European Spotlight: Cole B. Whaley Jr.
What are your feelings on the closure of the Darmstadt community?
I’ve spent a good part of my life in this community. It’s weird to see it close. I’ve met a lot of good people here. Darmstadt has really been home to me for many years and to have "home" taken away, it hurts. It’s a real loss. … I’m having a more difficult time with this closure than I did retiring from the Army.
What was Darmstadt like in its heyday?
It was fat with people and full of activity. In those days each (community) group would support the other, and they would have fantastic affairs based on different themes. But overall, I have witnessed a real change in the military as it has existed here in Europe.
Do you have any particular recollections?
An event that sticks out in my mind occurred in about 1975. The German-American Contact Club approached me, the community executive officer, with an idea for Halloween. An Army Spec 4 had this idea to use Frankenstein’s Castle for a Halloween party, and I could see no reason not to support it. It turned out to be very popular. You could say Halloween in Germany was born right here in Darmstadt. Before then, there was nothing at all off post. It blossomed right here.
Well before that you served in Vietnam, and at a very interesting time.
I served one tour, but it lasted 2½ years. When I first went to Vietnam, there were about 1,600 military advisers. And when I left, there were about half a million troops. That was from late 1963 to 1966. In fact, I was en route to get some vaccinations to go to Vietnam when I heard (John F.) Kennedy had been assassinated.
You are a cancer survivor. Would you talk about that experience?
I was diagnosed with prostate cancer right here in Darmstadt. I was retired at the time. I opted to have the entire gland taken out. This was in early 2001. I’ve been blessed. During the last checkup I was told I was in good shape.
You have such a wonderful attitude toward life, and many people say that about you. What is your philosophy?
It’s just the way I was raised. This is me. I don’t know any other way. I can say this: I try to be with people the way I want people to be with me. Also, the older generation needs to take the time to listen to young people and to share views and experiences. Don’t color coat things. Let them know straight up how things are.
What has been the hardest part for you in this lead-up to the closure?
There is a spirit to the place. It’s hard, the thought of not having the camaraderie, not having that connection, not having those frequent or infrequent contacts with people you have come to know.... But I will walk the road, walk it until it ends.
Status: Retired Army lieutenant colonel
Hometown: Williamson, W.Va.
Military service: Twenty years; Vietnam vet; community executive officer in Darmstadt
Today: Army and Air Force Exchange Service employee, active in Catholic Church, mentor to many
Europe readers: Know someone whose accomplishments, talents, job, hobby, volunteer work, awards or good deeds qualify them for 15 minutes of fame? How about someone whose claim to glory is a bit out of the ordinary — even, dare we say, oddball? Send the person’s name and contact information to: firstname.lastname@example.org.