Thursday, September 17, 2020

The Patrol - Visitors

Antoine Duchein stared in befuddlement as the German car drove past him. He thought he recognized the passenger. "Wasn't that the Paasch kid?" he muttered. The Paasch family were German speaking residents of this part of Belgium, among those people who had not been entirely pleased when the area had been annexed by Belgium after the Great War. They had been required to register with the Belgian government unless they swore allegiance to Belgium.

When the Germans had returned in 1940, many of those people, including the Paasch family, had been thrilled to be a part of the Reich once more. A number of the young men had volunteered for the German armed forces, Otto Paasch was one of them. He had joined the Luftwaffe in 1941 and had become a pilot.

Duchein marveled at the nerve of the young man returning to the village after the Germans had retreated, "family is family," Duchein muttered. As he recalled there was a young lady whom young Paasch was sweet on, he would be sorely disappointed if he expected her to still be around.

Frau Paasch heard the Kübelwagen pull up and stop outside the door to her home, she peaked fearfully through the curtains, then ran over and flung the door open wide...

"Otto! My son! What are you doing here?"

"It's okay Mama, I'm here to take Greta back to Germany with me. But I had to stop and see you first, where is Papa?" Feldwebel Otto Paasch of the German Air Force looked around expectantly, his father was usually in the sitting room this time of night, sipping an aperitif and listening to the radio.

"Papa is not here, Otto, the Belgian police took him away yesterday. He has been accused of being a collaborator." Frau Paasch looked terrified, it was something she had feared when the German military had retreated from the region. The Paasch family had made no secret of their loyalty to the Third Reich. Another son, Franz, had been killed in action on the Eastern Front, his photo, draped in black crepe, stood on the mantelpiece still. The glass was cracked from when the police had swept it to the floor.

Otto looked thoughtful, then began to speak, before he could say a word, his mother interrupted him, "Greta is dead Otto. I am so sorry. She was trying to make her way to Aachen, hoping to meet up with you when she was caught in an American artillery barrage."

"Why would the Amis be firing artillery at a refugee column?" Otto was puzzled, forgetting the times he and his squadron mates had strafed a column on the road only to realize that they were civilians.

"She was riding with the colonel who used to command this area. He offered her a ride in his staff car, she accepted. The Amis destroyed the entire column, very few survived." Frau Paasch was weeping now, she had liked young Greta Mollers and had assumed that she and her Otto would someday wed. The war had ended that dream.

Otto sat down heavily at the kitchen table, his eyes were wet, but he had seen so much death over the past few years, that not even the death of his Greta seemed to bother him as much as it should have.

Gammell and Hebert had worked their way closed to the village, they could see down the main street now and watched the driver of the Kübelwagen smoking a cigarette next to the small vehicle. Gammell watched through his rifle scope while Hebert swept the area with his field glasses.

"No other Krauts around Charlie." Hebert didn't like Pvt Gammell's nickname of Camel, mostly because he had quit smoking and he thought the nickname was stupid. Jack Leonard, who considered himself a funny guy, gave him that nickname after Gammell had started smoking. The kid had started smoking after he'd killed a few Germans, Gammel had admitted to Hebert that he found it too easy to kill, but the memories of each kill sometimes kept him awake at night. Smoking helped settle his nerves.

Hebert was now studying the kid who was smoking next to the Kraut car. "He's Air Force Charlie, he's a one-striper, just like me! The guy inside must be an officer, maybe he's got a girl in town?"

"Let's keep watching, I don't want to head back before daybreak, we've got the time, it's stopped raining, where else we gotta be?" Gammell sighed as he said that, he could think of a thousand places he'd rather be.

"I have to get back Mama, if we're not back by midnight my flight commander will have a fit. He's kind of excitable." Feldwebel Paasch was reluctant to leave, but he knew that there was nothing he could do for his father. He sighed as he thought of Greta, he remembered her blue eyes and blonde hair, but her face was already beginning to fade in his memory. She had wanted to get serious, he had made her wait, "After the war there will be plenty of time for romance Schatzi¹." How little he knew.

Frau Paasch followed her son outside where she was introduced to Gefreiter Oswald Schnelling. "Are you sure you and Herr Schnelling wouldn't care for something to eat before you go?"

"Thank you Mama, but if we're late, the Eastern Front beckons." Otto said it lightheartedly, forgetting that his older brother, a member of the Waffen SS, had died in the maelstrom of that front.

"I'm sorry Mama, I meant nothing..."

"It's all right Otto, I understand, you must get back. Kiss me my boy."

"Wanna bet that's his Ma?" Hebert almost smirked when he said it, until he felt the pang of missing his own mother.

"I won't take that bet. I wonder how a sergeant gets a driver and a car to visit his mother?" Gammell wondered as he shifted his sight so that the aim point was on the young German's chest. One squeeze and he is history, Gammell thought, but in front of his mother? I'd deserve Hell for that.

The two Americans watched as the Germans got into the small car, started the engine, and drove off. The passenger waving at the older woman as they vanished into the dark.

For Feldwebel Otto Paasch and Gefreiter Oswald Schnelling, it would be a long drive back into Germany with dim headlamps and the mist. For PFC Jackson Hebert and Pvt Charlie Gammell it would be a long walk back to their platoon's bivouac.

The night wore on, the rain came and went. Paasch and Schnelling made it back to their airfield with only minutes to spare. Hebert and Gammell would still be out in the forest when the two Germans went to bed.

The night wore on as the distant rumble of artillery reminded everyone that the war still ground on, people were dying, people were trying to continue living, even in the midst of chaos.

The true soldier fights not because he hates what is in front of him, but because he loves what is behind him. ― G.K. Chesterton

¹ German for "sweetheart"


  1. Nice way to build tension and then release it, Sarge. Well done!

    1. I wanted to point out that life goes on in spite of war. Sometimes it isn't pleasant but even in war there is sometimes of element of normalcy, brief though it might be.

  2. I are a little worried about Camel and Bear, since they are " getting overconfident ".

  3. "still draped in black crepe, stood on the mantelpiece still" Maybe adjust off the first still? Sounded.... Still-ted to me.... heh.

    Yeah, great tension build and release. I knew a lot of soldaten died on the eastern front, but I really didn't know HOW many until a couple months ago. That was a meat grinder for the German military... Saved us a lot of trouble...

    Jeff Cooper wrote a chapter about a Waffen SS that escaped prison camp and walked back home across Russia. Quite a story. It's in "Ride, Shoot Straight, and Speak the Truth"

    1. Yup, awkward, I removed the first still. (No revenuers were harmed in the act of doing so).

      The Eastern Front ate humans.

    2. The story Cooper related truly deserves the word "epic".
      You are doing some damn good work here,Sarge. Well structured and well written.
      Boat Guy

    3. I might have to track that down, but the stories of epic survival are many on that front.

    4. There's no telling how many Soviets and others died on the Eastern Front. Whether from fighting the Germans or being on the wrong side of Stalin. But strangely enough, more Europeans could understand the Eastern Front than they could understand the new kids with so many toys that the Americans represented.

      We confused both soldiers and civilians.

      As to the soldier that Boat Guy mentioned, he performed his own personal 'Anabasis.' What hells he must have seen.

    5. Classical references always get my attention.

      Well played.

    6. OAFS, If you don't find a copy of Col. Cooper's book, I'll loan you mine. But you gotta return it.

    7. Thanks, but I wouldn't have time to read it. Busy, busy, busy.

  4. Hey AFSarge;

    Yep Life goes on despite wars and great story. I snagged a Humvee from my unit and visited my brother while we were over in the middle East, and someone took a pic of it, and I had forgotten about it and had lamented about it for years about the missed opportunity until my brother pulled out the picture of me and him. It was like going back in time to 1991 in the desert in with 1st Armored.

  5. I remember a history book written by a British historian who said that 2/3 of the Wehrmacht were on the Eastern front.

    Otto was lucky! And to never know how close to death he came

    I wonder how many of us have the same story? Not death by sniper of course but just averted auto accidents etc.

    1. The bulk of the German military was on the Eastern Front, two-thirds sounds about right.

      I'm glad that I never know how close to death I am at any moment.

  6. Gamell and Hebert are examples of the classic American infantryman. Often far smarter than people expect, and quicker to learn than many other nations'. If they survive, I see stripes in their future.

    Nice way to relieve the tension, as least for our two boys. The two Germans? Knowing what's coming their way, and driving a vehicle? Not so much. Tension to rachet up until they survive (or not) to 1945.

    Must have been rather poopy for those Germans who became not-Germans after WWI. Talk about divided loyalties, as by 1919 the concept of switching who the boss was every 20 years or so (or every month or so in some circumstances) had fallen by the wayside as the lines had remained mostly stable since the (what I call the First) Franco-Prussian War. God knows that required loyalties shifted rather rapidly back in the 30 Years War era.

    One day the Kaiser, the next day some Belgium royalty you have no allegiance to, then 1940 comes along and it's at least Germany in power again.

    Hope the Belgiums leave his mother alone.

    1. I knew a number of Belgians when I was in NATO, good people, strange nation. The northern part speaks mostly Dutch, the southern part French, and along the border with Germany they speak German. St Vith feels like a German town, I've been there, most of the signs are in German.

      I can imagine Alsace and Lorraine are somewhat similar in their divided loyalties. During the Napoleonic era most people from Alsace spoke German, in French units from Alsace the "word of command" was in German. The tribal aspects of European history are often overlooked.

    2. Southwest Houston is Chinese. The street signs are in both English and Chinese.

      There was (is?) a large contingent of Alsatians in Castroville, TX. Some of the architecture there is quite European.

    3. Pretty much the same for most Chinatowns in the U.S., in northern New England you'll see signs in both English and French.

    4. Beans, when I visited Strasburg all those years ago what a strange place I found that to be.

      German architecture but predominately darker skinned Mediterranean faces.

    5. Speaking of the Chinese, the small gold rush berg I grew up near was Fiddletown, CA. Our ranch was about four miles farther up the road. Around 1878, the Chinese population in town was second only to San Francisco. Several of the original buildings still stand--

      I remember as a very young lad being introduced to "Jimmie" Chow in the early 60's, and going inside that building. Not only was he a carpenter, he was also an herb doctor. A lotta gold rush history in that town. And yes, I panned for gold in my youth, and found "color". Gave me a very good understanding of the prospectors, and why the guys getting rich were the ones selling shovels.

    6. That’s how Leland Stanford made his money. Michigan bar, told his partner back he used to buy as many shovels as he could and send them out

    7. RHT447 - Logistics is always where the smart money is at.

    8. William - No such thing as enough shovels.

    9. During the gold rush as you know the people that really made the big money were the merchants.

      Mark Twain came out about 10 years later, to Virginia city to visit his brother.

      He tried silver mining for a short time and found it too backbreaking as did most.

      That’s when he started to become a writer.

      I’ll have to respectfully disagree with you on one thing: unconditional surrender with Japan

      There was a famous episode where MacArthur summoned Emperor Hirohito to visit him

      And he did which was unheard of in Japanese society

      The emperor up through World War II was considered godlike and dim not simply come when summoned.

      He did this to assert his authority over him. And he decided to keep the Emperor to placate the Japanese.

    10. Negative. MacArthur did not make that decision, he had no authority to make that decision. That decision was made in Washington. He did, however, recommend that course of action. Again, as it was a condition of Japanese surrender, it was not technically unconditional surrender.

  7. Can't help wonder what Chesterton meant by "behind." People? Home town/city? Nation? Habit? Zeitgeist? Did rank and file German soldiers -- or even fervent Nazi soldiers -- love what was behind them? Russian soldiers? French Soldiers? Another Chesterton quote makes me feel better -- "I believe what really happens in history is this: the old man is always wrong; and the young people are always wrong about what is wrong with him. The practical form it takes is this: that, while the old man may stand by some stupid custom, the young man always attacks it with some theory that turns out to be equally stupid."

    We ape-lizards get up to some remarkable things.

    Enjoying this muchly Sarge. And thanks for the assist on the video embed stuff!

    1. Ah, but did it work? (The video thing that is...)

    2. I think it did but won't know for sure until the new post publishes in a couple of hours. The preview looked okayish. Probably need to tweak the u2b player window size. I think I'm making it harder than it has to be, but maybe I'm learning something too. Thanks again!

    3. I discovered that the scheduling piece of the new interface (which I call the POS interface, not the POS that retailers are familiar with, but the POS that maintainers know and love) isn't as intuitive as the old one.

      After two days (three) of using this new interface, my dislike of it deepens. It's almost like the people who designed it have no earthly clue as to what makes a decent interface. Nitwits, all of 'em.


Just be polite... that's all I ask. (For Buck)
Can't be nice, go somewhere else...

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