After I completed my military training at Fort Lewis, Washington in September of 1969, the army assigned me to duty in West Germany. Soon, I was on a charter plane headed for Europe.
There, I received orders to report to the 510th Ordinance Company in Gunzburg, West Germany. Gunzburg lies in the state of Bavaria in the southern part of Germany, but even there the weather was beginning to turn cold in mid-October. Soon, the snow began to fall and we were pretty much confined to our base during the long, cold winter.
By April though, the sun came out and melted the snow. Then, my new friend Jack and I decided to get out and explore the countryside. We started in the town of Gunzburg. It is a picturesque, old village dating back to Roman times.
We wandered through the cobblestone streets checking out the old cathedral, the theater, the stores, and the restaurants. Eventually, we stumbled upon a neat little tavern called the Lowenbrau Steube. There, we wandered up to the bar and ordered a beer. The 40-something looking bartender poured us each a one-pint glass of good, German beer.
We began talking with the man. His name was Walter. He co-owned the tavern/restaurant with his wife Liz. He poured the drinks and Liz cooked. Soon, Liz came out from the kitchen and introduced herself. She spoke good English, asking us our names and where we came from. Jack was from New Jersey, and I from California. She had lots questions. She asked me about San Francisco and Hollywood. She asked Jack about New York City.
Liz introduced us to her two daughters, Monica, a pretty Fraulein in her mid-20s and Petra, 13, who was still in school. She and Walter had met just after the war. He had fought in the German army and spent time in a British Prisoner of War (POW) Camp. After the war, the British released the captive German soldiers and sent them home. Walter was lucky, as Gunzburg came out of the war relatively unscathed. The farmers there went about their business as they had before the war, indeed, as they had for a thousand years. Walt and Liz met, got married, bought the tavern, and the rest was history.
We would spend many nights at the Lowenbrau Steube during our tours of duty in Germany, drinking good German beer and eating Liz’s fantastic food. We soon met other friendly people. George, the middle aged tippler who drove a fast car and wore traditional Bavarian clothing: a green blazer with a crest emblazoned on the pocket and a felt hat unique to that region. We also met Horst, an office manager at Gunzburg City Hall. Horst and his wife Rosvitha had us over the Christmas Eve dinner that year. We watched the 1970 world cup of soccer there and spent many holiday’s there including Fasching (German Mardi Gras) and New Year’s Eve.
Liz treated us like the sons she never had. She prepared special meals for us that weren’t on the menu.
That chance encounter resulted in lasting friendship with Walter and Liz. Sadly, I never saw them again after leaving Germany in 1971. They are probably long since departed from this world. But, I will never forget the experiences I had in their little tavern: another unforgettable Janey Way memory.
After I completed my military training at Fort Lewis, Washington in September of 1969, the army assigned me to duty in West Germany. Soon, I was on a charter plane headed for Europe.
When I completed my military training in September of 1969, the U. S. Army assigned me to do a tour of duty in West Germany. Then, after returning to Janey Way for a brief vacation, I flew on a military charter plane to Frankfurt, Germany and ultimately bused to the small Bavarian town of Gunzburg where I served in the 510th Ordinance Company.
When I arrived there in mid-October, I noticed the weather was noticeably cooler and wetter than California. By mid-November, snow had covered the ground. It would stay there until mid-April. The harshness of the weather really limited what we could do. I wanted to venture out into the country side to see what was there, but we mostly just walked into town to shop and enjoy the restaurants and taverns. Soon, Christmas passed, and ultimately spring arrived, bringing with it warmer, sunnier weather.
By April, the snow finally melted and we began to hike the Germany countryside.
One Saturday afternoon, my friend Jack and I hiked toward Gunzburg, crossing the Danube River, and then turning right toward the southern part of the town. As we walked along the levee on the edge of town, we sighted a park. We noticed quite a few people there and headed over to see what was going on. The park featured an out-of-service swimming pool on one side and a sports field on the other.
We saw a soccer game in progress on the sports field, so we walked over and blended into the crowd. I remembered playing soccer in high school physical education class, but we did not play the way these people played. We stumbled, crashed into each other, missed passes and, well you get the picture, we weren’t very good. These German players looked masterful. They ran down the field like gazelles, dribbling the ball with grace, then kicked long, arching passes into the middle of the field, where a waiting player, leaped and struck the ball with his head toward the open net.
I couldn’t believe my eyes. It was awesome. I instantly developed a whole new appreciation for the game of soccer or as the German’s called it: football. I swore that I would take up the sport when I returned home, and I did.
When I returned home in 1971, I began to look for soccer team to play on. I had no skills, but what the heck, I could learn. I eventually got my opportunity.
A friend of mine, Bill Sontag, played for a team made up of people who coached in the newly formed Sacramento youth soccer program. He knew I played football in high school, so he asked me to play goal keeper on his team. I accepted his offer and began a fifteen year saga playing adult recreational soccer.
I ultimately worked my way out of the net and onto the field to play the positions of right fullback and left winger. Soccer became a way of life for me, occupying 35 Sundays throughout the year and it all goes back to that Saturday afternoon in Gunzburg when I first discovered the sport.
At age 67, my sporting days have long since passed me by, but my thoughts of playing adult competitive soccer with my friend Bill still linger, another unforgettable Janey Way memory.
In September of 1969, I completed my military training at Fort Lewis, Washington, and then the U. S. Army issued me orders to serve in West Germany. In early October, I boarded a charter plane headed for Frankfurt, Germany. After three days in Frankfurt, I received orders to serve at the 510th Ordinance Battalion in the small German town of Gunzburg.
If the truth be told, I arrived in Gunzburg ill-prepared for the German climate. It didn’t help that my army duffel bag, filled with most of my clothing, disappeared en-route. It eventually arrived, months later, but initially, I had minimal gear.
When I arrived on base, my new friend who called himself “Huck”, said, “We need to get you some warm clothes to wear.” So, next morning, we walked the half mile into town and did some shopping. That day, I bought a fur-lined coat, a good pair of boots and a warm hat. Now, I almost looked like a German.
That day, I also ate my first German meal: Wiener schnitzel. Wow! It tasted great. I knew that I was going to like this place.
The town, too, was fantastic. Gunzburg dated back to the Roman Empire. In fact, the Romans built the cobblestone street that went through the center of town. That day, I walked on a 2,000-year-old road.
I quickly settled into the routine of army life. I basically had a Monday through Friday job at our ordinance site, with Saturdays, Sundays and holidays off. It was great.
By mid-November, the first snow fell and it covered the ground until, April. You got used to it, though. I soon began to enjoy it.
Thanksgiving came and went and Christmas approached. I started to feel a little homesick then. However, my first Christmas away from home turned out wonderfully.
Mom sent me a care package in mid-December full of treats. We went out and bought a small tannenbaum (Christmas tree) for our room. We decorated it with ornaments purchased at a store in town. In town, they decorated the streets with red ribbons, greenery and ornaments. I bought small presents, and mailed them home.
Christmas day, I attended services at the beautiful Gothic cathedral in town. That evening, the officers hosted Christmas dinner for the men in the dining hall. They came, in full military dress attire, accompanied by their wives. After a fine turkey dinner with all the trimmings, they distributed small presents to all of us. Christmas away from home wasn’t so bad after all.
I have never forgotten that first Christmas in Germany.
The area of Janey Way covers one city block. It runs left off M Street and dead ends just before it reaches Elvas Avenue. That made it a perfect place to grow up.
Twenty-three houses lined Janey Way when I grew up there. The block also included three empty lots. They made perfect locations for baseball fields, Christmas tree forts, and motocross.
Because the street dead-ended at Elvas Avenue, we played touch football on it, as well as kick-the-can, fly and you’re out and even the hubcap trick. Sometimes we just stood on the street and talked loudly. I don’t think our parents thought much about that behavior, but they never bothered us when we did it.
However, while Janey Way was a small block, it made up one little part of a pretty big town. Back then Sacramento had a population of around 150,000. You didn’t call it a big city, that made people laugh. It was a big town though, with some really great attributes. We had historical landmarks like Sutter’s Fort and Old Town. We also had the California State Fair, the Crocker Art Museum, Capitol Park, Edmunds Field, and the Alhambra Theatre. So, I never felt constrained in Sacramento like some small-town residents might feel.
We also had San Francisco, a big city, just 90 miles away. When I was growing up, my parents often took us there for visits to sites like the Golden Gate Bridge, Fisherman’s Wharf and Golden Gate Park. At the park, we toured the San Francisco Zoo, the De Young Museum, the Japanese Garden and the Aquarium. Mom always brought a picnic lunch which we ate out on the plaza in the park. Our trips to the big city were memorable.
When I recall the time when I grew up on Janey Way, I can’t help but think I had the best of all worlds. I had the intimacy of a small town with much broader boundaries that featured museums, sports stadiums, theaters, four high schools (Sacramento, C.K. McClatchy, Luther Burbank and Hiram Johnson) and two colleges (Sacramento City and Sacramento State).
Having all that helped produce many success stories on Janey Way. Gary Costamagna became the City Fire Chief; Harry Viani, a dentist; Lou Viani, an architect. Most of us graduated from a university.
On the other hand, my son-in-law grew up in Manteca. He tells me that many of his childhood friends still live there despite the fact that it has little to offer in the way of jobs or opportunities.
I am glad I grew up on Janey Way: a small neighborhood in a big town.
In September of 1969, I completed my advanced infantry Training at Fort Lewis, Washington. On Friday morning, we marched to the parade field to mark the occasion. There, the Base Commander congratulated us for completing our training and sent us on our way. Then, we marched back to our company headquarters where our First Sergeant, a good man, handed out orders to all 160 men. Most were headed to Viet Nam.
I lucked out though. My brother Terry was already in Saigon serving in a military police detachment, so my orders sent me to West Germany. Wow, I couldn’t believe I had orders for Germany.
That evening, I boarded a plane and headed home for a 2-week leave. After four and a half months of training, returning home felt great. My parents treated me like a hero, and all the Janey Way guys: Jim Ducray, Randy Puccetti, Mike Roa and the rest came over to see me. I really enjoyed that leave, but I looked forward to my new assignment, too. Germany! I still could not believe my good fortune.
Two weeks later, I boarded a plane headed for Fort Dix, New Jersey, where I was held over three days waiting to land a spot on a charter plane headed for Europe. Soon, I was on my way.
After a nine-hour flight, we landed at Rhine-Main Air Base in Frankfurt, Germany where we boarded a bus bound for the 29th Replacement Battalion, housed in a World War II vintage building in the heart of town. Sadly, we were confined to quarters there. I remember the Sergeant saying, “Gentlemen, they serve German beer at the enlisted men’s club. Be careful drinking it. It is much stronger than American beer.” Some of the men did not heed his warning and paid the price.
A few days later, with my final orders in hand, I boarded a nice bus headed for the 510th Ordinance Battalion, in Gunzburg, West Germany. I remember sitting on the bus watching the world go by. Everything looked different. The cars were smaller. The buildings were much older, like something out of Hansel and Gretel. The signs were all different. This was awesome.
Hours later, I pulled into a German Army Base: Prinz Eugan Kaserne. It would be my home for the next 17 months. The bus driver stopped right in front of the headquarter’s office of the 512th Administrative Group where a Specialist IV welcomed us to the base and walked us over to our temporary home. We stowed our gear and headed over to the mess hall for dinner. All the guts seemed really nice.
Next day, I received my assignment—Company B of the 510th Ordinance Battalion. My military occupational specialty was about to change from infantry to ordinance: a step up in the military world. My platoon sergeant was a hard-boiled little southerner named Johnnie Cochran. When he learned I came from California, he said, “What are you Rayless (that’s how he pronounced my name), some kind of hippie?”
I replied, “No sarge, I am a soldier.
I will tell you more about Sergeant Cochran and the 510th Ordinance Battalion in upcoming episodes.
Editor’s note: This is a guest column written by a longtime friend of Martin Relles, the regular writer for Janey Way Memories.
For Berna, Denis, Josie and me, the greatest part of Christmas was not the lights, the ornaments, or the tinsel. Not even the presents, the visit from Santa, or the two week vacation from school. It was our annual trip to Theodore Judah Elementary School on McKinley Blvd. at 39th St, where our father worked as a custodian for a number of years. He and the school had an agreement. So long as our father removed and stored away the school’s Christmas tree ornaments once the two week Christmas vacation was under way, he was allowed to remove the school Christmas tree from the school property and take it home.
And so, each year when it came time for our father to drive back to Theodore Judah, usually after dinner, the four of us would beg to go along. Our father would refuse, half-heartedly saying, “I don’t want you kids to break any of the ornaments.” We four would quickly say that we would be very careful and we would promise not to break any ornaments. Our father would give in and allow us to join him.
We would pile into the Chevrolet and accompany our father to Theodore Judah, go into the supply room and get the cardboard box that the ornaments were stored in. Then we would proceed to remove the ornaments from the Christmas tree, and as always, we would manage to break at least one, if not two of the ornaments in the process. Our father never got upset over our carelessness. Nor did our carelessness ever stop him from allowing us to join him year after year. We would store away the box of ornaments when we were finished taking them off the tree, and then we all would carry the Christmas tree and place it into the trunk of the Chevrolet where our father would secure it with a rope for its trip to its second home.
By the time we would return home, our mother would already have the area in front of the living room window cleared of any furniture and in their place would be the family Christmas tree stand awaiting the arrival of our family Christmas tree. Then, when the tree was set up in its place of honor, together we all would proceed to decorate our Christmas tree, starting with the strings of C9-sized Christmas lights, since the miniatures had not been invented yet.
The first set of ornaments to be placed onto our Christmas tree were four bells, each one representing Berna, Denis, Josie and myself, placed onto the topmost branches of the tree. A fifth bell was added representing our little brother Mark who was born on Valentine’s Day in 1961. The remainder of the ornaments were added after. The tinsel was added last so that the tree could shine bright from the large lights. The last step in the decorating process was to step outside to observe our Christmas tree from the sidewalk, where it would receive a few oohs and aahs, and then we would run back into the house to warm ourselves back up.
For several years this was our annual Christmas tradition. But, as all good things do come to an end, our annual trip to Theodore Judah ended when our father was transferred from the elementary school to work at Hiram Johnson High School in 1965. Our ages ranged from ten to fifteen years old when our annual tradition became a joyful memory that we would talk about for many years after. Unfortunately for our little brother Mark, he would never be given the opportunity to make the annual trip to Theodore Judah. He was only three years old at the time of our last trip to the elementary school. Had the tradition continued, Mark would have also had the fond memory of our trips with our father, and the opportunity to break an ornament or two.
In January of 1969, a letter arrived in my mail box. It read, “On April 15, 1969, you are hereby instructed to report for duty in the U. S. Army.” My life was about to change dramatically.
So, on the prescribed date, a friend dropped me off at the front door of the U. S. Army Induction Terminal in Oakland. After partying pretty much all of the night before, I was hardly prepared for the day ahead of me, which included, a day of taking tests, filling out forms and following yellow lines. However, I somehow made it through the day and, at 4 p.m., they marched us into a room on the second floor where we took the oath of admission to the U. S. Army.
After swearing us in, they sent us down to the street to board buses headed for Oakland International Airport. I have to say, that was the quietest bus trip I ever took. Soon, we arrived at the airport where we drove straight out to the tarmac to board a Boeing 707 destined for SeaTac Airport and ultimately Fort Lewis, Washington. Ironically, it was the first time I ever flew in an airplane.
When we arrived at SeaTac, we disembarked and boarded a bus for what seemed like a long bus trip to Fort Lewis. When we arrived there, the gravity of our new situation became abundantly clear. Drill sergeants stood outside the bus as we exited yelling at us to get into formation, then they marched us one half mile to our new barracks: a two-story rectangular building large enough to accommodate 40 men.
There, they issued us our bedding and showed us how to make a bed up to U.S. military standard. That proved tough for some, but it didn’t challenge me. At 22, I had lived on my own for some time, and making a bed was well within my skill set. I found myself helping others to get their beds made.
The next day, they cut our hair off, issued us our uniforms and began training us in earnest. Soon, life took on a routine pattern for us trainees. We arose at 5 a. m. daily, showered, dressed and got into formation. Then we ate, mustered, and marched off to a day of training. We did everything you would expect soldiers to do: marched, shot weapons, used a compass, learned to read maps, etc. After eight weeks, we graduated from Basic Training. Then, some trainees went off to other bases for training as military police, artillery men, tankers, etc. I marched across the base to enter Advanced Infantry Training-not a good omen.
As it turned out though, my ultimate purpose in the U.S. Army would not be to be an infantry man in Viet Nam. My brother had already shipped out to Viet Nam, and Army policy mandated that I serve in some other zone, so I received orders to serve in West Germany. After all that training, the infantry would not be my military occupational specialty.
The next day, I flew home to Janey Way. After four months of intensive military training, it never looked better. Dad seemed very proud of his oldest son. Mom was just happy to have me back.
A new life in West Germany awaited me. For now, a few weeks on Janey Way seemed like the best vacation ever. This is truly one of my happiest Janey Way memories.
With Thanksgiving coming next week, I harken back to the many wonderful Thanksgiving celebrations I experienced on Janey Way. One in particular stands out.
In October of 1971, I returned home after a 2-year hitch in the U. S. Army. After such a long time away, the old neighborhood never looked better to me. It seemed remarkably unchanged.
I looked forward to the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday because my sister Pat and brother Terry were coming, and I had not seen them for years. Pat had moved away years earlier to Wisconsin where her husband attended graduate school. Her sons Dylan and Brenden were born there in 1971.
My brother Terry left Janey Way in 1968 to serve a tour of duty in Viet Nam. Thankfully, he returned unscathed and I could not wait to see him.
When the holiday finally arrived, it did not disappoint. Terry flew in from Denver Colorado the day before, and we stayed up late that night, playing Scrabble and sharing our stories.
Still, we arose early on Thanksgiving Day to drink coffee and watch Mom prepare the Thanksgiving feast. Terry, an aspiring chef, tried to give Mom pointers on cooking turkey. She would not have it. “I have been doing this for years, Terry,” she said, “There is nothing you can tell me.” With that, Terry and I adjourned to the living room to watch the Oklahoma/Nebraska football game.
A little after noon, my sister arrived with her new baby boys. They looked so cute, with big blue eyes and plenty of energy. I was amazed. Her son Dylan looked so much like my father. Dad picked the boys up and bounced them on his knee. He seemed so proud of them.
Pat, Terry and I spent the rest of the afternoon sharing stories of our recent adventures. Pat told us of the frigid mid-west winters. Terry described the humidity and the danger in Viet Nam. We were so happy he came home safely. I told them of the snow white Christmas’ in Germany where I served. We had a great time. Then mom called us to dinner at 4:00p.m. sharp.
We settled around the big dining room table to say grace, then dad poured champagne and made a toast. “To my children who have returned home at last, salute.”
Our family has shared many wonderful Thanksgivings since that day, but I have never forgotten that one.
Best wishes to you and your families for a happy, healthy Thanksgiving.
Next Monday, we celebrate Veteran’s Day, a time to honor the sacrifices made by our military, past and present. Being a veteran myself, I have a lot to reflect upon.
Back in the1960s, living at home on Janey Way and attending Sacramento High School, the idea of serving in the military could not have been farther from my mind. I played on the Junior Varsity football team, studied a little and had a pretty normal life. Then, when the Viet Nam War heated up in 1964, things changed in ways, I could never have imagined.
When I graduated from high school that year, my good friend, Mike Gilson joined the U.S. Marines. His family had a long history of military service and he wanted to do his part. He headed off to train at Camp Pendleton that summer. Other friends like Tom Watson joined up too, and I wondered what would become of them. I found out all too soon.
Mike returned home on leave in the spring of 1965 and we had a great time, swimming at the American River, hanging out on Janey Way and just goofing off. Then, he headed off for a tour of duty in Viet Nam. I never saw him again. Eleven months later, he lost his life in a firefight and the news struck our neighborhood like a bomb. People were shaken. Mike was only 20 years old.
My friend, Albert Wilson and I attended Mike’s funeral. I remember a Marine captain giving a carefully folded U.S. flag to Mike’s grieving mother, and I realized I would never see my friend again.
Soon, Jim Ducray, Dick Kinzel, Dan Rosenblatt, Roger Thomsen, my brother Terry and I followed our lost friend into the military, but fortunately we all returned safely. We had served our country honorably and ultimately went on to live normal lives. Mike Gilson was not so lucky, he made the ultimate sacrifice.
A few years back I had the privilege of meeting Mike’s nephew, also named Michael. He serves as a Jesuit priest here in the Sacramento area. Father Mike had read some of the Janey Way stories and wanted to meet me. At that meeting, he shared the story of how he got his name.
Apparently, while Mike was in Viet Nam, he made the following request to his brother Carl, Father Mike’s dad: “If you have a boy, name him Michael.”
In honor of his fallen brother, Carl did indeed name his son Michael. I personally am happy that the good father shares the name of my departed fiend.
Next Monday, as you enjoy your day off, think of Mike and all the other veterans who have given so much to keep us all safe and free.
A few weeks ago, my granddaughter Gabrielle, began school—kindergarten at Phoebe Hearst Elementary. It marked a momentous day in her life. She wore a new dress and sported a backpack filled with paper, pencils and supplies. Her dad walked her into class, then left her in the hands of her new teacher.
Later that day when mom picked her up, she asked the important question: “How was school?” Gaby answered, “I loved it, mom.”
This all brought back memories of my first day at St. Mary’s School in 1955. The new school opened that year and I began fourth Grade, the highest grade in the school at that time. Mom had gone to Weinstocks and picked out our uniforms (salt and pepper corduroy pants, white shirt and blue bow tie) in August. She put them on layaway, remember that.
Then, during the State Fair, mom worked as a runner at the Race Track. There, she placed bets for the upper crust of Sacramento who sat in the box seats at the track. Doing that, she earned a small wage plus tips from the winning bettors. By the end of the fair, she had earned enough to pay for our school.
And so it was that on the first day of school, we showed up, ready to learn, in our brand spanking new uniforms. The nuns lined up each of the classes in the school yard behind the classrooms, a ritual which would repeat itself for many years to come.
My teacher was Mother Carmela, the sister superior (principal) of the school. She looked pretty tough. I was nervous. She marched us into our new classroom. It looked beautiful with brand new desks filled with books and a glimmering world globe in the front of class next to the sister’s desk. Then she said, “Students, open up your desks and get out your math book—it’s the blue one.” We followed her instruction and the school day began.
When, I returned home from school that day, mom asked, “How was school Marty?” I replied that I loved it. From that day through my last day at St. Mary’s School, I don’t recall missing a class.
The school opened up new worlds for me. It laid the ground work for all my future education. I had Mother Carmela as my teacher for all those years, the most important years of my education. She has long since departed this world, and looking back I can only thank her posthumously for all she gave me.
Now my first day at St. Mary’s School, so many years ago, is just another inspirational Janey Way memory.