That New Year’s Eve many years ago that at the time seemed like just another evening with a little excitement, but through the prism of time has oddly begun to encapsulate an entire decade for me. That evening was just so “1980’s”, it would have been impossible to reproduce it in another time.
December 31, 1984, it was approaching midnight and the party was at our house, as it usually was, and consisted mostly of the other men from my father’s unit and their families. We had chosen to live “on the economy” about 60 km from the base in central Germany. I was aware of snippets of conversation around me that were fairly normal…
….my father with a group of his colleagues bantering in inscrutable pilot humor..”…so they’re screaming across the desert and their radio man says, ‘tower, we don’t know where in the bloody hell we’re going, but we’re making damn good time’….” hyark hyark hyark.
…a pair of women conversing…”I tried to find the same inlaid like I got at the OWC bazaar last year…”
…a lady gritching to another wife….”…since we have to replace our ration cards AGAIN…”
A noise so loud it was nearly inaudible freezes all activity. For a moment all was silent and then there were the sounds of children and a woman screaming. I pulled my hands away from my face where instinct had pulled them to see shards of glass and blood dripping from my hands and arms. All around me were the remnants of every window in the house and shards of the hyper-effective “rolladen” that had been splintered by the explosion.
My mind provided an immediate explanation: “Bomb. War. It’s finally happened.”
We’d all spent the last years being trained and retrained in what to do in the event that the cold war heated up. Terrorist threats were so commonplace to our everyday lives that checking our cars for explosive devices was just another checklist item and hours upon hours of waiting in the snow in the soccer field for the school to be checked for bombs taught me never to go anywhere without my coat. Now it was real. Somehow I always knew it would be.
Once I’d gotten my head in order, I noticed my father was already on the phone and several of the men had begun to collect people from other rooms to organize everyone into family groups and take a head count. The younger children were scared but it seemed everyone else knew what he was supposed to do. I fit into the group as part of the older child and teenager segment and our job was to stay calm, and out of the way.
But I noticed there was one woman….at least she had stopped screaming, but now she was yammering hysterically, “This is what we get for putting that RETARD in the Whitehouse!!! How long have I been saying that idiot Reagan was going to get us ALL KILLED!!!….” I thought, “Lady, this is precisely the wrong crowd at exactly the wrong time to be badmouthing the Commander in Chief.” Apparently, her husband thought so as well because he was whispering to her in attempts to calm her down. They were accepted and loved but they had always been, well, peculiar. He was a civilian contractor. He actually wore a beard; she couldn’t discern rank or unit from a uniform. Odd.
“….Major Proctor’s trying to get through to the base to find out about our orders…”
Someone had turned on the radio…“You’re listening to Armed Forces Network. It’s twelve o’clock in Central Europe. Do you know where your children are? Beep beep…..The Red Cross is attempting to reach …” Red Cross travel searches, Charlie Toona, Top 40 music? AFN was broadcasting nothing on the bombing? How was this possible? It had to have been at least 15 minutes.
My father, “The base has nothing on this. Security level is normal.”
The sound of sirens, every police car, ambulance, fire truck for miles disturbs the German night, a truly rare occurrence. We followed the direction of the emergency vehicles down the street and gazed down the hill to see….where just this morning had stood the three story, 30,000 sf Feuerwerkfabrik, fireworks factory, now was an empty charred field, miscellaneous chunks of burning hadite, and the warehouses which were set apart from the main building were emitting the most spectacular fireworks display ever hosted. We stood for many minutes watching the greens, blues, reds, laughing at our assumption, and breathing in the relief. We would not be sending our men off to war. This time.