Sunday, July 9, 2017

Cliff Has More Than 200 years of Connections to American and German Military History

Cliff and Dmitri during our visit to Point Alpha.
I wrote about Dmitri here.

During the last week in June, I stayed in the Guest House at the Land of Canaan. My friend Cliff Almes, now Bruder Timotheus, is a Canaan Franciscan Brother at Canaan in Darmstadt.  In the late 70s Cliff and I were roommates in the barracks at Lindsey Air Station. He put away his U.S. military uniform and donned the uniform of the Franciscan community after leaving the military almost 40 years ago.

Darmstadt is in the state of Hesse in central Germany. During my stay at Canaan, I found out Cliff has more connections to Darmstadt and Germany than I would have imagined.

First, Cliff's great-great......grandfather was a soldier from Lower Saxony who became a mercenary for the British during the American Revolution. He was what Americans call a Hessian.  After the war ended, the very elder Almes decided to stay in America.  When Cliff's brother came to visit Cliff and look into the family history, he found men with the name Almes who died in World War II.

Immigration was salvation for the Almes family, as with so many others.
Fast forward to World War II and the connections of Cliff's family to the Canaan and Darmstadt are as strange as they are close. On September 11, 1944, the British made a night raid on the city center of Darmstadt. It was not a strategic raid, it was a terror raid, and it was the dress rehersal for the fire bombing of Dresden five months later.
On that the British bombed the residential center of Darmstadt in an asterisk pattern, intersecting lines that crossed in the middle. First the British dropped high explosive bombs to blow the roofs off the houses, then they dropped firebombs into the houses to start a firestorm. The center of Darmstadt was completely destroyed.

But just outside the center of the city center was the Technical Institute. This Institute was the center of research for the missile V-2 missile program sending rockets to attack England.  The firebombing raid missed the institute. So a week later, the Americans sent a daylight precision bombing mission to destroy the institute. The American bombers hit their target. One of the American gunners flying that mission was a young man named Almes who would have a son named Cliff in 1956.

The mission was successful. Cliff believes that one of the young women who was a student at the Institute was almost killed. That same young woman would later join the Canaan ministry as a Sister of Mary. Canaan began as a sisterhood in 1947. The student almost killed by the raid in which Cliff's father was a crewman on one of the bombers, would later work together with Cliff in ministry at Canaan. The Land of Canaan itself is located just outside Darmstadt, just three miles away from the city center firebombed to such devastating effect.

When I was stationed in Germany, Darmstadt had a huge American military community. Cliff reminded me that I drove him from Wiesbaden to Darmstadt to join the new Novices at Canaan on my birthday, May 2, 1979. For several months after that I went to the Darmstadt military community once a week, usually on Wednesdays. Many of those Wednesdays, I had a chance to eat with Cliff and the other Novices at Canaan.

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