Veteran returns to Germany
August 31, 2011
HEIDELBERG, Germany - To Peter Schmelkin, Germany has always been a picturesque moment in his life, full of adventure, stories and memories.
Schmelkin, a former draftee in the U.S. Army from 1951-1953, returned to Patton Barracks in Heidelberg the morning of Aug. 5 to relive a brief but significant part of his life.
Since 1973 the U.S. Armed Forces has been a volunteer organization, but Schmelkin remembers the days of the draft.
He fondly recalls his 18-month career as a Soldier at Campbell Barracks, the former Wehrmacht Grossdeutschland-Kaserne.
"It's hard to believe I'm here. It's been so long ago," Schmelkin said.
Times have changed on military installations worldwide, but Schmelkin's memories of being a Soldier remain ingrained forever.
It was the 60th anniversary of his marriage and his 58th anniversary marking his time spent in Heidelberg. Schmelkin was just as excited as he was nervous as he recalled his time here in the 1950s.
Walking through the gate of Patton Barracks, Schmelkin was met by Public Affairs Specialist Karin Zuleger and retired Lt. Col. Larry Applebaum to embark on an exploration of Patton Barracks.
During the walking tour, the 86-year-old stopped to take in the view of the new U.S. Army.
He pulled out a 1951 Zeiss Contessa camera with a pamphlet and a picture he took at the corporate office in Stuttgart.
This same camera helped him color many of his moments in Germany and made him remember his 1946 Ford "Frauline."
"I bought a '46 Ford from a general and when I drove it I would have to put these big gas cans in the trunk because you could only get gas on military installations. I would ride to other cities and these cans made this terrible noise and smelled strong enough to give you a headache," Schmelkin said.
In a photo album was the picture of "Frauline," along with many other treasures of his time spent in Germany.
Schmelkin shared his photos with Command Sgt. Maj. Annette Weber who stopped by the Warrior Zone to greet the former draftee and honor him with a coin.
As Schmelkin was about to depart the Warrior Zone, Rabbi Avi Weiss arrived to discuss Schmelkin's experience of coming back to Germany.
He talked about the work he does now and how it gives him a way to impart joy into someone else's life.
"I volunteer my time to the Veterans Affairs at the Heinz Hospital in Chicago and I am a member of the Jewish War Veterans Association. It breaks my heart to see these young fellows in such bad shape coming back from war. So, I go there to help them through their rehabilitative stages," Schmelkin said.
Schmelkin has amassed more memories of Germany to take back home to Chicago where he can fatten his photo book with another snapshot of his life.