By Karl Weisel, USAG Wiesbaden Public AffairsAugust 10, 2008
HANAU, Germany - "It's difficult to say goodbye, but as they say, life goes on," said Lt. Col. Gerald Moates, a chaplain at U.S. Army Garrison Hessen, following the installation's closure ceremony Aug. 7.
Moates expressed what many felt during the event at Hanau's Pioneer Fitness Center: just one more part of Army transformation, but an emotional change for the many who called Hanau home throughout the years. "It's a mixture of emotions," he said. "It's sad because of all the friends I've made; it's difficult to say goodbye to all these folks."
Indeed, 63 years of German-American cooperation and friendship was the theme repeated by speakers Col. Ray Graham, U.S. Army Garrison Hessen/Wiesbaden commander, and Dr. Robert Schloesser, Hanau's deputy to the commander.
"Today marks a milestone in the history of Hanau and in the history of the U.S. Army," said Graham. "For the very last time we have come together to share fond memories of the good times we had and of the critical situations we have mastered together - 63 years of working hand in hand. For the very last time we have come together to celebrate and honor this wonderful German-American partnership between the city of Hanau and a great American military community."
Graham described how the Hanau military community was at one time the largest garrison in Europe and instrumental in supporting global missions. He also expressed the pride felt by people around the world when the Berlin Wall came down in the 1989. "With the end of the Cold War military requirements shifted and U.S. troops in Hanau were also affected," Graham said. "As a consequence the Hanau military community was significantly reduced."
Noting how through the years the citizens of Hanau consistently welcomed and supported their American neighbors, Graham pointed out the more than six decades of joint fests, intercultural exchanges, music and sporting events and thousands of German-American marriages - "and probably even more German-American babies born as a result of those marriages."
"As in any close relationship we had our share of spats," said Graham ... "but we knew in the end things would all work out."
Thanking current and past mayors, county officials, German military partners and all who helped ensure a safe and secure home for Americans while stationed in the Hanau area, Graham said, "You all contributed greatly to this successful partnership between the Army and the city of Hanau ... As we depart we are taking with us the fondest memories of Hanau and the people that we've met along the way."
USAG Hessen's "de facto commander," as Graham labeled Schloesser during his remarks, praised the close working relationship between Hanau Lord Mayor Claus Kaminsky and his staff with military community leaders during the closure process.
"The planning, execution and constant attention to every detail that has progressed for two years with our Army units, agencies, Soldiers, civilians and families, has required total emersion by all involved ... I thank the lord mayor for his vision and for his aggressive actions."
Schloesser noted that despite the best efforts of all involved to keep both the U.S. and German public informed, there remained a tiny percentage of the population that refused to get the message. "It's human nature - hope springs eternal," he said. "Up until a few months ago, people still came up to tell me the latest rumor that the Army had changed its mind about closing. Hopefully with today's ceremony and order, all such rumors are laid to rest."
Remembering serving as a young lieutenant in Hanau in 1962 and returning in the early '90s as a civilian, Schloesser said the closure ceremony was bittersweet, "but let us not forget that life goes on and good memories always linger.
"In closing, I echo Colonel Graham's remarks in saying, this is not goodbye, but rather Auf Wiedersehen," Schloesser said.
Still, "It's a weird feeling," said Marshall Dunston, former curator of the Buffalo Soldier Museum in Hanau, Army retiree and a civilian worker in Hanau for many years. "It's like before and after - watching everything close."