Nov. 6, 2006

Dassel man serves in post-World War II Germany

By Roz Kohls
Staff Writer

Frank Goodrich of Dassel said it’s important for Americans to remember how much time veterans give up from their lives for their country.

Goodrich, an Army veteran, was stationed for more than three years in Germany. He didn’t get to go home to see his parents in Bloomington the entire time. International telephone calls were outrageously expensive then. Only once did he have a chance to talk to his parents by short-wave radio, he said.

Goodrich enlisted in September 1948. He was stationed in Frankfurt for eight months, Giessen for two months, and Heidelberg for two and a half years. Goodrich was a military police officer.

The first part of his service he guarded trains, many that supplied the Berlin airlift, and mail trains. The rest of the time he checked in classified and confidential documents at the base headquarters for criminal investigations.

Goodrich’s outlook changed considerably when he was in the military. Prior to his service, he was very green, he said, much like a student who has just graduated from high school.

“You don’t know which way to go,” Goodrich said.

First, Goodrich endured military police training in Germany. The soldiers were taught to shoot a pistol with a canteen full of water hanging from their wrists. A canteen contains a quart and weighs two pounds, he said.

“It’s not pleasant,” Goodrich said.

“They teach you not to smile,” he added. The soldiers had to keep their faces deadpan at all times, or people wouldn’t take them seriously, he said.

The training was so rigorous, he didn’t feel like smiling either, Goodrich said.

“You learn to do as you’re told,” he added.

The worst part of his service was when the Korean War broke out. The soldiers were kept on high alert because no one knew what the Russians would do. Post-World War II Germany was divided into sectors among the Russians, French, Americans, and British, he said.

The Russians were paranoid and secretive. When trains went across East Germany, their sector, the passenger windows had to have their shades drawn so no one could take photographs. The Russians also took rails from the railroad tracks, and even toilets from Germany, back to their homes in the Soviet Union, Goodrich said.

Many places in the Russian sector still had piles of rubble in the streets that had never been cleared away after the war ended. Grass grew up between the cobblestones because vehicles were never driven on them, he said.

When Goodrich traveled to East Berlin, he wasn’t allowed to leave the train station.

The Russians’ behavior made them unpredictable. They sided with the North Koreans, so many of the American officers sent their wives home to the United States when the Korean War began, he said.

There were good times also, though. The best time was when he and the 8,000 to 9,000 soldiers on the base paraded for General Dwight D. Eisenhower. Eisenhower, who the GIs called, “the old boy,” had just taken over as NATO commander.

“I was quite impressed with him,” Goodrich said, adding that Eisenhower was a “GI’s general.”

Goodrich also enjoyed his opportunities to travel. He visited Belgium, France, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Denmark, and Austria.

In addition, his military police training paid off. He qualified for the crack pistol team for the Frankfurt post in 1949.

He especially liked how the ancient city of Heidelburg looked, with its castle ruins towering above the city, and the graceful arching spans in the bridge over the Neckar River, Goodrich said.

The beautiful Heidelberg University had a bubbling fountain. Invariably one of the GIs would put detergent in it, and make it foam over, he laughed.

Heidelburg was one of the few cities in Germany that wasn’t damaged by Allied bombs during World War II. Goodrich told how when American forces were fighting in nearby Mannheim, they offered the mayor of Heidelberg the chance to declare the city “open,” so its many historic features wouldn’t be bombed. At first, the mayor refused.

The US forces promptly blew a house to smithereens, the mayor quickly changed his mind, and the city was spared the damage most other cities had, Goodrich said.

Goodrich recalled many Germans in Frankfurt who had tunneled under piles of rubble to the cellars underneath, and lived there, because there were no buildings left, he said.

Most of the Germans who survived the war were very young or elderly. The elderly Germans seemed especially appreciative that the war was finally over, and were respectful to the American soldiers there, he said.

Goodrich’s happiest time, though, was when he got on the ship in 1952 to come home to Bloomington.

“Remember the amount of time guys gave up to enlist. Most were there for years,” he said.

Following his service, Goodrich was a truck driver for six years, and then a carpenter. He and his wife, Heather, and children, Cameron and Lisa, had a cabin on Wolf Lake in the Lamson area south of Dassel. In 1973, they built on to the original cabin, and turned it into a lake home.

The Goodriches’ daughter married David Knapp and they live in Waterford, Mich. Their son, Cameron, married Sarah, and they live in Dassel.

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