, a Summer Camp sponsorship and greater involvement with the local German - American Youth Activity Club ( GYA ) in Hersfeld.

All of these activities no doubt, helped relationships between the troops and local population but money can only take you so far. Major Miles wanted to get more troops actively involved in all sports and he oversaw a significant change to the local unit sport programs. The 1952 Summer Olympic Games were to be held in Helsinki and no doubt, this was in the back of his mind as he took stock of the local athletes, German and American.

Fighting for Friends

The 24th Squadron had a robust amateur boxing program that pitted Company against Company and Miles asked, “ why not open the ring to local German fighters as well ?“ Tickets could be sold, charity cash flow increased and this would allow more troops to directly participate. The idea took some careful selling, particularly to his superiors. In 1950, the war was only over for a comparatively brief time and American troops and local Germans had frequently brawled in the bars and downtowns of dozens of German cities much to the consternation of both elected leaders and unit commanders. The fear was that what started in the ring could easily spill over into the audience and a good time would be had by none.

In an article from the Rochester Times Union recalling Major Miles and boxing in Germany, it was reported that the crowd was a little tense the first time the open boxing matches were held, but good refereeing kept things in hand and “ an equal number of German and American boxers hit the canvas. “ The Army boxing shows occurred at McPheeters gym on a monthly basis and were very popular.

It seems safe to say that men of Schweinfurt and later Bad Kissingen’s C Troop participated in all of the 24th Constabulary sporting events - there are just no records recalling specific names or dates.

The biggest boxing event at Hersfeld occurred in the Summer of 1952 with an outdoor show featuring the famous German professional fighter, Max Schmeling in attendance. He had only retired from the ring a few years earlier and was famous from his many epic bouts in the USA during the pre war years in the heavy weight class fighting Joe Louis and other notables of the era.

Miles was instrumental in getting Schmeling, a German executive with American Coca Cola, ringside and in fact he was the guest referee for a couple of the exhibition bouts. The local Germans of Hesse had never seen Schmeling in person and Boxing Magazine reported that over six thousand Americans and Germans were in attendance with over one thousand dollars pouring into 24th Squadron charity coffers destined for the GYA Summer camp fund.

The Summer Games

Monthly fights were just fine, but the Constabulary troopers of Hersfeld had bigger plans. To what extent Miles was directly involved is unclear, but it seems a safe bet that once the German - American boxing program was a hit, something truly spectacular was needed as an encore. Why not a full day of track and field games open to German, French and British participation?   LTC Conant had been a track star in college, he certainly like the idea.


The idea of inviting British and French soldier participants probably had its origin when the 24th sponsored a fencing tournament held in 1950. There were a few soldiers with fencing experience in the unit, to find suitable matches, the squadron invited members of the French Army stationed in far western Germany and British troops, arrayed along the border to the north of Hersfeld. Very little was reported about the event but it set the groundwork for what would evolve into the grand Summer day of games.

To raise the most money for the various charities to include the 24th’s ambitious plan to build a new local orphanage, you needed a big event and the Summer Track and Field Competition was born. The first games occurred in 1950 with the German Sports Clubs dominating the field against an American team made up of mostly 24th Constabulary troops. Much larger programs were held in 1951 and 1952 with participation by additional American units and soon the medal counts were more even.

Similar to the fencing exhibition, teams were sent from French and British forces and local German sports clubs from nearby towns offered their best athletes. For the Americans, there were men of the Squadron, the 14th Armored Cavalry Regiment and other American units in the area.

Photographs of the events show many General Officers in attendance and on probably the biggest game day, 1952, French Moroccan Colonial Troops provided an 85 man military band complete with a mascot goat; the 4th US Infantry Division sent their band and a regional German police band added to the grand procession.

Hersfeld became a host city devoted to the event and attendance for the 1952 competition was estimated at over 4000 people. The events lasted a single day, from early morning to a final medal ceremony and parade near sundown. The funds to keep the orphanage construction underway were pretty much in hand at the end of the day.

And Then it was Over

In 1953, the games did not occur, the open boxing was finished and so was the 24th Constabulary. In late December 1952, the unit handed the border mission off to the 14th ACR and cased colors. Personnel, including the men of Troop C at Kissingen, were either reassigned or returned stateside and Miles, at least for a short period, was transferred to the 3rd Bn 14th Cavalry. However, he was not quite out of the spotlight.

In 1953, he was reassigned to a post in California supervising reserve units. The construction budget of the orphanage was $50,000 dollars and Miles, through his fund raising efforts, had contributed $10, 000. He wrote from his new assignment to the German Youth Activity office at Hersfeld asking whether the final money had been collected to finish the building and expressed hope that the 3rd Battalion of the 14th Armored Reconnaissance Regiment, would somehow continue the sports and outreach programs that had been so successful under his watch.

As more months passed, and planning for the dedication of the orphanage began, Hersfeld Major Otto Jansen and other notables in the region began a letter writing campaign to lobby that LTC Miles be allowed to return to German for the formal opening of the building. Among the recipients of the letters were President Eisenhower and 7th Army Commander, Lt Gen McAuliffe. Needless to say, the Army could not say no.

On August 20, 1954 at a ceremony with over two hundred Germans and Americans in attendance, the new orphanage was dedicated, a three story building to accommodate sixty children. LTC Ralph Miles was present, gave brief remarks and then signed over the rights to a toy war game he had invented that was scheduled to go into production that year. Any profits from sales would flow to the orphanage or other local charities. When finally totaled, he had overseen the raising and contribution to local charities of over $40,000 from 1950 until 1953.

Through the following years, the three battalions of the 14th did support the local German orphanages in Fulda, Kissingen and Hersfeld although at a much lower financial level. By the time the mission was handed off to the Blackhorse - this relationship with German kids was a pleasant anachronism from a long past time.

Likewise, German - American Youth Activities and clubs were no longer the concern of American military units after 1955. It was once a good idea and then, the recovery of the German economy and much closer control over military units and fund raising involving lose cash signaled the end of the program. Close the books on the project and let’s move on.

While unit sports to include track and field and boxing would remain options for troopers in the 14th , the days of the grand games, French and British participation and German teams had likewise past. The 1952 14th Armored Cavalry Yearbook makes no mention of German American sports events. This seems odd, but perhaps the Regiment wanted to officially separate itself from what had been a Constabulary initiated event.

At any rate, the Cold War was on, the recon battalions had much to do with all the expected training, exercises and maneuvers plus the border mission. German - American competitions were limited to rifle and pistol marksmanship on the ranges and the occasional fists up and dust - up at the Volksfest beer tent.

The orphanage today appears to be in use as an Alsheimer’s Disease residence.

LTC Ralph Miles retired from the Army in 1961, settled in California and died in 1996. His activities during this period are unknown but chances are, at a backyard cookout, get together with friends or encounter with an old Army buddy - tales of Hersfeld, the games and Battledown would soon be heard. And hey! Did he tell the story about the singing soldier musical??
 

Touchdown! The Musical

Big name celebrities touring Germany and putting on shows were a rarity in the early 1950s with the exception of the Annual Holiday Tours organized by the USO. Troop entertainment efforts saw local soldier talent performing at the unit level in regional shows and reviews and this included Special Services efforts with the 24th Constabulary Squadron and the 14th ACR.

An on going problem was the lack of women participants. There just weren’t that many female soldiers assigned to Germany, fewer still who wanted to participate in EUCOM Special Services productions and shows and the idea of mixing dependants with troops in these endeavors was not looked upon highly.

The solution was to rewrite the stories as much as possible to reduce the number of actresses to a minimum and then draw upon Special Services talent to play the remaining female roles. Many of the SS employees had some entertainment background; it was the best solution possible and it apparently worked pretty well.

A surviving artifact from that period is this playbill that acknowledges the efforts of Special Services workers: Marianne Davis, Jeanne Edwards and Barbra Wickham in dreaming up a musical that required a single actress and would be well received by the troops.

But maybe there is a little more - These names do not readily appear in Broadway history - Davis has a single credit but it easily could be another woman. Regardless of their backgrounds, their intentions were great and the results were … well BoFFo!

Imagine, a romantic comedy, singing and dancing with 25 soldier actors / dancers / chorus and one woman - I guess she like her odds of getting a guy by the last act!

But hold the presses! What about Annette Jacobs Markell! The playbill gives her credit for two of the non professionally sourced songs: “ Ain’t got Dames “ and “ Entered the Institute “.

Well, Ms. Markell was the creative song writer responsible for these two tunes; a graduate of University of Nebraska - Class of 1948 - with a degree in Music in Education, she found her way into the Special Services, went to Germany and upon return to the USA, raised a family, worked in the California School System and has been a creative force in local theater for over 35 years. Sing you soldiers and sing you citizens and let‘s see if she can scribble out a few tunes to get this show on the road!

As is often the fact, the script and music is now lost from these EUCOM productions but doing just a bit of digging, the “ all original musical comedy “ was in fact assembled out of the rough plot lines and song sheets borrowed from a number of period musicals and popular songs, plus the occasional original work. Chances are good that the musicians of the trooper band, the audience and performers were already familiar with many of the songs now merged into a story they might recall from a movie few years back. A strange brew, a happy story, some well known songs and something new on the stage.

Touchdown - Book and Score

A couple of the songs seem to be borrowed from the 1941 musical then movie, Best Foot Forward, the story of how a lone girl sneaks into a military prep school following her boy friend. This plot line was merged with another period show, Good News, that saw a college student librarian tutoring the star quarterback and then the budding romance - tunes Varsity Drag and Pass the Peace Pipe came from this source.

A much older show, Rose Marie, contributed the song Totem Tom Tom. The 1946 movie Sweetheart of Sigma Chi contributed the Sweetheart song and the last two songs were the product of a Special Services writer, Annette Markell. Of the twelve musical numbers in Touchdown, only four required the participation of the sole female singer, many were designed for an all male chorus and almost every song would have been familiar to the audience.

When the curtain came down and the footlights came up - no doubt a good time had been had by all Constabulary troopers. A little bit of Hollywood, a little bit of Broadway, a little bit of hokum and a lot of effort from the Army troopers and gals of the Special Services. What a great night at the theater they had in Germany - 1950!

Touchdown Songs and Sources

I am Working my Way Through College Best Foot Forward ??
Buckle Down Winsocki Best Foot Forward
When I First Entered the Institute Special Services: A J Markell
We Ain’t Got Dames Special Services: A J Markell
   
The Stars Remain Band Leader Woody Herman: Standard
It Only Happens When I Dance with You Easter Parade
   
Sweetheart of Sigma Chi Sweetheart of Sigma Chi
Totem Tom Tom Rose Marie
Pass that Peace Pipe Good News
   
Prisoner of Tate Good News
You’ve got to be a Football Hero Band Leader Fred Waring: Standard
Varsity Drag Good News
   

Annette Markell in 1949.  She contributed two songs to the musical that held the plot together and kept the show on the road.  What a trooper!

March 2016

 
 


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