Jim Colling Adventure Series

НазваниеJim Colling Adventure Series
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Chapter Four

November, 1945

Colling was in the midst of the battalion day report when there was a loud commotion in Sergeant Ferguson’s office. Colling rose from his desk and stuck his head through the door to investigate. Two sergeants whom Colling recognized from A Company were talking excitedly with Ferguson.

Damn near cut our heads off, Sarge!” exclaimed one, a staff sergeant.

His agitation was shared by the three-striper sergeant with him, “Yeah, Sarge, Krauts booby-trapped the road.”

Ferguson told the men to calm down and explain what had happened.

The staff sergeant responded, “We was driving in from the DP camp when our jeep hit a wire stretched across the road. If we hadn’t had our windshield up, we’d ‘a both been killed.”

At this point, Major Harris emerged from his office. Colling was a little surprised to see the Major, whose presence at the kaserne was a sometimes event. Without any prompting, the two sergeants repeated their story to the Major, who was obviously very angry.

God damn Krauts! Sergeant, pull together a party of men and search the farms along the road. You men,” said Harris to the two sergeants, “Show them where this happened. Pick up anybody that looks suspicious. Get me Division on the phone. This shit has got to stop!”

Ferguson sent Colling to find First Sergeant Hornsby, whom Colling brought back to the orderly room. Ferguson explained what had happened, and Hornsby went off to the barracks to find men to form a party to search for the person or persons who had strung the wire. Ferguson told Colling to get into his field gear, draw a rifle and ammunition, and accompany Sergeant Hornsby as interpreter.

The detachment ended up consisting of Hornsby, five other men from D company and Colling. Hornsby rode in a jeep with one man, following behind the vehicle driven by the two A Company sergeants to the scene of their near-decapitation. Colling and the other four men brought up the rear in a ¾ -ton weapons carrier. As Colling sat in the back of the vehicle with his M-1 clasped between his knees, he thought about the possibility that he might find himself in a firefight against one of the “Werewolf” organizations that the Nazis had boasted would wage guerrilla warfare against the occupation forces. More disturbing, he might find himself being shot at in return. There had been bombings of U.S. installations in the northern part of the occupation zone, random gunfire directed at American troops, causing a number of casualties, and assassinations of Germans whom the diehard Nazis decided were being too cooperative with the “Amis.”

The lead jeep stopped suddenly as they came to a slight rise in the road. Before the three vehicles were completely stopped, Hornsby’s men jumped out and quickly took up positions along the tree lines on either side of the road. Colling followed suit and crouched a few yards behind one of them. The First Sergeant walked in the center of the road to where the two sergeants pointed, and found the severed wire, each of its halves still attached to the two trees to which it had been anchored. The two NCO’s admitted that they had not stopped after they hit it, but had driven straight on to the Grabensheim kaserne.

Hornsby picked up one of the lengths of wire; as he turned it between his fingers, Colling could hear him say, “Telephone wire. Looks like Kraut issue. The bastards tied it around the trees on both sides. Must have meant to get the first jeep to drive through. Dumb asses didn’t figure on the windshield being up, though.”

The man in front of Colling was glancing around, into the woods and back and forth the length of the narrow road. Colling saw that the other soldiers were doing the same, and realized that Hornsby had picked all combat veterans, and that their movements and behavior were based on experience.

Hornsby had walked slowly back to stand beside his jeep, conversing with the two sergeants on either side of him. Seeming suddenly to make up his mind, he shouted, “Mount up, you guys. We passed a farmhouse beyond those trees back there. Let’s go visit.” The squad clambered into the vehicles, and making a U-turn, they raced back in the direction from which they had come.

Hornsby pointed out a dirt road leading off the highway less than a kilometer from where they had stopped, and following the wave of his hand, the three vehicles turned off onto a rutted track and jounced along for some distance, passing recently-harvested grain fields on both sides. They slid to a stop on the loose gravel of the farmhouse’s drive. Hornsby jumped out of his jeep and ran to bang with his fist on the front door of the long white stucco structure.

Colling stuck his head out of the canvas cover on the weapons carrier and looked up at the farmhouse. He counted two stories and a small window in the eaves indicating a third floor attic. The structure was typically Bavarian, with the farmer’s living quarters attached to a cow barn in the rear. As Colling was taking in his surroundings, the other soldiers were dismounting and filing quietly around both sides of the building, rifles at the ready. Someone pulled on the sleeve of Colling’s field jacket, and he jumped down from the rear of the truck.

The staff sergeant from the jeep that had hit the wire had produced his own carbine from somewhere, and was standing to Hornsby’s left. The other sergeant held a .45 and had positioned himself to the First Sergeant’s right. Hornsby continued to pound on the door, shouting, “Raus!” repeatedly. Colling came up behind the First Sergeant, ready to play his role as interpreter.

After some time, the door opened a crack and a woman’s voice cried, “Nicht shiessen, nicht shiessen.”

Colling offered, “She’s saying not to shoot, Sarge.”

I know what the hell she’s saying, Private,” replied Hornsby, who pushed the door open and waved his pistol for the woman to come out.

She came out cautiously, looking from Hornsby to the other Americans, and to either side of her house, where Hornsby’s men were crouched, weapons at the ready. Colling estimated that she was about 50 years of age, based on her worn features and calloused hands. He was later to learn that he had overestimated her age by nearly fifteen years.

As soon as she was clear of the doorway, Hornsby ordered the two sergeants standing beside him to search the place. He called for Colling to come forward, “Ask the frau here if anyone else is here.”

Colling asked the question in German, and the woman responded that only herself and her two boys were on the farm. Colling passed this along to Hornsby, then asked the woman to identify herself. “Bergheim, Hilde Bergheim,” she answered timidly, adding that her papers were in the house. Colling asked her sons’ names, and she told him they were Karl and Otto, ages fourteen and twelve.

Colling told her to have them come out, and after a slight pause, she shouted their names in the direction of a field of grain stubble on the other side of the farmyard. She had to repeat herself before two heads appeared out of what must have been a ditch bordering the field. Before the two boys had covered half the distance to the farmhouse, they had a soldier apiece behind them, prodding them on with their rifles.

Just as the two youths reached where Hornsby, Colling and their mother were standing, the two sergeants who had been searching the house emerged. The staff sergeant was triumphantly carrying a roll of telephone wire, which he dropped at Hornsby’s feet. The sergeant who followed him dropped a Mauser Model 98 rifle on top of the wire. “Found these in the cellar behind some stuff, Sarge.”

Hornsby looked down at the results of the search, and the staff sergeant continued, “There’s two German field telephones still down there. No other weapons that we could find, though.”

Hornsby asked, “Any ammo?”

Only six rounds,” said the three-striper sergeant, pulling a handful of cartridges from the pocket of his field jacket and holding his hand out to Hornsby.

Turning to the Germans, the First Sergeant, close to shouting, asked in a loud voice, “You know what the penalty is for having firearms?”

Colling repeated the question with less emotion, and Frau Bergheim began to cry, sobbing only the words, “Bitte, bitte.”

Hornsby interrupted before Colling could speak, “Yeah, lady, ‘Please, please.’ Don’t give me that shit. You know who put a wire across the road over there? Damn near killed two of my men.” Colling noted that in his rage, the first sergeant seemed to overlook the fact that the two sergeants whose jeep had encountered the wire were not part of D Company.

The entire detachment had now gathered in a loose circle around the Germans. Karl and Otto were silent, looking down at their feet.

Hornsby motioned with his pistol towards the side of the farmhouse. “Get them two up against the wall. We’ll settle this right now.” Two of the Americans grabbed each of the German boys by their arms and started to drag them around the corner of the house. Their mother clutched at Hornsby’s sleeve, sobbing and crying, “Nein, nein. Bitte.”

Colling was frozen. He wanted to remind the first sergeant that what he was about to do was not right, and probably illegal as well, but the grim expressions on the faces of the other soldiers stopped him. The group had moved only a few steps when another jeep drove noisily into the yard and slid to a halt. Before the vehicle was fully stopped, its passenger was standing up in the passenger seat, leaning over the windshield. Colling recognized him as Lieutenant Peterson, one of the platoon leaders from D Company.

Hornsby came to a semblance of attention as the lieutenant alighted from the jeep and strode towards them.

What’s going on here, Sergeant?” asked Peterson, removing his helmet to disclose a shock of untidy red hair that he attempted to smooth back.

Caught these Krauts, sir. They’re the ones who set the wire on Staff Sergeant Hardesty and Sergeant Norman here.”

Are you sure?”

Yessir. There’s a spool of field telephone wire and a ‘98 over there, sir,” Hornsby replied, pointing to the piled articles.

Have the prisoners been questioned, Sergeant?”

Er...no sir. Not yet, anyway.”

And that was what you were getting ready to do, right, Sergeant?”

Right. Yessir. Colling there is our interpreter. We was just getting ready to question them, Sir.”

Colling stepped forward and awkwardly saluted.

I can see you haven’t been with us long, Private,” said Peterson. “Otherwise you wouldn’t be saluting out here in the open. Just a little rule we had so the Krauts wouldn’t know who the officers were. How old are these boys, Colling?”

Twelve and fourteen, Sir.”

Question them and find out if there are any more like them around here. Is that their mother over there?”

Yessir. Frau Bergheim. The boys are Karl, he’s the oldest; and Otto, he’s twelve.”

Try to calm her down. That bawling is becoming a nuisance.”

I’ll try, Sir.”

Colling approached Frau Bergheim and placed his hand on her arm. Speaking quietly in German, he told her not to worry. Lieutenant Peterson was here and had taken charge. “The Oberleutnant is disturbed by your crying, Frau Bergheim. Please try to control yourself.”

Dabbing at her tears with a corner of her apron, she seemed to regain some composure. When he felt that she was ready, he asked her about the telephones, the wire and the rifle. She told him that three Wehrmacht men had wandered onto the farm in the last days of the war. When word was received of the surrender, they had left. She had provided them with civilian clothes, and assumed that they had attempted to simply go home. Two of them had had pistols, which they took with them, but the third left his rifle and what ammunition he had left. The telephone equipment they had brought with them, and abandoned it as well.

Colling inquired about her husband, and she replied that he had gone to Munich in March on business, and had not returned. She assumed he had been killed in an air raid. As a farmer, he had been exempted from military service, and she had never expected to be a widow. They had been fortunate to keep Karl, the older son, from being drafted for the Volkssturm in the last days, and she could not understand why the boys would have done what they were accused of.

Colling talked to Karl first, who readily admitted that he and his brother had placed the wire. Some other boys that they knew were talking of the Werewolf fighters, and the need to resist the Allied forces. Colling asked Karl if he had been a member of the Hitlerjugend, and the boy answered that he had not, but that he would have if his father had not forbade it. Herr Bergheim wanted his boys to devote their time to their farm work, and used that as an excuse for them not to accept invitations to join. Karl insisted that Otto was only following him, and should not be held to account for following the lead of his older brother.

Otto cried softly through Colling’s interrogation, tears streaming down his cheeks. While admitting that he helped his brother, he was unable or unwilling to explain their actions. Colling concluded that Karl was probably correct when he stated that the younger boy had no malicious motive in setting the wire in place.

The interviews did not take long, and Colling reported what he had learned to Peterson. The officer shook his head and commented that the boys would have to be arrested and turned over to the Military Police in Munich. Peterson told Colling to inform Frau Bergheim of the bad news, then ordered Hornsby to get Karl and Otto into the back of the truck for the trip to Grabensheim.

Frau Bergheim burst into tears once again when Colling relayed the lieutenant’s message. Colling promised to make inquiries about the boys’ fate and see that she was informed. She did, however, have the presence of mind, to dash into the house before the ¾-ton departed and obtain her sons’ identity papers, which she handed to them at the last minute. She waved to the boys as the truck drove away, but the gesture was not returned, and Colling, from the back seat of the last jeep in line, looked back at her lonely figure until she was out of sight.

Over the next three weeks, Colling kept his promise and telephoned Munich frequently to trace the whereabouts and fate of the Bergheim boys. He eventually learned that both of them had been sentenced to five years’ imprisonment, and had been transferred to a camp north of the city reserved for youthful offenders. He made two journeys to the Bergheim farm. The first was to tell Frau Bergheim that her boys were being prosecuted by the Occupation Authority for possession of firearms and acts against public order. More serious charges of engaging in hostilities and assault on occupation forces had been dropped. The second trip was to inform Frau Bergheim of the sentences that had been imposed on Karl and Otto. He had no satisfactory answers when the woman asked him how she was supposed to plant her crops in the coming year, without the boys to help. Luckily, the harvest for this year was in, but next year would be much more difficult.

His excursions to the farm did not go unnoticed by his fellow soldiers, and he had to listen to speculation about what he and the Frau must be doing at the isolated farmhouse. Colling defused the worst of the annoying commentary by refusing to deny anything, and just smiling and saying that he would never be indiscreet. This was viewed as mysterious by those who had never heard anyone actually use the word except in the movies.

Zinsmann’s crew completed their work on the kaserne two days before Thanksgiving. Ferguson had found cots and other furniture for the troop quarters, and everything was in place for C Company before the holiday arrived. The tents that the company had occupied since May were struck, and the men moved into their new billets, glad to be in warmer and more comfortable surroundings. Trucks began the routine back-and-forth transportation of the company’s personnel to their assigned guard posts.

A surprise visit by Harris, Ferguson and Colling to the resort at Herrensee, apparently based on information provided by the major’s German mistress, produced sufficient liquor from the hotel’s cellar to stock the bar in the new officers’ club on the renovated ground floor of the kaserne. Major Harris managed to find, from some unrevealed source, an additional supply of good bourbon, which the German hotel had not had; and Colling made a contact with a local brewery to supply beer. Colonel Harrington visited and was pleased, saying he looked forward to Zinsmann completing the repair of the Luftwaffe barracks for the Third Battalion. The colonel’s pleasure was relayed to Major Harris, who passed it along to Sergeant Ferguson, who shared it with Colling.

As a result, Colling found Thanksgiving, his first holiday with the 40th Infantry, to be most agreeable. The Army had managed to distribute turkeys to the troops, and Thanksgiving dinner was done up in traditional style, with all the trimmings, including cranberry sauce made by the cooks from cranberries that everyone speculated must have been flown in from the States. The German K.P. workers were extremely happy at the quality and quantity of left-overs they were allowed to take home. Colling’s attitude was not shared by many of his fellow soldiers, a large number of whom had expected to be home for Thanksgiving. There was a great deal of complaining about whether or not they would see Christmas in the States, in accordance with what they considered to have been a solemn promise by President Truman. The fact that Stars and Stripes and all the Stateside papers and newsreels were full of news about the upcoming trial in Nuremberg of the principal Nazi leaders seemed to reinforce their belief that the war really was over, and there was no reason for them not to be sent home and discharged.

On the Monday after the holiday, speculative thoughts of going home were dampened by an announcement from Regiment that Colonel Harrington’s pride in the refurbished kaserne had caused him to invite the commanding general of the 61st Division, Major General Aubertson, who would be accompanied by Brigadier Wendle of the British Forces, for a visit to have lunch at the Grabensheim barracks.

Ferguson immediately appointed First Sergeant Hornsby to organize a suitable reception, and detailed Colling to act as his assistant, based on his demonstrated resourcefulness. Major Harris spoke to the battalion’s officers and impressed them with the necessity of foregoing leave and being present when the general officers arrived.

An honor guard was chosen and additional close-order drill sessions were begun. Hornsby demanded perfection from the men assigned to the guard, and uniforms and equipment were polished endlessly. Colling asked Zinsmann if he could procure some high-gloss black paint for the guard’s helmet liners, and when he mysteriously did so, Colling located and enlisted a German sign painter from the town to reproduce the 61st Division’s insignia on the sides of the helmets.

Colling suggested that music might be appropriate, but because there was no band available, it would have to be recorded marches, played on the portable record player that Sergeant Delonzo had carried across Europe in the back of the ¾-ton motor pool truck. Securing Sousa records from one of Ferguson’s friends at Division headquarters was easier than Colling had imagined it would be, but finding a record with British tunes proved more elusive. Colling finally located a recording of Rule Britannia buried under other merchandise in the rear of a radio repair shop in Grabensheim. The owner of the shop expressed his pride at the record escaping the notice of the Gestapo for so many years, but seemed relieved to sell it to Colling. One of Zinsmann’s electricians did not take long to figure out how to amplify the music so it would play from the loudspeakers that had been installed by the kaserne’s former German tenants.

The food to be served was a problem. Thanksgiving had depleted the mess hall’s stores, and Technical Sergeant Cooley, the battalion mess sergeant, announced that the projected menu looked as if it would consist of either stew or bologna sandwiches. Colling asked Zinsmann where one might obtain black market sausage, and the next day, he informed Colling that lunch would be prepared by some women he knew, and would consist of Weissewurst, dumplings and sauerkraut, accompanied by beer and white wine, topped off with assorted Viennese pastries, if Sergeant Cooley could provide a kilo of sugar – all for only thirty cartons of cigarettes. Colling told Ferguson, who happily agreed. Ferguson also told Sergeant Cooley that his role would be confined to providing and supervising the waiters for the luncheon. Major Harris brought Ferguson a stack of white gloves for the waiters to wear: he informed the master sergeant that he had borrowed them from the servants’ quarters at the Countess’ villa.

On the appointed day, the generals arrived, riding in an open command car, followed by two other olive-drab Plymouths carrying their aides and other staff officers. Marches boomed impressively from the loudspeakers, and the honor guard briskly went through its drill. As an added touch, Colling had suggested that two 37-millimeter anti-tank guns be placed in the square, and an appropriate salute fired. When no one could ascertain how many guns a major general was due, Major Harris had instructed the staff sergeant in charge of the artillery to fire three volleys, on the theory that what was good enough for a funeral would be good enough for the generals. As the guns banged out, the command car was driven slowly around the quadrangle and pulled up in front of the honor guard. Major Harris stepped forward from his position in front of the formation, and invited Colonel Harrington and the two general officers to inspect the honor guard. The officers marched quickstep between the ranks of the guard, and then were led by Harris to the new officers’ club, where the lunch had been laid out.

Colonel Harrington and the visiting dignitaries were then ushered up the steps and into the club. A few minutes later, word came from the Colonel that the troops could stand down and be dismissed.

Ferguson, Hornsby and Colling waited expectantly in the battalion orderly room for Major Harris to return with word of the outcome of the visit, once the generals had departed. The two sergeants smoked cigars and sipped beer, exchanging stories and recollections, while Colling listened and pretended to work at his desk in the next office.

Ferguson was watching the parade ground through the window, and when he noticed the entourage exiting the officers’ club and returning to their vehicles, he told Hornsby. Colling joined the two men at the window and saw the command cars disappearing through the archway of the kaserne’s gate. He also saw Major Harris striding across the square towards the orderly room, and a few moments later, the Major came through the door.

Happy as clams!” exclaimed Harris, smiling broadly.

Congratulations, sir,” said Ferguson.

They loved it. Aubertson told the Old Man what a great job he was doing, and bragged to the Limey brigadier about how fortunate he was to have the Old Man commanding one of his regiments. Confidentially, the Old Man could get that star he deserves from this.”

The two sergeants were listening to Harris’ complimentary comments concerning the food when the door opened and Colonel Harrington stepped into the room, causing immediate silence. Major Harris was the first to speak, “Sir. Welcome.”

Thank you, Major. I left General Aubertson and Brigadier Wendle to their own devices and came back to express my thanks for the manner in which you handled this affair.”

It was really nothing, sir. The men wanted to show off for the general and the brigadier. You know, let the English know that Yanks can show a little spit and polish, too.”

I particularly want to thank you, Sergeant Ferguson,” said Harrington, “And you, too, Sergeant Hornsby. The honor guard was well turned-out, as I might have expected. First class job, both of you.”

The two sergeants stood at attention, trying to keep the smiles on their faces from growing wider. Both men nodded in response to the colonel’s words, then Ferguson spoke, “And don’t forget PFC Colling, sir. He did a good job.”

Harrington turned towards Colling, who had been standing rigidly at attention since the colonel had entered the orderly room, “You’re the man who brought the Regiment ice cream, aren’t you, son?”

Yessir,” was all that Colling could think of to say.

Seems you have a lot of initiative. The Major and Sergeant Ferguson here might want to think about giving you a shot at NCO. At any rate, gentlemen, you all have done the 40th proud, and I thank you. I have a jeep waiting, so I’ll take my leave.”

As soon as Colonel Harrington was out the door, Harris clapped Ferguson on the shoulder, grinning all the while. “Well done, well done, Sergeant. You too, Hornsby. Give all the men in the honor guard a three-day pass. Let ‘em go to Munich if they want.”

The waiters, too, sir?”

Right, right. But remind ‘em all not to fraternize with any of those fräuleins in Munich.”

Yessir. We’ll do that, sir,” replied Ferguson with a smile.

What about Colling, sir?” asked Hornsby.

Right, you too, Colling. Go have yourself some fun.”

Colling replied in a serious tone of voice, “But no fraternizing, sir.”

The Major laughed, “I understand you’ve found yourself a home-away-from-home with an older woman, Private, so maybe you won’t be going to Munich.”

Colling felt his face getting red, “No sir, I mean, yessir, I will be going to Munich. Frau Bergheim is just a friend.…”

Harris laughed at Colling’s discomfort, “Right, Private, just a friend. Sounds like you’re breaking the no-fraternization rules already.”

The two sergeants were also amused by Colling’s embarrassment, and so Colling thought it best to avoid any attempt to explain.

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