Richard Stevens at a Parisian Cafe 1994
"I Heard the Sound of Voices Shouting!"
Experiences as part of American Liberating Forces in
March 1, l995
Introduction at Fort Collins Historical Society Program
PFC. Richard Stevens made his first trip to Europe in
January of 1945 as a member of the 16th Armored Division.
He was surprised to discover that Europeans looked pretty
much like he did. "It was not the place I had
thought it was from my 7th grade geography class!"
His division crossed France and Germany into
Czechoslovakia and liberated the city of Pilsen, which
was the capital of Bohemia and gives its name to
"Pilsner" beer. Stevens recalls that he was
sound asleep when his convoy entered Pilsen. He awakened
to shouts of "Nazdar! Nazdar!" and the sight of
hundreds of people lining the streets, offering milk,
wine and flowers to the American soldiers. He was
jokingly told "nazdar" meant, "Little men
going out. Big men coming in." (Germans leaving and
Americans coming.) "Nazdar!" really means
Stevens found it moving "to
feel you had a hand in helping people throw off the yoke
of a conqueror." His division remained in that city
for some time and then moved on to an area in western
Czechoslovakia known as the Sudetenland, an area where
many people of German descent had settled hundreds of
years before. Stevens had studied both French and German
in high school; although he was not proficient in either
language, he would serve as an interpreter for his 23rd
Calvary reconnaissance squadron. He learned a few words
in Czech, a difficult language.
In this area were people of many nations brought in as
forced labor to work on the autobahn and work on farms.
It was the job of the American military to help these
displaced persons to get home. German was a common
language. Stevens' job was to help the American military
doctor at "sick calls" translate the refugee's
medical problems. Being unfamiliar with German medical
terms, Stevens found this a challenge.
On one occasion he was directed to go through the
Displaced Persons' Camp and ask every woman if she was
pregnant. Not knowing the German word for pregnant, he
tried, 'Are you waiting for a child?" This didn't
make much sense to the women, so even some who were
obviously expectant replied in the negative. When the
word got around that pregnant women would get more food,
"they all became expectant mothers."
Stevens recalled that he learned a great deal about
other countries and people in his military experience.
"I learned that not every German was a member of the
Nazi party. I was trained in the army to think every last
German was not to be trusted . . . it turned out not to
be the case." While stationed in Germany, he lived
in Oberammagau, the home of the Passion Play. He
described it as a "beautiful little town,"
where he learned to ski. He taught American illiterates
to read and write. He was surprised to learn so many
illiterates were in the army.
He completed his service in Bavaria in 1946; and
almost 50 years later, ruefully reflected that he spent
most of his army time as a private first class. "At
any rate, it was an interesting experience." He
learned how to get along with people and "why we