By Karl WeiselMay 23, 2007
BAfA"DINGEN, Germany (Army News Service, May 23, 2007) - It's said change is good - but it can be hard too. For the thousands of people lining the streets in BAfA1/4dingen on May 5, saying goodbye to the American military drew an equal share of smiles and tears.
"When your fathers, grandfathers and relatives arrived in BAfA1/4dingen more than 60 years ago, the townspeople were not sure what to expect. Was it a foe or friend' It turned out to be friends - and what good friends," said BAfA1/4dingen Mayor Erich Spamer, while welcoming the tightly packed castle square of Germans and Americans who turned out to celebrate the more than 62 years of German-American friendship in the town and the impending departure of 1st Squadron, 1st Cavalry Regiment.
"In March 1945 American troops occupied BAfA1/4dingen and there are many BAfA1/4dingeners who can still remember that time. The Soldiers brought us peace bound with much foresight - no BAfA1/4dingeners were hurt or randomly harassed and our medieval city was not destroyed - something that was not to be expected during a war," he said, adding that people who found themselves 50 miles to the east and had to live behind a so-called "iron curtain" for decades were not as fortunate.
"The Americans gave us new perspectives and support for our town and shared with us chewing gum, cigarettes and the much-beloved Hershey chocolate, but most importantly, they brought an unbelievable friendship," said Mayor Spamer.
As the mayor choked up while mentioning the many ties between the citizens and U.S. Soldiers - shooting clubs, joint Fasching celebrations and marriages," he added, "I do hope that all of you will take a bit of BAfA1/4dingen with you in your hearts and will be proud to say 'I am a BAfA1/4dingener' as President John F. Kennedy once said about Berlin... we will not forget you. You are in our hearts and we look forward to seeing you again, whether in the United States or with us in BAfA1/4dingen."
The day-long celebration began in the morning with a solemn ceremony at the BAfA1/4dingen Cemetery during which a new memorial for fallen U.S. Soldiers was inaugurated. Several memorial markers, formerly situated at Armstrong Barracks, were moved to the cemetery and placed near the memorial. Lt. Col. Matthew McKenna, 1-1st Cavalry commander; former commander Lt. Col. John Peeler; Mayor Spamer and Dagmar Cooke, wife of Command Sgt. Maj. Eric F. Cooke who was killed in Iraq on Dec. 24, 2003, remembered those who gave their lives in defense of freedom and liberty.
"Many years ago it was the American Army that brought peace to Germany," Mayor Spamer said. "Our country and its people got a chance to become a member of the community of democratic states again. We will always remember that, and we are grateful for it."
In the afternoon, Fasching clubs, German-American motorcycle groups, 1st Squadron, 1st Cavalry Regiment Soldiers and marching bands formed up to march through the streets of BAfA1/4dingen accompanied by cheering crowds all along the route. As the parade and spectators made their way through the town's Jerusalem Gate and proceeded on to the castle square they were greeted by refreshments, a children's play area and live entertainment.
One of those riding in the parade was Mark Neiderberger, a former Soldier stationed in BAfA1/4dingen and a civilian employee with the U.S. Army Garrison Hessen's Information Management Office. "I had a lot of good times in BAfA1/4dingen. I met my wife here. When I left here as a Soldier, I figured I'd never come back."
Since that time Mr. Neiderberger, who has lived in the United States and Germany, said during his "24 years in the Hanau Community" he's enjoyed the friendship of riding with the Rhein Valley Harley Chapter and with members of German motorcycle clubs.
"I think the people in this community will be sad to see us go," he added.
After the mayor delivered his remarks, Lt. Col. McKenna thanked Mayor Spamer with a gift of crossed sabers and reiterated his view that serving in BAfA1/4dingen was an extraordinary experience. "We tell our friends in the United States that being stationed here is the best-kept secret in the Army."
The 1st Sqdn., 1st Cav. Regt., inactivated in a ceremony at Armstrong Barracks April 24.
Once the speeches were over, everyone was invited to enjoy the afternoon of refreshments, music and dance.
Margit and Josef Drozd were among the many Germans who said they wanted to participate in the farewell ceremony.
"I was 6 years old when I met my first Americans," said Mr. Drozd, describing growing up in the nearby town of Altenstadt and remembering meeting Soldiers as they maneuvered in the fields and forests. "It was quite an experience for us children. They gave us chewing gum and chocolate and would send us for beer.
My wife and I wanted to be here today to be a part of this. It's sad to see the Americans leave."
(Karl Weisel serves with the Army Garrison Hessen Public Affairs Office. Ute Wolf also contributed to this story)