The brass decided they needed some intel, and I had the pleasure of leading my squad of cold, dirty and tired scouts into the snow covered forest.

‘Kamerad!’

I dropped to the frozen ground and so did my squad. Was that a human voice or was the wind playing tricks? I wasn’t about to stick my head up to find out. Crawling on my stomach, I crunched snow, and each movement made me grimace, until I reached an icicle covered shrub and peeped through a gap in the leaves.

No more than twenty yards away, a German patrol, frozen like us, huddled around a tiny field stove and was cooking lunch. Apparently they were not expecting us so deep in the forest.

One of the Germans scooped a spoonful of broth into his mouth and spat it out in disgust. Looked like the krauts used the same kitchen we did. That human reaction hit a button, and for a second there I saw him not as my enemy but another regular joe, just like me, trying to survive the cold and the war—and the slop that passes off as food.

Just then, he wiped his lips with the back of a gloved hand, turned and stopped—his gaze on me. Man, he was so close, I could have shit bricks.

I dared not move. Dared not even breathe. Not even a blink. But our eyes remained locked and it was the longest three seconds of my life.

Then, quite deliberately, I don’t know why but that’s what I thought, he looked away.

His eyes, sharp blue and quite flattering even in that light, was seared into my mind.

I downed my drink and was about to step out when I saw him. He was seated by the window and the light had caught his eyes.

With my hand on the knob, the door partially pulled open against the spring, I stood looking at him. It was not some macho-bullshit stare-down, but merely looking—with amazement. It can’t be. Not here, not now, in 1955 New York.

The features of the man at the window softened and he motioned for me to join him.

‘Have we met?’ I asked in a tentative tone, and clutched my hat.

‘Belgium, December forty-four,’ replied the man, in an accented voice. My heart missed a beat.

Speechless, but I slid into the seat opposite him behind the tight table and we sat looking at one another for several long seconds.

‘Jerry.’ He broke the silence and offered his hand.

‘Doug,’ I said instinctively, and took his hand, and after a few moments added, ‘You made it.’

‘Yah, we both made it, I tsink,’ he said, ‘and I am moving here after the var.’

‘Jerry?’

‘Yah-yah, it was Gerhard but I switched to Jerry to blend in somesing, you know.’

‘To blend in?’

‘Yah.’

Then, ever so slowly our faces crunched into smiles and we exploded into guffaws.

*** Copyright @ Eric Alagan, 2017 ***

***

19 comments

  1. I loved this story Eric .. true or not, the truth is that that is how it can be… it reminds me of Eva Saint Marie’s moving song ‘The Universal Soldier”… I played it to my grandchildren …

    1. Hello Valerie,

      Good of you to drop by 🙂

      You’re right, it falls upon us, as individuals, to make the best and most of any situation we find ourselves in.

      All good wishes,
      Eric

  2. Absolutely love this. There is so much tension as their eyes lock, and the sense of shared experience is so strong. Their guffawing at the end is a welcome release.

    1. Hello Sarah,
      Glad this worked for you.
      Yes, the guffawing says much – plus, Gerhard having chosen the name Jerry so he can blend into American society.
      Cheers,
      Eric

  3. This piece is beautifully written, every sentence with a purpose, and the overall message profound. I hate to think about the remoteness of ‘modern’ atomic warfare in which the humanity of opponents is mainly obscured. It is terrifying to think that some ‘leader’ somewhere can order a button to be pushed and cause horrible human suffering in a remote place which neither leader nor button pusher may see or experience. The only hope in this scenario is that our present world wide informal communications technology may provide the needed human touch feedback and thereby generate empathy. Thank you, yet again, for making me think! Jane

    1. Dear Jane,

      First, thank you for your compliment re my writing. Much appreciate it.

      And your message re the story paints a dreadful scenario which is highly possible in the current geopolitical situation. Strangely, and thanks to MAD (mutually assured destruction), the world was much safer during the Cold War. Now, we have to reckon with mad leaders.

      You are right – the power of the internet where people can connect effortlessly, might just hold the answers to the mess created by a succession of ‘leaders’.

      The nobodies like us can only hope, pray and do our tiny part.

      Peace,
      Eric

  4. I recently read an article about a WWII allied bomber that was shot up badly while bombing Germany. Most on board were dead and the tail was only hanging on by the thinnest of metal. The pilot was struggling to keep it up in the air. A German attack plane cruised in to finish it off. He had every reason to as they were enemies. Instead looking at the shot up plane still flying doggedly toward the channel compassion seized him. They would probably die anyway, he saluted then turned back to Europe and his base. As with your story the allied pilot sought him out after the war and eventually found him. They became firm friends for the rest of their lives. All people share the same aspirations in life and it’s the country leaders that drag their citizens into the mess of war against each other.

    1. Hello Ian,
      Yes, I’m aware of the unique story and subsequent friendship between Lt Charles “Charlie” Brown and German ace Franz Stigler. Very heart warming indeed.
      Stories like these uplift us all with great hopes that – god forbid – if we ever enter another war, we give full play to our better human attributes.
      Trust your weekend had been good,
      Eric

  5. I feel that this resonates a bit with your earlier post “Flourishing Cemeteries”. Men were sent , be it war, intel or any dangerous mission. Out there they fend for themselves. Come back alive with job done, you are a hero. Die and quite often all connections denied. Each serve a different master but no fued against each other.

    I like the writing tip you gave, Eric. Your post depicts all.

    1. Hello Windy,
      You are quite right. And often, the ordinary joe gets no more than a footnote, if at all.
      Have a great week ahead,
      Eric.
      P/s Oh, and thank you for that plug re writing tip 🙂

    1. Thank you, Ina, for reading and for your kind comment. Trust your weekend has been great.

      Yes, most combatants who ‘been there, done that’ – are glad to make peace, I reckon.

      All good wishes,
      Eric

  6. Love it. A prime example of war is only in the minds of the politicians. The soldiers caught in the middle and under other circumstances become friends.

    1. War is always brutal but you are right – in the old days, at least there were wisps of chivalrous conduct.

      In the Hindu epic, the Mahabharata which culminates in the Kurushestra War, the rules of good conduct were plenty. One of the rules – combat ceases at sunset and enemy combatants were free to visit and socialize with one another. Difficult to visualize this but in ancient India this was the norm – before someone decided a stab in the back can turn the tides.

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