Characters: Hauptmann Dietrich, Sergeant Troy, and Hauptmann Arnulf Rosenthal
Author's Note: When one finds a true friend, there is no limit to what a person would do for him/her. The importance of friendship is one of my favourite themes to explore, as it can help to reassure my friends that I am there for them, no matter what. The character Arnulf Rosenthal is my own and may not be borrowed without my permission.
Summary: Excerpt from Hauptmann Arnulf Rosenthal's files, 1941, in which on the verge of being captured by the Rat Patrol, Dietrich aims to maintain one victory despite his many losses of the day..
5 June 1941
Digging his fingers into the soft sand, Dietrich pushed himself up the small embankment to where the Fi-156 pilot lay. If Arnulf was no more, he was certain that he'd find a way to make that American, Sergeant Troy, feel his grief. Normally Dietrich considered himself a stern leader, one who rarely gave cause for his men to believe he held any attitude other than serious, but this man, Arnulf, he was not his subordinate or another fighter ace; this was his friend.
Over the last few months they had forged a friendship out of necessity, with Hauptmann Rosenthal flying overhead for reconnaissance of the deadly desert rats whilst Dietrich went about his way with his convoy of supplies. They had grown to trust one another and to rely on the other for help, even when it wasn't related to the battlefield. Despite his excellent performance in his favourite aircraft, the Bf 109 Messerschmitt, Arnulf was a quiet man. There were times though, that Dietrich caught a glimpse of a more cheerful fellow lurking behind that melancholic frown of his.
Not more than a week ago, he had happened to catch Arnulf writing away in his journal, and before he could make a query, Arnulf had invited him in on what he was writing.
"'Lists', says my friend Werner, 'help keep your mind organised.,' so here we are… here's mine for the day." Arnulf had turned his grinning gaze upwards at him before continuing, "Three things I have taken from someone.
"Last December I took back the soap that was rightfully ours but denied to us through the constant whining of JG 28. They still haven't figured out the blitzkrieg that swept through their logistics and I don't intend for them to find out."
Hearing this brought a smirk to Dietrich's face as he imagined the pilot sneaking through the quarters, pilfering the latrine.
Arnulf continued, "The second thing I took was, well, it was more Rudy's taking than anything. I'm still not sure how Rudy managed to crawl into my Storch, but there he was, and I took him for a little reconnaissance flight. He really enjoyed that." He continued without pause, "Then the third time I took something was over Poland. I took a bullet through the fuselage that went right through me. Everyone expected me to die, but I didn't."
When he had finished, Arnulf's expression had fallen and he seemed even more upset than before. Seeing this, Dietrich had taken a seat next to him, realising Arnulf's desperate need for companionship.
"Two things that were taken from me. The first… my wife." Arnulf had paused as he tried to calm the shaking in his voice. Dietrich's frown increased, hardly believing what he was hearing. Arnulf shut his eyes, letting his emotions be plain as they slipped down his cheeks. He stammered, "…and the second, my unborn child. The start of a new family, all… destroyed…"
Dietrich had taken in a slow breath to help digest all that had just been revealed to him. When he spoke, his words fell on deaf ears, as Arnulf had fallen into a state of absolute misery. There was nothing that could be said that would fill him with life again. All that remained was an empty shell that filled the boots of a Reich pilot. And that's how it was until last night, then everything changed.
Dietrich scrambled towards Arnulf, knowing that Sergeant Troy and Moffitt were right behind him. Tully and Hitch could be heard speeding after them as well, as though they were afraid that a fallen pilot and a wounded Panzer commander could mount a counter-attack.
"Rosenthal?" Dietrich gasped as he knelt beside his friend, who lay face-first in the sand. Dietrich checked for vitals and sighed in relief when he felt a faint pulse. Being very careful, Dietrich gently moved Arnulf to find his wound. The round had struck him from the front but had not exited. He'd have to be careful when moving him or else risk the bullet lodging further in Arnulf's body.
A soft, strangled cry was heard, followed by sobs. Dietrich could hardly blame Arnulf for his despair. Being as gentle as he could, Dietrich rolled Arnulf onto his back and wiped the sand from his face. The wound was clear to see on Arnulf's left chest. It was near his armpit, which gave Dietrich small hope that the bullet had cleared Arnulf's lung. Not wasting a moment, Dietrich then unfastened the blue scarf that Arnulf wore around his neck before tearing at the jacket surrounding the wound. He then placed direct pressure with the scarf over the wound, causing Arnulf to at once cry out in pain.
Dietrich winced and put his hand on Arnulf's forehead to calm him. He spoke urgently to him, "Remember why you were happy today, Captain. You found that lizard of yours, Rudy, hiding in your bunk last night. Last night you found yourself away from danger, with a full-night's rest."
Arnulf wept on, though his gaze went to his friend in an attempt to find comfort in his words and in his presence. He didn't notice at all the two Allied sergeants approaching them, but Dietrich did. He continued on anyways, "You also found yourself a decent meal last night, and this morning. Right before I headed out, you told me that for once in several weeks, you found yourself content. You didn't tell me why, but I know you can remember those reasons. Think of them, Rosenthal."
"Jawohl," cried Arnulf right before he squeezed his eyes shut as another fit of pain took him.
Troy's voice crashed against him like a wave and anger filled him, but Dietrich would not take notice of the American. In a voice filled with bitterness, he said, "I have lost five things today from you alone, Sergeant. The first was my route, followed shortly by my mission when you blew up the Half-track. Then I lost the food supply. I've lost all of my men; whether or not they are dead or just wounded, they are all lost to me. I am your prisoner now, so I have lost my freedom, however Sergeant, there will be one thing you will not be taking from me today."
Dietrich straightened and slowly turned to glare at him. "You will not claim this man's life as well. I am your prisoner, but so is he, and you will take him with you."
Troy stared hard at Dietrich. "Setting terms, Captain?"
"If you are going to leave him to die here, then you might as well kill me too for I am not letting you take his life too, Sergeant. I am more valuable to you alive than dead, so if you want me, you will have to take him too."
Troy sighed and looked down at Arnulf, who was babbling softly in his descent into unconsciousness. He nodded at Dietrich. "I have your word, Captain, that you are surrendering to me?"
"You do," replied Dietrich firmly.
"All right, let's get him into the jeep and then we'll get you both over to the field hospital."
"Thank you, Sergeant," said Dietrich, his voice softening with heartfelt gratitude and relief. He looked to Arnulf and saw that he was still fighting to stay conscious. As he witnessed the struggle, memories of the conversations that they had, the normal chatter of life, came to mind. He hadn't made many friends here in North Africa, and Arnulf was the first one that he had really been able to socialize with on account of equal pay grade.
Dietrich sighed in despair. He couldn't just lose a friend like this, not so suddenly, and not now.
After getting Arnulf into the jeep, Dietrich took his place in the second jeep, now a fully committed prisoner of war. He shut his eyes and bowed his head, praying that God would heal Arnulf's wounds and keep him alive in this world. Still ignoring his own injuries, Dietrich fought to hold the life of his friend in his thoughts, willing him to live.