War Never Changes

 

They had us pinned down for three nights.

The rain was relentless.

Sheets of flat white would crack the sky and for a split second all was frozen in time – the soldiers lying dead in the craters, eyes full of water, the division of fighters winging overhead on their way back to base, a squad of boys leaping over a stone wall to escape the murderous enfilade of a machine gun nest, and the whole, eerie frozen scene was washed with a billion drops of rain, like a photograph under glass left out in a storm.

We had defilade. It wasn’t much, a few fallen logs and the bodies of our enemy piled atop them.It was enough to keep us alive if we didn’t move.The hole stunk of our droppings and misery. The rain couldn’t wash that away.

Oberleutnant Sommer had ordered us to blow the machine gun nest atop a stubby little hill that had been blasted free of cover weeks ago. It was like trying to climb a hill on the moon while it rained lead.We couldn’t go forwards, we couldn’t go back. Unless we got some reinforcements we were probably going to die here.

I felt in my pack for the spare cigarettes, hoping they were still dry, even if I had no matches.I couldn’t risk checking to look, the sky was throwing down wet ropes of rain.I heard a whine, like a huge mosquito whizzing past my ear and Köhler cried out in pain.I rolled over and saw a big red flower on his jacket. It was growing.He looked at me with big brown eyes and he tried to speak, but all that came out was a bubble of blood.As he pumped air from his lips it grew larger and larger until I couldn’t look at it anymore.I looked away. When I turned back Köhler’s eyes were fixed and dilated. The flower still bloomed.

We had no more medical supplies. They were gone before we even got here.I dropped my head and said a prayer. I closed his eyes. I looked at Ruschke and he looked at me.We were thinking the same thing.

We stripped off Köhler’s shirt and waved it over our heads.We stood up, arms up, guns discarded.The enemy soon came, all swagger and bravado, unfiltered cigarettes drooping from the corners of their mouths, even in the deluge. They smelled of baked beans and fried chicken and Coca-Cola. They spoke in rough vowels and splintered consonants, the very picture of Yankee-cool. They took our surrender. They bundled us into a half-track and we spent the next few hours bouncing through the ruts and puddles.

When we were taken into the prisoner camp one of them pressed a fresh pack of Lucky Strikes into my hand and patted me on the back.I looked at his name tag. “Granger, L.” I saw he had looked at mine, “Granger, H.”

Funny old world.

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