Martinko, Agnes: I Need to Sleep

I need to sleep, but I’m too excited! I leave tomorrow, August 8,1960, to teach American children of servicemen stationed in Germany. The train leaves at 7 am, All night long, I anticipate what it might be like. In the morning, a neighbor takes me to the station. What a surprise! Brothers, sister, nieces and nephews are all there. No tears just jubilation. My brother puts a movie camera he got at a flea market around my neck. It weighs a ton! “All aboard!” Off we go. I need to sleep, but I want to say goodbye to my beautiful Pennsylvania hills.

I try to calm my anticipation as we reach Philadelphia Station. A friend is waiting there. He puts my suitcase and camera in the car and drives us to the New Jersey Air Force destination. My orders are ready, all set to go. But wait, there will be a four-hour delay. My friend tries out the camera. He films planes coming and going until all the film is gone. Finally, a call to board. What? Is the Army still using propeller airplanes?

Soldiers in fatigues and high-top boots fill the seats with a few teachers here and there. Out the window, the sun is setting to my left. That means we are traveling north. But Europe is to the east. Shall I tell the pilot he made a wrong turn? Just then the pilot comes on the speaker and says we are going to Newfoundland to get some fuel and then to Scotland to get more fuel and then head south to Germany. Couldn’t we just use American fuel?

I need to sleep and tried to find a comfortable position but, in a few minutes, fingers come through the space between the seats and touch my breast. I turned around and said, “Don’t you ever try that again.” I need to sleep but not now! Flames are coming out of the engines and I have to make sure the plane doesn’t catch on fire.

After 23 hours in flight, we reach our destination in the middle of the night. No one should have to sit in a plane that long! A bus takes us to an Army post. Four of us teachers will stay in the same room overnight. My orders say, I have to take an Army bus at six to the railroad station, the other three will go to local schools in the afternoon. I won’t have time to sleep, but I can finally change my clothes and lie down for a while. There’s a knock on the door. One of the teachers invited the crew from the plane to join us for an arrival party. So, in come the guys with their bottles of booze! I have one drink and go down to look for the bus in my same old clothes.

From the Frankfurt station, I take the train to Nuremburg. That’s clear on the other side of the country! I’m glued to the window looking at a strange, new countryside. The towns are quaint, but war’s desecration can be seen everywhere. I wish there was film in my camera! I need to sleep, but I don’t want to miss anything. My orders say, tonight I will be in a hotel, where I can finally sleep.

From the Nuremburg station, I look across the intersection and see big letters that say, Grand Hotel. But, on the painted sign over the door, it says, US ARMY HOTEL. I show my orders at the desk and get the keys to my hotel room. I clutch them with joy and envision a bath, a change of clothes, and a bed all to myself for the night. Just then, a man walks towards me and asks, “Are you Agnes Martinko?”

“Yes, I am.”

“Well, I’m your principal at the school. I was scheduled to pick you up tomorrow but since I’m in town, I thought you might like to go there today. We can have dinner there. It takes about two hours to drive to the Post where you will stay.”

I turn in my keys with tears in my eyes.

The principal explained that I’d have to get a car since there wasn’t any civilian transportation in Vilseck. He said that the Iron Curtain was only 12 miles away and I needed to study the map. Don’t take any wrong turns. Spies and kidnappers work the border. Hitler confiscated ninety-two acres of villages and farmland to make a practice place for live ammunition with tanks and live guns. NATO forces use it now. We joke and say, “It’s where the thunder never ceases.” You have two weeks before school starts, Go down to the Alps. See the Passion Play. It only happens every ten years and this is the year. On and on he went. My eyes kept closing, but I couldn’t allow myself to sleep, he was my principal.

We drive up to the building that’s to be my home. There is homemade scaffolding all over the front. The principal says that it looked drab so he is having painters paint the outside hot pink. I say under my breath, “It looks like a brothel.” The principal carries my suitcase into the room and says, “Goodnight. Oh, wait a minute, I have to get your camera.” I locked the door, peeled off my clothes, took a shower, laid down on the bed and was out like a light.

Windows were shattering, men were shouting, Is that German, Russian or Czech? The sun is up, it must be morning. Have we been invaded? Someone is banging on my door. I shout, “Who’s there?”

“Lt. Kelly, I’ve come to take you to the Officer’s Club for breakfast.”

“I’m not dressed.”

“I’ll be back in an hour, will that be okay?”

“I guess.”

At least I got a chance to sleep. Only God knows what will come next.

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