Wednesday, February 09, 2005

And while we're at it

Since my post seemed to strike a chord with people (I wonder why that is), and since I'm always telling folks that I'm waiting for my draft notice to come any day (I tell my boss that he and I are gonna be working in a motor pool in Kuwait), I thought I'd relay this little story.

My grandfather (German) fought in WW 1 in the German infantry. He was decorated with the Iron Cross 1st Class and the Knight's Cross for valor during a gas attack. For the rest of his life, he carried the scars from British blister agent.

In 1943 at the age of 45, in the middle of the night, there was a knock at his bedroom window. Two local men, guys my grandfather had known all his life, were there, dressed in the gray uniform of the Wehrmacht.

"Hermann," the higher-ranking man said. "Come, you are on the list."

"Where?" he asked as my grandmother joined him at the window.

"To Kaiserslautern," the other man said. "They need men."

"I did my part, more than 25 years ago," my grandfather told him. "They pinned a medal on my chest."

"The army needs men in Russia," the first man told him. "You are on the list."

"I won't let him go," my grandmother said. "The army has my son and my daughter already, and Irene (my aunt) is a little girl. I will not let him go."

"The Gestapo will come for him, Maria, and he will surely be shot," the man explained. "At least, he has a chance to survive if he comes with us."

I should point out that by this time, the average German knew the war was lost. They knew it when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor and the Americans declared war. Defeat was set in stone (according to what my grandfather told me) when Hitler went into Russia. Like the people in power here, 60 years later, Hitler paid no attention to the lessons of history. One day, I'll relay one of my grandfather's stories about the Russian winter and the muddy spring that followed. It got to the point where the artillery troops just shot their horses and abandoned the gun when they got bogged down in the mud.

My grandfather packed a small bag, kissed his wife and his young daughter and left with the two Wehrmacht officers. It was two years before they heard from him again, alive, chased from Moscow back through Berlin to finally just leave when they all knew it was lost. He was captured as he tried to walk home from his unit's last location. Ironically, thanks to his age, an American officer decided he wasn't worth keeping as a prisoner and just turned him loose.

I'm 42, and it sure looks like they 'need men' in the Middle East, especially if we enter another front in the 'war on terror'. For all those people who tell me I'm crazy, that I'd never be recalled back into the Air Force, just think about that night my grandfather got the knock on his bedroom window.