‘Keep our little town ... in your hearts’
BüDINGEN, Germany — Jules August Schröder stood Wednesday atop a short wall near the flagpole on Armstrong Barracks to address the small crowd.
“It was Friday, Good Friday, March 30, 1945,” he began, harking back to the time he was 10. “My brother, my cousins, I and other teenagers of the neighborhood were standing on the sidewalk of a former eastbound throughway in downtown Büdingen.”
The crowd listened intently, so the fact that Schröder didn’t have a microphone to amplify his voice mattered not. Several U.S. soldiers in the audience wore black Stetsons. After all, this is cavalry country. Has been since Schröder was a boy.
“Curious, but frightened, we were watching the tan-colored Sherman tanks rolling noisily down the road. ‘The Americans are here!’ ‘What will happen now?’ someone asked suspiciously.”
Then a peace token was thrown to one of the girls in his group.
“It was the first piece of chocolate most of us had seen and tasted in our lives,” he recounted.
On Wednesday, lives lived and lost were remembered at a brief retreat ceremony to mark the final full day of the U.S. presence in Büdingen. Built for the German army in the mid-1930s, Armstrong Barracks has almost exclusively been a post for American cavalrymen, most recently the 1st Squadron, 1st U.S. Cavalry Regiment.
During the Cold War, the Soviet-led Warsaw Pact forces were never that far over the horizon, a point Büdingen’s mayor, Erich Spamer, routinely makes.
Over the years, Büdingen-based cavalrymen left to serve their country — and their Western allies — near and far, from Bosnia to Vietnam. But the people of Büdingen, Schröder and others say, always stood in their corner, even if they didn’t understand or agree.
The 40 soldiers left to close down the post were joined Wednesday by their former commander, Lt. Col. Matthew McKenna. Several others dropped by, too.
“This unit was awesome,” Capt. Stephen Johnson said. “And the relationship we had with Büdingen, there’s nothing like it in the Army, and there probably never will be again.”
Toward the end of his remarks, Schröder asked the Americans for a favor: “Keep our little town and its inhabitants in your hearts.”