Once enemies, now best of friends

  • WWII veterans Ray Reed, right, and Karl Fischerwere on opposites sides when they met in Germany in the last days of the war. The two neighbors in the Varenna senior living center recognized each other from 67 years ago.

    (John Burgess/The Press Democrat)

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.

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