It’s West Germany in September 1983 with 100,000 U.S. and NATO troops engaged in the annual REFORGER war games.
The objective was to demonstrate to the Soviets that we could quickly reinforce our regular troops stationed in Europe.
One of the units deployed from the U.S. is a public affairs detachment from the Kentucky Army National Guard.
Three officers and a senior enlisted man from that unit decided to team up to go sightseeing.
Visiting troops from America looked forward to that middle weekend when the war games stopped and the partying began.
It was late Friday afternoon when a major, two captains and a staff sergeant headed south on the big Autobahn from Wurzburg.
The major was driving a tiny, underpowered rental car on the very impressive six-lane highway.
They’d been on the road about 10 minutes when the driver asked why cars coming up behind in the distance were blinking their lights.
“Move over! Move over!” yells one of the officers who had served in Germany before.
The driver swerved into the middle lane just as four cars went by so fast we could barely identify them as German sports cars.
In those days, the Autobahn had no speed limits and those cars were going at least 100 miles an hour.
At that speed, blinking headlights can be seen long before a horn can be heard.
Friday night’s destination was the famous walled city of Rothenberg ob der Tauber, a popular tourist destination with great sights and incredible food.
It was late when the four tourists rolled into the town square in search of a gasthaus (hotel).
They quickly located a room with four beds and the last parking space.
Too tired to go farther, the Kentuckians dropped into their beds and fell asleep. It was 11:30 p.m. and the town was quiet.
Suddenly, the room started to vibrate and a grinding sound was heard. Someone asked if Germany had earthquakes.
The grinding and the shaking grew louder and
the sleepy visitors started searching for their shoes in case they had to run.
Without warning, a deafening metallic gong struck 12 times for midnight. It was just outside the open window.
And it repeated itself on the hour for next eight hours as a giant cuckoo clock rolled out its toy soldier with a big drum.
As four yawning, bleary-eyed visitors checked out Saturday morning, the desk clerk tried not to smile when he said only first-time visitors rented the room by the clock.