Fliegerhorst Langendiebach soldiers' reunion sparks memories
Times-News, Burlington, N.C.
ALAMANCE, N.C. — It’s been 54 years since they last served together at the U.S. Army Aviation Airfields at Fliegerhorst Langendiebach in Germany.
At least every other year a group of former soldiers and their spouses reunite to share memories and talk about what’s happening in their lives today. This year the group met at the village of Alamance where Jean and Kermit Pike call home.
The former members of the U.S. Army 75th field artillery unit, 122nd ordinance battalion, 30th transportation company and 503rd aviation toured the Alamance Battleground on Wednesday as part of their reunion visit.
Jean said she was thankful the group decided to hold the reunion in Alamance since Kermit can’t travel due to health issues. Bill and Helen Hazlett came in from Cortland, Ohio for the reunion. Sharon and Jerry Keele got here from Port Charlotte, Fla. Carroll and Joy Bailey journeyed from Raceland, Ky., while Glenn and Deloris Hildebrandt traveled from Walworth, Wis.
Marvin and Annette Bailey traveled from Ward, Ark. While Joyce Tyra Summerson came from Miami. Tom and Betty Blalock of Winston-Salem also attended this week’s reunion of former soldiers.
The experiences they shared on the U.S. Army base near the towns of Hanau and Obertshausen in Germany from 1957 to 1959 have lasted a lifetime.
Bill Hazlett’s job on the base was to serve as an assistant gunner for the 8-inch Howitzer. Hazlett, 78, arrived at the base in June 1958 where he lived until October 1959. While there, the Hazletts gave birth to a daughter who was born in Frankfurt.
Helen Hazlett, 77, said there were no radios, televisions or telephones on the base, but that didn’t keep the soldiers and their spouses from having a good time.
“We would meet with other families and became very close,” Helen said.
The Hazletts brought a picture with them to the reunion that shows the time they met Elvis Presley when he was serving with U.S. Army’s 3rd Division just north of Frankfurt. Presley is shown in the picture to be holding the Hazletts’ daughter in August 1959 when she was just a month old.
The Hildebrandts also have fond memories of living on the base during peacetime. Glenn Hildebrandt, 78, was part of the armament ordinance team for tanks and howitzers in the 122nd battalion. While on base, the soldiers and their spouses used pot belly stoves to cook their food and got around base on bicycles.
Deloris Hildebrandt, 76, said the bond formed among the soldiers and their families continues today. Those who met at the reunion this week have shared their joys and sorrows together through the years.
“It’s a unique bond that grew out of our youth,” Deloris said.
Tom Blalock was single when he lived on the base from 1958 to 1959. Blalock, 79, was part of the artillery unit’s chemical, biological and radiological team. On several occasions, Blalock would conduct drills designed to prepare the soldiers for gas attacks.
“They couldn’t take off their gas masks until I told them to,” Blalock said.
Tom and Betty Blalock had dated before he left to serve at the base. They married after he returned to North Carolina.
Marvin Bailey, 78, served with the 30th Transportation Company as an aircraft radio mechanic. Bailey said he joined the U.S. Army hoping to learn electronics to make a career. Looking back, Bailey said he is proud to have served his country.
For the past 38 years, he has owned and operated a successful business in Cabot, Ark. While in Germany, Annette Bailey said she traveled with her husband with other families on the base to Italy, England, and Austria among other places.
Among those who traveled were Joyce Tyra Summerson and Eddie Tyra. Joyce and Eddie were married at the time. Eddie is now deceased. Eddie was part of the 30th Transportation Company and went on to have a successful career with Pan American Airlines.
Eddie and Joyce had been married just 10 days before he left for the base in Germany. Joyce said she waited for about six months saving money before she joined her husband overseas. They lived in a small two-room apartment then.
Carroll Bailey, 78, was a radio mechanic with the 503rd aviation at the base. He said on Wednesday that it was amazing that the former soldiers were still meeting for reunions more than 50 years after they left the service.
“I always look forward to it every other year,” he said. “We are still just like family.”
The Keeles also said it was important for the group to meet again this year. Jerry Keele, 79, and Sharon Keele, 77, said they have traveled back to Germany since they left in 1959. Life in the U.S. Army was tough but fun at times, Jerry said.
It’s not clear how many more times the group will be able to meet in the future, Jean Pike said. The Pikes, both 79, have called Alamance County home for many decades. When Kermit Pike entered the U.S. Army they lived in Burlington.
Kermit’s job was to drive the tractor that pulled the Howitzer artillery gun. When Kermit left the military he returned to his job at Western Electric where he worked for 37 years before retiring. The Pikes said they feel blessed to still have so many friends from their military days.
“It brought tears to my eyes when they decided to have the reunion here,” Jean said.
The U.S. Army base at Fliegerhorst Langendiebach shut down in 2006 and was returned to Germany’s control.