Posted by: Omar C. Garcia | May 7, 2010

Back in Spangdahlem

Bitburg, Germany | 06 May 2010

We awoke early this morning to cold temperatures, overcast skies, and misting rain in Heidelberg. However, the weather did little to curb our enthusiasm. After a quick breakfast, we packed our gear and drove to Trier. Situated along the Mosel River, Trier is Germany’s oldest city and home to Germany’s oldest church. According to medieval tradition, Helena, the mother of the Roman Emperor Constantine, donated her house to a Bishop named Agritius to convert it into a church. The Trier Cathedral is a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage site and still in use as a place of worship. We set aside some time to visit this impressive cathedral. We also visited the nearby Porta Nigra, or Black Gate – a remnant of a once-impressive wall built by the Romans to fortify the city of Trier.

Dad in Dahlem in 1952

From Trier we drove to Bitburg, a two-thousand year-old town that once served as a resting place for the Roman Legions stationed at nearby Trier. Bitburg has had a military presence all through its history. Dad arrived at Spangdahlem Air Force Base, located just outside of Bitburg, in 1952. After checking in to our hotel we drove to the base. I could sense Dad’s excitement as he reminisced about his arrival here in 1952. After serving one-year with the Air Police at Wiesbaden, Dad was transferred to Spangdahlem. He traveled here alone from Wiesbaden by train. However, because there was no train station at the hamlet of Dahlem at that time, the train stopped in the proximity of the base to let him off. He asked a local resident for directions and walked the rest of the way. Spangdahlem was a small air base at that time. Dad served as the first crew chief and also helped to put together the first pre-fabricated barracks on the base.

Dad looking at Mom’s photo in barracks

It’s hard to describe what I felt as we approached the base this afternoon. I first heard the name Spangdahlem when I was a little kid and became acquainted with this place through Dad’s photos and stories. This is where my Dad spent two years of his life. This is the place where he kept a photo of my Mom in his foot-locker and from where he posted his love letters to her. This is where he took night classes to learn German. This is the place where he set up a darkroom in a closet to develop his own film. Because he was the only photographer among the enlisted men, he took and sold photos and used the money to travel to every adjoining country. And, he also sold photos for cigarettes which he used to barter for hotel rooms and transportation while on leave. The only photos that many of the men stationed here at the time have are the photos that Dad took and developed for them.

Dad at Air Base today

The things that happened here are a part of my history. Dad never could have imagined how God would later use his photos, his letters and telegrams home, and his stories to stir my curiosity about the world. I know this will sound nerdy, but while other kids were collecting baseball cards I was writing to chambers of commerce asking for travel brochures. I had quite an impressive collection of brochures and maps when I was a kid. I can’t imagine how different my childhood might have been if Germany had not been a part of my Dad’s history. As we drove back to our hotel I thought about all that has happened since Dad was here. He returned home and married the girl of his dreams. He provided a great home for his wife and five kids. He worked as an independent insurance agent and then started a new business when I graduated from high school. He never spent a day away from Mom and was with her when she drew her final breath. And today, he is back in Spangdahlem at eighty years young.


  1. Your family is truly realizing the age-old saying, “A picture is worth a thousand words.” Thanks for sharing them with us.

  2. Pr. Omar,
    I enjoy your blog, you’re an amazing story teller & writer!!
    I was moved to tears reading about you & your dad in Germany! I pray we’ll all be able to leave our children such a legacy!!
    Tell your dad I salute him!!
    God bless you for sharing your life with us.

  3. Please correct to Bitburg. Thank you.

    • Thanks for catching the typo. Correction made.

  4. As a young person stationed at Spangdahlem 10 years after your dad I enjoyed hearing of his journey back for a visit. I arrived in Germany in 1962. Worked aircraft Maintenance, and fortunate able to play tackle football, run track and wrestle. Three great things happen to me in Germany. My fiancé came from Calif and we got married and lived in Bensfeld, Ge. 2nd. where my ist daughter was born. The 3rd was I was able to compete in the same stadium in Berlin where Jessie Owens upset Hitler. A lot for a 24 years old 2 striper. In year 2024 I pray I can celebrate my 60th years of marriage at Spang.

    • John,

      Wow! Thanks for sharing about your story at Spangdahlem. Love it. Special memories, indeed.

      I too hope and pray you can have a special 60th anniversary celebration there. Congratulations on moving toward this amazing milestone in marriage.

      Thanks again for sharing your story. I will make sure to share it with my Dad.

      Omar ~

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