30 Days of Training

Now that we've thoroughly examined Fort Dix, the Hindenburg, German POWs and Elvis, let's turn our attention to what's been going on for the last 30 days.

I realize that people read this blog for different reasons, so at this point, I'd like to give you a choice on how you would like to proceed.  If you want a very basic summary of what's been happening the last 30 days, please skip to the section entitled "SUMMARY". If you would like to be entertained with the specific details of the last 30 days, then skip to the section entitled "DETAILS".


I could summarize what we've been doing with a 24 second clip from the classic Bill Murray movie from 1981, "Stripes". (The real question comes 15 seconds into the clip.)

Q: What have you boys been doing for the last month? (click to the left for the link)

A: "Training, sir!"

Q: "What kind of training?"

A: "Aarrrrmmmmy training, sir!"


The US Army is utilizing servicemembers from other branches to fill personnel gaps in their units.  Since all the branches train their recruits differently, the Army needs to insure that everyone has the same basic skills and speaks the same basic language. For the last 30 days, I've been engaged in the Army's "Basic Combat Skills" course, highlighting the core Army skills that allow military members to "shoot, move & communicate".

In the "Shoot" category, we spent considerable periods of time becoming experts (or at least familiar with) most of the weapons we might encounter in Afghanistan, to include "personal weapons" (such as the M-4 Carbine) and "crew served weapons" (such as the M240 machine gun) that you might find on top of vehicles or in other defensive positions. Along the way, we also got to toss a few hand grenades and blow a few things up.

In the "Move" department, we became officially licensed drivers of several Army vehicles, including the HMMWV (commonly known as the "Hummer") and several variants of MRAPs.  (MRAP being an acronym for "Mine Resistant Ambush Protected", a family of vehicles designed to help mitigate the Improvised Explosive Devices (IED) threat.) We drove them on roads, off roads, and at night using Night Vision Devices (NVDs).

I drove, with great precision, this particular vehicle.

Finally, we spent a considerable period of time interacting with some of the more high tech tools used to "Communicate" among US/Coalition forces.  For security purposes, I'll obviously not get into those, but suffice it to say it's pretty high speed stuff.

Everything we've done in the last 30 days falls into one of those three categories. At the same time, we've retained our distinctive branch differences. For example:

Although I'm wearing an Army uniform, it still reads "US Navy" on the space above my heart.

We bought a US Navy license tag and installed it on the front of our Humvee.

The front of our Humvee.
Although none of the four Navy guys in my class speak this way, we heavily littered our speech with nautical terms, such as "Galley" (dining facility), "Head" (bathroom), "Hatch" (doorway", "Fore & aft" (towards the front or towards the rear), "Starboard & port" (right & left), or my personal favorite "scuttlebutt" (the water fountain). (If you want to incorporate such terms into your daily life, check out this website.)

So there you have it, an overview of the last 30 days at Fort Dix.  Some of you know that I've already left the States...for security purposes, I'm post-dating these blog posts. Come back next time to hear an exciting tale of trans-continental travel, a night that never appeared, and the wondrous luxury of flying coach for 18 hours with 400 of your closest friends. Until then, "khodâ häfez".

More Fort Dix history....

In the mid 1800’s, the US government purchased a small plot of land on the eastern banks of the Delaware River (near modern-day Salem, NJ).  The US wanted to build a defensive position (also known as a “battery”) to protect the port of Philadelphia. In 1863, the land was converted to a cemetery for Confederate prisoners of war who died while in captivity at Fort Delaware, just across the river. On 3 Oct 1875, it became known as the “Finn’s Point National Cemetery”. 135 Union soldiers who were stationed at Fort Delaware are buried here, in addition to the 2,436 Confederate dead.

In the back corner of Finn’s Point NC is a small row of 13 white headstones, marking the final resting place of German prisoners of war held during World War II. These 13 German POWs died while imprisoned at Fort Dix.

The German POW corner at Finn's Point National Cemetery
In the United States, at the end of World War II, there were 175 Prisoner of War camps containing almost 425,000 prisoners of war (mostly German). The camps were located all over the US but were mostly in the South, presumably because of the expense of heating the barracks. Eventually, every state in the Union, with the exception of Nevada, North Dakota, and Vermont, had POW camps.
Since I know where most of the readers of this blog reside, I’ll answer the question that will be forming in your mind.
“I wonder if there were any German POW’s in my state?"
South Carolina: Camp Croft (Spartanburg), Fort Jackson (Columbia)
North Carolina: Camp Butner (Butner)
California: Camp Ashby (Berkeley), Camp Angel Island (SF Bay Area), Camp Beale (Marysville), Camp Cooke (Lompoc), Camp Lockett (Campo) , Camp Ono (San Bernardino), Camp Pomona (Pomona), Camp Stockton (Stockton), Fort Ord (Monterey)
Florida: Camp Blanding (Orange Park), Drew Field (Tampa), Eglin AF Base (Valparaiso), Whiting Field (Milton)

German Prisoners of War
The American POW camps did more than simply detain captured soldiers—they helped fill a vital gap in the American society during the war, helping to fill labor shortages in agriculture, construction and factories across the nation. For the most part, they were a quiet and peaceful group.  Although security wasn’t especially tight (it varied according to location), there were relatively few escape attempts.  However…..
Harry Girth was born in Breslau, Germany (now part of Poland), and enlisted in the German Army at the age of 17. He went on to become a paratrooper, but 3 days into his first combat tour, was captured near St. Lo (France) during the Normandy invasion of 1944. Along with 4,000 other German POWs, he was sent to Fort Dix, where he would spend the rest of the war.
The Germans were held captive in an isolated camp off of Range Road. (Note: I routinely travel Range Road to access many of Fort Dix’s training areas.) When the war ended, the POWs waited to be repatriated to their home country….but Harry had another idea.  Over the past few months, as the war was obviously coming to an end, Harry had been stashing supplies for his eventual escape….civilian clothes, shoes, and other essentials he would need. Two days before he was to be shipped back to Germany, Harry slipped into his civilian clothes, walked out of the camp, and became Henry Kolmar.
Henry took a train to Philadelphia and worked a series of temporary jobs on Market Street. Eventually, he moved to Atlantic City, found work as a house painter, a contractor, and later became a successful interior decorator. While a contractor, he was actually hired to construct a project on Fort Dix, where he had been held and escaped. Eventually, Henry met the young Judy Godel and got engaged. He did all of this while evading the Military police, civilian police, and the FBI.
Shortly thereafter, Judy’s mother-in-law-to-be spotted his photograph in a magazine article on five German POWs still at large. Persuaded by his family, Henry turned himself into authorities on 8 May 1953. Henry Kolmar / Harry Girth was deported to Mexico (not before marrying Judy) and entered the United States legally (since he had married an American) six months later.

After his marriage and lawful return to America, Henry / Harry went on to raise a family, and continued to live in the Atlantic City area until he passed away in 2000.  

If you are interested, I’d recommend an article from the “San Antonio Light”, which on 19 July 1953 published a story with the catchy title: “I Married My Enemy: The heartwarming story of a woman who became the bride of an escaped German prisoner of war—now to get his chance to be a good American”.
Article from the San Antonio Light; 19 July 1953
 (On a side note, German soldier Georg Gaertner escaped from a POW camp in New Mexico in 1945 and remained “at large” until he turned himself in in 1985!  In the interim 40 years, he married an American female, raised a family and worked a variety of jobs, including spending time as a ski instructor, tennis pro and contractor. He became a naturalized US citizen in November 2009, and wrote about his life on the lam in his book “Hitler’s Last Soldier in America”.)

Finally, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that here at Fort Dix, on 3 March 1960, SGT Elvis A. Presley was discharged from active duty in the US Army.

Special Order 63, releasing Sgt E.A.Presley from active duty at Fort Dix, NJ.

Sgt Presley, wearing the path of his unit, the 3rd Armored Division.
Apparently, I’m sitting in an epicenter of American history.
That’s it for the history lesson….come back next time and I’ll fill you in on what I’ve actually been doing.