No ownership of the Hogan's Heroes characters is implied or inferred. Copyright belongs to others and no infringement is intended.
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"So… you are Colonel Robert Hogan."
Hogan stood staring at the bulletin board behind the Kommandant's desk as he was examined by the officer visiting the POW camp. He said nothing, but kept his gaze locked on the wall, the muscles in his jaw twitching as he clamped his teeth together, his hands curling and uncurling as fists came and went in his tenseness.
The black-clad Nazi came around behind Hogan, and the Colonel could feel the tall man breathe into the back of his dark hair, just above the collar of his brown leather bomber jacket. He left his fists clenched a little longer then, and closed his eyes as he drew a deep breath in and then let it out through his nose. He looked again at the bulletin board, almost obsessively trying to read a small note that Kommandant Wilhelm Klink had pinned to it, trying to put his German, and his keen eyesight, into use. He said nothing.
"I suspect that you know how much trouble you were to the Fuhrer," the visitor continued. He came up along side the prisoner and smiled at him.
Hogan only blinked. Dearest Kommandant… he translated.
"That is," continued the German, "up until nine months ago."
The words blurred before him, and for the briefest time, Hogan's demeanor cracked. He didn't stop staring at the wall, Klink noticed. But his body seemed to sink for just a second. And his eyes…his eyes… The head of Stalag Luft 13 almost doubted what he had seen, as the despair that for the tiniest moment had filled his senior POW's dark eyes melted into steely resolve—or was that detachment? Is that how you survive, Hogan? What does the Gestapo want from you now?
"We want to know about the 504th Bomb Group, Colonel," the guest said to Hogan now.
For the first time, Hogan spoke. "Who are they?"
The interrogator barked out a laugh. "Have you forgotten already, Colonel Hogan?" he asked. "You were the Commander of the 504th Bomb Group out of England, were you not?"
"Funny, I can't remember," Hogan said in reply. Colonel Klink, I am writing to you because I believe you are a fine officer…
"You were shot down last July, when you underwent rather… intensive interrogation before you were assigned here at Stalag 13. Is your memory returning now?"
"Hogan, Robert E., Colonel, US Army Air Corps. Serial number 0876707."
"I know all that about you already, Colonel Hogan. What I want to know is a bit more about your background."
Klink--rather imprudently, he thought later--spoke up. "Major Oberholzer, under the terms of the Geneva Prisoner of War Convention, Colonel Hogan is not required to give you any information other than his name, rank and serial number." What in Heaven's name am I doing? he thought, even as the words came tumbling out. Hogan, those are your words—you should be saying them, not me!
Oberholzer turned to Klink and raised an eyebrow. Klink's blood ran cold. "When I want to hear from Geneva, Colonel Klink, you will be the first one I call." He turned back to Hogan. "The 504th caused a great amount of trouble over Essen last week, Colonel Hogan."
"Did they?" Oh, brother, this person's handwriting is pretty pathetic. Maybe it's hard to write neatly when you're being a sycophant.
Oberholzer straightened, a gesture intended to be intimidating. Hogan felt the muscles in his back ripple as he remained almost painfully arrow-straight. "The Fuhrer is most displeased."
Hogan's eyes flitted to Oberholzer's face. "Glad to hear it," Hogan deadpanned. Then he turned back to the wall.
"You won't think so when we are done with you, Colonel Hogan!" Oberholzer snapped, offended. A pause, during which the Major seemed to regain his calm. "Very well, Colonel," he said with a smooth smile that made Hogan queasy; "I will let you return to your quarters for now. We will talk again in two hours. Perhaps then you will have thought better of your stubbornness."
"I doubt it."
Oberholzer laughed lightly. "Ah, now there is the Colonel Hogan I was told to expect. I would have been disappointed if you had not come up with wisecracks to try and hold me off. It would have made me think I was not getting inside your brain quite far enough," he explained, as he moved in way too close for Hogan's comfort. "How does it feel, Colonel Hogan?" he asked. Hogan frowned slightly but didn't move. "You have nothing now. You used to be the Commander of a legendary Bomb Group. Now, you are the leader of a group of impotent boy scouts," Oberholzer oozed. He moved impossibly closer to Hogan and spoke into his ear. "How does it feel, Colonel Hogan, to have lost everything?"
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Hogan walked back into Barracks Two to a roomful of averted eyes. He paused as he shut the door to the hut, trying to gauge the faces of any one of the four men scattered around the common room, but it was a fruitless exercise, so he headed for the stove and started pouring himself a cup of old coffee.
Finally, the Englishman, Corporal Peter Newkirk, spoke up from his spot at the table. "We 'eard what the Gestapo man said, sir," he admitted quietly, staring into his hands and only fleetingly glancing toward the Colonel.
Hogan had known his men would listen from his office, using the listening device they had planted in Klink's office a couple of months ago, attached to an old coffee pot that had been converted into a receiver. But he couldn't help wishing now that they hadn't heard the humiliation he had just been subjected to by Oberholzer; he didn't want their questions, and he didn't want their pity, because he wasn't sure if he would be able to cope with them now. "It's a… unique angle he's taking," Hogan replied briefly, throwing a look toward them but not joining his men.
James Kinchloe forced out a light laugh from his spot near the bunk that hid a secret entrance to a tunnel system under the barracks that Hogan and his men used to operate a sabotage and intelligence unit for the Allies. "Yeah—imagine what that Kraut'd say if he knew what he was standing on top of."
"Oui; he would have a lot less to say then, Colonel," chimed in Louis Le Beau. The French Corporal continued watching Hogan's straight back and exchanged a frown with his companions.
"Yeah. I mean he could never say that you didn't recover from losing command of the—"
"Andrew!" chastised Newkirk harshly. The young Sergeant swallowed the rest of what he was going to say as icy looks from the others froze him in place across from the Englishman.
But Hogan finally turned to his men, coffee still in his hand. "No, no, Carter's right," he said in a strained voice that he was clearly trying to control. "Oberholzer was talking out of his hat. The guy obviously doesn't know what's involved in being a Bomb Group Commander—working all hours of the day and night before, during, and after bombing raids. Training kids to go out and die. Trying to promote mission strategies that you know only might work if the goons decide to stay home that day." Hogan snorted. "'Lost everything,'" he mocked. "He has no idea how lucky I was. I'll leave all that to someone else now."
"Who's commanding the Bomb Group now, Colonel?" Carter asked. He jumped, startled, when he felt a hard kick under the table.
"I don't know," Hogan said abruptly. His shoulders dropped as he let out a loud breath. "I'm gonna go think for awhile. I've gotta figure out what this joker really wants."
Kinch raised an eyebrow. "What else do you suspect, Colonel? Oberholzer said he was after information about the 504th."
Hogan shook his head. "That may be right, Kinch," he said grimly. "But I get the distinct feeling that there's more to it than that. Everything they're going to get out of me about the Group is already in my file—and that's a blank page. It doesn't make sense that that's all they want nine months after I was shot down."
"Be careful, Colonel," Le Beau cautioned.
Hogan smiled weakly. "I'm sure they'll proceed very deliberately, Louis." Hogan looked around the room, seeming almost lost for a moment. Then he put the cup of coffee on the stove and went into his office and closed the door.
"Good one, Carter," Kinch scolded.
"Well, gee, the Colonel hasn't lost everything; he has the operation!" the young man answered. "And besides, he said he was glad to give up being Commander of the Bomb Group!"
"It's a front," declared Le Beau. "That job meant the world to him."
"Of course it did," Newkirk agreed. "A career man like the gov'nor, working his way up through the ranks. Finally gets his own command and a job where he can make a real difference to his men—and it all gets taken away by the lousy Krauts, who then take great pleasure in constantly rubbing his face in it!" He shook his head. "It's bloody not fair," he complained helplessly.
"You're right about that," Kinch agreed, frustrated. "And there's not a damn thing we can do about it."
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Colonel Wesley Dennison took off his crush cap and practically whipped it across his office, missing the coat rack it was destined for by a long shot and not remotely caring. He scowled as he rounded his desk and sat down heavily in the chair, slamming into the back rest and almost sending the seat sprawling backwards into the wall behind it. He crossed his arms tightly in front of his chest, wanting to be alone but knowing that he had been followed back to his office and would not be allowed to stew on his own.
"Hogan, Hogan, Hogan!" he burst, as though to cut off any opening comment from the man who walked through the door behind him. "Eight months in this job, and I still hear about Hogan! What was this man, anyway? A miracle worker?"
Lewis Humphries shrugged as he picked up the abandoned cap and tossed it casually on the desk. "He was your predecessor, Wes, and he was a damned good one," the Major said. He sat down in the chair across from Dennison and relaxed. "An absolute master at strategic planning. The brass can't help but compare anyone and everyone to him."
"Great," Dennison grumbled. "He's out in Germany somewhere, in a POW camp sitting out the war, and I'm stuck trying to fill his boots. How big were his feet, anyway?"
"Downright huge, depending on whom you believe." Humphries offered a lopsided, almost apologetic smile. "Hell, Wes, he even impressed me, and you know how hard it is to do that. Straight as an arrow all the way, he was—but I never saw him back down from a fight when it affected his men, no matter how impossible it seemed. He was completely unafraid to face off against anyone and anything that might put the Group at unnecessary risk. But at the same time, he was one of the biggest planned-risk takers I've ever seen. Covered every angle, every possible outcome, and always, always, took the biggest risks himself. And he managed to lead the 504th to the highest success rate, and lowest attrition rate, of any Bomb Group, period."
"Let's hear it for Saint Hogan," Dennison declared resignedly.
"Aw, Wes, don't be like that," Humphries said, disappointed. "You'd have liked Colonel Hogan, really you would. You can't dislike him for being good at what he did."
"I don't dislike him; I just feel like his ghost is walking behind me all the time, and I don't even have the benefit of learning from him. How did he do it, Lewis? How did Hogan do it?"
Humphries smiled wryly. "If you knew that, then you might have been Commander of the 504th before him, not after him." He sighed. "I knew whoever followed him would have it tough," he admitted. "The whole Group kind of went into a depression when we were told he wasn't coming back. Poor bastard. Breaks my heart to think of him now, rotting away in a Prisoner of War camp somewhere in Germany. I wonder what it's like for him."
At this, one of the greatest fears of all flyers, Dennison paused. Yes, he had heard the name Hogan mentioned an awful lot since he was promoted and assigned to lead the Bomb Group last August. And yes, it was starting to wear on him a bit, even though the frequency of the reminiscences was lower than when Dennison had first started at West Raynham. But no man wanted to think about being shot down out of his B-17 and captured by the Nazis. And he didn't wish that horror on anybody else. Not even someone whose legendary status was a constant presence in his life. "I guess it just goes to show you," Dennison said, now subdued: "you can be the greatest planner in the whole US Army Air Corps… but in the end, you're still susceptible to Kraut bullets." He shook his head. "Sure could use some of Hogan's masterful strategic planning now. There are things about this proposed mission I just don't like, and I haven't got the damnedest idea how to get around them."
Humphries stood up and smiled softly at his friend. "Just cover all the angles, think of all the outcomes, and fight like hell. Every raid is a calculated risk."
"I know," Dennison sighed. "Okay, Lewis; I won't give up. Heck, I might even make Hogan proud of me, wherever he is."
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"Colonel Hogan, what is the flying complement of the 504th Bomb Group?"
Hogan answered the politely asked question with sullen silence.
"I believe you were involved in the first daytime raids by American bombers. That means you must have been privy to the strategy sessions beforehand. Group Commanders surely would have been told what was expected of them. What is the long-term plan of the Americans in regards to this daytime bombing?"
Hogan glanced down at the handcuffs on his wrists as his hands sat in his lap. And though his mind was filled with memories, he said nothing, and showed no emotion.
"How many of your men were killed when you were shot down, Colonel?"
Oberholzer saw Hogan's eyes change when he asked this last question. Trained in psychology and an expert interrogator, the German smiled. He'd almost too easily found Hogan's weak spot. Oberholzer came a little closer to Hogan in the already-small solitary confinement cell. "Did you lose one? Two? Four?" Oberholzer came round the back of Hogan and spoke into the Colonel's ear. "Or did you lose all of them?"
Once again Oberholzer watched as Hogan quietly coped with the mental onslaught. The American was clenching and unclenching his fists, a painful task when one was in such tight handcuffs. Was he inflicting physical pain on himself on purpose—to avoid succumbing to emotional pain? Oberholzer watched as Hogan flinched at the movements but did not stop them, and continued his silence.
"More losses, Hogan. You were in charge of hundreds and hundreds of men. But you lost that command. You were in a plane in the skies over Hamburg… with nine other men… and you lost them, too." Oberholzer shook his head as he came around to face Hogan, who was clearly fighting some inner demons to remain stoic, at least on the surface. "What else is there to lose, Colonel Hogan? Except perhaps your men here?"
At that moment, Hogan's eyes betrayed him. He looked straight up at Oberholzer, his expression clearly anguished, his muscles tense and straining, his hands balled into painful fists that were causing the handcuffs to cut into his wrists. Not my men…not because of me…
Oberholzer simply smiled gently in return. "And so I ask again, Colonel Hogan. Tell me about the 504th Bomb Group."
Forcing the faces of his men here at camp to the back of his mind, Hogan dropped his eyes back to his lap, and watched, detached, as a trickle of blood rolled slowly down toward his left thumb. His breathing became slow, steady, and shallow. And then he whispered, "Hogan, Robert E., Colonel, US Army Air Corps. Serial number 0876707."
Oberholzer's smile widened. "Oh, my dear Colonel Hogan," he said. "I am so going to enjoy getting to know you."