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"Ah, beautiful, more fuel for the stove!" Louis Le Beau held up one of the diaries that had come with the rest of the YMCA supplies delivered earlier in the day.

"Fantastic," agreed Peter Newkirk. The RAF Corporal picked another diary off the table and tossed it at the Frenchman. "Now we might get a decent meal, and we won't freeze to death."

Colonel Robert Hogan watched the interaction amongst the men in Barracks Two with interest. He had already supervised the unpacking of the goodies from Geneva—sporting equipment, musical instruments, the usual edible delights and books in English for the camp library. Finally, he had personally brought the diaries to each of the barracks, and left his instructions.

As the senior POW officer in this enlisted man's prison camp, Hogan felt a keen sense of responsibility for the one thousand men here at Stalag 13, and lately, he had started to notice a distinct tension in the air—more than the usual anxiety that traveled daily with a man who was not at liberty to do as he pleased without the threat of being shot. Quite frankly, he admitted bitterly to himself, Hogan was unsure exactly what to do about it. The goodies from the YMCA would help distract the men, but there were interpersonal problems that were starting to be more than a mere murmur in the background. And the freezing weather that was keeping them all in close quarters wasn't helping.

There would have to be something else to get things back to some semblance of normalcy again. Hogan came into the room and picked up one of the journals. "You won't be tossing these on the fire, I'm afraid," he said, holding it up and turning so the men could all see his face. "I have other plans for them."

"What are you gonna do with them, Colonel?" asked Sergeant Andrew Carter from his bunk.

"We are going to write in them, just as the YMCA intended us to." There was a collective and immediate uproar from the fourteen other men in the room. "All right, hold it, hold it!" Hogan called out. The room went quiet. Hogan frowned. "There's been an awful lot of infighting in this camp lately, and a lot of bad feelings starting to make life pretty uncomfortable around here. Now I want you to take these books and start putting your feelings in there, instead of jumping down each other's throats. I'm getting tired of sorting out your petty squabbles. Write it out, sort it out amongst yourselves, and if you can't do that, then come to me and I'll knock some sense into you." He paused, and his eyes softened. "Look, we all hate this hole. We all know none of us is really free to go, and with winter closing in it's going to get worse. Let's work this out on our own. Otherwise the Nazis win. All right?"

A thoughtful silence ran through the room. Sergeant James Kinchloe stood up and took a book in his hand. "All right," he said, nodding at Hogan.

The Colonel gave a small smile.

Newkirk stood up. "I never did care for writing," he said with a yawn and a stretch. Hogan raised his chin, watching but saying nothing. Newkirk snatched another diary off the table. "But I'll give it a go. Might even write a best seller." He grinned. "But you'd better stay away from my book, mates," he warned the others. "There'll be some hot stuff in there and you might burn your 'ands!"

Hogan's smile grew larger. "And that's another thing," he said as one by one, men started collecting the diaries. "We all know we have some pretty important stuff happening in this barracks. If you want to write about any of those things, those books stay down in the tunnel. Got it?"

Sounds of agreement rippled through the room. "Are you gonna read these, Colonel?" Carter asked.

Hogan shook his head. "They're not mine to read, Carter. Your thoughts belong to you. Just keep them out of sight."

"What do you want us to write about, Colonel?" Le Beau asked, still frowning but holding onto his diary nonetheless.

"Whatever comes to mind, Louis. Just remember, this is a family war."

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Newkirk got a pencil from his footlocker, and stretched out on his bunk. Propped up on his elbows, the Englishman stared at the journal a few minutes before opening it.

He's gone 'round the bend he has, expecting me to keep a diary like a bloomin' school girl. Never mind what I said to the others; that was just to keep up appearances, after all. Besides, it won't hurt the Colonel one bit to think I'm going along with this idea of his, never mind that I think it's proof he's flipped. "Write down your feelings. Blow off some steam that way instead of with each other." That's what he said, or something like that anyway. Right.

I don't see how writing stuff down is going to help. I'll take a crack at it, even though he didn't exactly make it an order as such.

Newkirk slowly opened the book and started writing.

4 October 1944—

Another day in paradise, if your idea of paradise is cold food, cold showers and lying in your bunk shivering all night because you don't have enough blankets or enough wood for the stove or you've got the ruddy wind whistling through the crack in the wall right beside your head. That's not such a bad thing in the summer, but in winter, forget it.

This will be my fifth winter stuck in a rotten POW camp. Four lousy, long years since I took a midnight swim in the North Sea and got fished out by the Krauts. That was probably the coldest I'd ever been in my life, and it doesn't seem like I've been able to get warm since.

I reckon I'm as ready for it as I'm going to be. My overcoat is more patch than coat, but at least there are no holes left in it for now. I've been knitting socks all summer, still at it in fact, but it seems like there's always one of the others who needs a new pair worse than me, so I'll have to see if I can talk Carter into darning up some of mine soon. That shouldn't be hard, he's a soft touch. No, strike that. He's really an all right sort of chap, even if he is innocent as a newborn lamb.

Look at the time. I noticed Colonel Hogan giving the old bent eye to the camp woodshed this morning, which means he's thinking of getting together a wood-cutting detail. I'd best go find something else to do, like trash patrol, before he gets the idea that I'm the ruddy Tin Woodsman and puts an axe into my hand.

You know, if I make a few more entries in this thing while people are watching, I'll be able to convince the Colonel that I'm actually working on this bloody thing… and while I don't like deceiving the gov'nor, I'm quite prepared to give this up as a bad idea as soon as I can get away with it! And since we've all promised to keep our noses out of each other's books, no one will be the wiser… and no one will get their feelings hurt.

Newkirk closed the journal and put it and the pencil on the small shelf above his bunk that held a few of his personal items. Then he swung down from the bunk, put on his overcoat and cap, smiled and walked out of the barracks.

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Hogan sat staring at the blank page before him for a full three minutes before he even considered writing. What could he say that would make any sense? And why had he told his men to do this exercise in the first place? With a sigh, he picked a sharp pencil out of the holder on his desk.

October 4, 1944—

I ordered the men to start writing in these YMCA diaries. My original intention was to give them something to do besides killing each other, but I'm hoping it gives them a little bit of purpose in their seemingly meaningless existence at present. Life in a POW camp can be pretty stressful, and I've noticed they're starting to lose patience with each other over little things. Writing things down might relieve some of that tension.

I figured I'd better follow my own orders, too, so here I am, struggling for something to write about. I don't think my own short temper has much to do with the men here, but it sure has a lot to do with me. I think a lot about being out of this hole, and while that's natural for any man in prison, I'm worried it's getting in the way of what I'm supposed to be doing here. I know the men have caught me staring out into space more than once, and then I always see that look on their faces that says they're worried about whatever they might think I'm worried about. It's one of the hardest things about being here at Stalag 13. Everyone's allowed to be insecure, to be scared, to be depressed once in awhile. But not me. The men expect a top performance from me all the time, and I have to work like hell to make sure I deliver. That's part of being the role model, the commanding officer, the perfect poster boy. Quite frankly, sometimes I'd rather just stay curled up in my bunk all day, feeling sorry for myself.

But it's not to be, and so here I am, writing in this diary and hoping my men don't stuff their own books down each other's throats before too long. It's going to be a harsh winter. The cold is already here; I can hear it in the wind whistling through the cracks in the barracks walls late at night when I should be asleep. I can feel it pushing through my coat and making my fingers crack and bleed in a long roll call because my gloves have worn down and getting any new ones would be a feat to behold. I can see it—the men pull their frayed collars up around their necks and hunch their shoulders in the hopes of keeping some of the chill away. And it's only October. When the real winter comes, I have a feeling we're in for trouble. I'll have to make sure we start stockpiling wood early this year.

Almost two years in this camp. It doesn't get easier. But I've learned the routine, and I follow it. I worry… will I be able to go back to who I was before the war?

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I never thought a lot about writing in a diary, but Colonel Hogan says he wants us to, so here I am. I guess he's right and a lot of us have been getting really short with each other, and this way we get to gripe without griping at somebody else.

I'll start this right, I suppose, since this is the first page of my YMCA diary and you don't even know who I am. I'll tell you a little bit about myself. My name is Andrew Carter. I grew up a little of all over the place—Bullfrog, North Dakota, is where I learned the most about my Sioux Indian heritage. My Indian name is Little Deer That Runs Swift and Sure Through Forest. And then my folks decided to move to Muncie, Indiana. Not many forests there, I guess, so I went back to just being Andrew. I tell ya, it was really neat being able to play Cowboys and Indians as a kid and having a real stake in it!

Anyway, I'm a POW in a Stalag Luft about sixty miles from the North Sea near a town called Hammelburg. Now usually I'd like to go and explore the neighborhood I live near, but if I tried that here I'd get shot by the Germans. They sure are funny about people taking honest-to-goodness, innocent looks around.

I live with a bunch of fellas in Barracks Two—boy, some of the best people you'd ever want to meet. My bunk is under Peter Newkirk's. He's English. He plays cards and does magic tricks, and all sorts of things you don't get to see in Muncie unless you pay to see it at the local club. He can be pretty loud and hotheaded, but he's really a nice guy, even if he doesn't wanna show you that he is.

Next to us are Louis Le Beau and Kinch. Louis's French. He cooks really well but I've never heard of some of his creations and sometimes I wonder if he just makes it up as he goes along. For that matter, sometimes I think the same thing about the way he talks. Sometimes he starts talking so fast that I'm not sure it's even a language, just a bunch of sounds he strings together to make it sound like he knows what he's saying.

Kinch is really James Kinchloe. He's a colored Sergeant, which is strange considering he's an American, and they weren't really supposed to be flying in the war when he was shot down. But I tell ya, I'm sure glad I came to Stalag 13 and got to meet him. He's a really nice guy. Quiet and strong, just like Uncle Walt used to be when I was growing up. You know, I don't know what the problem is with the US Government. I wouldn't have minded Kinch flying with me. Heck, I wouldn't mind him living next to me, either.

And I mentioned Colonel Hogan but I haven't told you anything about him. I guess I don't really know much about him, except that he's a really great guy and I can't think of anyone who I'd rather have as my commanding officer. That might sound disloyal to the fellas I was with when I wasn't a POW, but honest, the Colonel's just about the best guy you'd ever want to know. He really cares about all of us, and there isn't a thing he wouldn't do to protect us and make sure we're all safe and looked after while we're here.

You know, if I hadn't been shot down, I'd have missed out on meeting some really special people. When this war is over, I guess that's something I'm going to have to be grateful for. And I wonder what I'm ever going to do without them in my life?

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Kinch pulled his knees up to use as a writing slope, and, sitting hunched on his bunk with his back against the wall, he opened the diary he had picked up in front of Hogan, and started writing.

"All right," I said. What an idiot I am. The Colonel asked us to start writing in these diaries because everybody's starting to get on everyone else's nerves, and I had to open my mouth and be the first to agree. Everyone was complaining, they might have convinced Colonel Hogan to abandon the idea, but I had to pipe up and say I'd do it. So now we're all doing it, and so I'd better get to it myself.

It's the 4th of October, 1944, and I'm stuck in a POW camp in the middle of Nazi Germany. Anyone reading this will know me, so there's no point in going through the name, rank and serial number routine. I was shot down when I wasn't even supposed to be in the air. That's no military secret, so I won't have to hide this diary, but it was sure an experience I'll be happy not to relive, not even in this book.

I don't know how to go about this, I'm pretty good at thinking things out but I haven't written in a diary before. Colonel Hogan wants us to do this so we get our bad feelings out. I don't really have any right now, aside from being a little hut-happy from being inside all the time with this weather. It gets downright claustrophobic after awhile. I'm used to cramped quarters, but fifteen men who'd rather be elsewhere all stuck together—this isn't a good thing in the best of circumstances. Sometimes I think the Colonel isn't sure what to do with us, either. He puts on a great show—it's not often that we see him with his guard down, even when things are bad—but it's got to get to him sometimes, too. I know he was a Bomb Group Commander, but even men in those positions sometimes have to doubt themselves, their orders, their ideas…. Of all the men I've met since coming to Germany, he's the one who fascinates me the most. There's a man no one gets to see, and I can't help but wonder who he is.

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4th octobre, 1944

Before I came to Stalag 13, I had written in a diary to stop myself du fait de perdre la raison. When I got here and there were other things to occupy myself with, I abandoned it. Now Colonel Hogan says he wants us to use these YMCA diaries that have come into camp. At first I thought it was a bad idea, but I found my old book and realized how important it was to me to keep track of what had happened. I cannot promise I will make up for more than two years of silence, but je promets I will do my best to get it all down from now on. I know some of the others think it is silly—they think le Colonel is going stir crazy and is taking us with him. But as someone who used writing in a diary to stay alert and focused, I see it differently.

Vive le Colonel Hogan— et vive la France!