The Pfalz is a geography of wine and hiking trails, slightly more Catholic than Protestant and almost evenly divided between Germany’s Social and Christian Democratic parties. Following the Second World War it was separated from the Bavarian state and made part of the French Zone of occupation eventually becoming part of the Rhineland Palatinate, one of the 16 federal states in Germany.
In 1964 you could still see the remnants of German bunkers here. It was that year the 115th Combat Support Hospital established itself as a training facility in Munchweiler, a hamlet that sat on the edge of the Pfalz Forest. Eventually the hospital would become the 2nd Field Hospital, though I am not certain it had the designation at the time. What I do know is that the United States also had a more developed medical facility in Toul France northwest of Munchweiler and if I had waited to be born on my due date I would not only have a very fitting army brat birthday of July 4, but had a cradle in Meurthe-et-Moselle rather than in the foothills of southwest Germany.
Cradles are important as they carry infants to slumber, but when a baby cries at night a cradle will not suffice. The child needs the arms of his mother. This explains my relationship to Germany, particularly the Pfalz and America. I have a strong attachment to the land of my birth, but a much stronger one to the land of my heritage.
In some ways it was fitting to be born in the Pfalz. I was a GI’s kid and I know history changes the players in the game. 165 years after fighting to win independence from the British, America would eventually join Britain, which for nearly two years stared down the Nazis alone, to help bring down the demented place that the country of my ancestors and my birth had become. 19 years after the war ended, Germany was a free and liberal democracy and a much better ally than France.
I do not know for certain why the US Army had a hospital in Munchweiler, but my guess is that being just two years after the Cuban missile crisis it had more to do with a potential war than allowing American women to give birth. The cold war never became hot and the hospital was eventually torn down doing little more than treating the ailments of soldiers and seeing to the deliveries of American babies. It was a fitting cradle however.
Since 1964, I returned to the Pfalz twice, once to live and once to arrive at the Air Force base in Ramstein to take the train to Frankfurt am Rhein and go on to Portugal. That later excursion allowed me no time there of any consequence, but when I was there the first time since my birth, I came to understand my cradle and my mother. I was twelve at the time. It was 1976. I was disappointed I was left only with my “cradle” and could not be in the arms of my “mother” as she celebrated her bicentennial, yet it was then I acquired an appreciation for her that I could not have had on its shores.
1976 was a peculiar year and the Fourth of July a peculiar day. The United States was still stinging from the withdrawal from Vietnam and celebrating 200 years of independence was as much about removing those scars as anything else. Yet a twelve year old can hardly understand that and I was in the Pfalz, far away from my mother and nesting in my cradle.
I remember American forces had a parade in Munchweiler on that Independence Day, though I don’t remember fireworks. My mom promised I would have these on New Year’s Eve, but I wanted them on this particular day and they were not to be had.
My mom was right. On January 1, 1977 my family had moved further east into the German state of Rhineland-Palatinate and lived in Worms, a city known for Luther’s famous utterance of “here I stand” and the fireworks were to be had. Still in Munchweiler on July 4th there were no fireworks and I felt a grave disappointment. It was not enough to have only the cradle Germany; I wanted mother America.
Yet that summer I did come to know mother America. I knew her hiking with my father to a ruined castle in my cradle. I have recounted that story before; you can find it here. Thinking on that has always given me an appreciation for my cradle and how it helped me to understand mother America in the presence of my father.
When I recount the day I went to Grafenstein, I am glad it was here in the quiet of the Pfalzerwald my mother rocked me to sleep. It was not so bad after all. The Pfalz had wonderful trails to hike, mysterious stone formations, ruined castles, wine (which I only appreciated later in life), and lovely hamlets like Munchweiler. It also had a story which was now my own and one that belonged not only to my cradle, but to my mother as well.
I’ve thought of returning to the Pfalzerwald, especially now that I know the history of the likes of Grafenstein and how one travels Europe; it is far different than the way we travel America. That is a subject for the near future, however. My only reason for this post is I’ve only recently thought of recounting my life as I want to have this for the sake of memory and there is no better place to start than with your mother and your cradle.
Image: CC License Wolfgang Staudt