Community members kick off Farewell Heidelberg festivities
June 7, 2013
HEIDELBERG- It's been more than 50 years since Max Rockafellow patrolled the streets of Heidelberg as a military policeman with the 529th MP Company. June 1 the Wisconsin native returned to the city for the first time since 1962.
He and several other former and current Heidelberg community members huddled anxiously in front of a long bright red ribbon guarding the entry way to the Farewell Heidelberg multi-media exhibit on Patrick Henry Village.
Towering panels of black and white and color photos and military memorabilia sent in from around the world, greeted visitors of all ages as they shuffled into the space that was once the Heidelberg Arts and Crafts center. Within seconds, Rockafellow was face to face with a black and white photo of himself clad in dress blues standing at attention.
"I was just thrilled. I get tears in my eyes just seeing it. I sent a lot of photos in and I'm really pleased that they chose three or four of them to use," he said
Rockafellow is part of a 529th Military Police reunion group that meet in the States. The unit invited members of the group back for a visit before U.S. Army Garrison Baden --Württemberg's closure this year.
"I looked at it as a once in a lifetime opportunity to come back and see the places where I served. I had to do it. I'm 75 and I knew this was probably my last opportunity. I wanted to see it because I spent some wonderful years here in Heidelberg and I wanted to see it close," he said.
Garrison commander Col. Bryan DeCoster led the official ribbon-cutting ceremony to open the exhibit. The event marked the beginning of a series of Farewell Heidelberg activities to mark the garrison's closure and the nearly 70 years of friendship between Germans and Americans.
"The closure of any installation or garrison carries special memories for the people who have lived and served there," DeCoster said. "When it is such a historic community as Heidelberg, with 68 years of close partnership with our German friends, we felt it was only fitting to host a series of events that would allow people to celebrate their memories and experiences rather than dwelling on the departure of U.S. forces from the city."
Rockafellow now lives in Eagle River, Wisconsin. After leaving Heidelberg, he went back to college and eventually took a job working for General Motors.
"I learned a lot of things in the 529th that shaped the rest of my life and that was important," he said. If I haven't spent the time in the Army here, I probably would not have had that focus or drive to accomplish what I have."
The Farewell Heidelberg exhibit also featured a showing of a 50 minute film entitled "Heidelberg Reflections." The film documents the first-hand accounts of life, love and loss as told by former and current Heidelberg community members.
Visitors also checked out military uniforms, community memorabilia and even a replica of a 1950s living room complete with record player. Several of the photos featured in the exhibit were submitted by former and current Heidelberg community members from around the world and also donated by historian Dr. John Provan.