"Good morning Lieutenant."
1st Lt. Nathan Paddock was dizzy and not quite sure of where he was, then it came back in a rush. He remembered leading his headquarters party across the crest of a slight ridge outside Wirtzfeld. He remembered that it was cold with some sun, he remembered being slapped, or a similar sensation.
Then he remembered the pain and the fear as his men huddled around him. For some reason he was lying in the snow, trying to staunch the bleeding from his neck. Now he felt warm sheets and clean clothes, though his neck felt strange, bundled up as if he was wearing a thick scarf. He reached for it.
"Whoa there big fella, I spent quite a lot of time fixing you up and putting those bandages on. Let's leave those be. Do you know where you are?" Doctor Chris Allen said as he pressed the wounded officer's hands down.
Paddock opened his eyes, he saw a Major in a white coat, then it struck him, he was in a hospital, the Major was a doctor. Paddock remembered then that he had been wounded. He tried to speak, it was hard, his voice sounded scratchy.
"I'm in a... I dunno, field hospital..."
"Yes, yes you are. Would you like some water? You've been out for a day and a half. Nothing medical I suppose, but you've probably gone a number of days without sleep. So after we patched you up, we let you sleep."
Paddock struggled a bit to sit up, then a pair of hands, female hands he noticed, helped him. He took the glass of water from the doctor and took a sip. It felt good, though it hurt a bit to swallow.
"You're going to be fine Lieutenant. I sewed you up and there was a lot of trauma to your neck, but nothing really serious. Your medic did a good job of patching you up, there's no sign of infection, I changed your bandages this morning while you slept. It's going to hurt to move your head and probably to swallow until those muscles heal up. You'll be going to England with the next transport, probably home from there."
"But my men..."
"Will be okay without you, the Krauts are pulling back as fast as they can. Our air is pounding them to pieces, if they'd been smart they would have stayed in their pillboxes. Now get some rest, Nurse Parsons will take good care of you." With that the doctor moved on to his other patients.
1st Lt. Paddock turned and looked as Captain Edith Parsons, U.S. Army Nurse Corps adjusted the pillows behind him, then gave him a stern look.
"Well Lieutenant, if you're not getting food poisoning, or getting drunk in some one horse Belgian town, you're catching German bullets. Seems you don't duck very well. I swear, you're getting to be a full time job for me!" Her warm smile belied the semi-harshness of her words. She was genuinely glad to see Paddock, she had been worried sick about him until the casualties had started pouring in, then she'd been too busy to be worried.
"How's Stephen?" She asked, which drew a puzzled look from Paddock.
"Your platoon sergeant, S/Sgt Stephen Hernandez, remember him?"
Paddock blushed, he was rather lost in Cpt. Parson's soft brown eyes. "Last I saw him he was okay, he's probably running what's left of the platoon."
"Good, I'll let Beth know. She's kinda sweet on him, or didn't you notice?"
Paddock remembered, somewhat vaguely, the night in Aubel, before the German attack. He'd been with his platoon sergeant, Cpt. Parsons had brought her friend, a Captain Beth McGee. She and Hernandez seemed to have hit it off, as near as he could remember. He'd gotten drunk and within a couple of days they'd been trucked down to Bütgenbach to try and stop the German attack. Which, apparently, they had succeeded at.
Paddock blushed again and said, "Yeah, Top said he was going to write to her, but we've been busy and..."
"We all have Nate. Now you rest up, I have other patients, but I'll be back to check on you later." With that she touched his shoulder and smiled.
Paddock hated to admit it, but he was pretty sure that he was in love.
Leutnant Manfred Sauer was scanning the field from the SS trenchline. He and thirty-seven other survivors of Kampfgruppe (mot) von Lüttwitz had straggled in throughout the long winter night.
There had been a brief scare when a flare had gone up, silhouetting him and his small party against the snow. A nervous sentry had fired a burst from his MP 44, but it had gone over their heads. His own blast of obscenities hurled back at the sentry had brought a laugh from the SS position.
"Only a Saxon can swear like that, who are you guys?"
"Kampfgruppe von Lüttwitz!" Sauer had answered.
"Ah, come on in you bunch of bandits. We heard you were giving the Amis fits in the hills near Wirtzfeld."
Sauer and his party had climbed into the trench where a tough old SS-Scharführer¹ had greeted them, "Gustav Meyer, from Dresden, you sound like a Leipzig man."
"Close enough. I was a pig farmer in a small village near Leipzig before the war. My mother was a Leipziger before she married my father." Sauer answered.
"Natürlich, we spend more time with our mothers when we're learning to talk, so we get their accents." Jürgens answered.
"Have any others from our group come in yet?" Sauer was worried about his men, particularly his commander, Major Jürgen von Lüttwitz.
"No, you're the first. Expecting more?"
"Yes and no. Out of 500 men, there are, or were, maybe 50 left. We broke into small groups last night and pretty much set everyone loose to try and regain our lines." Sauer explained.
"I'll pass the word Leutnant, don't want to be gunning down our own men, do we?"
"No, we don't."
"Ernst, Carsten, stop. Peter, could you have a look at Günther?" Major von Lüttwitz had the men stop, Grenadiers Ernst Schottenstein and Carsten von Thoma had been half-carrying, half-dragging a badly wounded Günther Löwe for most of the night.
When they had set off, they had blundered into an old German minefield in the dark. Löwe had had his foot nearly blown off. The Sanitäter, Unteroffizier Peter Krause, had tied off the mangled portion of the kid's leg, joking, "Well, you're going to need a new job Günther, you can't be a messenger with only one foot."
The young Berliner had gritted his teeth and commented that Krause should stick to medicine, he was a terrible comedian. Because of the cold, neither man realized that Löwe had another wound higher up on his other leg. The pain of his foot distracted Löwe from the pain of that other wound. While the cold had helped stop the bleeding, when the two men carrying him had tripped over a snow-covered log in the dark, the wound had started bleeding again. It was the blood on the trouser leg of his white camouflage, filthy as it was, which caught the Major's eye.
Krause risked using his flashlight when he saw the blood in an unexpected location. With the red lens he could see that the stump of Löwe's leg was not bleeding, but something higher up on his other leg was.
"Günther, did you know your other leg was wounded?"
Receiving no response, he checked for a pulse, "Günther?"
Then he turned the flashlight off, sat back in the snow and sighed. "He's dead, Herr Major. No pulse and he's cold as the grave. Probably bled to death. Scheiße!"
"Let's move on gentlemen."
Before they left, Major von Lüttwitz took Löwe's rifle and affixed its bayonet. He jammed the bayonet into the ground as best as he could. Carsten von Thoma placed Löwe's helmet atop the butt. "Maybe they'll find you in the spring." he whispered to the dead man.
"Where the Hell are those men?" Unteroffizier Manfred Klügmann looked around at the others. He had started off with eleven men, now he had seven, somehow he had lost four of his party.
"Herr Unteroffizier?" The youngest man in the group, Grenadier Mathias Edelstein, spoke up.
"What is it Matti?"
"I think they went off on their own."
"What? Why would you say that?"
"When we crossed that last firebreak, I heard Sören say that our group was too big, so he and his mates took off. I tried to stop them, but..."
"It's okay Junge, not your fault. Come, we press on."
The four men who had split from Klügmann's group had blundered into an American machine gun position from the 2nd Infantry Division. Those GIs had seen the four men, speaking German, walking right up on them. So they opened fire.
Grenadiers Christof Schmidt, Horst Schenk, Klaus Mayer, and Sören Ganser lay torn and bloody in the snow. Schenk had not been killed instantly, but one of the Americans had bayoneted him as he lay there, bleeding badly but alive.
"F**king Kraut bastards." Private Ted Roswell had been with a group that had discovered the remains of seven Belgian civilians, three of them kids, who had been murdered by the SS the previous day. Word in the Indianhead Division was, "No prisoners."
By 0500, thirty-eight survivors from Kampfgruppe (mot) von Lüttwitz had made it to the lines of the 12th SS. Only the Major and his party were unaccounted for.
"You lost four men, Klügmann?"
"Jawohl, Herr Leutnant, the stupid bastards wandered off in the dark."
"Well, they probably gave themselves up to the Amis." Leutnant Sauer said, still wondering where his commander might be.
"Fat chance there," one of the SS men said, "bloody Americans aren't taking prisoners. I saw them mow down a squad the other day. Cowards tried to surrender, the Amis shot all of 'em."
Sauer shook his head, he had a feeling that the Major was still out there, still alive. After all, the man had led them across half of France from well behind enemy lines. Jürgen von Lüttwitz wasn't a quitter.
¹ SS equivalent to an Army Unterfeldwebel or staff sergeant in US parlance.