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The Passionate Photographer

Just wrote this today for my book on the '60s (which also includes the years leading up to the '60s):

I was the Information Services Officer at Sembach Air Base in southern Germany in 1958-1960. In addition to running the base photo lab and editing the base newspaper (The Sembach Jet Gazette), I was in charge of public relations and dealing with the press.

There was a German photographer, Helmut Haak, who photographed troops on American air bases. He contacted me about setting up photo shoots. I would line up a fighter plane down on our airstrip, and benches for the military personnel, arranged by unit. There might be 30-40 men and women in each photo.

Helmut made a ton of money selling the photos. Practically everyone bought one. He drove a big Mercedes and lived in a small castle overlooking the Mosel River.

We hit it off. One night he invited us, along with my secretary Inge, over for a light supper. He served white and pink champagne in bottles with his own label. He took us up into a small turret at the top of the castle. As we looked down on the river in the mist, he showed us an exquisite little music box with a moving mechanical bird.

Helmut had a 4-seat Cessna airplane, and he made friends with our base commander (Colonel Simeral, a pilot) by taking him flying. It was a spiffy little plane, and the colonel loved flying it.

One day at the base he took me up. We took off, and were still in the flight pattern when we heard on the radio: “F-86 dogs scrambling,” which meant that at least two of the base’s fighter pilots were taking off in a hurry. Shit!

Helmut was sweating. I was worried. The F-86’s were like rockets with cockpits on top—fast and powerful. Pretty soon, the planes roared past us—phew!—and we came back in.

 Helmut told me that one time, when his girlfriend was sailing back to America from Bremerhaven, he swooped down when the ship was leaving port and dropped a bouquet of flowers for her on the deck.

Before I left Germany and returned to the USA, I got word that he had crashed in the French Alps, not seeing Mont Blanc in the fog. The notice said that he had missed clearing Mont Blanc by 3-4 meters.

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