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"