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Christian Fueher, a Mannheim math professor, has been a fixture at the U.S. Army Garrison Mannheim since he was a teenager. He sits here on the steps of the chapel on Ben Franklin Village, where he's a long-time usher and member of the choir. Fueher is writing a book about the Mannheim garrison from 1945 to 2011 and is seeking photos and memories from people who were stationed at the garrison. He can be contacted at fuehrer@dhbw-mannheim.de
Christian Fueher, a Mannheim math professor, has been a fixture at the U.S. Army Garrison Mannheim since he was a teenager. He sits here on the steps of the chapel on Ben Franklin Village, where he's a long-time usher and member of the choir. Fueher is writing a book about the Mannheim garrison from 1945 to 2011 and is seeking photos and memories from people who were stationed at the garrison. He can be contacted at fuehrer@dhbw-mannheim.de (Nancy Montgomery/Stars and Stripes)
Christian Fueher, a Mannheim math professor, has been a fixture at the U.S. Army Garrison Mannheim since he was a teenager. He sits here on the steps of the chapel on Ben Franklin Village, where he's a long-time usher and member of the choir. Fueher is writing a book about the Mannheim garrison from 1945 to 2011 and is seeking photos and memories from people who were stationed at the garrison. He can be contacted at fuehrer@dhbw-mannheim.de
Christian Fueher, a Mannheim math professor, has been a fixture at the U.S. Army Garrison Mannheim since he was a teenager. He sits here on the steps of the chapel on Ben Franklin Village, where he's a long-time usher and member of the choir. Fueher is writing a book about the Mannheim garrison from 1945 to 2011 and is seeking photos and memories from people who were stationed at the garrison. He can be contacted at fuehrer@dhbw-mannheim.de (Nancy Montgomery/Stars and Stripes)
What will happen to the land and buildings the U.S. Army has occupied since 1945 is unknown. The Mannheim mayor has asked citizens for suggestions.
What will happen to the land and buildings the U.S. Army has occupied since 1945 is unknown. The Mannheim mayor has asked citizens for suggestions. (Nancy Montgomery/Stars and Stripes)
Housing areas in the Mannheim garrison are mostly vacant. The garrison is expected to have just 1,000 soldiers by the end of the summer, and only 150 next summer. The final handover of all the garrison land and structures to the city of Mannheim is scheduled for 2015.
Housing areas in the Mannheim garrison are mostly vacant. The garrison is expected to have just 1,000 soldiers by the end of the summer, and only 150 next summer. The final handover of all the garrison land and structures to the city of Mannheim is scheduled for 2015. (Nancy Montgomery/Stars and Stripes)
A German "Floating Achilles" crane lifts a 50-ton M-60 tank out of the Neckar River at Mannheim, Germany, in July, 1982. The tank had been stolen by a U.S. soldier and driven on a rampage through Mannheim, demolishing a streetcar and several cars and injuring three people. It was then trapped on the bridge, but in backing off the driver went over the edge and was killed.
A German "Floating Achilles" crane lifts a 50-ton M-60 tank out of the Neckar River at Mannheim, Germany, in July, 1982. The tank had been stolen by a U.S. soldier and driven on a rampage through Mannheim, demolishing a streetcar and several cars and injuring three people. It was then trapped on the bridge, but in backing off the driver went over the edge and was killed. (Red Grandy/Stars and Stripes)
Margaret Wolfe, a driver for the Movement Section, 1st Combat Equipment Company, sits on an M1A1 tank, awaiting the order to drive it onto a rail car at Mannheim, Germany, for shipment to Saudi Arabia by way of Bremerhaven in November, 1990.
Margaret Wolfe, a driver for the Movement Section, 1st Combat Equipment Company, sits on an M1A1 tank, awaiting the order to drive it onto a rail car at Mannheim, Germany, for shipment to Saudi Arabia by way of Bremerhaven in November, 1990. (Dave Didio/Stars and Stripes)
In August, 1981, a crew at Coleman Barracks in Mannheim, Germany, prepares an Army CH-47 Chinook helicopter belonging to the 205th Aviation Co. at Finthen Army Air Field for lifting by another Chinook, this one from the 295th Aviation Co. The copters were on their way to Ramstein Air Base, where the stripped-down craft from Finthen was to be loaded aboard a C-5 Galaxy for a flight to the U.S. to be rebuilt. Before the flight, the 205th's copter was reduced in weight from its normal 21,000 pounds to 11,000 by removing its fore and aft transmissions, rotors and engines.
In August, 1981, a crew at Coleman Barracks in Mannheim, Germany, prepares an Army CH-47 Chinook helicopter belonging to the 205th Aviation Co. at Finthen Army Air Field for lifting by another Chinook, this one from the 295th Aviation Co. The copters were on their way to Ramstein Air Base, where the stripped-down craft from Finthen was to be loaded aboard a C-5 Galaxy for a flight to the U.S. to be rebuilt. Before the flight, the 205th's copter was reduced in weight from its normal 21,000 pounds to 11,000 by removing its fore and aft transmissions, rotors and engines. ()
In August, 1981, an Army CH-47 Chinook helicopter of the 295th Aviation Co at Coleman Barracks in Mannheim, Germany, lifts another Chinook belonging to the 205th Aviation Co at Finthen Army Air Field. The copters were on their way from Mannheim to Ramstein Air Base, where the stripped-down craft from Finthen was to be loaded aboard a C-5 Galaxy for a flight to the United States to be rebuilt. Before the flight, the 205th's craft was reduced in weight from its normal 21,000 pounds to 11,000 by removing its fore and aft transmissions, rotors and engines.
In August, 1981, an Army CH-47 Chinook helicopter of the 295th Aviation Co at Coleman Barracks in Mannheim, Germany, lifts another Chinook belonging to the 205th Aviation Co at Finthen Army Air Field. The copters were on their way from Mannheim to Ramstein Air Base, where the stripped-down craft from Finthen was to be loaded aboard a C-5 Galaxy for a flight to the United States to be rebuilt. Before the flight, the 205th's craft was reduced in weight from its normal 21,000 pounds to 11,000 by removing its fore and aft transmissions, rotors and engines. ()
Mannheim, Germany, December 19, 1966: Francis Cardinal Spellman, U.S. Military Vicar and Archbishop of New York, is serenaded by the 8th Division band during his visit to the 2nd Battalion, 13th Infantry at Mannheim, Germany, in December, 1966. On trombone at left is Pfc. Carlos Miles.
Mannheim, Germany, December 19, 1966: Francis Cardinal Spellman, U.S. Military Vicar and Archbishop of New York, is serenaded by the 8th Division band during his visit to the 2nd Battalion, 13th Infantry at Mannheim, Germany, in December, 1966. On trombone at left is Pfc. Carlos Miles. (Joe Wesley/Stars and Stripes)
Michigan prep standout Earvin "Magic" Johnson moves toward the basket during the U.S. team's 118-65 win over Spain in the first round of the annual Albert Schweitzer basketball tournament in April, 1977. The future NBA great averaged a team-high 20 points per game as the Americans swept to their third straight tourney title.
Michigan prep standout Earvin "Magic" Johnson moves toward the basket during the U.S. team's 118-65 win over Spain in the first round of the annual Albert Schweitzer basketball tournament in April, 1977. The future NBA great averaged a team-high 20 points per game as the Americans swept to their third straight tourney title. (Red Grandy/Stars and Stripes)
Servicemembers stationed at Mannheim, Germany, in May, 1950 had a chance to see some big-time boxing as Jersey Joe Walcott, right, continued his quest for a shot at the world heavyweight boxing championship against German champion Hein Ten Hoff before a rain-soaked crowd of 30,000 at Mannheim Stadium. Walcott, 36, spotted his opponent five inches in height and 20 pounds, but won a 10-round decision. The following year, he became the oldest man ever to win the title by knocking out Ezzard Charles.
Servicemembers stationed at Mannheim, Germany, in May, 1950 had a chance to see some big-time boxing as Jersey Joe Walcott, right, continued his quest for a shot at the world heavyweight boxing championship against German champion Hein Ten Hoff before a rain-soaked crowd of 30,000 at Mannheim Stadium. Walcott, 36, spotted his opponent five inches in height and 20 pounds, but won a 10-round decision. The following year, he became the oldest man ever to win the title by knocking out Ezzard Charles. (Stars and Stripes)
In December, 1995: Capt. Steve Durham watches as the first train loaded with military equipment leaves the Coleman Barracks railhead on its way to Zagreb, Croatia, to help pave the way for the NATO peacekeeping force in the Balkans. Durham is in charge of the 15-person Movement Control Team at Mannheim, which works as a point of contact between the U.S. Army and the German rail system.
In December, 1995: Capt. Steve Durham watches as the first train loaded with military equipment leaves the Coleman Barracks railhead on its way to Zagreb, Croatia, to help pave the way for the NATO peacekeeping force in the Balkans. Durham is in charge of the 15-person Movement Control Team at Mannheim, which works as a point of contact between the U.S. Army and the German rail system. (Ken George/Stars and Stripes)
In December, 1957, four Felician Sisters from Detroit gather for dinner in the kitchen of the Marianum Children's Home for refugee children, which they established the year before at Carlsberg, Germany. In addition to caring for the dozens of young residents, accomplished with help from local groups and soldiers from the 34th AAA Brigade in Mannheim, the nuns also taught catechism to American children at Mannhein, Sembach and Heidelberg's Patrick Henry Village.
In December, 1957, four Felician Sisters from Detroit gather for dinner in the kitchen of the Marianum Children's Home for refugee children, which they established the year before at Carlsberg, Germany. In addition to caring for the dozens of young residents, accomplished with help from local groups and soldiers from the 34th AAA Brigade in Mannheim, the nuns also taught catechism to American children at Mannhein, Sembach and Heidelberg's Patrick Henry Village. (Merle Hunter/Stars and Stripes)
When the 63rd Heavy Tank Battalion moved to Sullivan Barracks in Mannheim, Germany, in 1949, it was commanded by Lt. Col. Creighton W. Abrams, shown here holding a model of a tank. Abrams was being interviewed for a story marking the fifth anniversary of the World War II Battle of the Bulge, in which his 37th Tank Battalion broke through the German encirclement of the 101st Airborne Division at Bastogne. Abrams went on to become commander of U.S. forces in Vietnam and Army Chief of Staff; the M1A1 Abrams Main Battle Tank used in the Iraq war is named after him.
When the 63rd Heavy Tank Battalion moved to Sullivan Barracks in Mannheim, Germany, in 1949, it was commanded by Lt. Col. Creighton W. Abrams, shown here holding a model of a tank. Abrams was being interviewed for a story marking the fifth anniversary of the World War II Battle of the Bulge, in which his 37th Tank Battalion broke through the German encirclement of the 101st Airborne Division at Bastogne. Abrams went on to become commander of U.S. forces in Vietnam and Army Chief of Staff; the M1A1 Abrams Main Battle Tank used in the Iraq war is named after him. (Stars and Stripes)

MANNHEIM, Germany — Christian Fuehrer knows where Gen. George C. Patton was headed the December day in 1945 when his Cadillac hit a U.S. truck in Mannheim.

“He wanted to go pheasant hunting in the woods near Weinheim with Maj. Gen. Hobart Gay,” Fuehrer said. Patton was paralyzed in the collision and died in Heidelberg’s hospital 12 days later.

Fuehrer can discuss at length the infamous 1982 incident in which a soldier one Saturday morning took a tank from Sullivan Barracks and drove it into downtown Mannheim. “He destroyed a streetcar, several (cars) and injured a couple of people. He backed the tank over a bridge and drowned in the Neckar River.”

He can say how many American kids attended the garrison elementary school at its peak in the 1980s: “2,200.”

What the Mannheim math professor can’t tell you is what he will do when the garrison closes down completely and all the Americans he says he has come to find preferable to his countrymen vanish.

“Frankly, I don’t know where to go,” Fuehrer said.

The city of Mannheim had its official farewell ceremony for the garrison in early May; the garrison command will case its colors at the end of the month and, by next summer, most of Mannheim’s soldiers will have departed.

The garrison — formerly one of the largest in Germany, with some 8,500 soldiers in the 1950s and 1980s — is mostly a ghost town. Housing areas are empty, barbecues and televisions rest in heaps outside to be carted off.

“To drive through at night and see so few lights — it’s depressing,” said Christine Gephard, who for more than 30 years worked for the garrison in host-nation relations and public affairs and was one of about 500 Germans whose jobs evaporated as the garrison began closing down. “It’s not only sad. It’s almost heartbreaking. In a way, it’s home.

“But I’m not complaining,” said Gephard, who now, at 55, is learning to be a protocol specialist for the 21st Theater Sustainment Command in Kaiserslautern. “I’m happy I’m employed. A lot of my friends were not so lucky.”

For Gephard, Fuehrer and other Germans like them — as well as hundreds of retired American soldiers and civilians in the city — the garrison’s loss is also their loss.

“Really, an era comes to an end,” Gephard said.

For many, after 65 years, the garrison ends more with a whimper than a bang, reflecting decades of U.S. troop reductions after the Cold War’s finish, a post-9/11 mentality that made fortresses of bases, and two wars that resulted in multiple deployments for U.S. troops in Europe.

“The normal Mannheim citizen wouldn’t know it’s closing, because the buildings are still there and they don’t go on base,” said Doris Scott, an executive at a Mannheim television station who decades ago worked for the garrison.

Younger Germans probably are indifferent, Scott said, but to those 50 and older, the news of the garrison’s shutdown will come as a shock. “Mannheim without Americans is hardly thinkable,” she said.

For U.S. Army Europe, shutting down Mannheim is just part of doing business these days.

“In a practical sense, the closure of Mannheim is really no different than recent closures of Würzburg, Hanau and Giessen,” said Bruce Anderson, a U.S. Army Europe spokesman in an e-mail.

After a huge troop reduction in the early 1990s, USAREUR began again closing bases and moving troops in 2003. Since then, the command has cut about 21,000 soldiers positions and closed some 100 sites. “There is absolutely a feeling of sadness as we close U.S. military communities,” Anderson added.

Mannheim’s closure, along with Heidelberg’s, will save about $112 million a year starting in 2016, Anderson said.

The garrison sprawls across 1,260 acres, just 3.5 percent of Mannheim’s real estate. What will happen to it is unknown.

“It’s a great challenge to deal with 510 hectares,” said Siegfried Raatz, at the Mannheim mayor’s office. “We already had a look inside Benjamin Franklin Village. It’s not really the type of housing we need.”

Mannheim’s mayor has asked his citizens to submit ideas for what to do with the land and buildings when all are returned by 2015.

The base closure will also cost the city money: In 2009, Heidelberg’s mayor said that the move of USAREUR headquarters to Wiesbaden would cost his city and Mannheim some 45 million euros a year.

“And we also lose friends,” Raatz said. “There are a lot of friendships.”

Mannheim had its farewell ceremony on May 8, the anniversary of Victory in Europe Day, when the Allies formally accepted the unconditional surrender of the armed forces of Nazi Germany.

Mannheim, which had been largely destroyed by American and British bombers, would never forget, the mayor said in his speech, how magnanimous the Americans had been and how influential. It was unusual, he said, “for a victor to extend a hand and open a perspective.”

Fuehrer’s mother was 3 years old when the war ended. Germany lay in ruins and there was little to eat. She told her son how U.S. soldiers had shared their rations with her. Moreover, his parents told him how the Americans had brought democratic values, popular music, even a new, less formal way of being in the world.

“Both my parents had a very positive view of the Americans. This applies to many people in my generation,” he said. “We owe the Americans so much.”

He was 16 when he rode his bike onto base in 1985, curious to see what was there. “To me, it was fascinating. Even the air smelled different.”

Gephard, too, remembered the 1980s as the best of times. Mannheim was “jazz central” then, and Americans and Germans routinely socialized together. One year, 400 soldiers spent Christmas with German families.

“We had a known enemy. We had a lot of money. And we had excellent German-American relations,” she said. “The ‘80s were the golden years.”

Fuehrer liked how Americans were: optimistic, generous, open, he said. “People offered you their first names very soon. I liked that very much.”

He started volunteering at the United Service Organizations, translating letters and bills for Americans. He started attending Sunday services, then joined the choir, then became an usher. He rarely missed a Sunday. And he learned to say “Hooah” — literally — at every opportunity. Fuehrer, 42, claims never to have met an American he didn’t like. He is writing a book about the U.S. presence in Mannheim he hopes to have published by the city archives.

Fuehrer cultivated a relationship that endured even as chaplains, commanders and soldiers came and went. There were always new ones to meet.

“Now there’s just people moving away,” he said.

montgomeryn@estripes.osd.mil

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Nancy is an Italy-based reporter for Stars and Stripes who writes about military health, legal and social issues. An upstate New York native who served three years in the U.S. Army before graduating from the University of Arizona, she previously worked at The Anchorage Daily News and The Seattle Times. Over her nearly 40-year journalism career she’s won several regional and national awards for her stories and was part of a newsroom-wide team at the Anchorage Daily News that was awarded the 1989 Pulitzer Prize for Public Service.
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