I was stationed in Germany in the late sixties. World War II had been officially over for more than two decades, but it wasn’t really over.
First a little background with the previous World War, WW I. After the Germans were defeated, the French occupied Germany, and treated the German citizens with classic French arrogance. The Germans had no choice but to accept it, but they harbored a deep resentment and knew that somehow, someday they would get revenge. Fast forward to WW II and Hitler and the Germans got their paybacks on the French and now occupied their country.
Then that war ended and we Americans occupied Germany with the same distain for the German citizens that the French had shown. The Germans had no choice but to accept it, but again, they harbored a deep resentment and knew that someday they would get revenge on the Americans the same way they had gotten revenge on the French.
When we went out on the town we were not welcome. Invariably fights would break out. It was a nightly occurrence in the taverns closest to the base. Usually it began with a group of Americans hurling chicken bones at any Germans sitting nearby. German girls were ostracized from their communities if they were seen with Americans. The War had been over for more than two decades, but like I said, hostilities were still going on. It wasn’t over.
Then, an amazing thing happened. It was on my brother Kevin’s birthday, July 20th, 1969, that hostilities ceased. That was the day we landed on the moon. Americans were naturally filled with pride for what they had accomplished, but the Germans were proud, too. The head of our space program was an old German rocket scientist, Wernher Von Braun. When we landed those men on the moon, we created an instant partnership with the German people. We were no longer the occupying army. We were now allies in the space race.
The fighting in the taverns stopped. Now, instead of hurling chicken bones at one another, we were buying each other drinks and toasting the great accomplishment of the American-German team of scientists at NASA. The German girls could now openly date Americans, and, their German fathers would insist that they brought their American boyfriends home, not to be inspected, but to be congratulated and toasted with a glass of German Schnapps.
July 20th, 1969, in my mind, is the day that World War II ended. On that day, we landed on the moon and found a little peace on Earth. “One small step for man. One giant leap for mankind,” indeed.
Peace and Love, and all of the above,