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The Stars and Stripes have been lowered for the last time at a military post built for Nazi SS troops that served as headquarters of the U.S. Army's 2nd Armored Cavalry Regiment for 40 years.

Thousands of U.S. troops were housed and worked at Merrell Barracks over those four decades, including Master Sgt. Matthew Oconnell, the last U.S. soldier to occupy the post, said Army spokesman Winfried Bloomer.Bloomer said he couldn't give a hometown for Oconnell in the United States: "He has been in the U.S. Army in Germany for nearly 20 years, so I guess you'd have to call his hometown here."

Bloomer said the Germans might relocate a refugee processing center to Merrell because they are running out of space at its present location in suburban Zirndorf.

In a short ceremony on Tuesday, Lt. Col. Kenneth Pankey, the Nuremberg Base Support commander, gave a final salute to signal return of the post to German officials.

Four U.S. soldiers recruited from other Nuremberg units, with trumpeter Spec. Stevenson Bradley of Los Angeles playing taps, slowly lowered the American flag from the barracks' flagpole.

Before the 1989 collapse of the Berlin Wall, 2nd Armored Cavalry troops continuously patrolled the Czechoslovak and East German borders in Bavaria state.

The Merrell Barracks ceremony was similar to dozens of others that have taken place in Germany over the past year as the U.S. troop presence, once as high as 314,000 in the late 1980s, continues to shrink.

U.S. officials say they are aiming to reduce troop strength to about 150,000 in Europe by the end of 1994.