A couple of old soldiers who'd studied and worked hard after World War II, done well and live now as neighbors at one of Sonoma County's nicest retirement havens discovered one day that they'd crossed paths at the end of the catastrophic warring in Europe.
And they weren't on the same side.
"It's amazing, isn't it?" Ray Reed marveled as he sat alongside friend Karl Fischer in a comfortably appointed common salon at the Varenna development on Fountaingrove Parkway in Santa Rosa.
Reed is 92 and a retired obstetrician who estimates he delivered 7,000 babies. The Indianapolis native served as an intelligence officer in the war, and it's his recollection that he met Fischer in the U.S.-occupied German city of Magdeburg in April of 1945.
Germany was largely in tatters by then and on the brink of surrender. Reed, then 25 and attached to the Army's 2nd Armored Division, had expected to participate in the taking of Berlin until Supreme Allied Commander Dwight D. Eisenhower yielded the invasion of Adolf Hitler's capital to the Soviets.
Before arriving in the medieval city of Magdeburg, Reed had witnessed true horror at the liberated Langenstein-Zweiberge concentration camp. What he saw upon walking into a bunkroom packed with starved, emaciated Jews haunts him nearly 70 years later.
"Here I was an American officer, standing there. Most of the people couldn't even get up out of their bunks. Those who were able to walk just came up and touched me to see if I was real."
There were 1,000 souls still alive when the camp was liberated on April 13, 1945, and 900 of them were too close to death to be saved.
After the 2nd Armored Division moved on to Magdeburg, a short distance from Berlin, Reed recalls encountering a convalescing young German soldier who'd walked out of a military hospital. He said the soldier was fearful of becoming a prisoner of the Soviets.
"He spoke a little English and I spoke a little German," Reed said. He remembers helping the wounded German surrender himself to U.S. soldiers.
"I assured him the Americans would treat him fine," Reed said.
Fischer, who's now 87 but in April of 1945 was a wounded 19-year-old 2nd lieutenant in the German army, does not specifically recall meeting Reed in Magdeburg. But he was there at the same time Reed was, and he allows that they may well have spoken.
Fischer said that when he went into the hospital in Magdeburg for treatment of shrapnel wounds, the city had not been taken by the Allies. And when he walked out, he was a prisoner of war.
He'd grown up in a village in eastern Germany and was in high school when his country suffered a disastrous defeat in the battle for the Soviet city of Stalingrad. "After the battle of Stalingrad, our class was simply closed," he said.
His age when he became a soldier in Germany's army in February of 1943: "17 years and two months." He said he went to war feeling strongly "that I have to support our country against Russia."
Fischer admitted that he felt some relief two years later to be wounded by U.S. troops and thus spared of being sent to fight the Russians. After his surrender to the Americans at Magdeburg he was transported to a prisoner of war camp in Cherbourg in northwestern France.
Read all of the PD's fire coverage here