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The Finger of Fate

Steve Krysko

    Steve Krysko is a veteran of the 712th Tank Battalion. When I arrived to interview him for "Tanks for the Memories," he handed me a story he had written, and said that talking about his experiences would be too painful. Here is his story, a portion of which appears in "Tanks for the Memories."

©1998, 2008 Steve Krysko

     I was one of the last three draftees whose name was placed on A Company's initial roster.

    After almost a two-day train ride from Bridgeport, Connecticut, we arrived at Fort Benning, Georgia, on a rainy night a few days before Christmas 1942.

    We were double-timed from train to trucks, taken to the camp, herded into an area amid some barracks, and stood in the rain while an officer gave us a welcome speech.

    What followed was a calling out of names for assignments to the various companies.

    I and two others – Isadore McCarthy and Ed Pilz – were escorted to one of A Company's barracks. It was around 11 p.m.

    When we entered, lights were turned on and the curious sat up to see why. Someone asked, "Where are you from?"

    McCarthy didn’t say anything. Pilz replied that he was from Rhode Island, and I muttered, "Pennsylvania." There were a couple of "yeas" and some groans.

    I asked, "What kind of an outfit is this?" When I was told that it was a tank company, I asked, "What’s that?"

    This is not what I had expected. I had assumed that placement would be determined by my induction records and I’d be assigned to an office job; not one involving vehicles and mechanics. The three of us were told where we were to sleep that night – three cots lined up between two rows of beds – about ten in each row – along the side walls.

    Later, in combat, I would find out that there would be times when even weekly bathing – let alone a daily shower – would be a seldom-found luxury. The shower room was more than that – it was an open bathroom: sinks, urinals, crappers and showers; no doors. As I showered, I wondered what was in store for me; what the hell does one do in a tank company?

    The next day, I saw an armored tank for the first time – an awesome, monstrous hunk of metal; a vehicle that later, in combat, I would dub "a moving coffin."

    I was introduced into the lifestyle of a tanker – a social order which, in all my 21 years, I had never imagined existed. Most of the company was comprised of draftees; our cadre of sergeants/instructors were ex-cavalrymen who, like their wards, were from different states and of diverse personalities.

    The sergeants foremost in mind at the onset of this strange, new lifestyle were: Jule Braatz – rough, tough-looking exterior; warmhearted interior. Bob Hagerty – tall, slender, soft-spoken, and an obvious man of letters. His buddy Morse Johnson was also tall, slender and educated but, unlike Hagerty, outspoken. He never was at a loss for words, and had he not been in the Army, I’m sure that Johnson would have been a damn good politician.

    There was Reuben Goldstein – even though in his 20s – a father figure who always had time to listen to one’s problems and give advice. And robust George Bussell – a top tank mechanic who wore a perpetual smile. He was a fun-loving jokester whose behavior was more that of a recruit than a noncom.

    Then there was Charles Fowler. Not only was he a model of superb physical stature, he also was the personification of "Army rules and regulations" in his walk, talk, actions and attire. Fowler was a living example of an Uncle Sam "I Want You" poster soldier – a paragon of a military career man.

    Sergeant Fowler did not take to me kindly. I was his antithesis, a cocky, somewhat incorrigible neophyte who was not yet conditioned to the military servitude that basic training was designed to accomplish. Understandably, my pre-Army life was akin to that of a bohemian. Capsulizing it, at age 17, after graduating from high school, I left Scranton, my hometown, where already I had been a freewheeling youth, and knocked around New York City for a couple of years. I worked off and on at menial jobs; sleeping in subway stations and bus depots when funds were low, and schooled in "street smarts" – as hip as a teenager could be in the early 1940s, which pales in comparison with today’s breed of gamins.

    Bridgeport had become a booming industrial center for military hardware; so, in mid-1941, I packed my meager belongings in a shopping bag and took off for that workers’ mecca. My ace in the hole was the Bridgeport address of a high school friend, Jerry, who was working in a munitions plant, and had written to me about the city whose streets were "lined with job applications."

    I stayed with Jerry, sharing his two rented rooms along with two other men and a woman. Jobs were a dime a dozen; living quarters virtually impossible to find at any price.

    I lucked out and was hired as an inspector of Corsair airplane parts in the shipping department of Chance-Vought-Sikorsky, solely on my telling an interviewer that I was proficient in reading blueprints – a half-truth based on having had a class in drafting when in high school.

    By 1942, I was earning more than $150 a week – ten times that of the restaurant job I abandoned in New York City. I was in seventh heaven until my draft number came up. Army life was a bitter pill for me to swallow after having gotten used to living "high on the hog."

    Whenever possible, Fowler – always within his sergeancy right – assigned extra duties to me; usually on a Saturday so as to screw me out of a weekend pass to town. I had extra kitchen duties and policed the grounds around A Company’s barracks and motor pool.

    Contrary to its implied meaning, "policing" an area involved picking up scraps of paper and cigarette butts; the latter required field stripping – an asinine chore of tearing open the paper, scattering the tobacco to the wind, and rolling the paper into a tight wad before disposing of it.

    When we were on maneuvers, I was detailed to dig latrines, work in the field kitchen and police the area. One hot afternoon, I was part of a group of tankers who were going to be trucked to a nearby creek for a two-hour break and bathing. The truck had not yet pulled out of the area and I saw someone talking with Fowler. "Krysko! Where’s Krysko?" Fowler shouted, knowing damn well that I was in the back of the truck. He told me that I was to be battalion runner for the company and to report to battalion headquarters at six that evening. Weeks of basic training had conditioned me to obey orders in silence, but the street kid still lingering inside me shouted an unvoiced, "Fuck you, Fowler!"

    Before the break was over, I wandered around a bend in the creek, thinking of a way for me to get out of being battalion runner. I found the answer in an old tin can. I twisted off its lid, pounded it, with a rock, into a crude arrowhead; then sat on the bank, rested my right foot on my left knee, and wham! I rammed the arrowhead into the sole of my foot. Damn! The skin on the soles of one’s feet is tough! In order to make a respectable-looking gash, I had to ram harder and a couple times more. On the way back to A Company’s encampment, I asked the driver to drop me off at the field medics.

    According to a medic, the injury needed a Band-Aid only, but according to me and my "fear of infection," it required a bandaged foot. I limped into A Company’s area around 6:45, got my mess kit, and was on my way to the field kitchen – even though it probably was closed at that time – to see if I could get something to eat.


    The strident voice of Fowler hurt my ears. "You were to report to battalion headquarters at 6 … I had to send Kochin in your place … get over there and relieve him." Before I could say anything, I heard another voice and turned to see a lieutenant, who happened upon the scene, ask Fowler what was the matter. Caught off guard, Fowler hesitated long enough for me to seize the opportunity to usurp his rank and pathetically explain my plight to the lieutenant – adding that I had not yet had anything to eat. The lieutenant’s reprimanding remarks stunned Fowler, as he was told that he should know better than to send a soldier with a foot injury to be a runner. Mr. Military had committed a military blunder. Uh, oh! I knew then and there that that inevitable black mark on Fowler’s impeccable military record was reason enough for him to put my name in the top ten slots of his shit list. I had to be careful not to rub him the wrong way in the future.

    Regardless, no matter how cautious I was, there were forces beyond my control. Shortly after we returned to our barracks, Fowler told me to report to battalion headquarters. He gave no reason, and I thought I detected a subtle smile as he spoke but dismissed it as a figment of my imagination. When I arrived at battalion HQ, some two dozen men from other companies were already there. We anxiously waited to find out the reason for this odd assemblage. An officer entered the room and gave us the answer. Wow! That’s when the shit hit the fan! We were to be sent overseas to join the North African campaign! We were told not to leave camp pending further orders, and to go for physical examinations.

    Strange as it may seem, I had developed an affinity for my peers, and would much rather go overseas as a member of A Company. On the way to the medical building, my mind was going over possible physical disabilities that I could profess to have when examined. No luck – I was pronounced physically fit for combat. Outside the medical building, the physical-disability ruse again crossed my mind. It was a longshot, but worth a try. The ruse hinged on the other person’s gullibility. I went back to the briefing room; the officer was still there. Looking befuddled, I said something like, "Sir, I’m Private Stephen Krysko. My name is to be taken off the list … I just came from the medics and the doctor told me that I can’t go overseas because I have a … a … inguinal hernia."

    Without comment, the lieutenant leafed through a stack of folders, removed one, marked it; then told me to go back to my company.

    Instead, I returned to the medical building and told the records clerk that my name was taken off the list. … The officer in the briefing room called me back and said something about one too many men, and that one had to be eliminated. … That one was me. The clerk removed my medical record from the others and simply said, "Done." I returned to my barrack. Nothing to do but wait to see whether or not my scheme backfired.

    That night, after lights out, a battalion runner came into the barracks and called out, "Is Krysko in here?" I didn’t answer. … I didn’t want to answer. He called out again and Fred Hostler, the guy in the bed next to mine, yelled for me to wake up. I acknowledged my presence and the "voice of doom" told me that I was wanted at battalion HQ. I slowly slipped into a fatigue uniform and trudged over to headquarters. I thought of a couple of explanations but they were obvious bare-assed lies. I resigned myself to either having the book thrown at me, or, worse, having my name put back on the list.

    When I entered HQ, the room was a beehive of activity as company clerks rushed to complete the necessary paperwork for the North African shipment. Bob Harris, A Company’s clerk, spotted me and yelled above the din for me to go back to bed. He said, "I thought you didn’t sign your ten thousand dollar life insurance policy, but I just got word that you’re not going."

    I didn’t say a word, turned, and practically flew out of headquarters to get outside; to breathe!

    In mid-February 1943, the grapevine had it that the battalion was going to be shipped overseas. Also, it was believed that I would not go because of my "hernia." Whenever I had been questioned as to why I did not go for an operation, I would express my fear of "dying on the operating table, like my aunt had done" and would say that I’d have to learn to live with the pain.

    Rumor turned into fact, and we were ordered to pack up and be ready to ship out in a day or two. To almost everyone’s surprise, I passed my physical examination. I say "almost everyone," because there were a few skeptics who didn’t buy my story that "my hernia cleared up."

    The HMS Exchequer carried us to a port in Scotland; then we were transported by train to the southeast of England. A Company was temporarily camped in a huge quonset hut located in Stow on the Wold; the rest of the battalion, near Swindon. Picture in your mind’s eye, a remote community stowed away high on a wold – the British term for an upland area – where the climate, at least in February, is damp, foggy, windy and drizzly. In that setting, envision a quonset hut – a shelter made out of prefabricated corrugated metal and shaped in a semicircle from its top to the ground. Now, place two potbellied stoves in the hut – one at either end – that radiate heat up to about six feet; the rest of the area being refrigerator-cold. That was A Company’s first overseas encampment. It was also the place where we first tasted Army chow made from powdered eggs and powdered milk. Yuck!

    The townfolk went out of their way to make us feel at home. They set up a canteen where we could enjoy games, swap stories with residents, listen to records, dance and have snacks, which, for the most part, were jam sandwiches, scones and tea -- no sugar, no cream. Stow on the Wold was paradise compared to many of our future encampments.

    Our first day in combat – July 3, 1944 – is one of those days that remain a vivid memory which, like the fast-forward on a VCR, is relived in a matter of a few kaleidoscopic minutes. Army life was no longer a joke – no more bang-you’re-dead, make-believe maneuvers. The day was drizzly, making periscopes practically useless. It was open hatches all day. Shells exploded all around us, tanks bogged down, some hit land mines, and there were reports of men being killed. Frankly, I expected to be dead before the day ended.

    That morning, one of those truth-is-stranger-than-fiction incidents took place.

    A Company was assigned to the 82nd Airborne Division, and one of the paratroopers came into our area – a kid named, I believe, Dickerson, or something like that. He had been a member of A Company back in Fort Benning, but had transferred to the paratroops. Our reunion was limited to a few minutes, and "for the sake of old times," Dickerson wanted to ride on one of the tanks for a few seconds as we moved into battle position.

    Later, I heard that the tank he was on hit a mine and he was killed. Call it coincidence, but I say that Dickerson was fucked by the fickle finger of Fate. He hated tanks, transferred to the paratroops to get away from tanks, but his death was the result of his being on a tank – a place where he never should have been.

    From that day until the war ended, we lived with the age-old, pragmatic theatrics of war: kill or be killed. Many state-side lessons had to be forgotten as we learned a new game – one that was for keeps, and in which we used real ammunition, lived with fear and faced death.

    It was in Northern France during the battle of the Falaise-Argentin Gap that, for the umpteenth time, I cursed the day I was drafted.

    Two major happenings made me pray to be sent back to the States. One was the accidental death of a close buddy, Duane Miner; the other, a soul-searing hurt. I was a gunner; my tank commander was what we referred to as a "90-day wonder" – a replacement officer fresh out of Officer’s Candidate School whose knowledge of combat was on paper only.

    I was firing 75mm shells into a wooded area as fast as my loader could ram them into the gun’s breach. Suddenly, a running, hand-waving infantryman materialized in my periscopic view. I reached up, grabbed onto the hatch rim and hoisted myself into a standing position in front of the lieutenant. Even now, the infantryman’s words have a disquieting affect as I recall the moment: "Stop! You’re killing our own men!"

    I fell back onto the gunner’s seat, laid my head on my crossed arms, and cried. As far as I was concerned, the war was over for me. My mind was really fucked up. It hit me that not only was I killing human beings, which, in itself, is traumatic, but I was killing our own men.

    I refused to fight on, and had to be sent back to A Company’s rear "safety zone." I crawled under a disabled tank and lay there for the rest of the day. No one said anything to me, understanding and respecting my need to be alone to work things out in my mind. I tried to convince myself that I was a case for "Section 8" – mentally disturbed – and would be sent back to the States because of "battle fatigue." By dusk, however, I realized that faking a mental breakdown is something I could not do. The next day, when I learned that my tank commander had screwed up orders, I refused to go into battle with him. He had been told, "Don’t fire on the left," but inadvertently, he heard, "Fire on the left."

    For a while, I thought that Fate’s fickle finger was out to get me. I was assigned to Fowler’s tank! However, we no longer were in basic training; we were now "war-mates," and the front line was no place for personal vendettas. The hatchet was buried, and an unspoken peace prevailed. I believe that had there not been a feud, Fowler and I could have been friends.

    It was incidents such as the lieutenant’s botching orders that led to battlefield promotions. No longer were we getting inexperienced officers as replacements; instead, sergeants such as Braatz, Johnson, Hagerty, Ellsworth Howard and Sam McFarland earned their lieutenant’s bars the hard way. Later, I, too, was promoted to a sergeant and a tank commander, a position for which I had no aspirations. It was a tank commander who usually rode into battle with his head exposed to enemy fire. With closed hatch, vision is scarcely satisfactory by use of a two inch by six inch periscope. It was preferable – although much more dangerous – to go into battle with open hatch and the tank commander’s head bobbing up and down like a pull-target on a firing range.

    Then there was always the risk of hitting a big bump or low-hanging branches and having the hatch come down on your fingers. Bob Hagerty had that happen to him. Besides, it was good for the morale of the other tank members, knowing that their commander was alert and still alive.

    As tank commander, I left Fowler’s tank and got a tank and a crew of my own. I would not go into battle without one particular piece of protection: a German helmet. My crew and I had placed a German helmet next to an American one and fired at both with our .45-caliber pistols. The bullets went through the American cast-iron helmet, but ricocheted off the German tempered-steel helmet. I wedged a German helmet inside my American helmet and even though the damn thing was weighty, I felt that my head was bullet-proofed. There were times when my crew hid my helmet, then watched with glee when we got orders to move out and I scrambled about screaming, "Where’s my fuckin’ helmet?" If I didn’t find it, they would give it to me before moving out. I cursed; they laughed.

    We were bivouacked near Mairy, France, when we were besieged by a night counterattack. All hell broke loose, but by dawn, the Germans suffered a complete rout. No one in A Company was killed, and only one man seriously wounded. Here again, it was the fickle finger of Fate that had a lot to do with his getting wounded. When we bedded down the night before, this guy – I forget his name – felt safer sleeping inside his tank than under it. During the counterattack, grenades were tossed into the tanks’ 75-mm guns to destroy their bores. The tank in which he was sleeping had its gun barrel raised and the breach block in open position. A grenade rolled down the gun barrel, fell into the tank, and he got the full impact of its explosion.

    [editor’s note: this incident actually happened near the city of Mainz, in Germany. The sergeant in the tank, Lloyd Martin, lost an arm from the explosion.]

    A Company was not without its share of good fortune. One unparalleled happening which could easily be classified a "miracle" was when we pulled our tanks into a field at night to recoup our strength, get some rest and await the gas truck so that we could refuel before morning. The truck arrived shortly after midnight and no sooner had entered the field when it ran over a land mine and blew up. At dawn, we searched the area and uncovered a dozen or more land mines – some of their detonators just inches from tank tracks. One was so close that its side was touching one of the tank’s tracks. Providence must have guided all five of our tanks into the field. In order to get out, each tank was carefully guided to backtrack in its own tracks that were made when entering the field. The only tragedy was the gas truck.

    On two occasions, I had taken unofficial leaves – with reason. The first time was when we were on a night road drive in Northern France, somewhere around St. Lo. The tank I was in – I was gunner at the time – was traveling between two gas trucks. German planes swooped in and bombed and strafed the convoy. Being well aware of the gas trucks, my loader and I abandoned tank and took cover in a wooded area. We waited for about 15 minutes after all bombing and strafing had stopped. When we got back to the road, not a tank was in sight! The 712th had moved on.

    We hitched a ride on a truck carrying infantrymen and ended up with them in a small town. No one knew – that is, none of those infantrymen whom we asked – where the 712th was located, and my loader and I didn’t particularly care. We stayed with the infantry unit – no work, no worries, no orders and no tanks. We ate at the infantry mess, visited local pubs and talked with French undergrounders. No one questioned our being there even though we were the only two wearing Armor Force patches on our uniforms. On the third day, my loader – the name Reed Foster keeps coming to mind, but I’m not certain that’s who it was – came into the pub where I was enjoying a somewhat military nonentity life and told me that an officer from the 712th drove into town, saw his tanker’s patch, and asked what he was doing there. The end result was that we were driven back to A Company, where it was believed that Foster and I had been killed in the bombing.

    The next day we moved out. Our destination was a jump-off point near the front line. When we arrived in the designated town, it was the one where my loader and I had spent our three-day unauthorized "vacation." In a way, it was consoling. Had the lieutenant not found us the day before, we certainly would have been found when A Company’s tanks rolled into town.

    The second "leave" took place in the small town of Donlingen, Luxembourg. At the beginning of January 1945, the 712th was on its way to participate in the Battle of the Bulge. German forces had broken through American lines in Belgian Ardennes, creating a "bulge" in our lines. Counterthrusts were relentlessly carried out, and by mid-January the German forces would suffer defeat.

    As we drove north through Luxembourg toward Bastogne, the weather was horrendous. A blizzard made driving difficult and hazardous, and tanks chugged along slower than one could walk. Going uphill at night was an ordeal beyond comprehension – you had to be there to experience it. It was impossible for the driver to see the road. He was driving without lights and what he did see was nothing but white – in front, to the left and to the right. Wind-blown snow slapped at his face, making it necessary for him to press the bridge of his nose against the hatch rim and have his helmet pulled down to his eyebrows. His field of vision was reduced to a one-inch slit, and was guided by a fluorescent reflector attached to the back of the helmet of one of his crew members who was walking in the left-track impression made in the snow by the tank in front. A slip off the road to one side could plunge the tank into a ravine; to the other side, into a ditch, which would make it impossible to get back onto the road unless the tank were backed down to where ditch and road were on the same level.

    Needless to say, my tank slipped into the ditch. We – my crew and I – had to wait until the convoy passed, then back down and start the hellish climb over again. It took more than two hours for us to reach the top of the hill. When we got there, we stood alone – the 712th had disappeared.

    About a mile to our front, the sky was ablaze with flames. Whatever town it was, it was a scene straight out of Dante’s Inferno. Not knowing in which direction the others had gone, we decided to get off the main road and turned onto a side road that led us to a building that looked more like a lodge than a home. I pounded on the front door, calling out – in German – if anyone were inside. A frightened, elderly woman holding a lighted candle opened the door, and I told her that we were looking for a place to get out of the cold. She let us in and we gathered in the kitchen – the warmest spot in the place. We were soon joined by two other women, an elderly man and a teenage boy. They, too, stared in fright at us. My crew and I talked in English, and the man timidly asked if we were Americans. Even though I told him that we were, they still were doubtful until I opened my uniform and pulled out my dog tags. Their dour expressions turned into broad smiles.

    The teenager spoke fluent English and explained that my speaking in German made them suspicious. Donlingen had been caught in a tug of war between German and American forces, and they feared that we were Germans dressed as American soldiers for the purpose of finding out whether or not they were sympathetic to Americans. They were apprehensive about showing any sign of friendliness, lest they be killed.

    In the morning, we moved the tank to the rear of the building – out of sight from the road. The place was a winter resort, and we were its only guests – non-paying "guests," but most welcomed. Meals were meager but hot and home-cooked, and water was heated for us to bathe. We were even provided with under-the-bed potties when we retired. Bedrooms were cold but there were plenty of blankets.

    Again, it was the third day when we were found, this time, by one of A Company’s lieutenants. He bitched about my hiding our tank behind the building, telling me that he had passed by a couple of times looking for my tank, which was presumed to be ditched somewhere. I told him that we had to hide the tank so that it would not be spotted from the air by German planes. It was back to the 712th and the Bulge.

    Besides fighting a war, we had to fight the bitter cold. If we were in a town by nightfall, it wasn’t too bad, because we took shelter in houses – the civilians having been placed in designated "detention" houses. If there was no firewood available, then furniture was broken and used to feed fireplaces.

    It was when we were stuck out in the open that we felt the cold at its worst. Our only shelter was the tank, which, like a deep-freeze locker, formed a layer of frost on its insde walls. One of our more serious concerns was avoiding frostbite; particularly on the feet. We would gather inside the tank, close its hatch and ignite a small portable burner. Then we removed our boots and rubbed our feet for most of the night. Sleep was secondary. Even hunger was subordinate to surviving the cold.

    I was in three tanks that were hit. The first, when I was an assistant driver; the other two, when I was a gunner. The first hit was in Normandy. I was in the lead tank going down a road into enemy-held territory. George Watson was the driver. He and I had our hatches closed. There was no sound, just a skyrocket burst of light to my left. The tank had been hit by a bazooka shell. Watson was wounded but robot-alert. He threw the tank into reverse and as we backed up, the tank toppled into the ditch alongside the road.

    We all, except Watson, abandoned tank and took shelter in a shallow hole on the other side of a hedgerow. Within seconds, a mortar shell exploded about 50 yards from us; then a second, so close that we were sprayed with dirt. We knew that the next one would blow us to Hell, and we leaped the hedgerow as fast as we could; landing in the ditch alongside the road. We crawled back to the rear on our elbows and knees. The medics had gotten to Watson and taken him to an area to await shipment back to a hospital.

    My loader and I went to see him. He was unrecognizable: face blackened and bloated, eyes swollen shut, lips busted and a bloody mouth. We talked to him; he just moaned in pain. That was the last I saw of Watson.

    The second hit was weird – one in which I was favored by the fickle finger of Fate. We were at the Falaise Gap. It was around noon and it seemed as if the entire war was taking a breather. No shooting, no bombing, no planes, no ground movement. Our tank commander had gone to find out what was happening – or, rather, why wasn’t something happening? I was standing in the tank’s turret leisurely surveying the terrain. George Bussell, the driver, got out of the tank and went under it to stretch out. It seemed like a good idea, so in one quick movement, I hoisted myself out of the tank and jumped to the ground. At the same time, the loader scooted over and stood up in the tank where I had been.

    A mortar shell hit the top of the tank; its explosion getting the loader full force in the head and shoulders.

    Bussell and I scrambled back into the tank and he barrel-assed back to the medics. It wasn’t until later that shock waves hit me when I thought about what would have happened had the shell hit just five seconds sooner.

    For some time, that thought would cross my mind and make me question "Fate." Even now, thinking about it gives me the willies.

    The third hit was too inconsequential to dwell on. my tank was hit a few inches above its left track when we were at the Siegfried Line. no injuries, just a disabled tank.

    The 712th fought its way across France and Germany, ending up in Czechoslovakia – my parents’ homeland – when the war ended. During all the months of fighting, we American soldiers, in general, were no different than any others throughout history. We had our ugly side which newspapers and newsreels played down for the folks back home. GI Joe engaged in wanton destruction of property, unnecessary abuse of both German prisoners and civilians, plundering – "legalized" by the term looting – rape and unwarranted killings. The latter, in times of war, gives license to kill someone just because he had been classified as an "enemy." I can – with second thoughts – accept all that ugliness as inherent parts of war except the needless killings. German soldiers who either surrendered or were captured would be escorted back to a holding area. At times, when only one or two soldiers were captured, a couple of Americans would be assigned to escort them back. On occasion, when they were out of sight, we would hear gunfire. The reasons were usually the same: "They tried to escape and we had to shoot them." The most horrible and disgusting sight of this legalized murder was that of a captured German soldier being questioned by a seasoned interrogator from headquarters. The soldier’s uniform indicated that he was probably an infantryman whose knowledge about overall German military movements was nil. Regardless, the soldier refused to answer any questions, mumbling something about "mein Fuehrer." The poor guy was brainwashed and his dedication to Hitler and the Nazi party took precedence over his own life. The interrogator put his gun to the soldier’s head and told him that he would count to three, and if he did not answer by then, he would pull the trigger. Again, the soldier voiced his dedication to "mein Fuehrer."

    "Eins … Zwei … Drei." Bang! The soldier’s skull blew off, and when he fell to the ground, the remaining parts of his brain spilled onto the ground. It didn’t end there. About six of the onlookers vented their war-crazed anger by pumping a volley of small-arms bullets into the dead body. Unless the soldier had some sort of identification in his uniform as to who he was, it would not be possible later to identify him. I wonder if any of those men ever felt remorseful afterwards. If not, they better have glib tongues when they meet their Maker.

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