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In the Winter Wind ...
 
Fall arrives as the Eilzug at Bad Kissingen;  the Summer guests crowd on the platform in a mad collision of luggage and expectation.  Long felt before seen, the express rolls in on the last Summer day, bathed in shimmering yellow light, whistle screaming as though there was just this one chance to depart.  In a flash they’re gone, the train, the guests and the long Summer days,  the platform covered with the accumulation of red, yellow and brown ticket stubs, caught and swirling in the chilled wind of the departing train.
 
The rail schedule changes and the Winter local begins, arriving and departing several times each day.  The doors slide open and dark, cold days, sleet and then snow disembark and greet the town.  Unwanted guest but they arrive each year and seem to stay too long.  As this gray train creeps into the Bahnhof, it pushes the last remaining warm air and most of the color from the city with its pale headlight.  The cold sweeps down from the dark hills.
 
On Halloween night, the scene in the modern business park that once was Daley Barracks features pools of stark white light from the overhead lamps and the odd jack - o - lantern pattern of  yellow window lights as custodians work through the offices.  Neon and back lit corporate signs of the modern new economy add a few desperate splashes of color.  Beyond the light ... shadows and darkness. 

There are a few remaining  places you can stand,  with the moon darting between low clouds, beyond the glare of the security lights, where the view still is 1943 or 1977.  The outline of the former cavalry mess hall framed by the stone obelisk  still recalls Manteuffel Kaserne / Daley Barracks,  further to the left, the Bismarck Tower on the hill.  While standing there and pawing the earth with my boot where the HHT barracks / Squadron Headquarters once stood, caught in the cold night air, a few bars of music can be heard drifting from the distant parking lot. 

First recognized as some modern German techno - pop, then, as I imagine the driver works through the radio pre sets, the music changes. Next heard is swing dance music from the 1930s and after only a few bars, the start of an American bluegrass standard.  Over in less than half a minute, the sounds are lost in the wind, musical ghosts of Manteuffel Kaserne -  Daley Barracks.
 
The Boys in the Band: 1943
 
Colonel - Doctor Leidermann
Bad Kissingen
Wehrmacht Heer
 
I am not so sure that my military career is worthy of being recalled in any great detail.  Like so many, I did my job to the best of my ability and unlike many, I lived to see the new Germany.  I  would hope to be well remembered as a doctor who tried to serve both Germany and the people for all of my adult life.  You have asked, however, about the band and my brief  time as musical impresario in Bad Kissingen, so I shall honor your request.
 
As you may know, in Germany we had the tradition of  the “Winterhilfswerk“ (winter aide effort) charitable campaign. Although started by the Ministry of Propaganda in 1933, it was built on the existing Catholic and Protestant  traditions.  As was the case in those days, the Nazis pasted a flag and a slogan on something, called it their own and made it a state wide event.
 
To assist charities in their efforts to look after the less fortunate, through the Fall and early Winter season, most areas of the Government organized ways of raising funds. So,  from the firemen to the police and so forth, everyone was expected to do some small part.   Even during the war years, the Army was expected to take part in the WHW campaign,  and in Bad Kissingen, as the Commander of the 13th Medical Replacement Training Battalion,  organizing our contribution plan fell, with a thud, on to my busy desk. 
 
I noted to the Adjutant that he should alert the staff and determine a plan for my approval and, with a thud, the folder landed on his desk!  My guidance was that even in this war where the fortunes may have turned, we should do something more creative than sending the troops into town to beg for coins to put in our collection cans.  On a trip to Meiningen, I had seen the trainees from that barracks collecting five Pfennig pieces on street corners and they sadly looked like so many children in the beggar’s army.
 
Now in the staff, and unknown to me, one of the officers had a background in the cabaret entertainment business and together with the Adjutant, they crafted an intriguing plan.  Bad Kissingen had changed much in the war years, the Kur industry increasingly supported our military hospital system.  Many of the civilian doctors had been called to active duty, the guests were mostly gone as were the entertainers and hotel staff that made the city come to life in happier times.  In that Winter of 1943, there were increasingly fewer bright lights. 
 
 The plan presented to me by the staff was that the officers and men of the battalion, as well as the current class of trainees, would create either a winter carnival or a musical review, invite all the city of Bad Kissingen to the affair, charge an admission price and donate the proceeds to the Winterhilfswerk.
 
For this gray soldier, the idea sparked memories of my long ago student days, it was an idea that caught my imagination as very creative. Many of my battalion staff and men were reservists who had left their civilian careers for the war; it was amazing just how many hidden “ talents “  there were standing in the ranks.  I decided that the mostly comic musical review was my choice and for a venue, I persuaded the Lord Mayor of Bad Kissingen to allow us to use the City Theater.  What theater staff remained, primarily the older men, volunteered to help us out and the rehearsals began.
 
Well, it is a longer story now made short ... we trained as usual in the day and then the actors, musicians and entertainers from the battalion refined their performances. During the week, as I would walk the Kaserne at night with the Sergeant of the Guard, from the squad rooms one could hear the hard practices at work.   On Fridays, we entertained ourselves and the trainees with our level of progress; the soldiers clapped and shouted approval or hooted the less talented off the practice stage set up in the mess.  I had the final decision as to what acts were approved and what the order would be. 
 
We had so many soldiers involved!  The show consisted of a number of acts, there was a magician, a trick - pistol shooter, a comic strong man act, a brief two act ‘ mystery play ‘, a classical music interlude, singers, medical soldiers dressed up as chorus girls, a ‘ swing music ‘ band, dramatic readings from famous German literature and so on.  Those who were not performers helped out as stage hands, ushers, and footmen.  We even had soldier - waiters to serve to the audience a little wine and cheese I found as the intermission snack.
 
So, finally, that November, with the full support of the city of Bad Kissingen, the men of the 13th Medical Training Battalion put the war and our worldly concerns behind us for a few hours.  They lit and heated the theater and the audience arrived in full anticipation.  It was mostly the older people of the town, soldiers on leave, some of the wounded and staff from the clinics now in use by the Army, the politicians and others who somehow had avoided the war.  We charged a reasonable admission and made a noteworthy  financial contribution to the WHW campaign.
 
 I will not tell you that every musical note was perfect or that the acts were not without unintentional humor but I will tell you this, as a doctor and a career military man, there was little to happily remember from that war.  In later years, when asked of my service, I would quickly cover my surgical, staff, command and inspection positions but then tell a happy story of how we put life in the cold theater, of the musical review my men and the trainees created in the Winter of 1943, before the war swept over us all.
 
I have not recalled that event in many years now and express my thanks for allowing me to remember the event one last time.
 
The Boys in the Band: 1977
 
LTC ( Ret ) John Gilbreath
Bad Kissingen
United States Army
 
If by chance, while moving through the municipal airport in a thoroughly professional and business like manner, you should observe an Eaglehorse trooper you had not seen since 1977 ... and,  upon establishing contact and exchanging call signs and frequencies, you should determine there is sufficient time to move into the local hide position, pop the caps on a few long neck beers and swap tales from what were, without doubt,  the finest days of your young lives ... and while laughing and telling lies, you should suddenly notice that the best stories you told, either started or ended with ... “and then that sum-bitch SCO, LTC Gilbreath ...“ ... then I would say that while the years may have clouded you memories in some respects, you still clearly recall the key part of the story!!!
 
Most of the stories you hear about me are true, except for the boring ones, those are made up or lies!  I looked upon that Eaglehorse as my herd of young stud mustangs ... and I was the big stallion.  We went down the trails I chose, at the speed I chose, we took water or feed when I chose, we would walk, cantor, trot or charge when I said.  All I wanted was that we be fully combat ready and not be bored.  Hell!!  You want me to tell the story of that Eaglehorse band I dreamt up but there were so many other outrageous things I pulled off ...
 
Let’s see ... charging the border with the squadron in full combat formation, AVLBs rocking in the wind when we pulled up to a stop within 200 meters of the fence just to scare the shit out of those commies ... or the time when on a terrain walk, some East German guard kept giving me the eye  and then pulls out a sandwich and starts eating it right in front of me as though it was the best damn commie sandwich you could ever find west of Moscow ... big surprise when the next week, I held a formal sit down meal within five meters of that same spot on the border, complete with the silver squadron punch bowl ... or the time I spent the entire day at Daley ending each conversation with ... “and if it’s not done correctly, you’re fired!!“  ... no one lost their job but everyone got the message .... how ‘bout the time when the troopers just couldn’t live together in the barracks, so I moved the entire squadron into the LTA for a week of  “refresher training“.  Hell, the stories just keep coming ... I kept badgering the H Company commander to do something fantastic like steal the   track display vehicle from some VII Corp post ... he finally found that junker at Graf, and got it running  ... so I liked to ride it around Daley when the mood suited me ... or the time that warrant officer married that beautiful German girl about   his age ... he thought he was the big stud of the ranch ... I’ll tell ‘ya, I was parading her sister and girl friends through my quarters in groups of six!!  And these are just the stories that are rated PG!!

 Anyway ... about the band ... when I took command, the RCO made a big point of bragging about the Fulda band that had accompanied him to BK ... this put a burr under my saddle ... he had a big band but I doubted they could shoot straight, I even told him so.   I got together with my Command Sergeant Major and told him to shake the rafters ‘ till we had a squadron band.  Well ... he came up with some troopers who had played in high school, we got the instruments from Rec Services and by luck and by God, they actually managed to organize themselves and learn a tune, one of my favorites from my youth in Muleshoe Texas, “The Old Gray Mare “!!  They practiced a couple of times a month in the Squadron HQ after duty hours.
 
So ... we would drag the band out on any occasion possible, ride them in the   track,  play at functions formal and informal.  I told the RCO, he could come to BK anytime and hear them play a selection of Texas favorites, (one tune) and I guaranteed they COULD shoot straight!!  Anyway, that’s the band story ...
 
Ya’ know, a few weeks back, I watched that movie “Apocalypse Now“ and whenever I see that Robert Duvall character, the Air Cav Squadron Commander, doing battle management and organizing a surfing expedition at the same time, I always smile and say, “ that guy reminds me ... of ME! “ ... ‘course one of my buddies from those days says that the Brando character, Colonel Kurtz, is a better fit.  Damn!! I just don’t get it, but he says it's true  ... go figure ...

Hey ... if ever you guys are in west central Texas, recall your scout days of hot tracks in the cold air and remember how to read a damn map, swing down the road toward Clovis, New Mexico.  As every local school kid learns to tell that joke ... when you see Earth in the rear view mirror you’re way to Muleshoe.  Check it out on a map, HELL ... I might even be there, we’ll swap some lies and throw back a few Lone Stars.   I’ll tell the stories that weren’t fit to print!!!

 
Note: 
 
We have dramatized the first person accounts of both Colonel Leidermann and LTC Gilbreath to help bring this Hidden Story to life, however, the key facts contained in the accounts are fully researched and presented as accurate. 
 
 


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