So if you’ve read the first part, you know that I was driving a 1948 Opel through downtown Kassel about 11:30 P.M on a busy Saturday night, with a Christmas tree, that was longer than the car, hanging on the side held there by two of my accomplices. Now Kassel is not a small town and I began to wonder what I would say if somehow I was pulled over by the police. Fortunately we made our way out of town without that happening.
As we headed back to our post at Rothwesten, someone suggested a stop at the Red Kat, which was a gasthaus on the Fulda river not far from our base. They would still be open, and we could have a beer and some of their famous ochsenschwanzsuppe (oxtail soup), and toast ourselves on pulling this caper off.
We passed through midnight at the Red Kat, and it was close to 1:00 A.M. it was now officially the 19th of December. I also began to think of how we were going to get this tree through the main gate, especially since it was against the rules for me to even be driving a privately owned vehicle between the hours of 1:00 A.M and 7:00 A.M.
I finally said to my friends, “Let’s go.” We headed back up the steps to where the car and the tree were parked, and after the tree holders were in their places, we hoisted the tree up so they could hold it, and we were on our way back to the post, not really knowing if I would be stopped, or not, at the main gate.
We approached the main gate, and the guard waved us right through even though it must have been a strange sight. I drove right to our barracks which was a three story building formerly used by the German military when, well you know, that unpleasantness that was only 15 years behind us.
Our Trick, as we called the platoons of our company which consisted of Able, Baker, Charlie and Dog. We were Able, and our rooms were on the third floor at the south end of the building.
So far so good. We got the tree up the three flights of stairs, one of our number had retrieved the lights from the trunk.
Then came the problem of what to use for a stand, and someone suggested using one of the five-gallon, sand filled buckets used as butt cans would work. We tried it, and it did. The tree appeared to be stable once we had stuck in the sand.
At this point someone brought out a bottle of Jim Beam, and we proceeded to discuss the next step, the lights, plus we didn’t have a star for the top of the tree either. Someone suggested we string the lights we had, and we could look for a star later. So, a few of our number got busy stringing the lights, and when they were through asked if anyone had an extension cord. We found one, attached one end to the cord from the lights on the tree, and prepared for the big moment, the moment when we have lights on our stolen Christmas tree.
Everyone got a glass with a bit of bourbon in each one, and we raised our glasses as someone plugged in the extension cord to a live socket.
Nothing happened. The tree and the lights just sat there dark.
We were disheartened. All of that work gone for nought. All we had then was a tree with lights that didn’t work, and we would have to get rid of it anyway since I don’t think it was allowed in the first place, not being government issued or approved.
So, we sat around my room for a bit trying to think of what we should do. It was getting to be about 3:30 A.M., and if we were going to do something we had to do it soon and the Jim Beam was about gone.
Not one person suggested just forgetting the whole thing and going to bed. In retrospect that would have been the sane thing to do, but it was also a lot to expect from some young, dumb, and bulletproof kids over 4,000 miles from home.
Someone said, “There’s only one thing to do, and that is to go back to town and get some more lights, lights that work.” They looked at me, as I was the car guy, and the only one with a license. Even though it was against the rules for me to be driving off post at that hour I nodded my assent, and we headed down the stairs to the car.
I was thinking the guard would probably stop me due to the time, and we’d have to turn around and go back to the barracks, taking me off the hook. There was me, Larry Pitt, Al Adinolfi and one other guy, I think it may have been Haskins or Heimerl, I’m not sure.
As we approached the main gate, the guard just waved me through, and we were on our way.
As you left the main gate there was about a quarter mile and then a sweeping right hand curve. As Larry Pitt was stomping his feet on the floorboard and shouting, “Faster, faster,” my little Opel was going about as fast as it could, which means about the speed of a golf cart today.
As I made the turn on the curve, I encountered some ice, lost control and we slid into the ditch and almost rolled over. In fact I think we did, but it bounced back to where it was lying on its side.
I looked up, turned the ignition key off, and as I looked out the windshield, I could see Pitt in the headlights running down the road thinking the thing was going to blow up. Well, it didn’t.
Now I knew I was in trouble. No one was injured, and we all crawled out of the car and surveyed the situation. By now we were joined by Pitt who was relieved it hadn’t exploded.
Then we got busy, pushed the car back upright, pulled the fenders on the passenger side away from the tires, and I go in to see if it would start. It did.
Now the question was what to do. Someone found an old snap cap beer which had come loose in the accident. We passed it around and it was okay. Then I had an idea.
I told my friends, we would drive to Hann Munden, a small town up the road a few miles and I would sell the car for junk and we could find someone to give us a ride back to post. They all agreed, and off we went.
We got to Hann Munden and knew we had an hour or two before anything would be open so we parked, finished off the snap cap, and talked about the evening’s escapades having a good laugh.
There was a pause in the laughter and talk, when someone up and said, “Do you know what day it is, it’s Sunday, there’s nothing open or going to open.”
Now it was past 6:30 A.M, and there was nothing for it, we had to go back to the post. I figured that would be okay since we would be arriving after 7:00 and I would be okay. The only problem I was going to have was explaining the wreck that would be parked in front of our barracks when we got back.
Driving back to post from Hann Munden, I made a decision. Once through the main gate, I would stop by the SP Shack where the MP’s were the other three could just get out and head for the barracks.
As the left for the barracks, I went into the SP shack and the Sargent behind the desk asked me what he could do for me.
I said, “I’d like to report an accident.”
That got his attention, and he asked me where it was.
I said, “It’s sitting right outside.”
Well, he went outside with me looked it over and asked me what the hell was going on. I said I’d hit some ice around the curve and went into the ditch. So we drove out to where he could see how the snow had been disturbed, went back to the SP shack and he wrote me up for driving between the hours of 1:00 A.M. and 7:00 A.M.
Now I was facing another problem, that being our First Sargent, Sargent Prudhomme. I knew I would probably get an Article 15, which is like a misdemeanor, or as they call it in the Army, “Company Punishment.”
So on Monday, I met with him, owned up to the driving violation. One thing you never do in the Army is make an excuse, they hate that, and he gave me seven days extra duty and pulled my pass for those seven days. Had I lied or tried to make an excuse it would have been worse.
Then I had an idea for him, since I knew he had penchant for trying to beautify the barracks area, I offered to sell him the car for a dollar and he could use the funds for his favorite program. He bought it. I signed the title over to him, he gave me a dollar and the deal was done.
He did tell me the tree would have to go, which I expected, and since the lights didn’t work it didn’t bother me at all, especially since if he knew what we’d done to get it there in the first place we would all have been in trouble.
The footnote to this story is the guy I bought the car with, Dave Wright, a kid from Indiana, never got to drive it because he never got his license to drive a privately owned vehicle before I wrecked it and gave it to Sargent Prudhomme. We’d bought the car from a guy who was leaving for home for $100 so it wasn’t a big loss for either of us.
So Christmas came and went that year, but at least several of us had the memory of the December 18th Christmas Tree Caper to make us smile that season. It was a Merry Christmas after all.