62nd Highway Patrol (MP)
 Germany      1948 - 1958

Stories of the Highway Patrol

 

 

Non-Combatant Evacuation Order

 

by  Lawson Stevens

 

 

 

 

Noncombatant Evacuation Order, or NEO as it was called, was the plan devised by the US Defense Department for the evacuation of all non-combatants from the European Theater of Operations in the event that the cold war stalemate turned into open warfare.  The non-combatants during the Cold War amounted to several hundred thousand family members of US Military and Civilian personnel, along with those US citizens considered to be non-essential.

 

The plan was developed early on in the Cold War, and was continually modified and updated as conditions in the European Theater of Operations changed.  The original scenario called for all non- combatants in Germany to be evacuated by road as far to the rear as possible, and ultimately transported by ship from whatever harbors were available and considered safe.  This meant that the first goal, was to get away as quickly as possible by the shortest route-into France.

 

As air transportation became an increasingly viable alternative, plans were modified to bring non- combatants to staging areas, where they would be registered and manifested for onward transportation by bus, to selected US Air Bases for air evacuation.  This had the obvious advantage of being able to use people’s home base as a focal point for bus transportation, thereby preventing more chaos than necessary on the roads. But from fee very beginning of NEO planning, it was recognized feat successful evacuation of so many people depended upon as much early warning as possible of Soviet intentions, before actual hostilities broke out.

 

One of the realities and nightmares facing the planners in the early Cold War, was the certain chaos on the German road system as so many civilian vehicles and local civilian refugees competed with higher priority military convoys.  They realized that unless the civilian vehicles were controlled and escorted by US Military Personnel, they wouldn’t stand a chance of getting out, and would so clog up the roads that military truck and armored traffic would be jeopardized.

 

It was also recognized that the evacuation plan would have to have some likelihood of success in order that members of the US Military Forces involved in combat could do so without the distraction of their dependents.  In later years, when the military was impacted by the social experimentation that allowed mainly female single soldiers to bring their children with them, they had to have recognized and named surrogate parents to take them off their hands.  But in spite of all such planning, and constant review, practice execution, and update of them, few people ever thought it would be possible to evacuate so many people unless the Soviet Union signaled its intentions far enough in advance of an expected armored thrust through the Fulda Gap.

 

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Later, under the air evacuation scenario, the evacuation plans were somewhat simpler as the non- combatants had shorter distances to travel and would be under tight military control and management where such problems as feeding and medical attention could be handled.  But in the days of ground evacuation, non-combatants had to be much better prepared, and were required to have on hand at all times, a NEO evacuation kit in a foot locker.  Although I do not remember all of the required items, it was necessary to have enough canned foods and liquids to last the family several days; blankets; first aid kits; water purification tablets; flashlight; and so forth.  It was also required that everyone keep at least a half tank of gas in their automobile at all times, and be prepared to have their vehicles requisitioned by the military, because the plan called for the most number of people in the fewest vehicles to cut down on traffic.

 

NEO readiness was always a matter of military concern, and it was continually monitored on a routine basis, and also tested and exercised during alerts and simulated evacuations.  The so called NEO checklist of items was required of everyone, and people were checked to make sure they had what was required.  In the early 1960’s I, along with other career civilians in the Giessen community, were assigned the additional job of block warden, with a responsibility of checking and ensuring that the eighteen or so families living in a particular block of Government housing did in fact have the required NEO kits.  This I had to do through periodic house to house visits, during which I had to inspect the foot lockers against the checklist.  It was also my responsibility during military practice alerts to go to every family at whatever time of day or night, and simulate notification of impending evacuation.

 

But, my earliest exposure to NEO was between 1953 and 1955 while I was stationed with the US Army in Germany.  My organization, the 62nd Military Police Highway Patrol Company, had detachments and sub stations all over the US Zone of Germany, and was charged with the responsibility of escorting convoys of non-combatant vehicles to France.  And this we did during exercises, simulating the escort of such convoys, from our home base at Bamberg all the way to the French border.  In those days, there was no East-West Autobahn, so it was a long journey that took a couple of days.  All of the detachments were involved in doing this, and we frequently met up with simulated convoys from other areas.

 

 

                          
 

Returning from a NEO run, somewhere in France 1956

 

 

Thankfully, the Defense Department never had to implement its NEO plan, and we have no idea if it would have ever worked.  But, it was taken very seriously, and right up to the end of the Cold War everyone's readiness for evacuation was faithfully monitored in every military installation throughout Europe.  It was one of those realities of the Cold War for people stationed overseas, of which little was known back in the USA.

 

 


This story previously appeared in Volume # 4, Issue # 3, May-June 2001 edition of "The White Mice"


 

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