WWII corporal takes emotional trip back to Germany

Posted Online: Sept. 01, 2011, 6:59 pm
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By John Marx, jmarx@qconline.com
It was 5 a.m. on a June day in 1944 when the phone rang at the McGlaughlin home.

The Daily Dispatch was on the line, asking if Fred, a reliable teen and steady carrier of the paper, would be willing to sell the paper's "Americans Invading Europe'' issue in his Moline neighborhood.

"That was my WWII story,'' said the 79-year-old retired educator and principal for Moline schools.

From November of 1954 through March of 1956, McGlaughlin served his country as a personnel clerk in Heidelberg, Germany. The experience was life-changing and eye-opening.

In June, McGlaughlin, his three children, and a nephew, returned to that impression-making spot. They toured the Heidelberg Army base where McGlaughlin served, took a gut-wrenching tour of a concentration camp and visited the Eagle's Nest, built to be a retreat for Adolph Hitler.

"Lots of memories would be putting it mildly,'' said McGlaughlin, who achieved the rank of corporal during his service. "The first thing I noticed this time was that everything -- the countryside, the buildings, the cities, are beautiful.

"In 1954, after I graduated from Augustana (College), destruction of World War II still was evident. Many American soldiers helped build the German economy by the things they bought and shipped home.''

The trip, one McGlaughlin said he has wanted to take for many years, came at the right time. Sharing so many memories of those days with daughters Maxine and Monica, son Mac, and nephew Dan, put five decades into focus.

"You can talk about your past, but to be able to share it with your family is unique,'' McGlaughlin said. "The parade grounds where they'd put us on display for visiting generals, our barracks, how Heidelberg, thanks to its mayor surrendering to U.S. soldiers, was saved from being destroyed. It was all there.''

Two stops carved forever memories for McGlaughlin. The trip to Dachau, north of Munich, site of the infamous concentration camp, left him numb. The other destination warmed his heart.

"Eagle's Nest and a lot of Germany is tourist-driven, but not the concentration camps,'' McGlaughlin said. "The message is there as to what happened and what it was about. It's the kind of memory you don't erase.''

A jaunt to Oberndorf, Austria, where the Christmas song "Silent Night'' was written and first sung, brought smiles of sadness and joy to McGlaughlin.

"Every Christmas, my late wife would lead our family in the singing of Silent Night in German,'' McGlaughlin said. "And here we were, where it started and where it was first brought to life. So we decided to sing the song right there. It was an emotional time, but another warm memory I'll never forget.''

Family, work, the rigors that come with life, always have a way of putting off a dream. Fred McGlaughlin says though it came later in life, his trip down Military Memory Lane was worth the wait.

"Those days cannot be forgotten,'' McGlaughlin said. "And to share that with my family, made it special. I'm glad I got to do it before it got too late.''

Columnist John Marx can be reached at (309) 757-8388 or jmarx@qconline.com.


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1914 -- 100 years ago: The Board of Education secured a site for the New Central Grammar School by purchasing additional property south of Irving School for $3,400.
1939 -- 75 years ago: The total number of workers employed at the Farmall Works of International Harvester Co. has reached a peak of 5,300, the largest payroll in Rock Island.
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