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GERMANY - LATE 1970'S

WE CAPTURE US SOME "BAD GUYS"


(Now, this page takes some explaining. I first put the photos and my story and basically made the page somewhere around May of 2006. I think the story was a pretty good description of my thoughts of the incident. Just about a year later, in May of 2007, I receive an email from Lt. Bonine. Lt. Bonine was our Platoon Leader way back then and was the actual instigator of the entire incident. Lt. Bonine was kind enough to send me HIS recollection of the incident. This page starts with my description of the incident, followed by Lt. Bonine's description. Enjoy.)

SPEC-4 DOUG OTOUPAL: After just a few months in C-Company, the powers-that-be transferred me over to Headquarters Company and the newly formed Tactical Command Post (TAC-CP) Platoon. "OK", said I, although I wasn't too happy about it at the time.

TAC-CP was a platoon of communications teams tasked to provide the first link of communications between the Commanding General of V-Corps and his troops. The TAC-CP platoon originally consisted of troops pulled from the various companies each time it was needed and usually consisted of different people each time it was set up. Someone decided it would be better to have a platoon permanently set up just for TAC-CP so as to lessen the learning curve each time they were called out. Made sense to me.

So they moved me over to TAC-CP. Funny thing was, I was thrown in among all these Generals, Colonels, Majors and whatnot, despite the fact that I had a real problem with authority. Just look at my Performance Reviews (which I still have by the way). It was very hard work. The General liked to keep moving around to keep the bombs from finding him and giving all of us a real bad day. We would set up for a day, then tear everything down and move somewhere else the next day or so. I worked with a great group of people though. They were the best and very good at getting the job done.

On one of my first Field Problems with TAC-CP, I had the opportunity to see my first East German spy get caught. The way I understood it, back then there were many areas of West Germany that were "Off Limits" to East German people. Wherever the General went was considered Off Limits. Well, one East German guy and his driver decided to come have a look at us. They got boxed in by a bunch of Army Jeeps and Tracked Vehicles and so forth and had to set there until someone came to bail them out or something like that.

So it turned into a show. A few local kids had a field day playing with us Army types. The guys that caught the car called all of us grunts to come over with our cameras and generally give the spy's a hard time. The only rule was to not touch the car. I grabbed my Polaroid Instamatic 110 camera and headed over there.

The first thing that came to my mind was that the guys in the car looked like ordinary people to me, despite the funny hat on the guy in the passenger seat. I mean, here's a couple of average Joe's, trying to look confident but actually looking scared as they waited to see what transpired. All of the Army guys were strutting around like roosters. It seemed a little humiliating to me. I mean, when I joined the Army, all I wanted to do was my job and make sure people could get their phone calls through. Seeing this car with "Bad Guys" setting in it made me realize that the Army's real job was to kill people. It may have been just the "Cold War" with a lot of threats and no substance but seeing these guys made me realize just how serious all this was. I think that was the day I decided that the Army part of the Army wasn't for me. I had made a promise though, a promise to exchange 4 years of my life for college money. I don't go back on my promises.

The other thing I wondered about these two guys was what happened if they had to go to the bathroom?

(Lt. Bonine tells a much better story than I do about this 'incident':)

LT. JAMES BONINE: Your pictures of the guys from the Soviet Military Liaison Mission remind me of what happened there--maybe you already knew. The village we were set up in was Sargenzell, fifty or so kilometers from Frankfurt and about two kilometers away from the main road; it was down in a small dip so only the top of the church spire could be seen from the main road. The master sergeant who nco'd the Corps Tac CP tracks-and-trucks (Master Sergeant Frank Johnson I believe his name was) had been an operations guy in the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment in Fulda. Since Fulda was just up the road, he already knew the people in Sargenzell and that they had that old school we could set up in. Frank was a pretty interesting story himself as a door gunner in Vietnam. But that would be a different story. Anyway, Frank set it up with the village and I went out there in a jeep a few days early before the FTX started because we had also paid for a phone line from the Deutsche Bundespost. A guy from the phone company met us that Friday before the exercise started and showed us the cable pairs that were turned on for us.

Well, we reached Sargenzell and you guys were all setting up, so I got in my jeep and started for the next place we would jump to, so we would know the way and the layout once we got there. You may not remember my driver Deraps, I can't remember his first name; he was on loan from the battalion generator shop and went out with us a few times. Deraps drove us out of Sargenzell on the two lane road back to the main road. We turned right on to the main drag, and just after we got going, that Opel with the SMLM license plates passed us going the other way. He wasn't supposed to be up there; they were allowed to be in Frankfurt where they were stationed and that was it. The whole SML Mission thing was a holdover from the end of WWII where the 'allies' exchanged military missions across the different parts of occupied Germany for coordination. We had an American Military Liaison Mission in the east at Potsdam.

Back to Deraps. We knew the Russians weren't supposed to be there and believe it or not, in the same instant that he passed us, the Opel signaled to make the turn into Sargenzell--he knew exactly where we were. I always wondered who told them where we were (the villagers who Frank felt were so afraid of the communists, or the people at Deutsche Bundespost.) We stopped using those phone drops after that. Now it was Derap's finest hour. I said turn around and catch that guy--we tried to call on the radio and get someone to block the road as there was only one way in, but there wasn't time; also the fields were fresh plowed so off-roading in the Opel wasn't an option. Deraps must have seen the Steve McQueen car chase in 'Bullitt' a hundred times--he drove like he did. We chased the Opel and the Opel stepped on the gas, so we were all in the village fast. When the MP jeeps saw him go by with us right behind they got in line too and had a track pull across the road, shutting the door. So here were three jeeps chasing this Opel around the little village center of cows and tractor farmers, going as fast as a jeep could go. The Opel had a pretty good engine, but it couldn't use it with the straightaways only a few houses long. I remember seeing a couple of German mothers grab their kids and pulling them in the front door. The Opel got out of the village by driving through one of those open barn courtyards where they kept animals and tractors and took off on one of those paved tractor paths through the fields. They really got going until he came up behind the tractor itself with an old, old Farmer head to toe in those blue denim work clothes putting along in first gear. So now the four-mile-an-hour parade had a nice gray tractor, an Opel, and three jeeps, one German, two Russians and eight or nine Americans. The Opel started to lay on the horn and the farmers looked back over his shoulder and his mouth just dropped to see all of these people behind leaning out of cars and jeeps and yelling and honking behind him. One of the MPs got out of his jeep (even the old German guy could have run faster than we were going) and ran up alongside the tractor yelling and waving in German for the tractor to stop, and the Russians--big hat and all--were screaming and waving their arms to for him to pull over and let them past. It must have been too much for the old guy, because the road had steep shoulders and my impression was that he got that tractor stuck when he did a hard right ran off the road. Off goes the whole parade as fast as the Opel could go to the only destination the pavement had--back into Sargenzell. By now everyone was crazed and Deraps sure drove like this had been his lifelong dream. We entered Sargenzell again from the west on a narrowing lane, behind the barns this time, with an MP jeep beside us and the cork went into this bottle when another jeep came toward the Opel from the opposite direction. It was LTG Starry's jeep. Apparently, there were conventions about handling these sort of out-of-bounds games and we were supposed to complain to the Russians headquarters within some number of minutes and throw our catch back to Frankfurt right away. Starry had other ideas; he said give it six hours and then call it in. So they brought in the Armored Personnel Carriers to replace the general's jeep and later brought one in to block them on the side to replace our jeep.

A year after Sargenzell, I saw the Russian Guy with the big hat (same guy) in the Frankfurt Main Post Library.  He was allowed to be there; had a library card and everything.  I felt silly but I called that phone number on those SMLM cards they gave us and reported his presence in among the fiction stacks--the voice on the phone said that was OK, but thanks for calling.


(Now, if you think this was all just fun and games, then please read on as Lt. Bonine concludes:)

In 1985 the story was reversed. A USMLM guy was shot for sniffing around some Russian tanks coming back from an exercise. and left to bleed for as long as it took him to die. The Russians refused to give him first aid or allow first aid from the American driver of their 'Opel.' I guess we were in a deadlier game than we thought. The American's name was Major Art Nicholson, probably had a funny hat of his own. I guess he was pretty good at finding stuff that he wasn't supposed to see. General Starry would have known about all this back and forth 'tit-for-tat' and what it meant; I didn't.

Here's a link to another description of the 1985 incident.


It may have just been a "cold" war. Nevertheless, it was a dangerous game our countries were playing... and people were dying while playing this game.
Sobering...



Below shows the two sides of a Soviet Military Liaison Mission (SMLM) card. We just called them "Smell 'em" cards. It gave us information on what to look for, and what to do when we saw them.

SMLM 1 SMLM 2

So, did you like the information on this page?
Would you like to see more?
Then please email me and let me know.


 

Spys 1
Check out the hat on the guy in the passenger seat.

 

 

Spys 2
The local kids were helping out.

 

 

Spys 2A
They were a bit camera shy though.

 

 

Spys 3
"You ain't going anywhere, bud.

 

 

Spys 4
U.S. Army sight-seers.

 

Spys 5
Bringing in reinforcements.

 

 

Spys 2
Someone else headed in for a look.

 

 

License Plate
A photo of the special license plates.

© 2007 Pafoofnik Enterprises | Site Designer: Doug Otoupal - N5HYD