Got this up in the nick of time. Hope there aren't too many mistakes.
A General Fiasco
On my way back to the front, I ran over a general. Mind you, he was a German, and he was already dead. But that didn't negate the fact that I did what I did. To make matters worse, the truck went out of alignment. I could fix a flat, but not that. So here I was, standing at the side of a road, with a broken down truck, and a dead body. My passenger, an Allied intelligence officer that went by the name Smitty, joined me and shook his head.
"Wonder what he was doing out here." he asked.
I shrugged. "Don't know, Lieutenant. Wrong turn, maybe."
There was nothing we could do for him now, so I decided to look for his car. After all, a general doesn't travel alone. At least I've never seen it. There's always a driver, and I didn't want to be caught unawares in case he had gone for help. Judging by the blood spewing out of the general, or what was left of him that is, it appeared his car had been strafed and he had been thrown out during the attack. I reached into the jeep and grabbed a rifle and a flashlight. "Stay in the truck," I told Smitty, as I handed him the spare rifle. "If I'm not back in a half-hour, take the truck. If you see signs of any Germans, take the truck."
"But what about you? If something happens to you, the colonel will have my head."
"No he won't. We take these risks all the time. Besides, I can take care of myself," I assured him. Actually, I was nervous, since despite our control over most of the area, small groups of Germans were still roaming around, shooting at anything and anyone.
There was no one as far as the eye could see; which made sense, since it was now dark. "If there was an accident, they should have put out flares," I complained as I gingerly checked the side of the road for signs of any life. I first checked one side of the road; then the other. After I made sure that area was clear, I headed back in the direction we had come from. I figured that made the most sense, since the general's car may have turned onto this road from an intersection about a mile away. German resistance was known to be active in a town located further down that road. Sure enough, after walking for about 5 minutes, I found the staff car. It had plunged down a small embankment, and by the looks of it, had been pretty shot up. I slowly approached the vehicle, and then checked the driver. He was dead. The general must have survived the attack, and then headed up the road until he collapsed. The radio in the car was dangling by its wires. It was not working. The question was, did the general have time to call for help, or did the radio get destroyed in the attack? I checked it over, but there was no way to tell. I wish Kinch had come with me. I'm sure he would have been able to fix the radio. I scrambled up the embankment, and headed back to the truck.
"The good news is that the driver's dead," I reported to Smitty after I made my way back to the truck. "The general probably collapsed on the road. The bad news is I don't know if the general called for help on the radio."
"So, did you call for help?" Smitty asked.
"The radio was hanging by its wires. It isn't working. Do you think you could fix it?"
"No, I'm just in intelligence. I'm not an engineer."
Of course. I always thought the intelligence people were next to useless. They used to send us the most unreasonable orders, as if operating an espionage operation underneath a POW camp was like another day at the beach. Newkirk would make a fuss, LeBeau would say unintelligible things in French, Carter would look insulted, and Kinch…well, Kinch was Kinch. Sometimes Colonel Hogan would even complain, but usually he would say, "Orders are orders," and figure out some way to make the impossible happen. How no one had gotten killed was beyond belief. And me, well…Although I wouldn't admit it, I always thought I had it easy. I was the colonel's outside man. I'd stay in town when a rescued flier or escapee had to stay with us for an extended period. Good home cooking at Schnitzer's, and sometimes a rendezvous with Heidi, his niece. Yup. I had it easy. Not to say that I didn't have some close calls. Which brought me to my current predicament. Stuck in the dark, on the road, with a broken-down truck, a novice intelligence officer, two rifles, and perhaps the German cavalry on the way to rescue their general.
Smitty spoke perfect German. I began to wonder if we could pass if we stripped the two bodies and donned their uniforms. It would help us if the enemy got to us before our guys showed up. I was supposed to contact the camp when I had safely dropped off Smitty with friendly troops; so hopefully, they would eventually realize we didn't make it and come after us.
With the front so close now, traffic between the camp and Allied lines was as busy as Grand Central Station. This was the third run I had made in two weeks. Smitty had been captured by a small German patrol that had overrun his location. He had been interrogating a few German prisoners, when the group showed up. After the firefight, the German prisoners escaped, and he and two American soldiers were taken prisoner. Fortunately, the truck passed nearby, and some of our friends from the local underground ambushed it, freeing the captives. The two soldiers were taken back to the front soon afterwards, but Smitty, being an intelligence officer, wanted to stay a few days, so he could see more of the operation and report back on all the wonderful things we had accomplished during our stay at Stalag 13. The colonel told him under no circumstances was he to report anything, and if he felt he couldn't keep quiet, he would be stranded in the tunnels until liberation. And, if the colonel found out Smitty had blabbed, he would be gathering intelligence at Leavenworth. Smitty wisely agreed to keep his mouth shut.
"Olsen, what do we do now?" he asked nervously.
I took a deep breath. "First, help me get the general's body into the truck. Then we'll push it off to the side, so it's not visible." As we worked, I wondered if the camp's motor pool sergeant would kill me for losing one of his precious vehicles. Maybe I shouldn't go back, I thought. Unless I could think of an appropriate bribe. Maybe the war would be over before I got back, and I'd be safe. Hopefully, Klink wouldn't conduct one of his stupid inventories. That was one of his favorite pastimes. That and groveling.
Smitty wiped his hands down on his pants. Breathing heavily, he asked, "Now what?"
"We can start walking. The front's about five miles from here."
"All right." He didn't look too happy.
"Or we can wait for Colonel Hogan to order a search party when we don't check in. You're the officer, sir. What do you think?"
"I say we wait."
I nodded. "Well, that's fine. But I have a suggestion."
"I'm open to any suggestions," he replied.
"We should put on their uniforms."
"They're bloody and full of holes," he argued.
"Yes, they are. But it's dark. Hopefully no one will notice. We can then pass as Germans. If they find us, we can get a ride back to the Stalag. You're a German general, after all. If some Americans find us, we get captured; then explain who we are. Someone will vouch for us. And if my buddies find us; well, we get you back to the front, and then I head back."
"You'll be general," Smitty said.
"If that's what you want."
"That's what I want. After all, I'm in intelligence. I speak German, but I've never impersonated one."
We hopped into the back of the truck where we had stashed the general's body. Smitty turned a bit pale as I began to take off the uniform. "Not used to seeing dead bodies, sir?"
"I've never gotten used to it. Not like this, anyway."
"Well, how do I look?" I asked as I finished donning the general's jacket. I pulled off my dog tags, and placed them in my pocket. I replaced them with the German's tags.
"The uniform is swimming on you."
"Occupational hazard," I noted. "Now back to their jeep." We made the second switch of clothes. "We need to hide the driver's body."
"Because if they find this jeep first, and they see the body, they're going to wonder what happened to his clothes," I said patiently.
"Oh. That's right." We returned to the truck and dumped Smitty's uniform in the back. "Your outfit looks better, sir."
"Thanks," he said. "Now, what?"
"We wait. Those were your orders."
"Okay." Smitty grabbed a rifle and sat down on the side of the road.
I shook my head, and plodded after him. "While we are in German uniforms, in case any Krauts show up, it's best not to be too obvious. We should stay hidden, back by the truck." Where do they train these people?
"Oh." Smitty obediently followed me over to the side, where we took cover. "How long do you think before Hogan sends out a search party?"
I made sure I had a view of the road, while still remaining out of sight. "I don't know. He'd give us extra time to get you back to the lines. Maybe until daylight." I cursed myself for not taking another man with us. We could have used the backup. Foster wasn't busy at the moment. He would have made a great companion. Better than the one I had at the moment.
All I heard was a small groan.
"Why don't you try and get some shut-eye, sir. I'll keep watch."
"No. I'm too nervous to sleep."
Well at least he's honest.
"Okay. Then you'll keep watch, and I'll get some shut-eye?" In this business, you learn to sleep anywhere at the drop of a hat. I half expected Smitty to order me to stay awake, but he surprised me.
"Um. Go ahead. I'll wake you if I hear anything."
I'm sure you will. "Even if you think it's an animal, wake me up. At any rate, wake me in an hour."
He nodded and poked his head around the side of the truck. I made myself a bed of leaves, and lay down. I had no idea how long I had been sleeping, when I felt my body shake. I quickly sat up. In this business, you learn to wake up in an instant. It could mean the difference between life and death. "Has it been an hour?"
"No. Twenty minutes. Listen."
"I don't hear anything." I poked my head around the truck. I didn't see anything either.
"I have superior hearing. I think it must have something to do with my flare for languages. Shhh. Try again."
Sure enough, on the second try, I could hear a soft rumble. I couldn't imagine who would be driving out this way this late at night. "Get down," I told Smitty, who didn't question my orders. I moved out slightly and tried to get a view of what was coming. As I feared, it appeared to be a German vehicle. They were moving slowly, as if they were searching for something, or someone. "Germans," I whispered.
"Oh, God. I don't want to be captured again."
"Neither do I. The first time wasn't any fun at all," I whispered back.
"They're going to see the truck." Smitty finally showed some intelligence and foresight, as the German's were willing to risk being spotted by the Allies in order to get a good view of the road and the roadside. They were using a portable searchlight. Within minutes we would be discovered.
"We're going to have to show ourselves, sir."
He replied with a small whimper.
"Trust me. I've done this hundreds of times." A little white lie never hurt anyone. "I'll do the talking. Just follow my lead."
"What if they know what he looks like?"
"They'll find us either way. We have to get their attention away from the truck." I came out from behind, and fortunately Smitty followed. We made it to the side of the road before the searchlight could make out the outline of the truck, and began waving our arms.
"Over here!" I yelled in German.
The jeep stopped, and then headed towards us. The occupants saluted. "General, we've been searching for you. When you didn't turn up at HQ on time, they sent out a search party. Who's this?" The driver pointed at Smitty.
"We found your jeep. Are any of you injured?"
"Flesh wounds. They can wait," I quickly replied. "I would like you to drop us off at Luft stalag 13. The Kommandant is an old acquaintance of mine. We can rest and get treated there, rather than head to HQ."
"But with all due respect, sir. General Berkheimer is awaiting your arrival. If we come back without you, after we found you, he'll have our heads, sir."
"Are you questioning my orders, sergeant?" I said in an authoritative and icy voice. Yelling wasn't my style. Sometimes a calm voice was more frightening.
"No, sir. We will take you and your driver to Stalag 13. If you please." He pointed to the back of the jeep. "You two will have to start walking," he said to the soldiers in the back. "And be careful. There a lot of Americans in this sector. As we climbed in the now empty back, the driver turned on the radio. "We've found them," he reported. "We are heading to Luft stalag 13 to spend the night." I could make out the yelling on the other end.
I poked the driver on the shoulder. "I will see you get a commendation. Just take us to Stalag 13."
The driver turned off the radio and put the jeep in gear.
I turned to Smitty. "See corporal. I told you we would be rescued."
"Yes, sir. I'm looking forward to seeing this camp, sir. I hear it is the toughest prison camp in all of Germany. No escapes."
I glared at him. "Now where did you hear that, corporal?"
Seeing that he had obviously said something stupid, Smitty's eyes went wide. "Um, you told me yourself, sir. As we were driving. You mentioned it was in this sector and that you knew the Kommandant."
Good save. "Yes, you are correct. I recall the conversation." We drove for the next few minutes, and I began to think that everything was coming along smoothly when we all heard the sound of a truck heading our way. Oh no, not another one.
The soldier in the front passenger seat turned around. "Someone's coming, sir. We should pull off until we are sure that they are friendly."
"Yes, that would be prudent," I said in my best general's voice. The jeep pulled off, and Smitty and I picked up our weapons and headed towards the tree line.
"Where do you think you're going, corporal? You come here with us. The general hides; not you."
Smitty looked at me, and then apparently resigned to his fate, picked up his rifle and followed the driver. He was on his own now. I just prayed there wouldn't be shots fired.
As the truck grew closer, my stomach began to act up from nerves. I had been assigned to protect Smitty, and return him safely to Allied lines, and now he could be involved in a firefight on the wrong side. Despite everything, I didn't wish him any harm, and I certainly didn't want to disappoint Colonel Hogan. I briefly thought of Carter's stint in the German army. Maybe there was precedent for these scenarios ending well. There was nothing I could do now but watch and hope for the best. With the two German soldiers distracted and waiting for the truck, I slowly crawled along the ground in order to get closer to the road. I propped up my rifle and ready for anything, placed my finger on the trigger. The tension was now becoming unbearable, and I began to sweat.
The truck slowly made its way towards our position, and for once I was glad to see the German emblem on the side. I took my finger off the trigger, and stood up. Too late, I realized what was about to happen. "Lieutenant, get down!" I screamed as I flung myself to the ground. In the confusion, I saw Smitty take a flying leap off to the side, while the two Germans that were escorting us, were caught unawares. They had no time to get off a shot, and fell to the ground. "Guys, don't shoot! It's us!" I yelled. I scrambled over to Smitty, who was on the ground ,in shock. I rolled him over, checking for wounds.
"I'm okay," he squeaked. "What the hell happened?"
I smiled, and helped him to his feet. "The cavalry, sir." I said as Colonel Hogan, followed by Newkirk, Carter and two members of the underground, came over to us.
Newkirk and Carter slapped me on the back. "Good thing you yelled," Newkirk said.
"Well, now." Colonel Hogan looked us over. "Lucky for you, you weren't killed. That would have been an awful lot of paperwork."
"What happened?" the colonel asked.
I told him. He nodded. "It could have happened to anyone. What's important is that you two are safe."
"One question, Colonel. How come you started shooting, seeing as you had the emblem on the truck, and you're in German uniforms?
"We had a feeling you were out here somewhere. We wanted to give you every chance to make it in case we didn't find you first. And now we had better get this truck back safe. I already have to think of how to convince you know who to forget about the broken down truck." The Colonel turned to Smitty. "I didn't think you could move that fast, Lieutenant."
"Me neither, sir. Um, I'd like to say that Sergeant Olsen deserves a commendation. I mean, I know he ran over the general, but besides that, he really knew how to handle everything. If he wasn't here, I would probably be dead now."
"I'll take that under consideration," Hogan replied, he looked at me and smiled.
"Gee, sir. I appreciate that," I said to Smitty. I guess the guy may have been naïve when it came to my line of work, but in the long run, he wasn't that bad, for an officer, that is.