Klaus Peucker had his first brush at being a soldier as a 9-year-old boy in Germany in 1945 just as World War II was ending. The Germans would leave a soldier at a barricade to slow down the advancing Russians, and Peucker and some friends were at one such barricade when the German soldier told the boys to go away just before he fired at a Russian vehicle coming around the corner in the road.
"They [the German soldiers manning the barricades] just wanted them to run away," Peucker said.
Seventy-six years later, Peucker said that he didn't feel much like a soldier that day, or even very brave "because I was too scared, but they did run."
Visiting with Peucker on his 20-acre piece of property in Sale Creek, you soon realize that the military, like everything else in life, is about the people and making things better for them. Whether on purpose or not, when he tells a story, he seems to focus on the people in the events rather than the events.
He talks of the family members, including a son, daughter and wife, who he has lost in the last three years, and he talks about the people such as his in-laws, who helped him relocate to and then acclimate in America.
"My father-in-law is from Sweden, my mother-in-law from England, and me, I'm from Germany, but we are all Americans," he said.
Living in America became a dream for Peucker as a child in part because of the movies he saw on occasion in Germany after the war.
"I saw Gary Cooper and John Wayne and so many others," he said. "I loved America."
Name: Klaus Peucker
Branch of service: U.S. Army; U.S. National Guard
Years of service: Army, 1959-1971; National Guard, 1976-1996.
During WWII, his older brother, Paul, was a German commando on the eastern front, and his father, Paul Sr., was an artillery officer "trying to shoot down Americans." The elder Paul was captured and sent to an American prisoner of war camp in Marseilles.
Shortly after the shooting incident when Peucker was 9, Peucker said his older brother somehow seemed to know what was coming in East Germany with the hardline government there and he managed to get most of the family into West Germany and relative safety. It would take some time before his father would be able to join them, however.
With the help of many people, Peucker said he was able to get permission to leave Germany and come to America in 1956 and soon after he enlisted in the U.S. Army. After Army boot camp, Peucker said he had requested that he be sent to Japan, but was sent back to Germany, "because I spoke German, they said."
Now an American soldier in Germany, Peucker found himself stationed about 3 miles from where his grandfather and aunt were currently living, and about 100 miles from his father.
That might have seemed unusual to some, Peucker admits, but as with most things for him, it was just life moving forward. It's likely he got that perspective and attitude from his father based on that first visit home.
"The first time I had some time off I went to see my father," he said. "I didn't have a vehicle or civilian clothes, so when I knocked on his door, he opened it and laughed.
"What are you laughing at?" I said.
Peucker said his father explained that the guy who pointed him in the direction of the POW camp "was wearing that same uniform."
For Peucker, "all wars are evil and serve no purpose for humankind, but the war in Germany was different. My mother and father hated Hitler. The world was at stake."
He would later serve with the Headquarters Batallion 196th Field Artillery Brigade in the Tennessee National Guard in Operation Desert Storm as Section Chief of Radio Telephone & Teletype. The RATT soldiers under him had a term of endearment for him.
"I was 'Dad RATT," he said with pride.
Contact Barry Courter at email@example.com or 42-757-6354.
Veteran Salute will be published daily through Veterans Day on Nov. 11. Read about more Chattanooga-area veterans at timesfreepress.com/veterans/2021.