Return of the Soldiers

Return of the Soldiers

By Roger Heid

 

In summer of 1946, after being pushed around a bit, my Mom and I finally got moved into an apartment in Stuttgart-Bad Cannstatt. I only have a few fragmented memories about this; to me, frequent moves were quite normal. It turned out we stayed living there until January of 1953.

From the kitchen porch I could see railroad tracks, about 120 yards away. Watching trains going by had become a daily routine. No big deal. But one day, several months after we had moved there, a rather unusual inbound train passed by. It was a very long passenger train; all the windows were lowered, and there were men waving out of every single window. That was a new one; this I had never seen before. I could not figure out what or whom they were waving at.

During supper I told my Mom what I had seen. She immediately got up, put her coat on and left, saying that she had to go to make a phone call and to finish my supper. This gave me a chance to flush the rest of my spinach down the toilet and to steal a couple of cookies from a ‘hidden’ jar. Successfully hiding cookies from a four year old is a special skill my Mom did not have, a fact I dwelled upon on more than one occasion. At one time, I took too many cookies and she noticed it. She promptly moved the jar to a new location which I had already espied as being a potential future hiding place.

On the following day, I had to put on that silly outfit she had made for me a couple of weeks before. I thought it made me look like a sissy. I resented my sheer existence, but I knew we were going to some important place to see important people, and that I had no choice in the matter. Life could be tough at times.

Much to my surprise my Mom took me to the Stuttgart Main Train Station. On the way she explained to me that my father might be on one of those trains. All of these men were prisoners of war being returned from Russia. She also tried to explain things like war and being a prisoner of war. Most of what she babbled about made no sense to me at the time. I had gathered that people kill each other in a war and when you do something wrong you will be sent to a prison. I asked my Mom if my father had done something wrong, being a prisoner. She just looked aside and told me she would explain it later.

There were a lot of people at the station, especially on that platform where some passenger train was arriving. There I saw it again; all the windows were down and men were waving out of every window.

A lot people were holding signs up in the air. Some signs were made of pieces of card board nailed on some piece of wood or broom sticks. I wondered what they were protesting about. That’s what the adults would normally do when they were angry about some issue; they would carry signs like that and holler a lot. I started to dislike the whole affair.

There were also a bunch of armed US Army MPs and Army nurses hanging around. They did not bother me at all; I considered them to be my friends in spite of the fact that most adults called them enemies. During those days, I was confused a lot of times. Many things did not make any sense to me.

The men started to pile out of the train. There was a lot embracing, laughing and crying going on. I let the pictures do the talking.

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Some of the men needed to be carried out of the cars as they were unable to stand on their feet; some of them had no legs. This made me feel real sad. Having to wear that silly outfit my Mom had made for me shrunk to a mere triviality. I went through a crash course learning about one’s priorities in life and how relative everything was. The MPs and the nurses took care of the disabled. I knew they were in good hands, a good thing.

Subsequently, there were two or three more of these trains scheduled to arrive. I asked my Mom if I could stay with neighbors instead. I did not want to go through this ordeal again.

My Mom did not return from the last train she went to. I was later told that, on that occasion, she was informed that her husband’s status had been officially changed from MIA to KIA. She fainted and was hauled to a hospital from which she was returned the next day. Attending any future train arrivals like that would now be futile.

These were early train related memories I was never very fond of. As time went by, the relationship between me and real trains improved drastically. I am now almost 72 years old, and I still play with my model trains. I caught the bug real early in life in spite of some adverse experiences here and there.

2 Responses to Return of the Soldiers

  1. richard Sappeli says:

    I am very sorry that your father did not rerun from the eastern front. Too many good men perished out there is the wastes of the Soviet Union. My dear uncle survived the 6 years of imprisonment and was finally released to find his way home to his wife. They emigrated to America and raised a daughter, my cousin. My mother had left Germany just after the first world war. My ounce did not want to leave and so was drafted into the army. I have always been interested in trains and still have a our doors garden railroad with 2 live steam locomotives. One was made in Germany by Reinhold Hipshen from Neurenburg. The other is an LGB Frank S live steam loco. Many good wishes to you. rjs.

  2. Jay Carter says:

    What a huge waste of time, effort, resources and lives war is. I’m so sorry that your father lost his life in such a tragic way. May he rest in peace.

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