The sun was shining. It wasn't something Hans would normally celebrate, but after a winter of gray clouds and cold rain, the soft warmth of the April sun could not be taken for granted. Closing his eyes, he put his hands in the pockets of his overcoat and stood transfixed, his face raised to the comforting sunshine.
A sudden gust of wind stirred the branches of the aged oak tree that occupied much of the Dietrich's front yard. Hans squinted past the sunlight as he observed the newly formed buds that dotted the bare branches. He smiled contentedly at the promise of new life and a fresh start that always accompanied the arrival of spring.
Gretchen giggled as she ran past her father, chasing some unidentified creature that kept eluding her grasp. She momentarily squirmed as Hans caught her by her waist and turned her around, then giggled some more when he crouched down to button her coat.
"Mama will be very upset when she sees your shoes." Hans finished the buttons and they both looked at Gretchen's muddy shoes.
"The grass is wet," the child answered simply. It was hardly her fault that it had rained the day before. Gretchen looked to her father for understanding, then astutely looked past him. "Papa!" she squealed in delight and pointed at the car making a turn into their driveway. "It's Sergeant Troy!"
Hans turned in time to see his daughter race across the lawn to greet the sergeant. He would have called out to stop her, but he suspected it would not have made a difference. The two had become close friends on Troy's frequent visits, and the sergeant never failed to bring her some sort of surprise. Now Gretchen had come to expect a gift each time Troy made an appearance.
Gretchen impatiently waited for the car to come to a stop. She scampered around the front of the car to the driver's side door to greet Sergeant Troy.
"Hiya, Sarge!" Gretchen proudly spoke the only two words of English she knew - the ones that Sergeant Troy had taught her.
"Hiya, kid," Troy grinned as he got out of the car. "Wie geht's?"
"Danke, gut," Gretchen politely answered as she peered around Troy, searching for the present she knew was waiting for her.
Smiling, Troy held his hands behind his back and waited for Gretchen to close her eyes and hold out her hands. Their ritual had become so familiar that neither needed language to communicate.
Gretchen opened her eyes to a round, multi-colored package securely bound by a ribbon at the top. The gift was so large she had to hand it back to the sergeant so she could untie it. Her eyes grew wide when she peered inside to find an assortment of chocolate and candy.
"Papa!" Gretchen exclaimed as her father approached the car. "Look what Sergeant Troy brought for me!"
Hans looked inside the package and grimaced. He could only imagine the stomachache that would result from Troy's gift. "Take it inside and show mama," Hans instructed as he retied the top of the paper. "Did you remember to thank Sergeant Troy?" he asked before his daughter could get away.
Holding her precious package close to her chest, she curtsied respectfully. "Danke, Sergeant Troy," she said timidly.
Gently cupping her chin in his hand, Troy smiled, "Bitte, Gretchen."
Gretchen looked expectantly at her father, waiting to be dismissed. She was practically dancing with excitement.
His daughter's innocent enthusiasm was contagious. "Go!" Hans laughed.
Gretchen did not need to be told twice. Gaily skipping across the driveway, she bounded up the few steps to the porch. The doorknob momentarily impeded her progress, but with inherited determination, she gave it a good twist, pushed the door open and disappeared into the house.
"She's a beautiful little girl," Troy said as his gaze followed Gretchen into the house.
The sergeant's wistful expression took Dietrich by surprise. There was so much more to Sam Troy than he had ever expected. Arching his eyebrows, he shook his head in wonder as he recovered from his astonishment.
"Thank you, Sergeant," he replied, flattered by Troy's observation. Dietrich took a step back as Troy closed the car door. "But you needn't bring her something every time you come. You really have spoiled her."
Troy shrugged. "That's what little girls are for, Captain," he smiled earnestly. "To be honest, I think I enjoy it more than she does."
Dietrich nodded in understanding. He also knew that particular kind of enjoyment. "I had not expected you today." With his hands behind his back, Hans turned to walk back to the house. He stopped when he realized Troy had not fallen in beside him.
"Yeah, I know," Troy said, his mood suddenly dark and pensive.
Dietrich's brow creased in bewilderment. "What is it?" he asked, suspecting this visit was not a personal one.
Troy reached inside his jacket pocket and withdrew a sealed envelope. "I have something for you, too."
An air of trepidation hung between the two men as the sergeant handed Dietrich the letter.
Dietrich turned the envelope over in his hands several times before opening it. There was no return address - no indication of who had sent the letter with Sergeant Troy.
"Do you know what this is?" Hans asked. His stomach lurched as he considered what might be contained within the dispatch.
"Yes, sir," Troy nodded, "but I think it would be best if you read it yourself."
Warily eying the sergeant, Dietrich slid his finger along the sealed edge. The official seal of the United States Army was the first thing that caught his eye as he carefully unfolded the heavy sheet of stationary.
This is to inform you that the military court, which was assembled to investigate your allegations against Colonel Sergie Miranov of the Russian Red Army, has concluded its inquiry. On April 10, 1946, a tribunal comprised of judiciary experts from the four major Allied nations found Colonel Miranov guilty of the murder of Major Rudolph Brückner. Colonel Miranov's sentencing will take place-
Hans stopped reading and closed his eyes. It was over and to his amazement, justice had been served. "Does his family know?"
Troy nodded. "Finish reading the letter," he told the captain, sure he had not read far enough.
Hans looked at Troy. There was more.
- Colonel Miranov's sentencing is scheduled to take place at a closed session on April 15, at 10:30 a.m. The Soviet government is expected to make a formal apology at that time.
The court wishes to express its extreme gratitude for your cooperation in this matter. However, due to the delicate nature of the proceedings and the wide-ranging implications of this barbarous act, we feel it would be in the best interest of international relations to keep this case confidential. We are sure you will agree that confidentiality will benefit everyone involved,
including yourself and Major Brückner's family. In the meantime, we wish to assure you that the Allied military police will continue to investigate the repatriation of German soldiers from Soviet prisoner of war camps-
Dietrich no longer cared who had sent the letter. He looked at Sergeant Troy. "Is this some type of threat?" he asked acerbically.
"I think it's more of a warning not to go public with this," Troy answered, equally disgusted.
"So everything will be swept under the rug." Resignation was evident on his face as Dietrich folded the document and returned it to its envelope. Tucking the letter in the breast pocket of his coat, Hans exhaled slowly as he looked up at the sky. The beautiful spring day had suddenly become muddied and indistinct. "Miranov will be sentenced, the Russian officials will make a formal apology and that is supposed to make everything right," he murmured.
"They have promised to look into the POW situation," Troy noted, attempting to find something positive in all the political intrigue.
Dietrich continued the scan the horizon, then looked at Troy. The sergeant had become his closest friend over the past few months. Not only did they share the same philosophy about waging war, but they also had come to develop a passion for peace. Hans felt that perhaps now was the time to follow his advice to Martin. All of the bitterness and hurt had to stop somewhere.
He smiled crookedly at Troy. "Perhaps they will," he answered with a single nod of his head, "perhaps they will."
"I'll be going home in a few weeks," Troy announced as Ilsa poured he and the captain another cup of coffee.
Ilsa and Hans exchanged a look of mutual regret. "At least you will be with your family again." It was Dietrich's turn to put a positive spin on an unpleasant subject.
"Yeah," Troy agreed. "But I'm going to miss yours," he added sincerely.
"We will miss you also." Ilsa returned the coffee pot to the stove. "Especially Gretchen."
All three laughed at Ilsa's observation, but the good humor did not last long.
"Please keep in touch, Sergeant," Dietrich asked quietly.
"I will," Troy firmly promised as he looked the captain in the eye. He finished the last few sips of coffee and was about to leave when he felt the pocket of his coat. "I almost forgot," he stammered, reaching into the pocket. "I want you to have this."
He pushed a small leather-bound case across the kitchen table.
Hans slowly lifted the hinged lid to reveal a purple, heart-shaped medal. Speechless, he sat back in his chair and considered his response. He had no doubt that it was Troy's medal, as precious to him as Dietrich's own decorations were to him.
"Sergeant," he began, unsure how to express himself, "I truly appreciate your gesture, but I can't accept this."
"You deserve something, Captain," Troy said, trying to explain his reasoning. "You'll never be compensated for what you did. Money, medals, recognition - nothing. It just doesn't seem fair."
"You don't understand." Hans looked kindly on his friend.
Troy inclined his head. "It's not because it's an American medal-?"
"No," Hans answered immediately, not wanting to insult the sergeant. "It's because I already have everything I want. Do you remember the discussion we had in the hospital? You asked me if I did not deserve some peace." He waited for Troy to recall their conversation. "Well, you were right, Sergeant. I do deserve to be at peace with myself - and everyone else. And, now, thanks to you, I have that. I don't need anything to legitimize what I- what we accomplished." Dietrich looked uncertainly at Troy. "Can you understand?"
Troy smiled knowingly. No one could put a price on the convictions a man held in his heart. He reached across the table, and closing the lid, slid the small box back into his pocket. "Yeah," he replied, "I do understand, Captain."
After saying good-bye to Ilsa and Gretchen, Troy walked to the front door with Dietrich. They stepped out into the bright sunlight. For a few moments they wordlessly stood side-by-side. Finally, Troy turned to Dietrich. "I guess this is good-bye." Slowly he offered his hand, which Hans firmly shook.
"How about Auf Wiedersehen?" Dietrich suggested, then explained, "Until we meet again."
Troy nodded. "Yeah, Auf Wiedersehen," he agreed. The sergeant was halfway to his car when he turned sharply around. "Captain?" he called.
Dietrich raised his head in anticipation of Troy's question.
Sam Troy hesitated. He contemplatively chewed on his lower lip, then asked, "Do you think we could call each other Sam and Hans?"
The captain could barely contain his laughter at such an odd question. After he composed himself, he met Troy's quizzical stare. Together they shook their heads and answered, "no" in unison.
Troy laughed out loud. "I didn't think so!" he said brightly. "Auf Wiedersehen, Captain!"
Snapping a crisp salute that Dietrich readily returned, the sergeant turned on his heel and climbed back into his car.
Hans waited on the doorstep until Troy's car disappeared around the bend in the road. As he stood alone, he took consolation in his sadness. The sergeant's departure marked an end to one epoch of his life, as well as the beginning of another.
As he surveyed the new life flourishing around him, Hans Dietrich smiled at nothing in particular. His own renewal had already begun. . . .
From In a Foreign Land in New Poems (1844)
by Heinrich Heine
I once had a beautiful fatherland.
The oak tree
Was so tall; the violets nodded gently.
It was a dream.
I was kissed and spoken to in german
(One hardly believes
How good it sounded): "I love you!"
It was a dream.