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Col. Ray Graham, left, U.S. Army Garrison Hessen commander, and Hanau's Lord Mayor Claus Kaminsky show off the presents they exchanged following the garrison's closure ceremony on Pioneer Kaserne in Hanau, Germany, on Thursday. A standing room-only crowd attended the ceremony that brought the U.S. Army's 63-year presence in the city to an end.

Col. Ray Graham, left, U.S. Army Garrison Hessen commander, and Hanau's Lord Mayor Claus Kaminsky show off the presents they exchanged following the garrison's closure ceremony on Pioneer Kaserne in Hanau, Germany, on Thursday. A standing room-only crowd attended the ceremony that brought the U.S. Army's 63-year presence in the city to an end. (Michael Abrams / S&S)

Col. Ray Graham, left, U.S. Army Garrison Hessen commander, and Hanau's Lord Mayor Claus Kaminsky show off the presents they exchanged following the garrison's closure ceremony on Pioneer Kaserne in Hanau, Germany, on Thursday. A standing room-only crowd attended the ceremony that brought the U.S. Army's 63-year presence in the city to an end.

Col. Ray Graham, left, U.S. Army Garrison Hessen commander, and Hanau's Lord Mayor Claus Kaminsky show off the presents they exchanged following the garrison's closure ceremony on Pioneer Kaserne in Hanau, Germany, on Thursday. A standing room-only crowd attended the ceremony that brought the U.S. Army's 63-year presence in the city to an end. (Michael Abrams / S&S)

The colors of U.S. Army Garrison Hessen were cased on Wednesday by garrison commander Col. Ray Graham, left, and Robert Schloesser, deputy to the commander, in a ceremony on Pioneer Kaserne in Hanau, Germany, on Thursday. In the background is the USAREUR Band, which provided the music for the ceremony.

The colors of U.S. Army Garrison Hessen were cased on Wednesday by garrison commander Col. Ray Graham, left, and Robert Schloesser, deputy to the commander, in a ceremony on Pioneer Kaserne in Hanau, Germany, on Thursday. In the background is the USAREUR Band, which provided the music for the ceremony. (Michael Abrams / S&S)

The U.S. Army Garrison Hessen Color Guard stands at attention during the playing of the national anthem at the garrison's cloing ceremony.

The U.S. Army Garrison Hessen Color Guard stands at attention during the playing of the national anthem at the garrison's cloing ceremony. (Michael Abrams / S&S)

HANAU, Germany — Six German ladies stood outside the Pioneer Casern gym late Thursday morning reminiscing about the more than six decades the U.S. Army spent in Hanau.

Though there was laughter, there was also a profound sense of sadness over the Army’s decision to vacate the city for good. You could hear it in their voices, see it in their faces.

"It was a part of our life, a big part of our life," Renate Gerhardt said moments after the formal closure ceremony had ended.

All but one worked for the Americans. At least half of them married into the Army, and sent their kids to American schools. They spoke of football games and barbecues, holidays, music and cars.

"Every second or third car on the road had American license plates," said Jutta Jordan, who, in her late 40s, was the youngest of the bunch. "Now there are none."

Well, not exactly none. The last five Army families in Hanau — once the largest garrison in Europe at more than 30,000 — still have another week or so to go.

As the six chatted about the good old days, inside the gym, under a retractable basketball backboard, waiters worked the floor while scores of people mingled near a spread of catered food. The lineup included chicken wings, German Weisswurst and potato salad.

During the ceremony, Col. Ray A. Graham and Robert Schloesser, both of whom oversaw the closure, spoke of friendship and the challenges Germans and Americans shared. Graham, the garrison commander, talked of the military community’s 63-year history, bar fights, mixed marriages and why Hanau had to close. Schloesser, Graham’s deputy, applauded those who labored to make Hanau special.

That praise was directed at people such as Jordan and Gerhardt, as well as Helga Lipsey, Herta Oesterle, Karin Lynch and Amalie Jaeger.

"Our life was planned around the Americans," Lipsey said. "They were friendly and kind."

"It is unbelievable that it is closing," Lynch said. "Everything [in the way of facilities] is here."

When asked what they will miss most, the six mentioned a variety of things, from the spoken language to the American way of life, which Lipsey described as easy-going.

"The Americans," Jordan said, "kept us young."


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