Mind Over Miller: The ghosts of Christmas past

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Dec 01, 2008

I will never forget Christmas in Germany after the most horrible war in history was over. I was on furlough in Garmisch-Partenkirchen in the Bavarian Alps. On the train going there, I passed through the devastated cities of Stuttgart and Munich.


Garmisch, Germany. This quaint Alpine town, which was a recreation area for U.S. Army soldiers, was a sharp contrast to the war-torn cities of Stuttgart and Munich.
Pale faces wrapped in blankets stared out of the bombed ruins and rubble. Most of the faces were of elderly people, women, and children. A generation of young men had been killed or disabled or were in prisoner-of-war camps, especially in the Soviet Union. Most of these Soviet prisoners never returned.


Our mascots. Oatsie, a wirehaird fox terrier, and Lady, a German shepherd, were the only other "enlisted men" in my outfit, which was stationed an hour north of Stuttgart, Germany.
To leave this war-torn scene and arrive in Garmisch was a delightful surprise. The quaint Alpine town was intact and decorated with Christmas lights. The Third U.S. Army had taken it over as a rest and recreation area. It swarmed with soldiers on leave and contented-looking civilians. The scene was so different from the grim destruction and devastation that typified France and Germany. Christmas carols echoed over loud speakers in the streets. Troops in the uniforms of the Allied Forces wandered through town.


Snowy ride. During my furlough in Bavaria, another soldier and I rented horses and spent Christmas eve riding in the snow.
I was stationed in a small military government detachment an hour north of Stuttgart. It consisted of a captain, a lieutenant, and one enlisted man—me! We were the law in a county of 40,000 Germans and 10,000 displaced persons, mostly Eastern Europeans who had served as slave laborers for the Nazi regime during the war.

I missed our two mascots back in my detachment—Lady, a sweet German shepherd, and Oatsie, an energetic wirehaired fox terrier. I had no idea that I would one day study veterinary medicine, but my love for animals led me to a stable. I rented a horse and spent the entire day before Christmas riding in the snow.

All of this seems like a distant dream. Sixty-three years later, I'm glad I have some photographs to help me remember.

Robert M. Miller, DVM, is an author and a cartoonist, speaker, and Veterinary Medicine Practitioner Advisory Board member from Thousand Oaks, Calif. His thoughts in “Mind Over Miller” are drawn from 32 years as a mixed-animal practioner. Visit his Web site at http://www.robertmmiller.com/.