Author: ENester PM
Returned. The waning days of WWII and the end of Stalag 13 as seen though Robert Hogan's family. Companion to War and the Home Front, but can be read alone.Rated: Fiction K+ - English - Drama/Mystery - Chapters: 9 - Words: 23,417 - Reviews: 24 - Favs: 3 - Follows: 16 - Updated: 08-19-12 - Published: 08-16-08 - id: 4479051
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
April 19, 1945
They drove back to Washington in Emma's car, with Greg at the wheel and Kinch riding shotgun. Emma leaned against Danny's shoulder in the back seat, watching the still-fallow April fields slowly give way into small towns and trying not to think of the very real possibility that Rob was dead. That after all that he had done – including running a sabotage operation as a POW – he had found one piece of bad luck he couldn't outthink.
"They told us he was dead," Kinch had told them. "Found among the causalities from the taking of the Stalag. I didn't believe it. Just the Colonel, up to a scheme again. Nothing to worry about. But that was the last we heard of him."
At least there had been no funeral, and none of the bodies had been released, not that Kinch had heard. Taken to the Red Cross for processing, the Soviets had said in an official report to Allied High Command. Not much was shared between the forces on the political level, but the consular officials managed to share information on citizens. Barely. That much Kinc had discovered, and it was on this one shred of hope that Emma rested. They weren't sure that Rob was dead, and until they were Emma wasn't going to stop looking. She was Rob's sister, after all.
Hope rested on the lack of body and one other thing, the thing that merited this trip to the Pentagon. There was still no explanation for the Allied High Command orders to hold back family notification. Granted, Rob's case was certainly special. Emma had to admit she didn't know what the standard operating procedures were for dealing with the family members of spies.
"What if they don't tell us anything?" she asked to no one in particular. "I mean, they don't share classified military secrets with just anyone."
Kinch looked back at her with a slight smile. "That's where I come in," he said. "I know more military secrets that they would care to have the public know about. And while I'm not about to do anything to hurt the war effort, I do know a thing or two that would be highly embarrassing to some of the big brass. No, I think if I pressure them enough and the three of you play that part of the grieving family, that combination of guilt and fear should get us anything we need."
"Besides, we're already in the know," said Danny. "What, with what you've told us already, Kinch. There's no reason to lie to us anymore."
They arrived at the Pentagon in late afternoon. With the passcode that Kinch had been given over the telephone and a cursory inspection of the papers for the other three, Greg was able to drive into the motorpool. A lieutenant colonel was waiting for them at the door.
"Sgt. Kinchloe," the man said, returning Kinch's salute. "I didn't know you were bringing guests."
"A last minute change of plans," Kinch said, "but their inclusion is quiet merited, as you will soon see."
The halls were bustling, and Emma quickly became turned around as the navigated several long corridors. In his dress uniform, Kinch would have fit in but for his crutches and his skin color. The others stood no such chance. All-in-all, they attracted several stares from passing officers, but their escort paid them no mind.
They reached a long meeting room where they were greeted by two men, both brigadier generals, with one star pinned smartly on their collars. Like the lieutenant, the both cast suspicious gazes in the direction of the Hogan family.
"Thanks for coming, Sergeant," said the first, a thin, pale man with gray hair. "How's your leg?"
"Recovering just fine, thank you sir," said Kinch. A pause, and then he continued. "Sirs, I know you are wondering about my inclusion of others in this meeting, but let me introduce them and you will see why I have done so. General Maddox, General Marshall, might I introduced the family of the Colonel Hogan? His brother, Dr. and First Lieutenant Greg Hogan, his sister, Mrs. Emma Greene, and her husband, Mr. Daniel Greene."
The mood changed considerably, and both generals warmly shook their hands. "A pleasure to meet any relation to Colonel Hogan," said squint-eyed general Marshall. "Sergeant, how much have your informed them of your undertakings?"
"A broad mission overview and details on the last bit up until my departure from Germany."
February 18, 1945
Somewhere in Germany
Kinch awoke in a haze of pain that spread all over his body, but seemed to be concentrated in his right leg. He blinked his eyes, trying to take in his surroundings, but everything seemed fuzzy. God his head hurt. What had happened?
He remembered only flashes: in the tunnel, with Tiger, walking through the snow with Newkirk, gunshots everywhere, lighting up the still winter sky. And then here, in this still room. Where was he? In the hands of Germans? Back in Stalag 13? Rescued by some German civilians? Found by the Soviet advance forces?
And then, slowly, he realized he wasn't in a room at all, but in fact moving. The back of a truck, perhaps? That would explain the darkness. There was a jolt that sent fire through his body. Kinch groaned. It looked to be the beginning of a very, very long trip.
He had blacked out only once before their trip came to an end, and only briefly at that as far as he could judge. Kinch wondered whether or not that was a good sign and couldn't decide. As the truck ground to a halt, Kinch began to make out very German voices. That answers one question.
Then bright light entered and hands lifted him. He bit back a cry as they transported him to a cot.
"Careful not to jolt that leg," a man's voice said in German. "I've put a pressure bandage on it, but it might not hold."
His cot swayed and he struggled to look up at the blurry faces that carried him. They didn't appear familiar. He tried to speak, but found all his energy consumed on managing pain. At last, he came to a stop and lay staring at a wood ceiling. Firm hands pressed blankets about him.
Better ask, he told himself, as he tried to key in on the voices murmuring about him. Not helping anything by just lying here.
"Wh-wh-where?" he managed in German. He knew that being black, he wouldn't likely pass for a native, but there was no sense in giving everything away at once.
A great commotion occurred to his left, and the face of a redheaded woman swam into focus. "You are awake?" she asked, slowly and clearly in German.
Kinch managed a groan.
"Good. Now. Just listen. I will give you some laudanum for the pain, but first, we need to talk. You are safe. You can call me Greta, and we are friends of Marie. Of Tiger."
Relief sagged Kinch's body, and he closed his eyes for a second. One more time, he had gotten lucky.
"We were told to look out for two Allied POWs in this area. As I understand it, your unit sent out for help when you did not return. Obviously. You were shot. "
Yeah. Felt that.
"My husband found you in the woods while hunting. Food is…difficult to come by sometimes. You were found amid bodies of two German soldiers and signs of a gunfight. Evidence of other injured or dead bodies being removed was obvious."
Then Kinch remembered everything. The hunt to warn the Colonel of the devastation the Soviets had wrought upon Stalag 19. The report of hundreds of prisoners, left without supplies, trying to march across disputed German territory to reach the western Allied forces. Avoiding them might not be possible, but the Colonel needed to know and be able to negotiate a better deal. Should the Germans leave and the Soviets deny supplies to Stalag 13, not even Hogan's network could provide enough all the men to last until safe passage could be secured. Chaos. Starvation.
And, above those gloomy thoughts, was the memory of Newkirk bleeding out by the tree.
"Newkirk?" He managed to say. "Friend?"
Greta took his hand, understanding the question. "We found an Englishman with you. He was still alive, but I will be honest, he was very badly injured. We could not treat him hear. Peter, my husband, arranged to have you transported here, and he alerted the Ingolstadt hospital of the Englishman and the dead Germans. I know the people there, and they will try and save your friend if they can."
Better than I could have hoped for with the way he was bleeding. He tried to focus on planning next steps. Escaped prisoners, both he and Newkirk, officially. Well, unlikely the Germans would bother transferring Klink now, so the no-escape record didn't matter. Shot. Badly shot. The Colonel making disastrous arrangements with Soviets.
Kinch couldn't think, couldn't focus, not with a thousand lumberjacks sawing at his leg. The others would have to take it from here. He would have to trust them, at least for today. His distress obvious, Greta rose and returned with a spoonful of an amber liquid. Too weak to resist, he swallowed and slithered back into darkness.
February 20, 1945
Something was very, very wrong. After long hours of fever-filled hallucinations, Kinch suddenly awoke clearly. He lay on a small bed, covered in a red-and-blue checkered quilt. He ran a quick check for pain and found that something was different.
Oh, his leg still hurt – hell, his head was pounding, and it felt as though someone had been playing drums on his chest – but it was a consistent, dull pain. He couldn't identify the specific source of the pain. It just lay in one source of mild agony starting mid-thigh and moving downwards.
With titanic effort, he lifted his right arm and turned back the quilt to visually identify the damage. And gagged. Despite what his nerves were telling him, it was very plain what was different: the bottom half of his leg was gone.
He lay back again, trying desperately not to panic. He closed his eyes and willed this new reality away. Pretended it was last week, that he was safe in Stalag 13, and everything was okay.
It's a sad reality when your version of safe and normal is a POW camp, an ugly voice in his head said. Kinch willed it away. Instead, he took a deep breath and looked back at the remains – the stump – of his right leg. It had been neatly bandaged, he saw. That was something. No signs of infection. The chills running down his spine testified both to his horror and the fever he was sure he had, but it was nothing compared to the sweaty daze of before.
Everything would be different from today.
There was a creaking and loud footsteps and the rosy face of Greta appeared before him.
" You're awake!" she said cheerfully. Then she saw the exposed blanket and her smile faded. "I'm so sorry. The leg couldn't be saved. We took out the bullet, but it was too late. There was dirt in the wound, infection everywhere. I called my friend, a veterinarian, and he did his best. He doesn't even really support us giving aid to the enemy. Not that it matters anymore. We all know it's over in every way that counts."
As she talked, Greta's strong hands guided Kinch back into the pillows. He allowed her to guide him down, let her place a compress on his face, the hot steam dripping down into his ears. With each drip, he saw the faces of his team at Stalag 13. He would never be one of them, operating alongside them. It was over for him too.
For a few minutes, Greta left his side and busied herself across the room. Kinch buried himself in the sounds of her heating water, the whistle of the steaming kettle mercifully cutting all thought. Moments later, she pressed a cup of warm broth into his hands. After Kinch spilled over himself on his first two attempts, she took the bowl from him and spooned it herself.
"We do have some good news. We have a friend who contracts with the German army to transport uniforms from the nearby textile factory lumber to many military bases. He is taking a trip two days from now that will take him near the western lines. He will take you to friends there, who will help you to the British forces."
Kinch digested this. He was going home. A cripple. No longer fit to serve. " A military man?" he said, finding a line of questioning that seemed relatively safe.
" Don't worry," said Greta. "He will not betray you. But we all must eat, no matter our politics."
Kinch nodded, but found he didn't care – wouldn't care, in fact, if a turnip calling itself Adolf Hitler had announced it would transport him to the Allies.
"What about Stalag 13?" he asked, desperately reaching out for news. "Newkirk?" A pang of guilt struck later, as he remembered the dire peril of Newkirk.
Greta stopped feeding him broth. "Are you sure you are ready? What I have to say isn't nice."
"Worse than waking up without a leg?"
She nodded her understanding.
"Last I heard, your English friend is still in the hospital. We haven't made any inquiries, though. It would be strange. But we would know if he was dead or moved. That's the best I can do."
That wasn't it then. The bad news wasn't Newkirk's death. It was somehow something worse.
"Word came in yesterday that that the Soviet forces have overrun Hammelburg. The local German soldiers made a last stand at Stalag 13, but we heard this morning that the camp had been surrendered. We don't know much more but a list of German casualties. And one more bit of news," she paused, met his eyes. "On the list of casualties was your senior prisoner of war. I am very sorry."
Two days later, Kinch rode in the false bottom of a transport truck to Stuttgart, from where a pair of dairy farmers hid him in their milk cart and took him by horse and wagon to an Allied checkpoint.
Two days after that, Kinch was in London.
April 20, 1945
The Pentagon, Washington D.C.
In the end, it took a phone call from Senator Coats to release the proper information. Tired of being told that "regrettably" it was "unfortunate" that all documents regarding Stalag 13 were highly classified, no exception – even for Kinch, Greg had called his friend Alex, who had called his father, who had pulled his weight and weaseled the Senator to apply for special circumstances. As Emma understood it, the Senator had spent several hours on the phone in loud conversations with Allied High Command, and in the end, limited permission to access certain military files had been granted.
As part of the bargain, Kinch had spent the past 24 hours sequestered with intelligence officials of varying rank and agency. From what Emma could gather from sitting on hard stone benches in long, nondescript hallways, it seemed that all American intelligence bureaus were in tight competition with both each other, the other Allied forces, and businesses to get the best slices of conquered territory for themselves. And apparently that involved squeezing Kinch's knowledge of the German underground network to the last drop.
But at last, around four o'clock, General Marshall had called for the three of them to enter a secured room with no windows. On the table, lay their prize – three stacks of files.
" You have two hours and two hours only. Do not make any copies or write anything down. Do not reveal this information to anyone not expressly listed within the files. You will please sign the disclose waivers affirming your proper treatment of sensitive military information."
He hovered over them, panting loudly in their ears, until they had each thoroughly read and signed the long document on the rules regarding the information they were to receive and the penalties for breaking said rules. Then, casting suspicious glares in their direction, he left.
"Friendly, helpful sort of fellow, isn't he?" Danny joked as he picked up the first file.
"At least we have what we want," said Greg. "The rest doesn't matter."
Inside the files, they found stacks of information on the Operation Papa Bear beginning from the month of February. Transcripts of debriefings with local agents (listed under code name, with several names blanked out) and debriefed returned soldiers like Kinch mixed with radio exchange records and newspaper clippings. Also included were several notes made by the intelligence officials working on Operation Papa Bear.
"Shame we couldn't meet with him," Danny had said, when he came across the first of these. "It would shorten up this investigation."
"I prefer not to go down that rabbit hole," Emma replied. "We are in deep enough in covert affairs as it is."
By the end of the two hours, the three of them had pieced together an alarming narrative.
It seemed that when Kinch and Newkirk had failed to return by the early hours, the camp had made contact an Agent Sleeping Beauty in Hammelburg and retrieved the new radio code for London. The radio communications that followed were well documented. Goldilocks, based in London, had tasked Papa Bear's organization to renegotiate with the Soviets to leave Stalag 13 and the Hammelburg area a German zone , focusing instead of marching straight north until Berlin.
Benefits both Allied forces to keep intelligence center with Papa Bear as long as Axis mounts serious military presence in central Germany.
However, several frantic messages sent from Stalag 13 indicated the mission wasn't going well.
One transmitted message read: Grizzly Bears closed to company after deadly shooting encounter with Big Bad Wolf. Followed by: Winter is coming very quickly. No way to talk with Winter Gods about waiting a few months for freeze. And, more disturbing: Local wolves gathering in Papa's den before Winter.
"It's clear the mission failed," Emma said. "Rob brought them right to the camp, not knowing it was better to wait with the Germans."
"I'll bet the fast advance scared all the local military. And where better to make a stand and kill a few Russians in rural Germany than the guard towers of a prison camp? You have high vantage point, natural barrier -"
"- natural hostages," cut in Greg.
"And that," agreed Danny. "Which results in a pretty massive battle. The Soviets have numbers, but they think the camp is going to be delivered to them. "
Reports after this point relied on eyewitness accounts from a few prisoners that had trickled back to the Allied forces in the weeks to come. But the reports were sensationalized and unreliable – simple impressions of chaos of gunfire and injured soldiers, Axis and Allied alike, bleeding out on the compound.
I stopped paying attention to uniform, wrote the camp medic, an American named Wilson who had been debriefed on March 24. There was no time. There were hardly any supplies. A German doctor was helping me, and we were up to our elbows in blood.
In the end, predictably, the Soviets had won. A major named Ivan Kozlov took command of the Stalag 13 on February 20. No further communication had come directly from the camp. Instead, the remaining few reports came were from other (nameless) intelligence operatives operating in the region, with the exception of a Red Cross note of the placement of several mid-rank German officers listed as POWs to be transferred to Moscow.
Soviet forces using former Stalag 13 as a base, read a report from February 27. This was followed by the announcement of a new assignment for the operative. With the Hammelburg area in Soviet hands and no communications or missions from Papa Bear (who is indeed reported deceased) , I am moving my operation closer to Berlin. Mark mission Hammelburg off as accomplished!
And then, one final footnote from General Butler, an expanded version of the note they had read earlier. Soviet allies report Papa Bear dead in recapturing Stalag 13. Some field agents doubt this report, but with no evidence, we will mark his file accordingly. Hold family notification until further investigation can be conducted.
End of file.
A break came one evening, as Rob joined his barracks in line for their daily ration of break and soup. Give us this day our daily bread, he thought as he picked up the hardened slice. In the past few weeks, the Lord's prayer had become more real to him. Funny. Before the war, he had never been a very religious guy. Even in his darkness moments held by the Gestapo, when the end seemed before him, he hadn't turned to God.
But he had prepared to die for county, prepared to even be tortured to support his mission at Stalag 13. He hadn't been prepared for this new form of torture, this prolonged, senseless imprisonment by an official ally to his country! His status, in the eyes of his keepers, had subtly shifted from a prisoner of war to an ordinary prisoner. This shift didn't mean much in his living conditions, but it changed the whole narrative that Rob played in his head.
Consumed with these thoughts, he tripped on the uneven ground and sprawled, his meager ration of soup splashing the man ahead of him in line. Rob grunted, the wind knocked out of him. For a moment, he did not have the energy to rise.
"You okay?" The English voice, deeply accented though it was, sent a bolt of electricity through Rob. He looked up to see a dark man dripping in soup.
"Yes. Yes. Thank you." He scrambled to his feet, re-energized by the possibility of a conversation. The days surrounded by Slavic voices had been their own form of isolation. "SYou speak English?"
The man nodded. "Some. Not good English."
Smiling for the first time in days, weeks, Rob stuck out his hand. "Robert Hogan. Bad English is good English to me."
"Vlad. Vlad Popov." They shook.
A guard yelled at them to in the words that Rob figured meant 'keep moving.' He did, following Vlad to their barracks and barely containing his new-found elation.
Thank you, God, he whispered in prayer. With Vlad, he had a translator to break the language barrier. He could communicate with those around him, and they could begin to plan a way home.