A/N: I don't own Hogan's Heroes and I don't get paid for this; this is purely a labor of love.
I shouldn't have even been there, really. Mom encouraged me to become a conscientious objector; you can be a medic or something, she said. Still help the cause without killing people, she said.
Dad didn't go for that, of course. After Pearl, the only thing that would satisfy him was for me to enlist as a fighting man. Me, I thought maybe the Air Corps was the place to be. At least with them, I wouldn't have to see the people I was killing.
And it worked for a while, actually. I was lucky to be assigned to navigation school; nice clean job, had to learn how to perform calculations and read aviation maps, but that came easily to me. Easy to tell the pilots where to take their payloads of death. Not like I was the bombardier, either. They might not have seen the people they were bombing, but they must have known, somehow, that it wasn't like the bombs could tell what was a munitions factory, and what was a school two blocks away.
But I knew, anyway, deep down inside. Every mission I flew, I realized more and more that death and destruction followed me wherever I went. But I kept on. God only knew how much destruction Germany was raining down on England, on innocent folks just trying to go about their daily lives.
It wasn't like two wrongs made a right, though. It was more like a necessary evil. Everyone knew that Hitler was not going to be appeased, that the only hope for Europe lay in the total and unconditional surrender of the Third Reich. And it was going to take a lot of death and destruction to bring that about.
I knew that, we all did, but it got harder and harder for me to do what I had to do. It was almost a relief when my bomber got shot down and the crew taken prisoner. I'm not sure where the others were taken; me, I wound up at Stalag 13.
What a strange place. Mostly Americans, all airmen, all noncoms like myself, except for the Senior POW Officer. I got assigned to his barracks, and boy, what an eye-opener.
He was a colonel, you see, full colonel with eagles and everything. He was a nice guy, with a lighthearted manner with his men - except when a mission was in progress, he was all business then - and flippancy bordering on insolence when he dealt with the goons there.
The head goon being Colonel Klink, the camp Kommandant. Now, there was a guy who was a conundrum. Strutted around like a peacock half the time, with a swagger stick under his arm. And the arguments he got into with Colonel Hogan! I'm sure the Colonel just egged him on to make the Kommandant look foolish, but Klink just rose to the bait so easily.
But for all of his foolishness and vainglory, I think he was a decent human being at heart. I helped Sergeant Wilson out in the infirmary, and whenever one of the prisoners was sick or injured, the Kommandant always visited and followed up to make sure they were getting better. He would even send a prisoner to the Krankenhaus in Hammelburg if Wilson couldn't deal with the problem at the camp.
The other Krauts in camp, and the ones who visited periodically, were just as much a puzzle to me. There was our beloved Sergeant Schultz, for example. Just a big cuddly teddy bear at times, innocent as a child; other times he could be as sharp as a tack, and you'd better watch your step.
Corporal LeBeau seemed to keep Schultz in line pretty good, though. He called him "Schultzie" and fed him strudel.
Then there was Corporal Langenscheidt. Now, he was a real mystery to me. We didn't see much of him, and he seemed a pleasant enough guy, if a little goofy. But when he and Schultz got assigned the task of guarding the Colonel and LeBeau on a trip to Paris...
What were a couple of POWs from a German Stalag doing in Paris in the middle of World War II? Don't ask me. I leave that kind of question to Colonel Hogan.
Every now and then we'd see a tub of lard by the name of General Burkhalter. Not sure what his role was, since he wore a Heer officer uniform, but he seemed to be in charge of Luftwaffe POW camps - at least ours came under his jurisdiction. Klink was always kissing up to him, but Burkhalter just barely tolerated Klink, and for only one reason.
Did I mention that Stalag 13 had never had a successful escape?
The other Kraut we saw the most of was Major Hochstetter, a Gestapo officer. He always seemed mad about something, mostly Colonel Hogan, I guess. Actually, Hochstetter was just a wee bit on the unbalanced side, if you ask me.
The Colonel didn't treat the good Major with a lot of respect. In fact, from what I could see, he was always making a fool out of him.
Take that incident with the underground leaders that were being held in our camp, for example.
That was one of the few times I took active part in an operation outside the wire. Outside the wire? Hey, I said there was never an escape - I didn't say we never left for a while. Anyway, that kind of thing was usually carried out by Colonel Hogan's main team - Sergeants Kinchloe and Carter, and Corporals Newkirk and LeBeau. Me, I was just one of the guys in the back row at roll call.
But this time Sergeant Carter had another special assignment outside the wire, doing one of his German officer impersonations. That guy could look and sound more like a Kraut than the Krauts do. Anyway, Kinch and I were given the task of taking over the radio station in Hammelburg temporarily so Kinch could give a fake broadcast, then we had to disable the station.
Gotta admit that was kind of fun, except for the part where I had to help knock out the station personnel. We didn't cause any permanent damage, though, not to the people working there, just to the station itself. You should have seen the sparks fly.
When we got back to camp, there was a major hoopla about the war being over - that was the gist of Kinch's broadcast, you see. It was kind of sad, really. All of the POWs knew about the ruse, but the guards, Klink, and Hochstetter didn't, and Colonel Hogan was able to talk Hochstetter into letting the underground leaders go, on account of the war being over and all.
It wasn't but a few minutes after the underground leaders left, when the stuff really hit the fan. A Luftwaffe general showed up and let Klink and Hochstetter know they had been tricked. Hochstetter got hauled off by the general, the underground got the blame for the whole hoax, and we at Stalag 13 got off scot-free. Pretty slick, all around.
And I was happy to have been part of the whole scheme. I did some other minor behind the scenes jobs for Colonel Hogan, but I'm really glad that Carter handled all the explosive stuff. I just couldn't deal with the thought of hurting people anymore. Not even to help end the war.
We didn't have a chaplain in camp - weird, isn't it? It was a small stalag, sure, but there were a few hundred men here, and you'd think we would've rated a chaplain. Anyway, I was having trouble dealing with the fact that our camp was harboring a bunch of saboteurs - myself among them, and there really wasn't anyone to talk to about it.
Except Colonel Hogan himself, and I shied away from approaching him. The Colonel always knew what was going on with his men, though, and he took me aside one day.
"It's okay, Thomas - I know something's on your mind. It's my job as your commanding officer to help you work out any problems you may have."
So I told him about my feelings about having to hurt other people. I told him about how Pearl Harbor had derailed my plans to enter the seminary, and how I wished we had a chaplain here in camp.
He nodded. "I'm Irish Catholic myself. Haven't been to Mass in years now."
"I'm Irish, too, Colonel. My mother was a Mulcahy," I told him.
"Well, Sergeant Thomas, I respect your feelings and I do appreciate the work you've done for us. We're still on the same team and working for the same thing. Never doubt that."
He crossed his arms in that way he has and looked thoughtful for a moment. "Thomas, I think there are plenty of noncombatant type activities in camp to keep you busy. I believe the Geneva Convention gives me the right to appoint a chaplain since we don't have one available. Would you care to take on the responsibility?"
"I would be honored, sir," I said.
So I got started by talking to all of the POWs about what they felt they were missing, religion-wise. A surprising number of them wanted to form prayer groups, and I was happy to help them organize these, as well as impromptu church services. Most of the guys, though, just needed somebody to talk to, and thanks to Colonel Hogan, I was able to be there for them.
As the war dragged on, more and more guys needed to talk. Red Cross packages had stopped arriving, food supplies were getting low, and morale was low as well.
Then, in March, Corporal Langenscheidt arrived back in camp with some Red Cross guy, and best of all, they had a truck full of Red Cross packages. I helped unload, and while we were all occupied in passing these out to the POWs and storing the rest, Kinch came running up to me.
"Hey, Thomas, the Colonel wants to see you right away!"
I found the Colonel outside Barracks 2.
"Yes, sir?" I said.
Colonel Hogan smiled at me. "Well, Sergeant Thomas, I think I have another flock for you to tend to. Klink's arranging to parole some prisoners here for work with the Red Cross. They need drivers and mechanics for the relief trucks taking packages to POWs who have been evacuated and are now on the move. I figure you'd want to be among them - am I right?"
Was he ever!
As I sat in the back of the Red Cross truck with the rest of the guys, we waved goodbye to the Colonel and the rest of the POWs. They waved back, and even Klink and some of the guards waved too.
It was a bumpy ride, but I knew I was headed in the right direction. I know that there will always be war, and there will always be soldiers, and I guess those soldiers will always need guys like me.