The beautiful blue Danube — well, maybe

By Robert McGowan

Robert McGowan

Robert McGowan

Our daughter, Beth, gave me two books for Christmas, including a few others. One book was “Learn Something New Every Day — 365 Facts to Fulfill Your Life,” written by Kee Malesky. The other book was “Flying by the Seat of Your Pants: Surprising Origins of Everyday Expressions,” by Harry Oliver.

Perhaps you have concluded, if you have read a couple of my columns, that our English language — its history, its use, its misuse, etc. — fascinates me. And, as you know, I frequently refer to books similar to the above-mentioned titles.

I am going to refer to a few of the 365 facts that the author believes will fulfill our lives. I realize, of course, that what fulfills your life might not fulfill mine.

Yes, the choice of facts for each day is fascinating. There are “days” for everyone — what interests one person in a personal way is only a “fact” for another.

For example: For the 365 daily entries I stopped for a long time, reading the Jan. 5 entry on “The Beautiful Blue Danube.”

Interestingly, the author writes: “No river in the world flows through more countries than the Danube. … The Danube Delta, where the river drains into the Black Sea, is one of the most biodiverse regions on Earth, with 5,429 species of flora and fauna, including 331 bird species.”

But, it isn’t these facts that triggered my memories of the Danube. I apologize for mentioning again my WWII associations with the Danube River.

My infantry division was moving with speed during the last weeks of WWII. I recall being in the vicinity of Coberg, Germany, and remarking, “Man, if we keep this up we will be in Berlin in a little while.” German military prisoners I am sure must have indicated that they would prefer that Americans capture Berlin rather than the Russians. Yes, we were on the move, and a possible end of the war was near.

Then, our division had orders to move south. The GIs heard that the reason for this move was to destroy a German redoubt in Austria, which must be destroyed in order for total surrender to take place. I remember remarking to a fellow GI that I was going to find out what happened here after the war.

We moved south, of course, crossing the “beautiful Danube” at Regensburg, Germany, before going into Austria. The crossing was two or three day of pure hell. The engineers would build pontoon bridges and the Germans would destroy them. It was an expensive crossing, both in materials and lives.

After the usual “interesting “ situations of combat we finally reached the northern part of Austria, in the vicinity of Wels and Linz. These were, by now, in the last days of the war. I recall that it was a beautiful country, but that is not what I recall most vividly, and to this very day, almost unbelievable.

The stench was terrible. It was a horrible, unforgettable experience. We were to liberate the Gunskirchen Lager Nazi Concentration Camp. I have written about this unforgettable experience previously.

We had to cross the Danube to get there. And then the Germans surrendered, which was soon after we reached Austria. We crossed it again on the way to our occupation area at Neuberg on the Danube in Germany.

Yes, the beautiful Danube. I have never wanted to see it again.

Robert McGowan is a Bartlett resident and a former professor of biology at The University of Memphis. Contact him at (901) 828-6039 or