By: Doug DePew
Publisher: Outskirts Press
Publication Date: February 2011
Reviewed by: Ellen Feld
Review Date: April 2011
SAT, BAF, SOG, SAW, OSUT, and PRP. Do you know the lingo of the US Infantry? If not, you’ll learn it and a lot more while reading this new memoir by Doug DePew. Recounting his two years stationed in West Germany during the Cold War years of the mid to late 80s, this is an eye-opening look at what daily life was like for our soldiers stationed overseas.
The story begins as DePew steps off a 747, having just arrived in Frankfurt, West Germany. Taking his father’s advice, he immediately heads over to a nearby bratwurst stand to sample the local cuisine. Next, he’s taken through processing where he is repeatedly asked if he objects to working with nuclear weapons and if he’d “honestly never used LSD.” Repeatedly answering no to both questions, he soon learns that his primary mission while stationed in West Germany will be to protect the Pershing II nuclear missiles.
DePew and his fellow light infantrymen are taken to their post, Badenerhof Kaserne, near the industrial town of Heilbronn. With some time to waste before their assignments begin, DePew and the others explore their surroundings, as well as the local bars and restaurants. It didn’t take the young DePew to hook up with a pretty fräulein with rather comical results.
After a few chapters in which the author tells of exploring the area, he moves on to his first day as a “Tower Rat.” The nuclear missiles were protected by three perimeter fences, set about 30 feet apart, with razor wire on both top and bottom of each fence. DePew’s job was to serve as a lookout, stationed high above the fences in one of several towers. Each tower held a single soldier, 24/7. At just 10’ x 10’, no place to sit, and nothing to do but watch and listen, it was a lonely job. To relieve the stress and fatigue, the men had plenty of escapades during their off time.
While Memories of a Tower Rat contains plenty of information about the responsibilities and risks of soldiers stationed in West Germany in the 80s, it is the bond these men shared that really shines through and makes this a book well worth reading. From the unauthorized use of a “protective mask water-proof bag” to the appearance of a snowman on top of a tower, it is clear that DePew and his fellow soldiers shared a special bond that grew stronger through the stress and loneliness of being tower rats.
There are also many exploits recounted during off-hours for the men of “Charlie Company” that add a lot of humor to this book. At one point, DePew and a few friends went duck hunting with their M-16s after they discovered how to convert the weapons into spear guns. While they had a great time, they failed miserably at getting any ducks for dinner. DePew also enjoyed attending several Oktoberfest celebrations and takes the reader through the boisterous festival. There is the time his fellow soldiers snuck some British ladies onto base and also several confrontations with “the engineers.” Why infantry and engineers needed to fight wasn’t known, they just had to one-up each other. The author recounts these events and many more in a lighthearted, easy-to-read style that will keep the military enthusiast entertained.
The author decided to pen this memoir in part to honor his buddies in “Charlie Company” as well as because the experiences of those stationed in West Germany during the Cold War went largely unnoticed by the mainstream press. He has done a good job of recreating the life and atmosphere of that long-ago era of Soviet/US tensions. Like many military memoirs, this one is filled with colorful language, numerous amorous situations with young ladies, and, as the author admits, debauchery. Be prepared for a writer who tells it like it is and doesn’t mince words.
Quill says: A fitting tribute to those who served as tower rats during the Cold War.
For more information on SAT & BAF! Memories of a Tower Rat, please visit the book's website at: outskirtspress.com