HEIDELBERG, Germany — For Germans and Americans in Heidelberg who had long imagined a dramatic coda to their Cold War bond, it came instead in a few solemn, quiet moments.
After both national anthems were played, seven U.S. and five German soldiers lowered their national colors, marched to the edge of a bedraggled parade ground and carefully folded the flags for the last time.
The ceremony Friday, before about 300 onlookers, marked the closing of Campbell Barracks, which, as the headquarters of the U.S. Army in Europe, issued the orders for the millions of U.S. soldiers — 15 million in Germany alone — who have served on the Continent since 1945. It was a day that most present, mostly an older crowd, had never imagined could come.
“We had no idea that Heidelberg will ever close,” said Regina Hingtgen, 62, who has worked with the Army for 41 years and first honed her English when her parents billeted GIs.
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The day was bittersweet, the current commander, Lt. Gen. Donald Campbell Jr. — no relation to the World War II staff sergeant after whom the barracks was named — said in an interview after the low-key ceremony.
The Army has shifted to a new European headquarters in Wiesbaden, where it sits atop a hill, isolated and thus secure, in the post-9/11 world, from the kind of local interactions that long made the Americans welcome. As Campbell noted, it is more effective to concentrate Army might in five key locations in Germany and in Vicenza, Italy, in addition to a cluster supporting NATO in Luxembourg, the Netherlands and Belgium, where NATO is headquartered.
Starting in the 1950s, NATO central army operations were run from the Campbell Barracks, built by the Nazis in 1937, taken over by the Americans in 1945 and renamed in 1948. As NATO expanded to include formerly communist nations, new buildings went up to accommodate new partners. At least 20 flagpoles, now bare, used to fly the colors of nations engaged here.
NATO left in March for a command base in Izmir, Turkey, and Heidelberg bid farewell in a Volksfest that drew tens of thousands of people May 12. In the ensuing months, remaining military personnel and their families also left.