Nineteen-eighty was a tense time to be living in Europe. Eighty people were killed when a Red Brigade terrorist detonated a bomb at the Bologna railway station in Italy. Later that year during Oktoberfest, the Red Faction and remnants of the Baader-Meinhof gang set off a bomb that killed 12 more people. The following year the U.S. Air Force’s Ramstein Air Base was bombed and a rocket grenade was fired at an Army sedan in which the Seventh U.S. Army Commander and his wife were riding.
In December in Verona, Northern Italy, an American Brigadier General and his wife were in their sixth-floor apartment when the doorbell rang and two supposed “plumbers” asked to come in to try to locate the source of a water leak in the apartment below. Once inside they whipped out pistols, knocked the wife to the floor unconscious, handcuffed and gagged the General and carried him out in an empty refrigerator packing case.
So it was no surprise when in November, 1984, my aide burst through my office doorway at V Corps Headquarters in Frankfurt, Germany and blurted out, “Sir, pick up the phone. It’s urgent.”
“This is the Provost Marshal,” the voice said. “I’m at your quarters and Mrs. Curry may have been kidnapped by terrorists.”
“Any signs of a struggle?” I asked.
“None. Somehow the hidden duress alarm system was activated in your house and the German Police responded in less than five minutes. But by the time they got there Mrs. Curry was gone.”
“I’m on my way,” I said, slamming down the phone. My aide handed me my general officer’s leather pistol belt from the closet. I checked to be sure my chrome plated general officer Colt .45 was loaded and buckled it on. Out front my driver had the heavy armored sedan running and waiting.
Swiftly and expertly he steered it through Frankfurt’s heavy noon day traffic toward the American military housing area. I remembered that Charlene (Lady Char) had asked me to retire instead of accepting this tour of duty; now I regretted not having listened to her.
At my house the grounds were awash with German police carrying submachine guns and accompanied by huge guard dogs. German and U.S. Military police had searched the immediate area and the houses on either side of ours and were in the process of expanding their search to the rest of the neighborhood.
Suddenly the door of a house four doors down the street from mine burst open and Charlene popped out calling, “What’s all the commotion about? Why are those men trampling my flower gardens? Jerry, why aren’t you at work?”
Charlene had been watching TV when impulsively she decided to go visit a neighbor by way of the garage rather than the front door. She intended to be gone for only a minute so she left the open garage door up. The conversation with the neighbor became interesting and she lost track of time.
Meanwhile, the hidden duress alarm system short circuited itself and sent out the emergency abduction signal. Within minutes the German civilian police and the U.S. military police had responded in force.
Emotionally drained, I went back to work and somehow managed to drag myself through an unproductive afternoon. When I returned home that evening there was the usual fire burning in the library fireplace. Hors d’oeuvres were tastefully arranged on a Meissen China dish and placed on the end table right beside my favorite easy chair.
“You know, Jerry,” Charlene said smiling up at me while helping me off with my combat boots — which was quite out of character for her — “Isn’t there some other line of work that would interest you?”
The next morning I informed a stunned corps commander and staff that I was taking early retirement effective the following month. For the last time as members of the U.S. Army, we sorted out and packed our household goods and shipped it back across an ocean.
Then we attended a splendid round of German and American farewell parties and left Europe to begin a new life as private American citizens. President George Washington was right when he said that when we put on the military we did not take off the civilian.
Although we were soon out of uniform, we never stopped serving and loving our country. And Lady Char was never again threatened with kidnapping.
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