The battle helmet couldn’t be mistaken for Fonzie’s pompadour, and he was at the controls of an M-1 tank instead of his usual hog. But such camouflage hardly mattered when Henry Winkler and a platoon of 31 Happy Days cast and crew members visited American military bases in West Germany in a week-long USO tour. Winkler was besieged at every stop. In Würzburg, one zaftig Army wife pushed a toddler into his arms and commanded, “Hold him, and I’ll take a picture.” At a military hospital, a young female patient blurted, “I’m going to kiss you even if it kills me.” (It didn’t.) Even the R&R was rugged. Winkler pitched the Happy Days softball team through three games in three days. Despite a 9-7 win against an Army all-star squad at Bad Kissingen, the Fonz felt all of his 36 years. “The Army’s working us real hard on this tour,” he sighed.
The Army in turn put on a show of its own: a mock battle starring its new M-1 tank. “If they’re shooting real ammunition, I’ll get the hell out of the way,” cracked actor Anson (Potsie) Williams, who knows from armor. His wife is actress Lorrie Mahaffey, whose dad is CO of the Third Infantry Division near Würzburg. In fact, the reason the Army guarded the cast so closely and declared a “yellow alert” was less from concern for Winkler’s safety than fear that terrorists might attack Lorrie.
Toward tour’s end the group was helicoptered to the East German border near Coburg, where they peered across the fenced, mined and watchtowered frontier in wonder. An officer solemnly told them not to “wave or point or shout. Something small can provoke something big.” In a cheerier sense, the TV visitors had done just that for a lot of homesick Americans. Seeing their heroes up close was, as one Army medic put it, “the best possible tonic.”