Story & photos by Kirk Callesen,
1st Brigade, Kirchgoens, 1975-78
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Return to "The Rock" in 2001
A sentimental trip to Ayers Kaserne, Kirchgoens

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NOTE: The author, a former Spearhead infantry scout from Los Alamitos, CA, now lives with his wife and son in Copenhagen, Denmark, where he moved in 1990. His true story below chronicles a visit to Kirchgoens that had many surprises, good and bad, but a visit that had to be done. 3rd Armored veterans planning a return trip to Germany - and their old stomping grounds - might well prepare themselves for similar surprises.

By Kirk "Cal" Callesen

"And once you're gone, you can never go back." - Neil Young

In May, 2001, I returned to Ayers Kaserne in Kirchgoens, where I was stationed for 3 years with the 3rd Armored Division in 1975-78. With the Division's deactivation in 1992, the 1st Brigade left Kirchgoens forever after a stay of something like 35 years. I had served as a Corporal E-4 with Combat Support Company, 3rd Battalion, 36th INF in the Scout Platoon (CSC 3/36 Inf), 1st Brigade. My MOS's were 11D Armor Recon Specialist and 19D Cavalry Scout.

Luckily, after much effort, I was able to get official permission to enter the kaserne from both of the German government offices that had authority over the facility. Yes, there was a security guard, and ex-GI's can't just expect to just wander in, as I suspect is the situation with other former U.S. Army facilities in Germany.

I went back to "The Rock" to seek out the ghosts of my youth. To exorcise some of those demons that have inhabited my dreams and to shake them loose. I had no idea really what was left, but I pictured things pretty much the same as I had left them in 1978, some years ago. The trees would be larger and the weeds would be higher than last year but otherwise it would be the same as it always was.

I intended to explore every nook and cranny that I could get access to. Some things I could remember as clearly as if it was yesterday and others were a little bit more hazy because they had been constructed after my time at the kaserne. I really can't say how the Army left the place because I wasn't there. But, I can imagine it was like most things in the green machine. Clean the billets up for the new tenents. Leave them the way you found them. Leave the keys in the door locks. Then the gate was locked for the last time.

I took a cab from my hotel in Butzbach and, when I told the driver I wanted to go to Ayers Kaserne, he smiled. It had been a few years since anyone had asked to go there, let alone an American and the smile was for things past. Because when you think about it, the cab drivers probably had more contact with GI's than anyone else. Good and bad. Those wonderful payday Friday nights when you had money to burn and a thirst to quench. Standing out at the taxi stand, waiting your turn for the ride into Butzbach and a quick drink before the train to Frankfurt. And those returns to the 'Rock', and your barracks and bed, when you were lucky enough to get a cab (or depending on your condition even FIND one).

I got out of the cab at the main gate like I had so many times before. The "Ayers Kaserne" sign above the gate had been removed, but the UP shack was as it always was. The German security guard had me sign in and that was that. I was on my own. For starters, I planned to walk up the main road to Battalion Headquarters (3/36) because that was the first place and the last place I was at Ayers. A driver from brigade had picked me up there for the trip to Rhine-Main airbase and the flight home, so I figured it was fitting for me to begin there. Little did I know, that an awful reality was about to set in on me.

Battalion HQ was a shell of its former self. The doors and window frames were gone. The rooms were bare of all things Army. There were no signs that this was any kind of headquarters. The radiators had all burst, leaving wide black stains on the floors where pools of water must have lain. I later found out that the entire heating plant for the kaserne ended up in Poland, but nobody knows how.

I walked further up the road to Brigade Headquarters to check it out because during my entire time there I had never been inside. Mere mortals and enlisted just did not walk into Brigade HQ without a valid reason and I never had one. Its doors and windows had also been stripped. Bits of the ceiling tiles crunched under my feet as I walked through the building on the carpeted floors now stained with the winters of days past. It was a breezy day and the wind found its own way in and out of the building making eerie noises while it passed through.

I looked out the front door and noticed that the flagpole had been cut down. Gone was that glorious pole with its brass ball at the top. Legend had it that inside the ball was a .45 round for anyone who desecrated the flag. Must be a heavy re-sale market for used flagpoles somewhere.

An even worse fate had befallen most of the barracks. With the exception of the first row of barracks (that is to say the "old'" 3/36 down to the "old" 2/36), everything else behind that row was either in a partial state of demolishment or stripped of all useful materials. And when I say stripped, I mean stripped bare. Bits and pieces of whatever could not be reused were left where they fell. Gaping holes showed where electrical boxes were once mounted. It appeared that the windows went first. After all, they were the newest parts and probably fetched the most German marks on the resale market. There was, I knew, a huge market in eastern Europe for used building parts.

The plumbing fixtures were gone, including, for some really unknown bizarre reason, the toilet stalls. I can't picture a big market for used toilet stalls, but who knows. And lastly all the electrical stuff had been stripped, which entailed pulling the wiring from the walls and ripping all the fixtures from the ceilings.

I found keys in some of the barracks doors, not the front doors mind you, but, the individual doors of the barracks rooms themselves. Sometimes there was one key, and other times sets of four or more keys. These sets of keys told me that these small, empty rooms were once the home up to four GI's. There would have been four lockers, two sets of bunk-beds and one desk with a chair. Not really a lot of room, but that was before the recent Army concept of "personal space" had been thought of.

I made my way out to the PX. Damn, that was the place. Everything that you could possible want was there. Looking back though, it came as no surprise that we all dressed the same way off duty; we all bought our stuff from the same place. Just about everyone I served with (Enlisted) had to leave Germany with a stereo set-up. The bigger the better --quad, reel to reel, and floor speakers. It was battle of the bands sometimes in the billets. Rock vs. Soul vs. Country Western, all at once. As I walked through what was left of the PX, it was hard to remember what went where. The support columns for the building still had the mirrors pasted all around its circumference as if to give even more space.

Here too, everything of value had been stripped. The beauty shop was empty and dark, as I made my way to what was the barbershop. I remember the lunch-time haircuts the most. Those times I was "advised" during morning formation to get a cut. I really dreaded the older German barbers at lunch time. They always had beer breath and were a little 'shaky' when using the straight razors on the back of your neck. The barbershop was all gone now, and not a clue where it once was.

The bookstore's glass doors were shattered. One of my section Sgt.'s wives had worked there. It made buying certain "adult" reading materials an exercise in creative speech making; the old "ah, yes, the really good articles" lie. The snack bar was an empty room. Just the counter remained. The phrase "I'll buy, you fly" echoed in my brain as I recalled those snack-bar runs from the motor pool and from the billets. It was the only place in a ten square mile area to get a decent grilled cheese sandwich. I even heard that it became a Burger King in the '80's.

The mini market was in the same building. The memories came thudding back with every step. Ration cards clipped to buy individual packs of smokes. Buying odds and ends to help spice up the dull C Ration diets when going to the field for weeks on end, and buying cleaning supplies and shoe polish.

I walked out the rear of the snack bar and checked the two billets in that area. In my time I believed they housed D-122 Maint. and the 503rd MP Company. These barracks too had been stripped, even the paneling from the day rooms. I could never figure out why they were called "day" rooms, because nobody could ever use them during the day. The original wall murals that were painted by some unknown GI artist were once more visible, as the newer wall paneling had been pulls off and taken away. What did the panel thieves think when they saw the murals? I was really starting to feel like some sort of archeologist who was exploring the ruins of a lost civilization. But I knew what went into the murals because every unit had an "artist" who did one. It was a thing called unit pride that motivated them to do it.

I next went and checked out the gym. The fine parquet floors, so immaculately cared for in my time, were now rolled into half waves and were swollen from the leaking roof. They would soon rot away, I was sure. The gym had always been the scene of a never-ending basketball game with the "shirts" against the "skins". The hoops and backboards were now gone.

The post theater was my next stop. Damn, I had some really good times there. It was a place to escape for a while -- to get lost in a movie. The newer movies were always a little late in coming to The Rock, but they never showed to an empty house. Of course, it was hard to quietly sit with so many guys without some noise or guys trying to shout to the actors on screen about hidden dangers ("Man, look out she's got a gun"), as if the actors could hear them. Most of the rows of seats were still there, but the screen has been torn down and nothing remained of the theater snack bar or projection booth. I remember the battalion meetings there when the COL would walk down the aisle while we stood at attention. "SEATS!" and the briefing or de-briefing would begin.

The fire station was in really good shape, but still showed signs of "party use" by the German volunteer firemen that now used those billets for rescue training. Great holes were punched through the walls, among other things. The education buildings, where all new GI's had to take "head start" classes, were completely empty. The "class-six" store, where as an 18-year-old, I could buy what I could not in my home state, was empty. Ow, how many hangovers did that place cause?

My walk through the kaserne had left me in time-warp shock. I was in the past, but surrounded by the present. Things change after so many years, but they are the same in your memories. When you see them again, you get overwhelmed by the events that took place so long ago. I remember 'this and that' I can't forget (nor do I want to).

As I walked past an empty place that I knew as the "rod and bottle" club, I remember when, as a PFC, an E-6 that took me there for my first "liquid" lunch. I was allowed to have two beers for lunch, with no food. It was a very popular lunch-time spot, but like most "fun" things, it too disappeared. A new commander brigade commander came, and there were new rules.

The "newest" building on The Rock when the Brigade left in 1992 was apparently the 2/3 FA billets. This was the only nearly intact barracks left. Unbelievably, the floors still had that GI shine. The only items that had been "recycled" were some of the built-in wooden wall lockers. It was a building built in the "new" Army style. Two or three-man rooms with a private shower and toilet. The rooms also had cable TV and phone connections, built-in wall lockers, and TA-50 lockers. Hell, if I had these kinds of accommodations, I never would have left! In 1975-78, we had lived in four-man rooms (with none of those luxuries) that held five, but seemed like they should've been two-man rooms.

My next stop was the Bachelor Officers' Quarters (BOQ's). OD dust bunnies were on the floors in the rooms, and it seemed as if everyone had just left. The interior smelled like cologne and shampoo. This place had been locked up tight, and even the smells from 1992 couldn't get out. Was that possible?

The kaserne messhalls had also been similarly stripped. I saw one dishwashing machine that looked as if it simply would not be removed and what was left, still bolted to the floor and wall at an angle that suggested brute force was not enough to convince it to leave. The bowling alley was a complete mess and just a shell that had been a foreign-refugee collection point for donations. It was filled from top to bottom with used clothing, rugs, TV's, toys, pots and pans, etc. The EM club was falling apart structurally on one side from rot. The chapel was locked tight, but otherwise seemed untouched. The unknown "vultures" who had preyed on the kaserne at least had the decency to leave a house of worship alone.

The only barracks I couldn't get into was my old HHC and my own CSC 3/36, where I had lived on the third floor. They were locked up tight, and sadly there was no way I could figure to get in. Looking through the windows, I was startled. The interiors unexplainably seemed untouched, except for the absence of beds, tables, etc. They looked clean and undamaged.

I have some pictures taken during my visit that I hope will soon be posted with this "diary." If your are a "Rock" survivor yourself, you may not recognize some places in the pictures, but others you can't forget. Perhaps you will meet a ghost of your own creation, perhaps not. I'm glad I went. I don't think I would go back though. To see it as anything less than it was, or what it is now, is not very easy. And the purity of memories does not have much to do with reality, so I think I've said goodbye for the last time.

Kirk "Cal" Callesen
CSC 3/36 Infantry, Scout Platoon, 1975-78
"Scouts Out!"

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