Thanksgiving memories: A cold war incident

by Robert Michael

The recent passing of legendary country singer Loretta Lynn brought back memories of an impromptu concert she gave to a small detachment of American GI’s in Germany on Thanksgiving Day 1983. 

Lynn was in Stuttgart, Germany, under the auspices of the United Services Organization (USO) to entertain American forces. My wife, Lore, was director of the Stuttgart USO program and responsible for coordinating Lynn’s program with U.S. military commands. I was serving as the American Embassy public affairs officer for southwest Germany.

That year, 1983, was a delicate one in U.S.-German relations marked by months of anti-U.S. demonstrations at U.S. military facilities throughout Germany. One of those sites that had seen its share of demonstrators was a small isolated American missile battery some 20 miles outside Stuttgart. Lynn and a few members of her band had agreed to visit the site for a morale-boosting “meet and greet.” 

It was a cold, overcast and blustery day when Lynn and her small entourage passed through the guarded gate of the facility. The facility sat in an open field on roughly an acre of level ground surrounded by chain link fences topped by concertina wire. Near the entrance was a no-frills Quonset hut which served as the unit’s headquarters, barracks and dining facility.

Lynn entered the dimly lighted hut and greeted the small group of young soldiers. She spoke to each soldier and promised to call their wives or other family members when she returned to the U.S.

As she got ready to leave one of the soldiers called out, “Loretta, you gonna sing for us?” 

“Sorry, boys,” she replied, “but I didn’t bring my guitar.” 

“No problem,” said a GI who handed Lynn his guitar.

Lynn, who was sitting on a wooden crate covered by an Army blanket, took the guitar, tuned it and said, “I have time for one song. What would you all like to hear?” 

The response was immediate: “Detroit City!”

The song is sentimental, sad and filled with longing for a return to familiar places and faces. It has a refrain which seems to capture the feeling of every person far from home on a holiday.

“I want to go home. I want to go home. Oh, Lord, how I wanna go home.”

There were tears in Loretta Lynn’s eyes as every soldier in the cramped room joined her in the chorus. Lynn finished the song, stood up and said, “Thank you, boys. We are proud of you.”

Loretta Lynn was an American patriot who loved this nation and the men and women who defend it at home and abroad. On this Thanksgiving Day let us pause and give thanks to those uniformed men and women standing guard at outposts of freedom throughout the world so that we can celebrate our holiday at home in peace and liberty.

Robert Michael is a resident of Weems.