We were enjoying lunch in Sperryville, VA after a spirited ride down Fort Valley Road (VA Rte 678) and over the mountain to Luray and Shenandoah Nat'l Park. I parked the sidecar rig in a spot behind the lunch spot. The Thornton River Grille serves brunch on weekends and since the out-door deck was full we were seated inside beside a table of Harley riders. Behind us was an elderly man and a younger woman enjoying brunch as well. The Harley riders were telling each other of their exploits and the elderly gentleman, recognizing they were motorcyclists approached their table when he was getting up to leave. He leaned on his cane as he stood by their table and asked if they had ever seen a green BMW motorcycle with a sidecar. Karla and I thought he must have seen the rig as we rode past on our way in. Actually he recounted a story about being in Aschaffenburg, Germany at the end of WWII and his unit finding a German Army depot with 30 or more BMW sidecar rigs apparently in for repairs. Like GIs throughout time, they promptly stole, I mean commandeered, the rigs and took them back to their compound. He said they didn't want to sell them and he isn't sure where they ended up. Still, 67 years later he recalled the details of the mission and seemed quite pleased to have bumped into someone to give him the excuse to tell the tale. His companion was beckoning so he headed for the door.
Since we were finished with our cheeseburgers, Karla and I settled our bill and headed out to the bikes. Karla spotted the couple in a car lining up to leave the parking lot. She tapped on the passenger window where the gentleman was sitting and asked if he had seen the green BMW motorcycle with the sidecar in the parking lot. They were parked below where we parked and had not seen it so Karla asked if they wanted to stop and look. The car turned around and parked next to the rig. The gentleman got to his feet with a little help and looked over the rig and noted that this sidecar was much more modern than the ones he and his buddies had stolen back in 1945. I asked his name and what outfit he was with during the war. He replied that his name was John Durant and he was with the 300th Combat Engineer Battalion. His unit had landed at Utah beach a few days after D-Day and fought through France, the Battle of the Bulge, crossed the Rhine River at Remagen, and ended up in Aschaffenburg, Germany on V-E Day.
We talked about the Army, the 300th, stealing the sidecars and other stories for about 30 minutes. He explained how the German's always had the senior person ride in the sidecar even if it was only a private and a corporal. Although clearly the sidecar heist was a favorite story for John he said several time that he'd never ridden a motorcycle let alone a sidecar. John is 90 years old and lives between Culpeper and Sperryville. He thanked us for showing him the sidecar rig and listening to his stories and said we should come by and see him sometime since we ride in that area frequently.
When I returned to our home in Herndon I Googled the 300th Combat Engineer Battalion and found a terrific web site with photos and stories from the unit (alas, no mention of the sidecar caper). John's photo is there with his sergeant's stripes looking like any of the great soldier heroes of the day. John was part of the reconnaissance team for the Battalion responsible for creating maps which were used by following forces.
Karla and I plan to call on John in the coming weeks to see if he's up to take a ride. I think it would be very cool if someone with a "more vintage" sidecar was willing to ride out and drive him around in one nearer to the ones they stole back in 1945. My guess is he won't steal it this time.