Stories of the Highway Patrol
My Tour With Det. B
by Joseph L. Ford
At this time , I was a young country boy and was happy to be stationed in Germany. After 46 years, I am surprised that I remember so much about the 9 months that I spent there. I really enjoyed the time I spent in the Seckenheim-Heidelberg-Mannheim area and have long dreamed of a return visit. Of course it wouldn't be the same; at the time there were no fast food establishments, only a few modern buildings, and lots of honey wagons, streetcars, buses, trains and bicycles. It was peacetime and everything was an adventure, even riding on the public transportation, or just walking.
The Big Pile-up
I remember the big pile-up on the autobahn in January of 1955. Cpl. Jim A. Trammel and I had gone into headquarters at Heidelberg in a 10 wheeler to pick up supplies. On the way back I sat in the passenger seat reading, not paying attention to the road, or the traffic. Suddenly we swerved to the left, and I heard Cpl. Trammel uttering a couple of#@@$#%"s, and at the same time hearing the crunch of metal to my right. We had swerved and missed a truck that had driven into dense fog and stopped in the right hand lane. It was loaded with huge steel I beams used in bridge construction. The crunching of metal crash that I heard was a cattle truck smashing into the I-Beams. The passenger in the cattle truck took a beam in the chest and subsequently died; the driver only nicked his little finger on his right hand.
We had a radio in our truck and quickly called for help for the injured, thinking that ambulances would be there soon. We were at the intersection of the Karlsruhe-Mannheim Autobahn. This is also where the Autobahn from Heidelberg merges going North. We waited for what seemed like eternity for the ambulances to arrive. Finally a large black Mercedes pulling a white trailer arrived. At the time I thought this was a peculiar looking ambulance, but the men in the Mercedes were wearing white coats. As they approached the cattle truck they turned around and backed their trailer up to the rear of the truck. The men in white coats jumped from the Mercedes, dropped the tail gate of the cattle truck and proceeded inside. To me this seemed like strange behavior and l could only watch.
The men then uncoiled a cable from the trailer (hooked to a winch on the front of the trailer) and attached it to something inside the truck. A few seconds later we were somewhat surprised at the large dead steer being pulled from the truck and onto the trailer. They closed the tailgate. jumped into the Mercedes and roared off in the direction of Heidelberg. At about the same time the real ambulance had arrived on the scene and was administering assistance where needed.
The first vehicle on the scene of the accident had been from a butcher shop, we never did find out how they learned of the accident and the dead steer so quickly. Perhaps the ambulance service should have been on the same hot-line.
Cpl. Trammel and I also talked with an American couple who were trapped in their vehicle (unharmed). They were wedged between two larger vehicles. They could only wait patiently until the wreckers arrived on the scene to release them. On the Southbound lane, a stalled car with an officer in the back seat had also become involved. The driver seeing what was taken place pulled onto the shoulder of the highway (hoping to be out of the way) and stopped. Suddenly the driver yell jump, they bailed out of the car an into the field, out of harmís way just in time. A large truck hit their stalled car dead center and drove the rear-end of the vehicle into the front seat. I later observed the vehicle and noticed that the rear doors were pushed up in a telescope fashion behind the front doors. That was one lucky officer.
The Bumbling Corporal
Lt. Peterson (detachment commander) would sometimes send me to the transportation company located behind the station when we had an important inspection. I was a draftee, very young, naive, and somewhat unpredictable when it came to military bearing. I didn't mind, and it gave me time to do some reading. Perhaps one reason for this is that I almost messed the whole detachment up during a command inspection.
A Captain from Heidelberg was inspecting while we all stood tall by our bunks. During the inspection, with Lt Peterson just behind the Captain, they stopped in front of me. The Captain asked me what we had for training this week. I froze, I could not remember even though I had typed out the training roster. The Captain repeated the question, I replied sir, I don't know. I also noticed that Lt. Peterson had taken a deep breath and was beginning to grow pale (or so I thought). I was able to blurt out that I had fallen asleep in class and therefore didn't know. The Captain chewed me out for being so careless and moved on to the next man. I then noticed that Lt. Peterson had let out his breath and started to regain some color. The incident was never mentioned to me by Lt. Peterson again. Training schedules sometimes conflicted with patrol schedules, so we had ''options''. Most of us took the "option'' and did not attend. However, as a precaution, we had been instructed to be familiar with the roster just in case they were ask, and I, who had typed the roster didn't know what was on it.
Sometime after I arrived I discovered an old motorcycle in the garages behind the station. I rolled it out checked it over and managed to get it inning. I had found my transportation to and from Fumari Barracks in Mannheim. I never did ask the old man if it was okay, and he never said anything about it- so I guess it was okay. It was a 48 model (or there abuts) with large handlebars and was painted black and white with HP painted on the side and I enjoyed the ride.
The Big Arrest
In case you are wondering, I was not a regular patrolman. I did fill in when necessary, but most of the time I was the general flunky. This was okay by me, I was content just being in Germany. My duties consisted of making the laundry run, typing the training rosters on the first of the month, picking up gas and oil stamps and general supply duties.
I do remember being sent out on patrol once. We had received some replacements and this one young man from Dallas, Paul Taylor I think. We were sent out together, me who seldom pulled patrol duties was going to train someone who had never been on patrol. Anyway, we received a call on the radio-be on the lookout for a blue Plymouth sedan being operated by Americans and shooting rifles out the window of the moving vehicle. Just about that time we spotted the vehicle on the opposite side of the Autobahn. We quickly turned around and pulled them over. As we both got out of the vehicle, Paul ask what do I do? I told him to stand ready as he had been trained to do. I collected their identification cards, their rifles and instructed them to drive to the Seckenheim Station and that we would follow close behind. It was a couple of-officers in khaki pants and plaid shirts out pot-shooting critters. We took them in and turned them over to Sgt. McGory, told him what had happened and left. Later Paul told me that he had been scared. We then continued on patrol passing the station several times, each time we noticed that the blue Plymouth was still there.
The Desk Sgt., Sgt. McGory had called Lt. Peterson to come in and deal with the pair. I suppose if I had made out a report on the two, they would have been in really hot water. I think they finally let them go after about 6 hours of cooling their heels.
Death In The Night
Another time when l was on patrol duty l was sent to investigate an accident on the Autobahn just South of Mannheim, it was about midnight (a very black night-no moon). When I got there I discovered that a large German Truck pulling two trailers had been in the process of making a U turn and that a motorcycle had crashed into it. The motorcycle had hit the hitch between the two trailers. The motorcycle was still up right (front wheel wedged firmly under the hitch) with the rider still on the seat and his feet on the pedals.
The upper part of his body was sprawled backward over the rear tender with his arms reaching over his bead- he was dead. Apparently he failed to see the lights of the big rig soon enough. As far as I could tell there was not a mark on the deceased anywhere.
Something To Remember
Motorcycles are dangerous, one day while sweeping the parking lot. getting ready for an inspection, I heard a crash on the Autobahn. The station of Det. B and its parking lot are located on the East side of the Northbound lane. At the time I was facing away from the road. By the time I turned around all I could see was a motorcycle on its side-sliding straight down the passing lane. A few feet behind- flat on his butt leaning back on his hands located to his rear and nearly up-right was its rider.
The motorcycle made about three lazy revolutions, as did the rider as they slid down the pavement. The rider of. the motorcycle had clipped the bumper of another vehicle which caused the spill. The driver of the other vehicle did not stop and continued on his way. When both the rider and his motorcycle finally came to a stop, he got up and brushed himself off picked up his motorcycle, remounted and continued on his way in the direction of Mannheim. Thank God for the leathers, I am sure that he had good road-burn from his ordeal. I guess that was life in the fast lane back then.
The Pit Stop
On another one of my patrols we were supposed to meet a Russian Embassy vehicle at the North boundary and provide escort to the Southern boundary where another unit would continue the escort. The vehicle was a huge Mercedes and we pulled in behind the vehicle. It soon left us behind, we just couldn't keep up the pace with the old Chevrolet. We thought we had really screwed up by losing them, but we continued on as best as we could hoping that they wouldn't turn off somewhere.
We finally spotted them on the side of-the road approximately 100 yards in front of us. As we pulled in behind the Mercedes we could see only one person in the vehicle, there had been four in the beginning. Before I could exit the vehicle I noticed a lady with two children coming out of the woods and walking in the direction of the Mercedes. No wonder they were traveling so fast, when you have to go, you got to go. On another occasion we were once again providing escort service to the Russians. When we reached the Heidelberg Autobahn. they turned and proceeded in the direction of Heidelberg. This was not the specified route so we quickly radioed the station informing them about what was happening. We were instructed to just follow and keep them informed. It wasn't long before the Russians pulled to the roadside about two kilometers from town. We pulled in behind, exited the vehicle and slowly approached the Russian vehicle. The Russians could speak no English and we no Russian, by pointing and using sign language somehow we were able to determine that their battery had gone bad. We contacted the Heidelberg station and they said they would find a battery and send it out. While waiting for the battery, we exchanged cigarettes with each other, my Lucky's for one of his.
It was the strongest cigarette that I had ever smoked in my life. It was half hollow filter and half strong tobacco. We exchanged another while waiting, this time I kept his and smoked one of my own. I think that I may still have that cigarette around somewhere today. I also noticed that when we pulled in behind them, the driver got out of the vehicle, I thought man, what a sharp uniform. It was a tunic style jacket and not a wrinkle anywhere. It wasn't long before he turned around and I quickly saw way it fit so good. It was all bunched together in the back and stuffed into his belt, I wasn't very envious after that.
We Protect Our Own
One night I had gone into Heidelberg for a few drinks. We would always time our trips so that we could get a ride with the patrol car which came to the city limits on its regular tour. I liked to wear khaki pants and a sport shirt in the summer, this of course was not legal at the time. The town MP's knew us and mostly looked the other way on something minor like this. As I remember it, we were hoofing it to the edge of town when the MP's drove up and ordered us into the jeep with them. I thoughts Oh Boy, now l'm in for it for being out of uniform. Just as soon as we had gotten into the jeep, they zipped around the corners all the white explaining that the OD was on patrol that night and we needed to stay out of sight. They even hauled us the extra ten blocks to the edge of town where we caught the patrol back to the station. MP's always looked out for each other.
Note: I used to enjoy driving the jeep with the top out- in the rain. The speed limit on the Autobahn was fast enough to deflect the rain over my head. The only problem was when you stopped.
This story previously appeared in Volume # 3, Issue # 3, June - July, 2000 of "THE WHITE MICE"