Dreams of Reality
This Memorial Day weekend, please take a moment to honor our military men and women who have died in defense of the United States of America. Without your sacrifice, our freedoms would be no more than paper. In the same vein, a big THANK YOU goes out to all military personnel, active duty or otherwise.
As a warning, the nightmare sequences are occasionally violent; that's what nightmares are.
Disclaimer: If I owned Hogan's Heroes, I'd also be offering the companion DVD: How to build your own tunnels in five easy steps.
Sometimes that's all you have. Especially if you're a Prisoner of War.
There, reality was your unwanted friend; you tried to ignore it as best as you could. It was hard; your sense of pride was submerged by shame, surrounded by barbed wire, and enclosed by hate. Becoming a POW was the last thing on your mind when you enlisted after Pearl Harbor, yet here you were. Your life was a routine of boredom, orders, and misery; in some ways it was just like the Army. Of course, the bad guys were a lot closer, and you were unarmed, but who's counting?
Still, you coped. You found ways to keep your mind active somehow. Want to learn a language? Someone in camp usually had one to teach. Had knowledge to share? Organize a class for other men to learn. The Germans encouraged such things; a happy prisoner was a busy prisoner.
A busy prisoner, it followed, did not escape. In theory, anyway.
If you had skills, the escape committee - every camp had one - could certainly use you for a number of tasks from forging documents to tailoring. As you soon discover, little goes to waste in a POW camp.
Even that was not enough; you had to dream at some time. Civilization was a world away, but you remembered the small things that made life fun. Going to a picture show, for instance. Entering a pub, or your favorite bar back home. You even remembered what your girl looked like before you shipped out. In your mind you could see her smile, or hear her laugh again. In some small way things like these helped you hang on for one more miserable day.
Some men couldn't separate the dreams from reality; desperation to regain what they had lost made them mad. Others who could keep their sanity - and knew the risks of achieving their dreams - dared to escape into an alien world where they had no home; they survived on their wits and skill to score a home run.
Even for those who could escape, but didn't, the dreams remained. Sometimes, on occasion, they turned into nightmares.
Hogan tossed on the hard bunk, dreaming…
"Colonel Hogan," Major Hochstetter said, smirking, "it's so nice to see you again."
He punched Hogan in the stomach and watched the American Colonel double over in pain before being forced down onto his knees by a nearby guard. Even as Hogan raised his head, another blow - this one to his jaw - sent his mind spinning. The Gestapo Major, meanwhile, walked slowly around the room as Hogan slowly recovered.
"What do you want, Hochstetter?" he rasped, trying to remain defiant. "Can't you see I'm busy?"
The other man snorted in amusement. "Still brave, even without the Luftwaffe to protect you," he calmly remarked. This time, his boot slammed down on the Colonel's back; the impact forced Hogan forward to lay face down on the ground. With his hands cuffed, escape was impossible; another boot, this one on his upper back, kept him there against the cold concrete. The pressure increased as the Gestapo officer leaned forward, leaving him in agony.
"Where are your jokes now, Hogan? That smug American attitude, hah? It won't do you any good where you're going," Hochstetter said tauntingly. He removed the boot from the prisoner's back and resumed his slow pace around the room. The other guard, meanwhile, raised Hogan back to his knees before resuming his position against the stone wall. For a long eternity, the only sound in the room came from the echo of Hochstetter's boots against the hard floor. Hogan tensed for the next blow; surprisingly, none came.
"I've decided to let you live, Hogan," Hochstetter finally said, enjoying the moment. "Not that I care for what happens to you, no. However, it is important that the people see what happens to criminals of the Third Reich. After a proper trial, you'll be taken to a concentration camp. Do you know what that is, Hogan?"
Hogan knew, but stayed silent.
"There is no Geneva Convention there, Hogan. Only the SS, and they are a law unto themselves. You will work alongside the other prisoners there. Eventually, you will be starved or shot to death; I don't care which, as long as you suffer." The sadistic grin on Hochstetter's face was enough to give the Colonel chills. "Perhaps I will come to visit you, Hogan; your treatment should make for interesting entertainment."
He shrugged. "However, I am afraid that your men are not going to be as lucky, Hogan. Bring him," he curtly ordered the guard. Hogan was forced to his feet before being propelled out the door by a strong arm. They went down several corridors before they came to another locked room; the only difference between this one and Hogan's cell was the larger size of this one.
On the stone floor were four men, all on their knees, and facing away from the door. Hogan, however, knew instantly who they were: Kinchloe, Newkirk, LeBeau, and Carter. Cloth strips around the lower portion of the men's heads indicated that they were gagged.
"You see, Hogan, all criminals eventually face justice. You, of course, won't be the last." He smiled again before pulling a pistol out of his holster; an instant later, LeBeau was dead. None of the other men moved; for a moment, everything was frozen in time as the echo of the shot faded against the walls. Then the sound returned; Hogan saw the other men look at the body even as they frantically worked against their bonds.
"My God…" Hogan muttered, shocked; he then looked at the other man. "Major, don't," he pleaded. "Spare their lives; I'll tell you whatever you want to know." The Gestapo man shook his head.
"Why do I care, Hogan, hah? We already know everything." Another shot later, and Kinchloe slumped to the floor. The sound of the shot ricocheted through Hogan's mind, tearing at his sanity.
"PLEASE!" the Colonel begged. "I know everything! I'll tell you anything! Just don't do this!" he yelled in desperation. The Major merely looked at him and laughed before turning away.
"It's too late for that, Colonel Hogan," Hochstetter's voice said mockingly. "You really should have thought about them before all this." Seconds later, two more pistol shots ended the lives of Newkirk and Carter.
As the bodies fell, Hogan screamed….
…and woke up, in his quarters. Everything was quiet and still, punctuated only by the searchlights that sent their light through the cracks in the walls.
It took the Colonel a long time to return to sleep. He wasn't alone.
The dirty air had never smelled sweeter to his nose as he walked down the streets of East End. It was London air, he thought. Not German. Never German, again.
Newkirk was home.
The neighborhood looked just as he remembered it; it was as if the war had never happened. As he walked, he waved to friends that he hadn't seen in years. Stopping on the corner, he bought a newspaper and enjoyed the sight of English words - not foreign ones - printed on the flimsy paper.
Here, there were no guards or roll calls; no secret missions to plan. Instead, he was a free man with money in his pocket and places to go. He saw the 'Duke' - his old pub - up ahead and felt excitement stir within him. God, it had been a long time since he had had a real pint without having to look over his shoulder; he was almost giddy at the thought.
As he opened the door, he closed his eyes and smelled the atmosphere. The scent teased him, drawing him into another part of home that he had tried not to remember as a prisoner. He started to open his mouth to shout out, then opened his eyes-
And froze while standing in the doorway.
Instead of the musky interior of an English Pub, he saw instead the crude interior of a prison barracks. Specifically, Barracks Two. Colonel Hogan - the only officer he ever respected, American or not - stood at a table at the middle of the building. With him were Kinchloe, Carter, and LeBeau, three of the best friends he had ever had anywhere.
The Colonel said nothing, but waved a hand for him to come over to the table. Everyone looked at him as Newkirk turned around, seeing the empty street; a wave of homesickness washed over him. He wanted to go home so badly, yet he had a duty to perform. For the Colonel.
Sighing, Newkirk closed the door and walked over to the other men…
Unlike Colonel Hogan, Newkirk did not wake up. Instead, he shifted in his sleep as a tear ran down his cheek.
In the bunk below him, another person stirred…
The B-17 was dying.
Their problems started with number four; the damn engine had started to smoke and overheat on the way to Bremen. Despite the best efforts of the pilots, the engine had to be shut down. The Germans, who were trailing the formation for stragglers, quickly targeted their prey.
In the end, the 20mm cannons of the ME 110's did their work; they were shot all to hell although they took a few of the bastards in return. There was no chance they would make it back to Framlingham; they were about to become the 'guests' of the Germans.
Strangely, James Kinchloe wasn't as terrified as he thought he would be. He knew the risks of taking someone else's place; knew that he could die either in the air or on the ground. Still, he took that place; flying was something that called to his soul.
The earphones crackled; he heard Colonel Hogan's voice ordering everyone to bail out. Soon, other voices called in return; Kinchole heard the small 'pop' of static in his cans as they pulled the plugs out of their communication sets before jumping out. Getting himself ready, he called to Hogan; surprisingly, the man responded. Wasn't he gone already?
"Kinch," the voice said, "I need you to radio London and tell them what happened. Then I want you to stand by the radio."
James looked in the direction of the cockpit, annoyed; was the man serious? "But, Colonel…" he began.
"No, Kinch," Hogan's voice interrupted in a command tone. "You need to stay here in case anything important comes in. That's an order! Do you understand?"
Reluctantly, he sighed and closed his eyes in frustration. It was a long moment before he could speak; his only words were, "Yes, sir."
Why didn't he get to go? Kinch wondered. Was it because he was black? Or was it because he was doing something important? He heard the faint pop in his headphones as Hogan prepared to bail out, then idly looked at the escape hatch. Yeah, he could leave, he thought. But he had to stay.
He had to prove that he could do a good job here, as well as any of the white guys. He knew the radio; they didn't. That made him better. Didn't it?
Kinch sat there, staring at the radio, as the plane began to lose control. As it entered the spin of no return, he screamed…
Despite the cold barracks, Kinchloe woke up in a deep sweat. Like his commander, it took a while to get back to sleep.
Meanwhile, another person dreamed…
Andrew Carter took his head off the desk and looked around. He remembered this room; it was his old classroom back home. How did he get here? The teacher, Mr. Holmstead, looked at him expectantly.
"Uh…I'm sorry, sir," he stammered uncomfortably. "What was the question?"
"How many sticks of dynamite would it take to blow up a forty-two foot railroad bridge built of wood?" the teacher repeated.
Carter frowned; he knew he should know the answer somehow, yet he couldn't remember it.
"I don't know, sir," he finally admitted. Shame flushed his cheeks as the teacher looked at him.
"A tragedy, Mr. Carter," Mr. Holmstead chided. "Have you not learned it by now? This information may be important someday." He waved his hand dismissively. "However, I will give you the chance to redeem yourself and earn a passing grade. Look behind you."
Carter turned. His blood turned to ice as a curtain was pulled back, exposing the four men he knew best - Colonel Hogan, Kinch, Newkirk, and LeBeau - tied to chairs. The backs of the chairs formed a square, with each man the face. In the center of the table was a tall stool. On its flat surface was a bomb; the alarm clock attached to the face of it ticked ominously.
"Your job, Mister Carter, is to disarm the bomb before it blows up. Do try to hurry," the teacher calmly said. "You wouldn't want your friends to blow up, would you?"
He silently watched as his student approached the explosives carefully; the other men were not as quiet.
"Will you go ahead and disarm the bloody thing, Carter?" Newkirk said impatiently. "Or are you just going to stare at it all day?"
"You can do it, Carter," Colonel Hogan encouraged him. "I have faith in you. Always have." Kinchloe and LeBeau nodded in agreement, not daring to speak.
Summoning his courage, Carter stepped forward to inspect the bomb. It seemed pretty standard. He knew explosives and how to make them. How they were wired. He knew everything about them.
So why couldn't he remember how to disarm this one? The details were fuzzy, almost within his reach…
"Carter!" Hogan snapped, bringing him back to reality. He felt expectant, hopeful eyes on him.
"I just…I just can't remember how, Colonel," he stammered. His hands shook in frustration even as he began to sweat. Why was this so hard? Why couldn't he do this?
"You have to remember, Carter," Hogan ordered; a pleading tone was in his voice. "You're the only one who can do it!"
"I…I don't know how…" the younger man haltingly said. Just then, the alarm rang and the firing circuit closed.
The bomb exploded.
Carter woke up, his heart racing, and tried to keep his hands from shaking. For him, there would be no more sleep that night.
The final player in the drama had a different setting…
…he was in a church, waiting to be wed.
Friends and family were in the pews as he stood by the altar, waiting for his bride to enter. LeBeau was excited; soon he would be with his true love.
Soon, the music started; the bride, accompanied by her father, walked down the aisle towards him. He stood there nervously; what man is ever completely calm at his own wedding? The bride's dress was beautiful, right down to the veil that obscured her face.
His intended took her place at his side before they went through the ceremony. As she said 'I do' LeBeau's heart leaped for joy; he couldn't remember ever being so happy.
"You may now kiss the bride," the priest intoned. LeBeau faced her and gingerly lifted the veil off of his wife's face. As he did so, he gasped in shock before staggering backward into his best man.
Schultz smiled back at him, then made a kissing motion with his lips before he spoke.
"Now you can make me that Apple Strudel whenever you want, darling…"
This time, a scream filled the barracks as the Frenchman sat straight up, gasping for air. Around him, other men stirred, some waking, before they went back to sleep. As for LeBeau, he stayed awake until the real Schultz came into to wake them for roll call.
"All present and accounted for, Herr Kommandant!" the fat guard announced, saluting. Klink, as usual, retreated into the warmth of his office.
For the prisoners, reality began yet again.
A/N: I tried to give each man a personal nightmare related to the show. For Hogan, his duty would be to his men; he would try to protect them. Kinchloe usually stays in camp to wait and run the radio, though he does have the occasional mission. Carter had his bombs, of course. Newkirk just wanted to go home, so I recreated Klinger's dream scene from MASH. LeBeau's was cooking for Schultz on occasion.
The B-17 details were taken from a website: texasfowlerdotcom. Pretty interesting! Check out the 'Life in Stalag Luft 1' link.
Coming soon: 48.