Cold War

Jon M. Lachmann

Cold War Oral History Interview
US Army, 16th Engineer Battalion, 1st Armored Division
Date: February 29, 2016
Interviewer: Carol Fowler
Summarizer: Colin Critchlow
Veterans History Project


Cold War veteran Jon Lachmann was born in 1957. Lachmann’s father served in the Merchant Marine in World War II, crossing the Atlantic Ocean as a crewman on supply and transport ships, as well as being assigned for a period on land in France. Lachmann’s interest in the military dates from the mid-1960s, when he was transitioning from the Cub Scouts to the Sea Scouts, a naval version of the Boy Scouts. At the time he was considering eventually joining the Navy.

By 1974, Lachmann was in high school, and he had transferred from college prep classes to a technical and vocational curriculum. He was restless; however, he did not like school, and had a considerable number of absences. Lachmann dropped out of high school, and promised his mother that if he did not get a steady job, he would join the army. He was hired as an ice cream truck driver in Ocean County, New Jersey, a seasonal job that soon ended. At age 17, Lachmann visited an army recruiter, who advised him to enlist before winter weather set in, so his training would be more pleasant. Lachmann signed up with the army for a two-year contract, since the navy, his choice as a youngster, required a three-year enlistment.

American participation in the Vietnam War had ended by the time Lachmann enlisted; but, the nation still maintained a worldwide military presence, so his chances of being stationed overseas were still strong. He was initially assigned to Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, for basic training, and he spent his first two weeks as a soldier in the hospital with pneumonia. His hospitalization almost caused him to restart his basic training.

Emblem of the 1st Armored Division

After completing basic training Lachmann attended advanced individual training for the Corps of Engineers at Fort Leonard Wood. He had always wanted to be a heavy equipment operator, specifically a crane operator, a decision he came to while working part time for a Marine Corps contractor, and noticing that the crane operator was the only person to have clean clothes at the end of the day. Unfortunately, the army trained him for a different skill set.

After training at Fort Leonard Wood, Lachmann had a week’s leave, during which he got married. At the end of his leave, he and his wife flew from Newark Airport to South Carolina, and then on to Rhein-Mein Air Force Base in Frankfurt, Germany. From there Lachmann joined his assigned unit, the 16th Engineer Battalion, a bridge building battalion stationed near Nuremburg and attached to the 1st Armored Division. He spent the remainder of his enlistment with the 16th.

During their time in Germany, Lachmann and his wife lived off the army base in an apartment. In addition to the usual combat engineer tasks, he performed guard duty in various locations, including the stockade (jail). On several occasions, Lachmann was detailed to guard an isolated area in the forest for a week. The site, consisting of five or six partially underground bunkers with large garage-type doors, was surrounded by two rows of barbed wire and steel fencing. He was never told what was in the bunkers, but it was obviously important material, perhaps nuclear in nature.

Lachmann, whose combat engineer specialty was demolition, eventually became a squad leader. His unit’s primary mission was to slow down an enemy advance should war occur between NATO and the Soviet Union; and, his particular assignment was to demolish bridges. The 16th often trained at Hohenfels and Grafenwohr. During these field exercises, he and his fellow soldiers slept in tents while building bridges and then dismantling them. On one of these occasions, Lachmann was hospitalized with a mild case of frost bite of the lower extremities, a condition that would affect him even after his discharge.

During Lachmann’s time in Europe, he and his wife had the opportunity to travel in Germany and surrounding countries to experience the culture there. They watched tulips bloom in Amsterdam in Easter, were in Paris for New Year’s Eve and Munich for Octoberfest. Lachmann was surprised that the German people, even veterans of the Wehrmacht, were so welcoming to American soldiers, considering the outcome of World War II.

As Lachmann’s enlistment approached its end, he drove his wife and dog to a German airport to fly back to the United States. While he was at the airport, he learned that, although his wife could travel, the dog could not, because it was necessary to have notified authorities 24 hours in advance of a given flight to transport an animal. Lachmann returned to his company and informed the 1st sergeant that he had to bring the dog to the airport the next day, but was informed that the unit was going on maneuvers and that he could not be late for the formation. After dropping off the dog, however, he reported 45 minutes late and was considered absent without leave for that time. As a penalty, Lachmann was demoted one rank.

Four weeks later, Lachmann returned home and was discharged from the army at Fort Dix, in October 1976. In 1977 he enrolled at Ocean County College, but was unable to matriculate because he had broken both of his arms in a hiking accident. Lachmann eventually returned to Ocean County College and graduated with an Associate’s degree in Business Management. He is a member of the American Legion and is considering getting a Bachelor’s degree. Lachmann has established contact with some old military friends and currently has a nephew who is an army sergeant major.