ABOUT THE TIME I ALMOST BUTT-STROKED A SPEED GRAPHIC NEWS CAMERA. MERELY SIX MONTHS AFTER THE ARMY TURNED A NEWSPAPERMAN INTO A COP. Photo by Jonathan Talbert on Unsplash

FROM AN ARMY DIARY

October 28 and 29, 1965 — Plenty of German scenery, a lot of it like North Carolina, a lot like nothing seen before. Saarbrucken, a new town with svelte sexy girls. Moselle, a new languid German river. Much waving at kids and exchange of waves with Kraut troops. Shop girls wave and smile. Mona Lisa looks from passing schon frauleins; wind and cold, and C-Rations.

Towns strewn like gingerbread blocks. Sun-enflamed dusky hills and perpendicular vineyards, narrow cobbled streets and huge vistas of valleys and mountains; clouds captured on mountain peaks. Cows and chickens and very old Germans. Cows as beasts of burden. Fields to all horizons, putt-putting tractors and harvesters, and wheeling flocks of birds. Gloomy, autumn-bleeding gorges, vast alonenesses, and tiny hamlets strung along a ribbon of concrete like time-worn pearls.

MP duty, directing traffic; first time to try my “come-through” gesture on foreigners: Krauts who’ll follow a mile to pass on a curve. Wet pavements and an overturned Renault. Directing traffic around a tie-up caused by the overturned Renault. The tie-up was newsworthy, and people were out in force. In due course a well-dressed gentleman wielding a 4x5 Speed Graphic approached, took aim, and popped a Number 5 flashbulb. Okay — in that direction was news. He did an about-face, began to focus. And in that direction was a security violation.

I moved in, looming over him like a glandular seal in my winter gear. A glandular seal with an M-14. “Nix. Nix.”

He gestured, questioned, postured. All incomprehensible.

“Polizei?” Local cops might have some authority at an autobahn accident scene, even involving a classified convoy.

“Nix.” He frowned, searching for a word. Then brightened.”Re-poh-tah! Reportah!”

“Get the hell out of here!”

He got. And eventually so did I. To a lonely hilltop in an overheated German barracks room, more C-rations, and ultimately a shower where three hundred miles of German road dirt went down the drain.

And a question that weighed on me: if Robby hadn’t kidded the Kraut reporter into not focusing on our missile trucks, would I really have butt-stroked his camera? When six months ago, before the Army got me, I was a reporter working every day with news photographers?

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Bill Burkett

Bill Burkett

Professional writer, Pacific Northwest. 20 Books: “Sleeping Planet” 1964 to “Venus Mons Iliad” 2018–19. Most on Amazon for sale. Il faut d’abord durer.