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The Faces Behind the Names, the Men Behind the Mugs: A Chance to Live Forever - Thru Cold War Beer Steins

A friend of mine is a passionate collector of antique German beer steins, this led to an interest in old American steins and mugs and finally to the Cold War beer steins that many American servicemen took home as souvenirs in the 1950s thru 1970s.  From this last type, he has over 300 Army, Air Force and Navy examples and while you and I might be in awe of that number, among Cold War stein collectors, 300 would be considered a nice assembly but hardly the largest collection known.

E Bay is a prime source but other steins are found at breweriana shows, at specialty auctions and gathered thru private sales and trades between collectors.  Every now and then, he even finds one at an estate sale.

Prices seem to vary - at the low end, a 1970s vintage stein on E Bay goes for about  $50.00;  the most expensive Cold War stein sold on Bay was a very early Special Forces / city of Bad Tolz lidded beer mug -  $900.00.

I asked him to go thru his collection for steins related to Bad Kissingen, it took him a while, so much porcelain, so many shelves but eventually he came up with three steins that troopers had taken home from Daley Barracks as commemoratives of their tours.

These decorative mugs had probably sat in cabinets, on desks or packed away in dusty attics for decades and then, as is apt to happen, when an estate is settled and the physical stuff that helped illustrate a life must be sorted out - some few items remain with family members, a lot of things are given to charity or go to the land fill and a few things end up, turned to cash - on the market.  If you are of the age where you have helped clear out the household of a parent - you know what I mean.

So here we consider the careers and lives of military men we never knew and it seems fitting that beer - or at least beer steins are involved.  The connecting links are Daley Barracks and Bad Kissingen, the border and the Army, the drumbeat of duty, tanks, training and men.  Here are physical reminders from a tour of duty in an armored cavalry unit, a passing remark that our deeds seldom outlive our days and a brief note that a porcelain beer stein and a name written in gold does offer a fraction of immortality.

As long as they read your name - you never quite fade away and may in fact become collectable -  except in the digital age - where names live forever as files and fragments that are occasionally saved and often deleted.

Peter Grasser

Peter George Grasser was born 25 February, 1929 in Wilkinsburg, PA to parents who had immigrated to the United States from Germany and Austria. He attended Greenbrier Military Academy in West Virginia from middle school thru his first year in college and then enlisted into the Army thru the Officer Candidate School Program.

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Cadet Grasser at Greenbrier in 1946.  The school closed in 1972, the campus is now home to an Osteopathic Medical College.

 

Lt Grasser shortly after OCS graduation.

 

He was commissioned in 1949, completed  the Armor Officer Basic course at Knox and reported for duty with the Second Battalion of the 14th Armored Reconnaissance Regiment in Germany the following year.  Initially located at Schweinfurt, he was with the unit when it moved to Bad Kissingen and served as a platoon leader, staff and executive officer until July 1953.

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  Three views of Lt Grasserís souvenir beer stein from his first troop leading assignment in Germany.  The design is quite typical for these steins, the unit crest at the front, side panels display the Constabulary emblem the 14th Cav wore until 1952 and the City Seal of Bad Kissingen.   Photos from the 1952 14th Armored Cavalry yearbook were not captioned - the back of the book did contain unit troop lists and Lt Grasserís name is present in the Company D file.  Colonel Grasserís wife and daughter believe the officer seated at center is Lt Grasser.  

Over the next ten years, he was assigned to the 30th Tank Battalion at Knox initially as  C Company XO followed by command of that unit, a stint as battalion S3 and then command of Company B, 83 rd Recon Battalion.

Transferred to the 709th Tank Battalion, he commanded B Company, was again S3 and accompanied the unit when it moved to Germany.  Here, he served as the Assistant Operations Officer of Combat Command A, part of the 3rd Armored Division.  He was integrated into the Regular Army as a Captain in 1958 and returned stateside in 1959.

The next decade of Captain Grasserís life unfolded at a frantic pace. Highlights included graduation from the Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth and the Army War College at Carlisle Barracks.  He was published in Armor Magazine in an article discussing the evolution of armored recon forces and it is amazing to read just how much technology he envisioned in the early 1960s that ultimately came to pass decades later.

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LTC Grasser in command in the late 1960s.

 

On the civilian side, he completed his undergraduate degree at the University of Omaha and received a Master of Arts graduate degree from George Washington University.   Significant military assignments included senior staff positions at Fort Knox, the Pentagon and command of the 4th Battalion, 35th Armor, part of the 4th Armored Division in Germany.

He turned up in the newspapers - Stars and Stripes reported on his innovative program aimed at increasing soldier safety.  As troopers from his battalion signed out on leave, no soldier could depart without battalion maintenance conducting a thorough inspection of his privately owned auto.

In Vietnam, he served as both the G1, personnel officer and then G3, operations officer, for the 25th Infantry Division.

   
 

The newly promoted Colonel Grasser with wife and child.

 

In the 1970s and final decade of his career, Colonel Grasser served a second assignment at the Pentagon working on force development, commanded the 1st Bde, 2nd Infantry Division in Korea and ended his Army career as the Director of the Weapons Department, the Armor School, Fort Knox KY with retirement in 1976.

I missed overlapping my career with Colonel Grasser by a single year; we otherwise might have met at the PX and were we standing in line to pay for our items, I would like to believe that Col Grasser would have seen the  Blackhorse patch on my shoulder and might have paused to remark.  An occasion to recall so many years back and how units and duty stations change and then consider a new Lieutenant and where he was going and where he once was.  

His family recalled that Colonel Grasser loved the Army and the ideals of service tremendously and he enjoyed being in command - something he was frequently chosen to do.  They declined to provide much information as to his post Army endeavors beyond that he continued to live in Kentucky and was survived by his wife of 35 years and one adult daughter.   Colonel Grasser is also recalled as a Significant Graduate at the museum associated with the former Greenbrier Military Academy.

 
 


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