Six young men, all of us wearing the drab green of the United States Army, were locked in a building promptly at 5 p.m. on Friday. The building would not be unlocked until Monday morning; Military Police would guard the building in shifts.
The six of us inside would not be allowed to leave. We ate there and slept there, even though sleep was the farthest thing from our minds.
Even though we were virtual prisoners for nearly 48 hours, we weren’t criminals. We had done nothing wrong and, in fact, had military clearances that would allow us to be there.
Let me explain.
Everyone in the military – at least a half century ago, it was so – was paid on the first of every month. Everyone was paid in cash – hard-earned American dollars. All that cash at all those military bases in every corner of the world could not be delivered on payday. No, it had to come in a day or two before it was actually distributed.
The now-defunct Fourth Armored Division was one of the “longest” in Germany in the 1960s. The division’s headquarters were near the south end of the division, just south of the German city of Stuttgart. Bases were then located to the east and north, stretching near the old Czechoslovakian and East German borders. The sheer length of the division made it virtually impossible to serve the troops from the single location near Stuttgart.
And so, the Fourth Armored Division not only had a Division Headquarters, it also had a Sub-Division Headquarters, located in Furth, a suburb of Nuremberg, about midway in the division. There were small units in the Public Information Office, the Judge Advocate General Office, and the Finance Office. All told, there were about 15 servicemen those three Army jobs. We were pretty much outcasts from the other servicemen. Our units were too small to have our own mess hall, for example, so we were assigned to another mess hall. Troops in those units didn’t really like us – they paid a monthly fee to have civilians man their mess halls; we didn’t contribute to that fund. Plus, they didn’t know us – we didn’t serve alongside them in their day-to-day military occupations.
So, we tended to stay to ourselves. We ate mainly at the Post Exchange. We spent much of our off duty hours in downtown Nuremberg, since we weren’t all that welcome in the NCO Clubs on base, either.
When the end of the month rolled around and money to pay all the troops arrived at our Monteith Barracks home, all that cash went directly to the Finance Office. It would remain there, securely locked away, until payday. Two Finance Office Soldiers would be locked away with the money until it was brought out on payday, surrounded by MPs. When payday was on a Monday, the money would be brought in on Thursday or Friday and be locked away all weekend.
The two Finance Office soldiers, quite obviously, faced a very boring weekend, alone with all that money. Aha, though, they were our friends and we could help. And so, four of us, two from the Public Information Office and two more from the JAG office joined our friends. We’d all be locked away until bright and early Monday morning.
And that brought about a monthly Monopoly marathon. With all the money locked away and the building guarded outside, we’d have our own game of high finance.
The game began almost immediately after the Friday lockdown. Monopoly, however, could become quite boring without some rules. Some good German beer also helped pass the weekend.
We’d sit there surrounding the Monopoly board and a couple cases of good old German beverage. The game would go until one of the six went broke. Every time that happened, the game would end, the money would be re-distributed, and a new game would begin. And, so it went, our only breaks coming for food, brought to us by the MP guards outside, and for necessary leg stretches once an hour.
Don’t get the idea that the Army brass would have gone along with our game while the money was being guarded. All the commanders, all the generals were a hundred miles away near Stuttgart. Had they known about our payday games and the way we guarded all the cash sent to us by American taxpayers, they might have offered up some objections.
But, we didn’t tell and there was nobody there to tell on us.
And, nobody ever went broke except in our Monopoly games. Even then, we all had smiles on our faces thanks to the company of some good friends and some good old German brew masters.