History, Memoirs.

You can’t go home again . . . to Husterhoeh Kaserne

-Saved from usarmygermany.com, Richard Tracy

The old headquarters building for my unit, 2/56 HHB. Note the twin Nike missiles.. Attrib: Richard Tracy, Saved from usarmygermany.com.

Recently I became curious about my old neighborhood in Pirmasens, Germany, where I was stationed as a soldier in the U.S. Army during the mid-70’s. Through the magic of Google Earth and the Internet, I explored the place I once lived, now thirty five years hence.

Thomas Wolfe’s famous suggestion, “You can’t go home again” covers a large amount of territory; your home is not the only thing to which you cannot return to with any but perfect verisimilitude. Much is lost on the return journey to visit places of your early past: Those monuments to a youthful sense of permanence, buildings, are decrepit or re-purposed, or just plain gone; the places are sometimes smaller or more ordinary than expected; rarely is something completely unchanged from your old memories of it. Even so, the journey often reveals unexpected perspectives, if not just about the places, but about yourself.  

-PD,

Pirmasens coat-of-arms. PD.

Pirmasens. The city still looked, from the satellite photos, much the same. As would be expected, the typical city institutions like the Rathaus on the the main town square, hadn’t moved, the brewery, the Parkbrauerei, was still pumping out Bier, and the Hauptbahnhof, the main train station, that magical place from whence I traveled to and from many places, looked no different from above. On the other hand, the U.S. Army base, the Husterhoeh Kaserne, situated on the northern edge of this small town where I had lived and worked for two years, looked abandoned.

-Saved from usarmygermany.com, US Military Installation Atlas, 37th Trans Gp, 1980

Map of Husterhoeh Kaserne ~1980. Click for large detailed map.. Attrib: US Military Installation Atlas, 37th Trans Gp, 1980, Saved from usarmygermany.com.

Husterhöh Kaserne. What had happened to the Husterhöh Kaserne in the intervening years? The Kaserne (German for army barracks) had been appropriated by the U.S. Army from the German army at the end of World War II, the Nazi war eagles carved on the top reaches of some of the buildings being immediately destroyed, and then used for varying purposes, much of it storage, as underlying the Kaserne is a network of underground storage facilities and tunnels that made up part of the German Siegfried line. In 1994, some 40 years later, the U.S. Army de-activated the Kaserne and turned it over to the German Army. A few of the buildings are still in use by the German Army, and the U.S. Army still stores medical equipment there. The large administration buildings and troop barracks are mostly abandoned, but many of the working and storage buildings have been accommodated by local businesses, including the old headquarters building of my unit. Many of the barracks buildings, where we lived and slept, appear to be currently abandoned (see notes at bottom).

-Saved from usarmygermany.com, Stadt Pirmasens

Development plan for Husterhöhe May 2000. Click for larger image.. Attrib: Stadt Pirmasens, Saved from usarmygermany.com.

Plans for Pirmasens after the military. In 1998, the city of Pirmasens was given much of the Husterhöh land to re-develop, and they put together a regional development plan which included the creation of a large park and the construction of a larger soccer stadium to replace the nearby Horeb Stadion, where the local professional football club Fussball Klub (FK) Pirmasens played during the years I was stationed there.

The old soccer stadium: FK Pirmasens v. Bayern München. Ted Withycombe and I attended a DFB-Pokal match early in 1976 at the old Horeb; it was a small stadium with no seating, and had only one area to shelter fans from the weather. The game was a big event, as FK Pirmasens competes in the lower professional divisions, and in this Pokal match, the DFB-Pokal being a knockout tournament which includes both the top Bundesliga teams and many lower division teams for an all-German contest, they were pitted against the mighty Bayern-München! And not just any old Bayern team; this team had the nucleus of the 1974 World Cup championship team: Franz Beckenbauer, Sepp Maier, Gerd Mueller, who were the center half, goalie, and striker, respectively for that team, and Beckenbauer alone is still regarded as one of the finest center halfs to ever play the game. There were three others from the 1974 World Cup team playing for Bayern: Uli Hoeness, Jupp Kappelmann, and Georg Scharzenbeck, and the future great Karl-Heinz Rummenigge played, also. Ted and I arrived about 90 minutes early, as there were no reserved places, and all was standing room; we managed to get places on the midline!, standing under the only available shelter. With about 15 minutes until the match start, and the stadium now pretty well filled, about one hundred Bayern fans came in with flags and flagons, many of them quite drunk, and proceeded to push everyone out of the midline spots we had patiently occupied. I said a few choice words in German to some of the Bayern fans, and one of them responded, quite amicably, that I would do well to just settle on being 5 meters off of the midline, where we had been pushed, and shut up, or I could easily get hurt. I smiled back and accepted his advice. The game was played with an inch of snow on the field! but there were almost no slips; despite the conditions, the quality of the game was high. I remembered the score being 2-1 in favor of Bayern at match end, but it turns out it was 2-0 in their favor; my memory was more favorable towards the home team than history records.

-FK Pirmasens,

The new Städtisches Stadion Husterhöhe. FK Pirmasens.

New soccer stadium. Pirmasens built their new soccer stadium in 2003, the Städtisches Stadion Husterhöhe, or the Huster Heights City Stadium, situating it atop the old motor pool, across Virginia Avenue from the old athletic field behind the troop barracks where I had spent many an afternoon playing softball, football and soccer. As for the soccer team, FK Pirmasens, it now costs between 3 and 11 Euros to see a game, which is pretty affordable. The old Horeb stadium appears to have been demolished – there are businesses operating on the site today.

2/56 ADA, my old unit. And what had happened to my old unit, the 2nd battalion of the 56th Air Defense Artillery regiment? At the time I served, this battalion fielded four active missile batteries deployed on lonely hilltops in the Rheinland Pfalz surrounding Pirmasens; it was part of the 32nd AADCOM, which was the umbrella organization for air defense in Europe. It was moved to Fort Bliss, TX, in in the 1980’s, and formed a training regiment for Air Defense Artillery, as the air defense missile system we supported, the Nike Hercules ground to air missile system, was being gradually phased out and replaced with more modern equipment. The Nike Hercules system was designed for high altitude air defense following World War II, and by the mid-70’s, was showing its age. The entire deployment of Nike missile sites around the world were phased out over perhaps twenty years, starting in 1973; that is, unbeknownst to me at the time, the retirement of the Nike systems started around the time I was trained to support them!

-Stadt Pirmasens,

Battalion HQ becomes entrepreneurial incubator. Stadt Pirmasens.

New life. Perhaps even more interesting, the old headquarters building for my unit, building 4619 on Delaware Avenue, was converted into a start-up company incubator environment for female entrepreneurs. Established in 2001, and entitled griPS, it provides subsidized office space and business services for start up companies, much like you might find in the Silicon Valley, or even in Portland, Oregon, where the Portland Development Commission operates such a facility. The exterior of the building no longer sports missiles, rather a new 21st century glass-encased extension on one end of the building.

All in all, it was sad to see some of what was once familiar decayed or gone, but on balance, it was much more heartening to see the new uses that these buildings and spaces have taken on, particularly sports parks and stadiums and young businesses replacing the artifacts of war. Returning home doesn’t seem entirely possible, but renewing and even rearranging memories is a bracing mental exercise.


US Army Germany website. This website has a nice collection of historical pictures of the Husterhöh Kaserne and surrounding US military installations.

Other Notes. Building 4176, Massachusetts Avenue, 20, where I worked as part of the the Direct Support Platoon of the Headquarters Battery, 2/56 ADA, was right across the road from the old heliport, itself which was . . . demolished! The two barracks buildings where I slept were buildings 4408, on North Carolina Ave, and 4609 at the intersection of Delaware and New Hampshire Avenues. Both barracks buildings are still standing, and appear to be abandoned.

On Google Earth, there are several maps of Pirmasens. The most recent is October of 2010, which shows most of the current changes. By switching between the 2000 map and the latest one can see a before and after picture.

Fresh views. Here is a You Tube video shot in Pirmasens in 2010, a tour of the Husterhöhe.

109 thoughts on “You can’t go home again . . . to Husterhoeh Kaserne

  1. Hi my name is Fred Gilcrease I was stationed at the boc and lived at headquarters 2/56 from 69 /71I remember the gray ghost used to try to sneak up on us at the BOC but Charlie battery would always warn us had a good time

  2. 2/56th, DSP platoon, was on a basketball team that I was supposed to go to a Army Tournament in feb 70. My dad passed and had to go back to the states. Remember all my basketball buddies, Ness, Brown, Landwehr, Gallagher. Was a Admin clerk with Sgt, MacIver

  3. I was stationed there 1979-1983 with the 267th signal company. I work in tech supply. Pirmasens is such a beautiful place to be part of. I really miss that place and will always have many memories. I want to say hello to everyone who was the the 267th signal company back then. Especially to Deanna North, Dianne Smith, Elaine Malamysura, Leticia Davis and her husband and everyone I missed, Love you all!!

  4. Thanks your article hit the spot, those old pics of Husterhoeh sure shook loose a few smoke covered memories! I lived in the big banana building July 1971-March 1972. I was assigned to Co 97th Quartermaster as a supply clerk. The experience of serving in Germany and Europe at that time was a blast.
    I am curious about what ever happened to many of my fellow buddies, I was told one night I had been given a three month early out and left the next day for home in California. I left so quickly I didn’t get to say good bye to friends. What ever happened to Jim Gallegos, Denver, James ” Bo Weivel” Weaver, D.C., Robbie Robinson, Cincinnati Oh, Greg Smithey LA, Bruce Kopas, Cleveland, John Stone, Malibu. It would be great to connect and share a few laughs.
    To all that posted in response to the article about your lives in Pirmasens, it was great to read your comments, wow that was so long ago, wish we could do it again!

    • Hi cal, have to say i just missed you, i arrived in september of 1972. was assigned to Co A 97th qm bn. the CO at that time was capt. frank perzillio, and first sgt. ( top ) was john cushion,, john past away at the early age of 56 in colorado springs in 1989, the battalion commander was lt. col charles stover, who also recently passed in virgina, i believe at the time the supply sargent was staff sgt, watson. had some good times there,, spent alot of time across the street at the service club.

      • Thanks for the reply.
        We did just miss each other by a few months. The CO Capt. Perzillio was one of the last guys I spoke with before catching a ride out of Pirm. He gave me a two minute re-up pep talk. The first sergeant was a guy named Barngrover and the supply Sgt. was Jack Svensen. I guess those guys were gone by the time you transferred in. I’ll check back with you in the future when I have a little more time. Great talking with you! Cal Mahaney

  5. Worked at the STRATCOM motor pool from 64-66.. Bobby Fowler was Motor Sarge when I first got there. FOWLER was replaced by Roy Frasure, a real POS.. Mike Simmons was the CO While there drank many gallons of Parkbrau-still the best. I ran with Pete Betsy. Found his name in the SS death index. Ruined my day. Fortunately ,though, I had many friends. Sure would like to hook up with.all of them. Nothing but good memories except for Frasure. .

  6. What an excellent article! Sure brought back memories from long ago. I spent 18 months in that area. The first 6 months at C btry 2/56 as a fire control maintenance tech and then moved to HQ/ 2/56 and ran the T1 trainer. We moved the trainer around to all 4 batteries for SNAP preparation. It was notable that 2/56 set a record for the best SNAP scores for all 4 batteries. I left Germany in June of 1967. Still have my Parkbrau mug!

  7. I was stationed there from early 1958 to Sept. ’59 with the 58th Signal Company Support. I remember drawing our weapons and gear and sitting on our bunks for a couple of days waiting to ship out to Lebanon. After two or three days we were told we weren’t going and stood down. We had a group that hung out together that called ourselves ” The Kinder Club”. We would spend most evenings at the Wasserturm Gastehaus just down the hill from the post. Another life time.

  8. My dad, CW2 James Perry Otis was stationed there with his family from 1970-1974. I have very fond memories of the base and the surrounding forest that I explored in as a child. I was there from 4th-7th grade. My name is Heidi Otis.

  9. My day’s in Pirmasen,go back to 9/62 to 4/65, I was withEng.Co, 5th Maint.Bn. Our billet was the purple palace. From the pictures on my tablet things really changed, but thats progress. I had a lot of good time’s and some that should be forgotten.

  10. i was stationed in pirmasens from 9/1972 to 6/ 1974 with the 97th Qm Bn assigned to company A . our billits or barracks were in the banana building and we were directly across from the service club, which i see nobody has mentioned, that was a popular gathering area for lower enlisted personal, had a nice elder person, by the name of mrs. jetter, who was in charge of the club, and she fantastic at organizing activities and events. that would keep us soldiers in great spirits, with pool tournaments , ping pong tournaments, bingo nights, it was a great place to hang out and pass the time. lol waiting for payday to roll around, rather then hanging in the barracks , once payday came, ( end of the month ) it was off to the frontier club, or down to the bierstube downtown,,

  11. My father was a Chaplin’s Ast. , we lived there from 1973-1976 , I remember sneaking in to the School gates to play with the kids who would use the hole in the fence to get onto base and play soccer in the big field behind the School. My German was broken , but we found a way to play together any way. I was able to meet Corrie ten Boom wile we lived there. My time in Pirmasens was a happy one. 3rd grade to 5th grade.

  12. A great article, I was stationed there from late 1967 thru late 1969 with the 22nd Aviation Detachment have many fond memories made many friends. Miss the great times.

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