When I was 26, and living in Maryland, USA, I made a wanderlust trip through
Europe, Africa, USA, Mexico and Central America that lasted over 35 months,
almost three years. That was in 1957-60. When I returned home I began
writing a memoir during 1960 and ’61. When I finished, I put it
away in a closet and forgot it. I really didn’t forget it. I just
didn’t think I should publish it because there were so many episodes
and descriptions in there that would be awkward to people like my relatives
and my friends along the way. So I left it all alone. It’s now 2010,
almost 40 years later. . I’ll dust off the manuscript and publish
it here for the first time. I thought you would like to know how me and
my family came to living on a farm here in western Wisconsin -RE
Click on photo to enlarge
We sold our trip across Europe and Africa story to the then popular Saturday
Evening POST. Rudi is steering our raft on the Niger River. That's me coming
out of the water. By the way, the first publisher of the SatEvePost was
Click on photo to enlarge
Wuerzburg, Germany, was in the process of rebuilding in 1956.
Click on photo to enlarge
In post war West Germany, it was not uncommon to see homeless persons
-Rohn Engh 1957 Click on photo to enlarge
how like when you get sent to a foreign country, as the U.S. Army sent
us to Germany, it’s like a vacation, and you act different
than you did back in your hometown. You develop a different character
that sometimes you really don’t recognize. You’re not as responsible
as when you were at home
So that’s why
when you get back home, you know that those characters that were in your
unit won’t be the same as you knew them back then, they’ll
be a different character, and you’ll be a different character, so
I guess that’s why I probably won’t be contacting
them, or them me.
one guy I think I’ll be contacting.
I think he’ll
pretty much be the same as when we were in Wuerzburg.
His name was Rick Tolman.. The guys called him, ol’ Rickety Rickshaw
One day we were eating
a snack in the commissary, and Rick said, “Hey, Engh, I got an idea
I wanna tell you about at the Gasthaus tonight.”
Rick was a swarthy
lady’s man type who grew up in Hoboken. Like a lot of the young
men in our CIC unit, he was a recent graduate from an east coast law school.
He had failed the bar exam in New Jersey and wasn’t looking forward
to another exam and a future lifetime of law practice.
Germany had opened his eyes to the delights and pleasures of freedom of
not having to attend college classes anymore. Girls were his main
His German speaking
skills were not too bad. At least in the area of picking up girls. His
favorite maneuver was the ‘bottle of wine’ technique.
“You see, Engh,
it’s a lot different in this country,“ he said. “Girls
here are always fishing. They want you to marry them and take
them back to the states. The nice girls don’t want to look too eager,
so you have to figure out an excuse for them to approach you. Otherwise
you’d consider them a slut.”
technique (he told me) was to go to a grocery store, one of those larger
kind, and stroll around with a single bottle of wine in the wheel cart
basket. That’s all, just a bottle of wine. Pretty soon a girl would
come up and say something like, “Looks like there’s a party
tonight!” or, “Are you going to drink that all alone?”
Or other stuff like that.
Depending on what
the girl looked like, Rick and the girl would end up in his apartment
that he rented in Wuerzburg. One time he said he had to buy a second bottle
of wine because the young fraulein he picked up had a twin sister who
insisted she come along as sort of a chaperone. Well you know what happened
So, back to
Rick’s idea he wanted to tell me about. I met him after
work at the bierstube and he laid it out to me. “We’re going
to Monaco this weekend.. You and me.”
I knew Monaco was
a small country or principality or something like that on the Mediterranean
in southern France. He brought a map along with him. “Why are we
going down there?” I asked, leaning back in my chair.
Kelly is getting married there this weekend to Prince Rainier. He’s
the king or something. Monaco is where they have a big casino, and all
the rich people of the world go there to gamble.”
Grace Kelly was a big-time movie actress at that time, so I thought I
should listen to what he had to say.
“We’ll be able to attend the wedding and all the doings,”
“What? How can we do that?"
this out the other day,” he said. “Pull out your
CIC identification holder.”
This was a thin case that had military jargon posted on it and a fancy
embossed silver badge in the 3”x 4” plastic window. We always
carried it and it gave us entry to just about anywhere in post-war Germany.
“Now let me show you mine.” He brought his out of his breast
pocket, folded it open and there in the window were white letters on a
red background that said. LIFE, just like on the cover
of LIFE Magazine –the magazine from America that is known world-wide.
It was even sold at newsstands in Germany. He had cut it out from the
magazine front cover and slipped it into his I..D. case.
“We’re going to be LIFE Magazine photographers. This is our
passport.” He smiled. His closed-lip eye-winking smile, when he
had some clever maneuver he wanted us to do together, always included
his head turned upward and his squinted eyes looking down at me with that
“But we would
need professional photo equipment,” I said.
Rick had that solved too. On Friday, after all the officers
had left early for the weekend, our friend Sgt. Harold, who was supervisor
of the equipment storeroom, would issue Rick and me all the photography
stuff we needed to look like photographers from some big-time magazine.
Next day, we headed south in my MG-TD. We took turns driving. With our
LIFE Magazine and our CIC credentials we glided through border crossings
and questions about excessive speeding through villages by the gendarmes
in Monaco just before sundown. We knew it would be hard to find
any rooming houses or hotels that evening what with Grace Kelly being
in town, so Sgt. Harold also issued us sleeping bags and cots for two,
a kerosene lantern and an economy-size six-man US Army tent, it was the
only size he had.
“I’ll go in to town and get us something to
eat.” Rick said.
I volunteered to set up the Army tent meanwhile. It was more work figuring
out how to set the thing up than battling the French drivers that afternoon
on the small country roads on the trip down. I was exhausted by the time
I had figured out how to put the cots together. I laid down on one of
them and woke up realizing it was past midnight. The lamp had gone out.
Rick was over there in the darkness, giggling and rolling around in his
cot with some French girl. I hollered, “Keep it down!”
Rick didn’t speak French so he would yell over to me things like,
“What’s she saying she wants me to do?” or she would
yell over to me in French something like, “Tell him to put it in
backwards, that’s the way I like it best.”
When I heard Rick snoring I knew he was exhausted. So she crawled into
my cot and since I knew which way she liked it best, I obliged her.
In the morning the three of us ate breakfast from the
meal Rick had brought back for dinner. We played around some more in the
morning and then headed down to the center of town where we bought some
post cards to prove to the guys back in Wuerzburg that we actually did
I took a picture of Rick posing with a bikini-clad teenager at the beach
and then we headed up to the church where Grace Kelley was to be married.
I took a few shots of little girls running around outside the church in
fancy white wedding clothing and passing out flowers to the cheering crowd
standing dutifully behind the long yellow cordon.
We stepped over it, flashed our LIFE Magazine cards,
and looking pompously officious, we nodded to the security people (being
in the CIC we always could tell who were plain-clothes security guys).
They nodded back. What could be easier?
Since all the church pews downstairs were spoken for with
fancy name plates on each pew seat, we made our way up the back stairway
to the choir loft where several international press reps were already
gathered and taking pictures of the notables down on the main floor.
We didn’t flash our cards when we got up there among the pros. Professional
photographers are very protective of the turf they have established at
an event. We didn’t want to invite security police suspicions.
We just snapped away, imitating the same working style as the pros.
Suddenly, the massive pipe organ in the choir loft blasted out a D minor
chord that announced “Here Comes The Bride,” and we knew Grace
Kelly had arrived. I shot a whole roll of film of the procession and part
of the wedding on the Nikon 2 telephoto. I’m sure one or two fames
were useful but we’ll never know because I gave the roll of TRI-X
(800 asa) film to Sgt. Harold when we got back.
He gave the roll to a friend who knew how to develop film but he lost
it or messed it up. We’ll never know.
As for Rick’s pictures, he never even loaded the camera. He didn’t
know how and I guess he didn’t want to tell me. Anyway it didn’t
matter. He just pretended taking pictures. He looked good. Just like in
Outside the church after the ceremony, it was easy to pick up girls with
the cameras around our neck and flashing our LIFE Magazine credentials.
We took pictures of a couple of rich English girls. Rick
told them we were Canadian Army tank drivers because some English people
we met in Europe didn’t approve of Americans, so it was easy to
pass off as Canadians.
The girls insisted they take us for dinner at the fancy
hotel where they were staying. We went for a swim with them at the hotel
pool. Later on we insisted they visit our tent accommodations on the outskirts
of town. A good time was had by all.
NEXT WEEK: Goodbye to Army life.