BY ED KIESTER
Where, outside its own borders, does the U.S. keep the greatest
number of troops today?
If you asked that question of the average American housewife,
the chances are nine in ten she would answer "Vietnam."
Through build-up after build-up, so the headlines remind us daily,
the ugly war in that unhappy Asian nation now claims more than
100,000 of our best fighting men. Included are some of the Army's
The fact is, however, that a far larger force is concentrated
in a different part of the world. Here in the shadow of the Iron
Curtain, more than a quarter of a million men are braced for
another kind of war -- one few expect will ever break out. They
are the American forces facing the main Communist threat from
the Soviet Union. And today, as the upcoming anniversary of Pearl
Harbor once more focuses attention on the Pacific, the GI's on
the front line in Germany are the forgotten men of world events.
What are 260,000 GI's doing in Germany today? What occupies
them 20 years after the U.S. arrived as conqueror after World
War II? How ready are they to fight, how likely is it they will
ever have to, how long might they have to remain here, why isn't
more of the load shared by our European allies? And what do these
GI's think of Vietnam and of their own mission in Europe?
I have just spent time asking these questions -- here, where
I myself was a GI 20 years ago. I have talked to the men and
watched them in action. And the answers I got were both surprising
To begin with, the Germany of today is not the Germany of
my time. There are scenes that would be familiar to anyone who
lived through -- or watched newsreels of -- the postwar occupation.
Crewcut young men still eye blonde girls on street corners. OD-painted
tanks lumber down country lanes. Troops in fatigues and helmet
liners stand in formation in old SS kasernes while Germans watch
through the fence. But where the countryside was wan and sickly
in 1945, it is fat and lush today. And the Americans are here
not as conquerors but as allies. They have moved in with families,
schools, special housing, commissaries, and they give every impression
of being here to stay -- yet somehow they are less in evidence
than they were 20 years ago.
"The United States Army, Europe," proclaims a folder
produced by the local command, "is the keystone of the North
Atlantic Treaty Organization [NATO] land defenses in Europe."
E/4 Harvey Peterson, of Beach, N. Dak., a Third Armored Division
soldier whose routine is depicted in these photos, puts it differently.
"We are the shield the rest of the free world would hide
behind," he says.
That shield is a formidable one. Against a Red threat consisting
of 66 Soviet divisions in Eastern Europe, plus 60 satellite divisions
in support, NATO has a Northern Army group of British, Canadian,
Belgian, Dutch and German troops and a Central Army group of
U.S., French and German. The U.S. Seventh Army makes up about
a quarter of this central group. It consists of five full-strength
divisions and three armored cavalry regiments deployed in depth
along 300 miles of the Iron Curtain. It is equipped with both
conventional and nuclear weapons, and officers like to say that
a single battalion today has more fire-power than General Eisenhower
could muster in all Europe in World War II.
A key element in this mission is the Third Armored. An outfit
with an enviable combat record going back to the Normandy Campaign,
it is ranged across the Fulda Gap, traditional invasion route
into western Germany, and it keeps tuned up as if it expected
that route to be used tomorrow. The division consists of six
tank battalions and five battalions of mechanized infantry; it
has 325 of America's most modem tanks, some of them (see cover)
equipped with special xenon infrared and white searchlights for
night firing and with ten 105-mm. flat trajectory guns.
Following around a youth like Peterson, you find that the
units here mean business. Each division is required to assemble
half its personnel in 30 minutes and to be able to move out to
prepared positions, ready for war, with 85 per cent strength
within two hours. Peterson's. unit, C Company of the First Battalion
of the 32nd Armored Regiment, has a daily "stand-to"
in which all personnel and vehicles are checked for combat readiness,
and there is an unannounced alert (which usually comes about
4 A.M.) once a month which requires that the entire company be
off-post and at battle stations in two hours. The division also
has regular weapons firing, tank maneuvers and annual combat
You get a real taste of the division's readiness when you
watch a spot alert. The men keep their gear ready and their packs
rolled, and even in a pre-dawn alert can be out of the barracks
and on the tanks in what seems like split seconds. Peterson is
usually first man out. As training-aids noncom and jeep driver
for the company commander, Capt. Walter Kidwell, it is his job
to get to the CO's home, five miles away, and bring him back
to the base speedily so the unit can move out. Peterson has zippers
in his boots so he can be on the move faster. The last alert
he was there and back and had C Company moving in 21 minutes.
Peterson, a blond 23-year-old, is one of those conscientious
modern soldiers the division is proud of. "He can do any
job you give him," Captain Kidwell says. A student at North
Dakota State College, Fargo, before his enlistment, he plans
to go back there next fall -- hopefully with the help of the
Third Armored scholarship fund. Last year he was one of six soldiers
nominated for the Doyle Hickey award, a $100 bond given in honor
of a former divisional commander to the man with the best knowledge
of his job, the division and the Army history. Peterson finished
The life Peterson and his buddies live is military all the
way. It starts in winter at 5:30 A.M., progresses through reveille
and a 6 A.M. breakfast to a workday beginning at 8 A.M. The company
spends its mornings in classes, learning tank identification,
tactics, psychological warfare. In the afternoon there is cleaning
and maintenance of weapons and upkeep of the company vehicles.
On a regular basis, they receive troop information lectures and
talks on why they are in Europe and what they mean to the cold
GIRL FRIENDS & GASTHAUSES
Off duty, however, the men could well imagine they were not
in service at all. Friedberg, in the rolling Hessian countryside
north of Frankfurt, is a pleasant, castle-dominated little village
of trees and timbered cottages. The GI's can go to a gasthaus
(restaurant) or to visit girl friends every night, and there
are sight-seeing tours to points of interest -- like Rhine castles
and Heidelberg. Married personnel have comfortable apartments
as well as schools and commissaries. Although relations with
the Germans are good -- there is even a German-American soccer
league -- the two communities generally don't mingle.
Peterson, good soldier that he is, takes part in unit athletics,
goes on trips, saves money for school and recently took an evening
course in German -- "so if I was lost out in the field,
I would be able to ask directions." He has no girl friend
here, spends most of his evenings with a buddy, Cpl. John George.
Occasionally the two go to town for beer or rowing on the lake.
More often they loll around the barracks and shoot the breeze.
"Why are we here -- that's generally the topic,"
Peterson says. "There are about six to ten guys that argue
about this all the time. One group says, well, we're just numbers,
we don't stand a chance if the Russians really want to move in.
Another says we have to be here -- Europe couldn't keep from
being overrun if we weren't. We can hold territory until reinforcements
come in behind us. Others say, this is the safest place in the
world; the Russians obviously aren't going to attack us. So why
the heck don't they pull us out of here and send us to Vietnam
where we're really needed, and let some reserves do this?"
Peterson has a brother in Vietnam, Don Peterson, and so he
is very conscious of the fighting there. It is possible now for
GI's to volunteer for direct transfer to that theater, and some
have done so (although, says the Pentagon, not all have been
accepted because certain specialties are overloaded). Peterson
has not volunteered and doesn't plan to, and recognizes that
it is very unlikely that his unit will be transferred. "Armor
is effective in Europe, but not in Asia," he says.
Besides, Peterson recognizes that the mission here in Germany
is part of a global one, part of a national stance to stop the
forward push of Communism anywhere. And he believes that he and
his buddies, though out of the headlines at the moment, serve
an important purpose. In this he is supported by the No. Two
man in the U.S. Army Europe Command, Maj. Gen. Francis Drachler.
"They are good men, good troops with the best equipment,"
says the chief of staff. "They could give a good account
of themselves against any threat -- anywhere."