The Prisoner of War (Chapter Two)

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: War and Military  |  House: Booksie Classic
Savage stops his car to help at an accident involving a truck carrying German POWs and their British guards, and comes face to face with Sergeant Müller, the sergeant of the German patrol that captured him after he had been shot down the previous year. Müller is injured and Savage takes him back to the base hospital for treatment. A strange relationship develops between the two as he prepares for an important mission.

Submitted: October 14, 2015

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Submitted: October 14, 2015

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THE PRISONER OF WAR

(Continued)

 

Chapter Two

WEEK ONE, Wednesday, Zero Four Hundred

It looked like rain as Harvey Stovall approached Headquarters the next morning.  He had come in a little early, as he always did, when there was a mission to be flown.  As he entered his office, he saw a light under General Savage's door.

Knocking, he called, "General?"

"Yes.  Come in, Harvey."

"Have you been here all night?"Stovall asked, entering.

Looking up, Savage said,  "No.  I wanted to get an early start on some of this stuff" .... indicating his in-basket... "before the mission briefing."

Seeing Savage's face, Stovall almost laughed.  "God, Frank.  You look like you just went ten rounds with Joe Louis!"

"I know, I know...."  he said.  Much of the right side of his face was red and raw and what wasn't, was purple and black from bruising.... and he had a beauty of a shiner.

Stovall covered his mouth with his hand, trying to smother a laugh, AND Savage threatened, "Harvey, if you laugh......"

But Stovall couldn't help it and started to chuckle. "Sorry, sir."Then as he contained himself, "Does it hurt much?"

"My dignity more than anything else."

Then the phone rang.  Stovall answered it, listened for a minute, then said, "OK, I'll tell him."  and hung up.

"That was, Pinetree, sir.  Today's mission has been scrubbed.... primary and alternate. Weather's socked in over the continent, and they don't expect it to clear for another seventy-two hours.  We're to stand down until notified." 

"OK...  Better notify Joe Cobb, and the Duty Officer.  No point in getting the crews up any earlier than they have to, and let the ones already up, enjoy their breakfasts....  the mess hall is serving real eggs today." 

"......Speaking of which, I haven't had any breakfast yet, and come to think of it, I didn't have much to eat yesterday.  Some real eggs sounds good.  Come on, Harvey.  I'll treat.

*  *  *  *

Karl Müller's eyes snapped open. He was suddenly wide awake and alert, but disoriented; he didn't know where he was.  Somebody had taken hold of his wrist, and he instinctively pulled it back.  Then his mind focused, and he remembered he was in the American hospital.  Looking up, he saw a medical orderly standing back away from the bed.

"Hey, fella, take it easy."  the startled orderly said.  "I was just trying to take your pulse.  I've got to record your 'vitals'."

"Es tut mir leid .... I am sorry,"  Müller apologized.  "I did not know where I was for a moment.  Please continue with what you need to do."

While the orderly took his pulse and blood pressure, Müller saw his guard, Sergeant Douglas, sitting on his bed and watching him from across the room.  "Good morning, Sergeant."

Douglas nodded, but said nothing.  He just continued to watch the German as the orderly finished writing on his chart.

"Fred will bring your breakfast trays in shortly."  the orderly said, .... then to Müller, "and you're scheduled for x-rays at zero eight hundred (eight o'clock)."He hung the chart at the foot of Müller's bed and started to leave, then stopped at the door, turned and asked, "Are you really the German who captured General Savage?"

"I was there, yes."

"Damn!"he said, clearly impressed, then left.

 

As soon as the orderly was out the door, Douglas spoke up,  "I have to know.... Why'd you pull me out of the cab?  We're enemies, you and me.  Why'd you do it?"

"Sergeant, when I was a soldier, you were my enemy, and it might have been my duty then to let you die.  But now I am a soldier in name only; a prisoner of war.  You needed help, and I gave it.  It is as simple as that."

Douglas continued to stare at Müller for a moment, then nodded, as if he had come to a decision, and said, "I guess I can accept that."

Then he stood and walked over to Müller's bed, "Thank you for saving my life."He held out his hand to Müller, who looked at him hesitantly for a second, then held his hand out too, and they shook.

Müller said, "We cannot go on calling each other 'sergeant', Sergeant.  I am Karl Müller; you may call me 'Karl' or 'Müller', as you please."

"I suppose you're right, but first names could be considered 'fraternizing'.  Colonel Smythe would have my stripes.  'Müller' would be safer."  Smiling for the first time, he said,  "I'm Bill Douglas. You can call me 'Douglas'."

Pulling one of the chairs from the table over to the side of the bed with his good arm, Douglas sat down and said, "Back at the Camp, I overheard you say you were wounded at Arras in '40......  You were there in May?  During the counterattack?"

"Yes." replied Müller. "I was with an infantry regiment supporting General Rommel's 7th Panzer.  We were assigned to stop the British advance across the Baumetz railway.  It was there I was wounded by one of your 'Mills' grenades....here,"  pointing to the scar on his left temple... "I still have fragments in my head."

"You were there also."It was a statement, not a question.

Douglas nodded, "Durham Light Infantry with the 6th Battalion; I was with the left column advancing across that railway you were defending.....  I could very well have been the one"he chuckled, "that threw that grenade."

"Well, if you were, your aim was poor, for I am still alive."  Müller countered, also laughing.

Then more serious, he shook his head and said, "It was a hard fought and determined attack; many good men died, on both sides. I heard later in the hospital that General Rommel believed he was attacked by five Divisions, not two.  You 'Tommies' were driven back, but the attack stopped our advance for several days, and gave your British Expeditionary Forces time to escape to Dunkirk."

"Yes, I suppose if you look at it like that, it was a success. Our mob were some of the last to get out at Dunkirk.... but it bloody well felt like defeat at the time."

"Perhaps while we are here,"  Muller offered, looking Douglas in the eye, "we could just be two soldiers in hospital." 

Before Douglas could respond, the door was opened by the MP stationed outside, allowing Orderly Fred Freyberg to enter with his cart of breakfast trays.

"Wakey, wakey! Zero seven hundred (seven o'clock)," he announced. "Time for Breakfast."  He set Müller's tray on his tray table, pushed it over the bed, then adjusted the height. "Enjoy your breakfast."

"Where would you like yours, Bill?"

"The table will due, Private.  Thank you."'Cheeky bugger',  he thought, 'He was taking liberties; he'd only met the man once'.  He didn't know if he could get used to this Yank informality. 

Seeming not to notice, or mind, the British sergeant's standoffishness, Fred set the tray on the table, then reached down to the lower shelf of the cart and came back up with a stack of magazines and books and set them on the table too.  "Present for you from Jack Dunn."

Surprised, Douglas quickly sorted through the pile: there were several copies of Time Magazine, and Life, and Reader's Digest; Stars & Stripes newspapers; and two packs of playing cards.  That broke the ice, "Thanks, mate!  And thank Jack too!"

*  *  *  *

After breakfast, Savage and Stovall returned to Headquarters to find Major Joe Cobb waiting in the outer office.

Cobb was one of his squadron commanders, the best one.  He was young like all of his air crews, but he was an exceptional pilot, had good judgment, and was a natural leader.  Cobb had run air operations while he had been laid up in the hospital, and he had been considering promoting him to Air Exec.  He had lost his last one, Major Jim Peterson, on the same mission he was wounded and hadn't got around to replacing him.

"Morning, General, ...Harvey."  If Cobb noticed the damage to the General's face, and it was hard to miss, he didn't let on.

"Morning, Joe."Savage said as he walked into his inner office.  "Come on in.  What do you need?"

"Well, since we are standing down today, sir, I thought you might want to go over your meeting with the 112th yesterday."

"I do, Joe, and will, but not this morning.  I need to clear my desk first."

Checking the time, he thought for a moment, then said.  "Harvey, notify all Squadron Commanders there will be a meeting in my office at thirteen hundred (one o'clock) to go over the Bodwell meeting.  You will attend as well."

"Yes, sir."

"That work for you, Joe?"

"Certainly, sir."

"Alright then.... Now if you gentlemen will clear out of here, I have a small mountain of paperwork to get through."

As they left, Savage said, "Harvey, close the door behind you.  I don't want to be disturbed for a while."

For the next couple of hours Savage ploughed his way through his in-basket. This was the part of command that he hated.  He was a pilot, a 'stick and rudder' man, not a paper pusher, but it came with the job. 

He had already written a concise report on his meeting yesterday for General Prichard, at 8th Air Force Headquarters.  Now came the endless reports to Air Staff, Officer Evaluations, requests to Marry an English Civilian, requests to Air Staff for more men, more aircraft, more medical personnel, more support personnel, more everything....in triplicate. 

He didn't mind the Recommendations for Decoration.  They were always a pleasure, especially one he had written very recently for the award of the Medal of Honor for a young bombardier, who after Savage had been wounded on that last mission, had brought their badly shot up plane and crew back home. 

The ones he dreaded, however, were the letters to the 'next of kin'.  Harvey would write a draft, but he reviewed every one to make them more personal, not just a form letter......  a little of his time was the least he give for the grieving families of those sons, and fathers, and husbands, and brothers, who weren't coming home.

 

He had just finished the last 'request', when Stovall called over the intercom, "I know you didn't want to be disturbed, General, but Doc Kaiser is on the phone and would like to talk to you.  He says it's important."

"That's OK, Harvey.  I'll take it."

Picking up the phone, "Morning, Doc.  What can I do for you?"

"Good Morning, General.  How's the head today?"

"Still aches a little, but it's not too bad."

"That's good.....  I have the results of Sergeant Müller's x-rays, and I'd like to discuss them with you, if you have the time."

"Sure thing, Doc.  I was coming over to see how Corporal Ross was doing anyway.  About thirty minutes?"

"That'll be fine.  Thank you, sir."

Savage finished the report, then gathered up the pile of paperwork and took it out to Stovall. "Here you go, Major."  he said as he dumped the stack of correspondence on his desk.  "It's all yours.  I'm going over to the hospital to see how Ross is doing and see Kaiser.  I shouldn't be gone too long.  Try not to fill up that basket while I'm gone."

Then he thought for a moment and coming to a decision, "and  Harvey, cut orders assigning Major Cobb as Air Exec... effective immediately.  He's been doing the job; he might as well have the title."

"Yes, sir."

*  *  *  *

Walking over to the hospital, Savage looked up.  The sky was overcast, and threatening rain; it looked like it was going to get wet here too, and soon.  Wearing just his uniform shirt and tie, he made a mental note to call Supply and order a new Flight Jacket to replace his damaged one.

Entering the hospital, he went directly to the Burn Ward.  As he pushed through the doors, he quickly located Ross's bed.  Making his way across the room, he paused at the beds of the other patients and chatted briefly with each.  When he finally arrived at Ross's bed, a nurse had just begun to change his bandages.  She stood to acknowledge his presence. 

"As you were, Nurse.  Could I speak with the Corporal for a minute?"

"Of course, sir.  I can come back...."

"No, that's alright; carry on."

As she continued to apply the new bandages, Ross looked at the General and said, "Gee, sir, that 'road rash' did a number on your face."

"Corporal!  That's no way to speak to the General!"  exclaimed the Nurse.

"That's all right, Nurse.  I'm getting used to it.......How are the hands, Corporal?"

"Not too bad, sir.  A little tender right now, but I've been hurt worse racing cars back home.  Doc Kaiser says I'll be back driving in a couple of weeks.  Said there might not be too much scaring either."

"That's good.......About that accident, Ross."  Savage said jokingly, "I thought you said you wanted to fight the Germans, not save one of them and get yourself burned in the process."

"Well, sir, it happened so fast, I didn't have time to think about it.  I was scared silly, but I couldn't let that man burn to death..... even if he was a German."

Savage was serious now, "That's what being a 'man' is all about, Ernie, knowing what's right and being willing to act on your convictions....even though you're 'scared silly'.  You should be proud of what you did; it was a brave and compassionate thing to do."

Ross was embarrassed with this praise, his face reddened and he lowered his eyes to stare at his hands, but Savage continued with what he had to say.

"You also recovered my briefcase, and guarded it.  That was quick thinking...... Thank you." 

He chatted with Ross for a few more minutes, then running out of things to say, and checking his watch, said, "Well, I've got to get going, I just wanted to see how you were doing."

He started to leave, then turned to the waiting nurse, "Take good care of the 'Sergeant' here, Nurse.  I'd like my driver back as soon as possible."

As Savage headed back toward the door, Ross said, "He called me 'Sergeant'.  Do you think he meant it?"

The nurse looked at him and said, "I don't think General Savage has ever said ANYTHING he didn't mean......SERGEANT."
"Sergeant."  Ross said smiling. 

 

Savage knocked on Doc Kaiser's door, then entered.  Kaiser was at his desk, and as the General entered, stood, then seeing Savage's face, laughed,  "They say no good deed goes unpunished, General, but....  God, you look awful."

He walked around his desk and began to examine Savage's face, gently probing the raw areas.  "Does it hurt as bad as it looks?"

"I would have expected something a little more professional than 'God, you look awful  from a doctor, Doc."  he said with a wincing grin as Kaiser continued to probe.  "It doesn't hurt too much, except when I laugh, but it's a bitch to shave around."

"Well, the abrasions are superficial. It should heal in a few days. I'll give you some antibiotic ointment.  Just keep it clean and moist.... and don't try to shave that area.  I don't think there'll be any scarring.  But I'm afraid the bruising will have to run its course....I'd say about two weeks."

"Oh, great.  Remind me to keep driving the next time.... just kidding.Now, what's the story with Müller's x-rays?"

 

Kaiser had the x-rays already set up for viewing and switched on the backlight.  The films showed several views of the skull, and he pointed out three metallic fragments of varying size toward the bottom left of the skull on one of the side views. 

Pointing to a dark spot on the same film, Kaiser said, "The original injury was here in the left Temporal lobe.  But over time, the fragments have migrated.... see the dark trail of necrotic tissue," ....tracing the path with his finger... "and now the fragments are located here," ...pointing... "near the base of his brain, in the cerebellum.  This is the area that controls motor movement, coordination, equilibrium.....  I'm surprised Müller hasn't had more problems than just headaches."

"The blow to his head yesterday, appears to have shifted one of the fragments, the biggest, very close to the cerebellum wall adjacent to the brain stem. You can see it's a very recent move as there's no trail; there hasn't been enough time for cell necrosis." 

"I believe the fragments can be removed, but it needs to be done soon.  If that one fragment shifts again, and enters the brain stem.... well, best case could be paralysis, but typically, damage to the brain stem is fatal.I'm afraid, Sergeant Müller has a time bomb in his head, just waiting to go off."

"Is there anything you can do?"  Savage asked.

"This is way above my surgical skill.  I've called an Army neurosurgeon I know, Doctor Phillip Hays, for consultation.  He's currently on temporary assignment with the Royal Army Medical Corps at the Military Hospital at St. Hugh's College, in Oxford.  It's a hospital established specifically to train surgeons in the treatment of head trauma.  I talked to him this morning and outlined the case.  He's very interested and said he'd try to get down this afternoon; failing that, it would be first thing tomorrow morning."

"Have you told Müller any of this?"

"Not yet.  I wanted to wait until Doctor Hays has had a chance to review his x-rays and examine him.  I didn't want to tell him we could operate, and get his hopes up, and then have Hays find that it's not operable.  Or that it's operable, but with an unacceptably high risk of paralysis or death."

"Müller is an old soldier, Doc; he can take whatever you tell him.....  If it were me, I'd want to know everything."

Kaiser thought for a moment, "Maybe you're right, General..... and I suppose there's no time like the present."

"Would you like me to come with you?"

"If you wouldn't mind.  I think it might be easier on him if there was a familiar face in the room."

"All right, but give me a few minutes with him before you come in."

*  *  *  *

Muller's room was at the end of the hall in a quiet wing, one of those reserved for the critically wounded or terminal.  Savage was intimately familiar with that room, he had recently spent several weeks there himself.

As he approached the door, the MP sitting outside stood to attention and saluted.  Savage returned his salute, "Good Morning, Private." 

The man's eyes widened a little as he saw the General's ruined face, but to his credit that was the only indication he gave, and he merely replied.  "Good Morning, sir."

"You're one of Major Henderson's people?  What's your schedule?"

"Yes, sir.  Private Wilson, sir, Ronald T.  Our schedule is six men rotating on four hour shifts."

Savage nodded approval. "You've met Sergeant Douglas, and he's explained about the patient, Sergeant Müller?"

"Yes, sir.  Except for medical personnel, and yourself, of course, sir, we're to check with  him before admitting anyone," ..... then with a little grin, finished, "and we all know about Sergeant Müller.... sir"

'Thank God, this wasn't supposed to be a secret',  Savage thought to himself.  'Nothing spreads faster around here than a good story, and right now, I guess, Müller and I are it'.

 

Knocking on the door, Savage entered the room, and found Müller and Douglas sitting at the table talking.Seeing the General, they both stood; Douglas to a rigid attention. 

"As you were.  How are you feeling today, Sergeant?"

"I am well, thank you, sir.  The Herr Doktor's pills are much better than my aspirin.... they take away all pain." 

There was a slight pause, then, "But... I think, Herr General, perhaps it is I who should ask that question of you.  You looked better when we first met."  Muller had said this with a perfectly straight face, but a slight upward turn at the corners of his mouth and a humorous twinkle in his eye gave him away. 

"I'll have to take your word on that, Sergeant."  Savage laughed. "I was a little distracted at the time."

Turning to Sergeant Douglas, "and how are you two getting along?"

Douglas had been at 'parade rest', standing quietly to the side while this unusual exchange went on between the General and Müller, but now in response, he came to attention again, and said, "I believe the Sergeant and I have come to an understanding, sir.... one soldier to another."

"Good."

"May I take this opportunity, sir, to thank the General for his part in saving my life?"

"Not necessary, Sergeant.  I'm sure you would have done the same had the situation been reversed."

Before either of them could say anything further, there was a knock on the door, and Doctor Kaiser entered. 

"Good morning."  Kaiser said to the room, then to Müller,  "I have the results of your x-rays, Sergeant, and I'd like to discuss them with you."

"I'll wait outside, sir."  Douglas said and started to leave.

But Müller stopped him, "No. It is all right.  I would like you to stay.  You also, Herr General."

 

During the next half hour, Kaiser explained to Müller everything he had found....he told him of the metal fragments he had seen on the x-rays, how they had shifted, and the danger they now presented.  He also told him that another doctor, a specialist, would examine him today or tomorrow, to determine if the fragments could be removed...and what the risks were.

Müller had asked questions as Kaiser talked and nodded at the replies.  When Kaiser was done, he asked, "and if I do nothing?"

"You'll go on as before having headaches, possibly more frequent or severe; but sooner or later - sooner if there is another blow to your head - the fragments will enter the brain stem, and the result will be the same...... paralysis or death."

"If I survive the operation, there will be no more headaches?"

"I can't promise that, but more than likely, no; no more headaches."

"I would like not to have the headaches."Müller thought for a moment, then,  "I think I will choose the operation, but I will listen first to what your specialist has to say, then decide."

Kaiser was impressed both with Müller's command of English as well as his understanding of his medical condition.  "Sergeant you have a very good understanding of English, may I asked how you acquired it?" 

"In the 'gymnasium', sir.... the equivalent of your 'high school'.  One modern language was required; I chose English.  I was a few months from graduation when I was conscripted into the Imperial Army.But I have had many opportunities over the years to practice and improve on what I had learned.  It has served me well many times.... including now."

"High school English,"  Kaiser laughed as he headed for the door. "Well, why not...... Try to get some rest, Sergeant,.... and General, please stop by my office on your way out."

 

Savage remained after Kaiser left.  He pulled a chair over from the table and sat down by the side of the bed.  Sergeant Douglas, forgotten, sat quietly on the edge of his bed and listened.

"Are you comfortable with this, Sergeant?  You're not being pressured by what the doctors want."

"I am my own man, Herr General, and I am content with my decision.  I have fought in more battles than I can remember; each time I should have died, but I survived.  If it is meant to be, I will survive again; if not, perhaps it is my time."

Savage shook his head, "A pragmatist and a philosopher....I never would have guessed."  He paused for a moment, then asked, "I know you said you had no family left, but is there anyone you would like notified, if....."

"No family in Germany, Herr General." Müller corrected. "I have, perhaps, a younger sister.....in America.  My two brothers were killed in the last war, and my parents died in an automobile accident in 1929.  I was able to remain in the Army, and with no one left at home, and no reason to stay, my little sister, Anna Lisa, emigrated later that year.  She was only nineteen. 

I have heard from her only two times since then.  I received a Postkarte saying she had arrived safely, and she was being sent to a place called Nebraska .... Gretna, Nebraska.  Then, in 1933, I received a letter.  She said she had married a good German-American boy named Walter Stossel, a farmer, and they had a daughter, Anna Marie, named after our mother.  She said she was happy.  I wrote a few times, but I do not know if she received my letters, as I never heard back.  After a while, I just stopped writing."

"If you would like,"  Savage offered, "I could try to locate her and let her know you are a Prisoner of War and in England."

"Yes,"  he said brightening. "I would like that very much.  Thank you, sir."

 

Savage took a pencil and piece of paper from his shirt pocket and jotted down a few notes.... names, dates and places, that would help locate Müller's sister.Then putting the paper in his pocket, Savage turned to Müller and asked the question that had puzzled him from the first time they had met,

"Müller, when I was your.... 'guest', you were the chief obstacle in any attempt to escape, so I studied you.  You were clearly an experienced career soldier, and I couldn't help but wonder what you were doing there, in a quiet backwater of France, chasing downed flyers with a company of ... what did you call them ... 'children who still thought of war as an adventure'?"

"That is a good question, Herr General.  I often wondered that myself."  He paused for a moment, looking for the right words.........

"After I was wounded at Arras, I was sent to a hospital in Germany; then later to a convalescent hospital near Darmstadt.  When I was finally released, I was considered 'unfit for further combat'  and assigned to the garrison of a nearby Infantry Regiment while I awaited orders.

I had not been home for any length since 1938, and I found my country had changed..... at least in Darmstadt."

"There had always been discrimination against the Jews, sir, still we got along.  But when Hitler came to power, laws were passed.... they were banned from many professions, prohibited them from marrying outside their race, their citizenship revoked.  Even so, I had never seen organized violence against them.  Not until Darmstadt ...."

Muller paused for a moment, and Savage could see the sadness on his face as he began to recount what he had seen.

"I saw things, Herr General, bad things that made me ashamed to be a German.  Jews - even little children - forced to wear 'yellow stars' on their clothes.  I saw these people harassed, humiliated, beaten and even killed, and not just by the Gestapo and Polizei, but by the 'good people' of Darmstadt.And it was not just Jews that were treated so; anyone who disagreed with 'Der Fuhrer's' policies was arrested for no reason or disappeared in the night.  I saw much more, sir, almost beyond belief,.... and no one spoke out against any of this. 

I reported things I had seen to my superior officers, but I was told it was not a 'military matter', that they were 'subversives', enemies of the state, and to leave it to the civil authorities.  I was ordered to stay out of it."

"But you didn't....."  Savage said softly.

"No, sir.  The next... the last time, I went into the city,  a group of Hitler Jugend - just boys - were beating an old man with the yellow star on his coat.  I ran them off, and helped the man up, but he was terrified.... even of me.  I had never felt so ashamed... or so angry."

Müller's eyes were moist, and as he wiped the tears away, he went on, his tears replaced by anger.  "I had barely returned to my quarters, before I was summoned by the Garrison Commander and placed on a charge.  I had been reported by the Hitler Jugend for 'interfering' with their 'questioning' of a subversive.  Within the week, I had been tried by a 'People's Court', and pronounced 'politically unreliable'.  I was stripped of my rank, and sentenced to a labor camp for 're-education'.  My military record - over twenty-five years service - meant nothing."

Then Müller quietly laughed to himself, as he continued. "But then came my reprieve.  Two days before I was to be sent to the labor camp, I was visited in my cell by Generalleutnant (Lieutenant General) Steiner, commander of the regiment."

"The Herr Generalleutnant said he had just reviewed my case.  He disagreed with the outcome and would overturn my sentence.  He could not restore me to my former rank, he said, but he would make me up to Sergeant again.  All he asked was that I accept a posting to an infantry company in occupied France......  There was no question, of course.  I immediately accepted."

"What do you mean 'former rank'?"  Savage interrupted. "What rank were you?"

Müller drew himself up a little straighter, answering proudly, "I was Hauptfeldwebel, Herr General.... Sergeant Major." 

Savage nodded, "Yes, I can believe that."

Müller then grinned at Savage, saying, "You will appreciate this, sir...... This company was commanded by a new young Leutnant named...." 

"Kurt Steiner."Savage finished for him and again nodding his head.  "The General's son?"

"Yes, sir.  The Herr Generalleutnant hoped I could toughen the boy and teach him the things he needed to know to become a good officer and to survive the war.  The following day I was given new orders and released."

"Young Steiner had just received his commission, and was fresh from the Infanterietruppenschule ... the school for Infantry Officers.  Like all young officers,"  he said smiling at Savage "He was green as grass and full of himself.But he had a good head on his shoulders, and he was willing to listen and take advice." 

"He learned fast, and the only time we were under fire, he behaved well; I was not ashamed of him.  I had been with him for almost a year when you became our.... 'guest'."Pausing for a moment, he said,  "He will be a good officer.... I hope he survives to see the end of this war."

"I'm sorry, Müller, to bring that all back up."

"It is all right, sir.  It is always with me.  It is not something you forget."

Before Müller could say anything further, the door opened admitting a nurse, "I'm sorry, sir, but it's time for the patient's medication, and I need to take his 'vitals'.  I won't be a minute."

"That's alright, Nurse.  I was just leaving."

 

Sergeant Douglas followed the General out of the room.  Once outside, "He's had more than his fair share, hasn't he, sir.  I mean, I know he's the enemy and all, but the more I'm around him, the more I respect him."

"A good man is a good man regardless of the uniform he wears, Sergeant.  But it's best not to get too close; this war is hard enough without getting to know the man you might have to kill."

"Yes, sir.  Still, when I get back to camp, I don't think I can look at the prisoners the same as I did before.  They're still the enemy, and I know my duty, but many of them are like Müller, tired of a war they didn't start and don't support.  A lot of them are just like us; they just want the 'bloody' thing to be over."

"Don't we all, Sergeant.  Don't we all."

*  *  *  *

It was noon by the time Savage left the hospital and headed back across to the Headquarters. The rain he'd expected had started, and fog was settling in.  By the time he got to his office, he was soaked to the skin.  Slapping his wet hat against his leg to beat off the water, Savage found Harvey Stovall just turning away from the window where he had been watching the General's progress.

"I didn't know you could move that fast, General."

"For all the good it did me.  I'm soaked."

Knowing his jacket had been ruined the day of the accident, Stovall offered, "Perhaps you should have worn your jacket today, sir."

Savage gave Stovall a withering glare, then began to laugh, "OK, Harvey, you win."Then, as he headed into his inner office where he kept a spare uniform shirt for emergencies. "No visitors for a while; I want to change into something dry." 

Returning to Stovall's outer office a few minutes later, "That's better.  But I need to call over to Base Supply and see about a new Flight jacket."

"Not necessary, General.  While you were at the hospital, I took the liberty of ordering you another Jacket.  Supply had your size in stock, will deliver it this afternoon after they sew on your rank and insignia."

"Thanks, Harvey.  I meant to do it; I just haven't had the time."

"Also, while I'm thinking of it, type up promotion orders for Corporal Ross to Sergeant.  Then, draft a Recommendation for Decoration..... the Soldier's Medal.  You know the language.... act of heroism, saving a life, voluntary risk of life under conditions not involving an armed enemy.... I'll fill in the details later."

"Right away, sir..... and if you don't mind my asking, how is Sergeant Müller?"

"It's not looking good, Harvey.  Kaiser showed me the x-rays.  Müller has three grenade fragments in his head.  They've moved over the years, and they're in a location now where if they move again, Kaiser says, it'll probably paralyze or kill him.  He says Müller needs an operation, and he's called in a specialist."

Heading back into his office, Savage called over his shoulder, "Ask Major Henderson to come by, will you, Harvey?"

He settled into his chair, drew a piece of paper from his drawer and began to write.  It took a while to find the right words for what he wanted to say, but when he finished, he was satisfied. He folded the paper and put it in an envelope, addressed it to 'Anna Stossel, Gretna, Nebraska', and sealed it.

Then Stovall called over the intercom, "Major Henderson is here, General."

"Thank you, Major.  Send him in." 

Henderson entered the office, and saluted. "Good afternoon, General.  You wanted to see me?"

Returning the salute, Savage motioned for him to take a seat, "Don, I have a task for you..... a personal request.'He hesitated a moment, then charged ahead.  "There is someone I would like you to track down for me."

Savage spent the next twenty minutes summarizing the situation regarding Müller and his sister and providing all the information he had.  Then he handed him the sealed envelope, "Also, I would like you to send this the fastest means possible to be hand delivered at its destination.  If there is a reply, the person delivering it, should wait for it."

When he was finished, Henderson said, "I don't think it will be a problem, General.  I'm originally from Omaha, and I'm very familiar with Gretna, and the farming community there.  The basic information should be relatively easy.  There's probably already a file on them because of their German ancestry."

"As for the letter....There is a B-17 training base, Lincoln Army Airfield, near Omaha; I send and receive mail through them all the time. It's just a matter of checking the schedule for the diplomatic mail flights, but there's usually one going every couple of days. 

And under the circumstances, sir, I think it would be best to send this to my folks, and ask them to deliver it; I'm sure they wouldn't mind.  It shouldn't be hard to find the Stossel family in Gretna, it's a small community.  Also, it might upset Mrs. Stossel unnecessarily if an official Army car came driving up to her door.  With a little luck, I should be able to get you what you're looking for in less than a week."

"Thank you, Don.  I appreciate your assistance." 

Henderson started to leave, then hesitated, "May I make a personal comment, sir?"

"Go ahead."

"This is a little outside the norm, sir, to say the least,...."

"Major, if you'd rather not....."  Savage started to say, but Henderson went on.

"No, sir.  Excuse me.  That's not it.  What I'm trying to say is.... I had an uncle in the Marines in the First War; I was named after him.  He was killed at Belleau Wood.  He went into the woods, but didn't come out, and they never found his body.  He has a grave and a cross in the cemetery there, but there's no body.  My mother and grandparents grieved for years not knowing what happened to him.  If I can help some other family find an answer, then I don't have a problem bending the rules a little."

Having said his piece, Henderson saluted, and left.

 

After Henderson had gone, Savage turned in his chair to stare at the rain out his window.  'Don't get involved..... that was great advice, I gave Sergeant Douglas',  he thought to himself. 'So why can't I follow it.....  What am I doing trying to track down Müller's sister?  What is it about Müller that makes me want to get so involved with the man?'

Then the intercom buzzed, "Yes, Harvey, what is it?"

"Everyone's here for your meeting, General."

"OK, Thank you.  Send them in." 

 

TO BE CONTINUED

 


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