A MEMORIAL DAY STORY by Victor Swatsek
I salute ALL my brothers and sisters, especially the ones who never made it home. I know there are people who never recover from losing a loved one in any type of war or by just being in the military. However, we must not forget service people are killed in military maneuvers at home as well as in a foreign land.
I still remember the time when I was in the Army on administrative field maneuvers in Ingolstadt, Germany, on the Danube River. I was in Company “E” Third Division and in one of seven ARCE (Amphibious River Crossing Equipment) units in all of Europe. This unit was only used to create a bridge to connect both sides of a river too deep for military vehicles to cross. Their sole mission was to get trucks, jeeps and tanks to the other side. In my particular unit, there were about twenty ARCES, each approximately fifty feet long. They could span a river a thousand feet across. If it were wider than that, another company from a different region in Germany came to assist.
I was a pilot for a “two-piece” twenty-foot motorboat, which was used to patrol downriver. Once the ARCEs were in the river, my job was to make sure that if any of the crewmembers on those ARCEs fell in the river, I would fish them out. It had to be done quickly because the Danube moved very fast. If you didn’t pick up the crewmember within just a few minutes, he would be difficult to find, even though they all wore life jackets. We used to joke that if we didn’t find the crewmember quickly enough, he would be halfway to Czechoslovakia before they got him.
We were informed a General from The Third Division was going to stop by and review our process. A young man in our unit, maybe twenty years old, drove his 2 ½ ton truck down the driveway-like ramp into the Rhine river to wash it. Suddenly his brakes slipped because they were too far into the water. He panicked as the river pushed against the driver’s side door, and he couldn’t open it. By the time they could get a crane to pull him out of the water, he was dead. We surmised his panic caused a heart attack. He was only washing his truck.
What made it unforgettable for me was it happened on my birthday, March 15th. Now, every year on my birthday, I remember the young man who died so he could have a clean truck for the General to review.
These are the war stories one rarely hears.