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Author tells of German youth, immigrating to United States

February 16, 2005|by MARLO BARNHART

marlob@herald-mail.com

Since so few highly decorated U.S. Army veterans can say they were active in the Hitler Youth in pre-World War II Germany, Dieter Protsch decided he should write a book about his unique experiences.

"Be All You Can Be," is described on its red, white and blue cover as an immigrant's memoirs - from a Hitler Youth to a U.S. Army Green Beret. The title mirrors the Army's familiar advertising trademark.

When Protsch was a boy in Germany, he said, he proudly joined the Hitler Youth organization at the age of 10.

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"I remember Adolf Hitler visiting my battalion when I was 13," Protsch said.

Looking back on the experience, Protsch, now 72, said it was great training for the military. Little did he know then that the military he would join would be the U.S. Army.

After a 20-year career in the U.S. Army, Protsch retired in 1976 with the rank of major.

"I've never experienced any negativity over my past," Protsch said.

Born in Berlin in 1932, he and his family survived the aerial bombardments of Germany during World War II while his father served in the German airborne in Africa under Field Marshal Erwin Rommel.

As a young man, Protsch worked for the U.S. Army in postwar Germany after fleeing from Berlin through the Soviet Zone. Captured briefly, he escaped and was later sponsored for emigration to America.

He came to the United States in 1956 when he was 24. Still a German citizen, Protsch registered for the draft and then volunteered for the U.S. Army.

He served three years, and because of his German language prowess, Protsch was assigned back to Germany, where linguists were desperately needed.

"I met my future wife there," he said. "Christine and I have been married 46 years."

Back in the United States and still a German citizen, Protsch signed up for Officers Candidate School and was accepted.

"I couldn't go to West Point or Annapolis because I wasn't a citizen, but I could go to OCS," he said. He completed his training at Fort Benning, Ga.

In 1961, Protsch became a citizen of the United States.

Eventually, Protsch graduated as a ranger, paratrooper, jungle warfare expert and a Green Beret in the U.S. Army Special Forces. He served three tours in Germany and was in Vietnam in 1967-68, earning decorations, including the Combat Infantryman's Badge.

Hardly idle now that he is retired, Protsch keeps active in his adopted home of Washington County. Currently, he is on the American Red Cross board of directors and the language bank. He served previously on the Washington County Gaming Commission and is active in veterans affairs, often speaking at clubs and other organizations.

Available on the Internet through his publisher at Trafford.com, the book sells for just less than $30. Protsch expects several local book outlets to sell the book in the near future.

"People in the United States and Germany are ordering the book," Protsch said. Every time a book is sold, $5 goes to buy telephone cards for U.S. military personnel overseas, especially the wounded, he said.

"I'm going to Germany in a few days to help link up with the Red Cross there," Protsch said, continuing his efforts to do what he can to help the wounded overseas. "I'm taking some of the books with me."

A copy is in the Western Maryland Room at Washington County Free Library.

"It feels good to have it down on paper finally," Protsch said. "Now when my eight grandchildren ask 'what did you do in the war, granddaddy?' I don't have to explain it anymore - I just hand them one of the books."

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