Eyes and ears of the 7th Army
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Eyes and ears of the 7th Army
By Becky Walz
“I didn’t think about being scared to patrol near the Iron Curtain because we were all there together,” admitted Ossian resident Paul Hageman, as he leafed through hundreds of photographs he took while stationed in Regensburg, Germany, from 1953 to 1955.
The second-youngest of seven children, Paul was drafted in 1953, the only one of three boys and four girls. Of the three boys, Paul was the only one to serve his country, but that didn’t change the fact that he had to leave for basic training at Fort Riley, Kan.
At 21 years old, Paul wasn’t surprised the day the letter to report arrived in the mail because he had completed the required physical months before.
“I do remember walking out of the house thinking I wouldn’t be back for awhile, but I didn’t know for how long,” noted the 82-year-old veteran.
At 190 pounds, Paul met up with 11 other drafted soldiers at the Winneshiek County Courthouse, where they were soon led to the Springer Hotel for their “final breakfast” as a civilian.
“When we finished, we loaded onto a bus and headed to Des Moines, where we were inducted and given our service numbers to memorize,” recalled the father of five and grandfather of 10.
Of the 12 young men who left that day, only five, including Paul, are still alive to tell of their service – James Schneberger, Ray Lien, Alvin Vsetecka, and Myles Kupka.
He added that there was no splendor of a send-off for the soldiers; they simply went on their way to do what Uncle Sam expected of them – protect the country.
From Des Moines, the troops were sent off to Camp Crowder in southwest Missouri, each with a piece of paper that had his service number on it.
“We were told to have our service number memorized before we reached Camp Crowder. I was never one to memorize things, but to this day I can still recall that number,” he said proudly 60 years later.
Hageman completed his basic training with the 10th Infantry Division at Fort Riley, Kan., and recalled patrolling former horse stables while training. “It was difficult to envision protecting an empty building.”
Ordered to Germany
Once the young private received his orders to go to Germany, he was loaded on a ship in New York with thousands of other soldiers. He waited 21 days before landing in Germany and finding out that he would be patrolling the Iron Curtain without any buddies from basic training.
“We saw a lot while we were there — bombed-out buildings from World War II and former German barracks built of stone with hardwood floors.
Stationed in the Bavarian part of Germany near the border with Czechoslovakia border, Paul said that the thick tree cover was to camouflage the ground from overhead planes.
Serving in the 7th Army 6th Armored Cavalry Regiment H. Company in Germany, Hageman was selected to receive training in mine detection, to be a tank commander, and in radio communications.
He moved up to the rank of corporal. He recalled teaching mine detector classes to other soldiers when a general approached him and told him to continue doing a good job educating the young men.
“One thing many people don’t understand these days is that the number of years reserve officers remain in the Army is because of the education they can receive,” explained Paul. “The wars are terrible now, as so many soldiers sacrifice their lives or return home with missing limbs and PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder).”
During his 18 months in Germany, Paul spent 24-hour shifts in and around a bunker with five other soldiers, being the eyes and ears of the 7th Army. He would spend four weeks on alert at the border and then return to base camp for eight weeks off.
“We had to report everything we heard and saw to alert the rest of Germany,” the veteran explained. “Many people don’t understand that the Iron Curtain was simply a fence with tank traps and minefields, but one never ventured over that fence.”
Hageman said that before each patrol the group would hear the phrase, “Don’t do anything stupid, like point your rifle across the fence.”
Simply put, Hageman noted that his division used scopes to see the enemy’s eyeballs just as well as the enemy could see theirs.
“They could open fire on us anytime,” said the lifelong rural Ossian resident.
Paul spent the closing months of his tour of duty, as part of a roving patrol group in a Jeep, but he soon learned that while it was more interesting to keep moving, he would never yearn for a convertible when he returned home to the states.
“Although the climate wasn’t much different than here in northeast Iowa, Germany did not receive the snowfall that Iowa does; it was more of a heavy frost,” noted Hageman.
It was February 1955 when Paul returned to the United States and made his way back to northeast Iowa, but there was no “welcome home” parade.
“We came home as individuals, not groups,” he said.
Ray Lien and Paul returned from Chicago to northeast Iowa together and Paul’s father Joe F. Hageman, met the two young soldiers in Postville to pick up Paul.
“I vividly remember coming home and walking through the door of the house into the family’s big kitchen, and I still felt like a giant in a cage,” the veteran said. “The rooms in our family home seemed so small, because I was used to mess halls and sleeping quarters that held 150 men or more.”
He noted that it was a big change returning home after two years. He had to reacquaint himself with the surroundings and people who had moved into the community while he served.
Recently, as Paul flipped through the three scrapbooks of photos from his time near the German border, he made a point that it was definitely easier for him because he received letters from family and friends, where some fellow soldiers did not.
Today, a wall in the family’s basement is filled with the framed draft letter, certificates of service, his dog tags, and photos of the boats Paul rode to and from Germany, along with numerous books of photos that showcase his service to the United States.
Paul is a 56-year member of Halverson Giesen American Legion Post 266 of Calmar. The longtime veteran wishes today’s young people would truly understand the importance of what all veterans have given up so the people of the United States can have freedom – to have jobs, enjoy their family and friends, and live safe and healthy lives.