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 "Hurrah!"
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 were there."