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View Full Version : Patrol Diary of Herbert Altmeier Part 14 - Final



paulhager
11-22-2005, 06:23 PM
7 May 1945
(Continued)

Later in the morning, two dark green trucks with large white stars backed up to the gate. The same officer from the hut yesterday stood in the back of one of the trucks and, with a megaphone, began calling for anyone wanting to go to Munich to please come to the gate. Several G.I.€s walked among the tents shouting, €œOut, out€ so that people would come out and hear the officer. Finally, ten of us had queued up. A couple of G.I.€s pulled a tank with a hose and long nozzle attached out of the second truck and walked along the queue, sticking the nozzle down shirts and blouses, pants and skirts, and sprayed some substance on us. The officer said not to worry €" this was a precaution against typhus.

The officer dismounted from the truck and told us to climb in the back and find a seat on one of the benches to either side. He helped the women and the two children (I€d guess the girl was 12 or 13 and the boy was 10 or 11) get in while the two G.I€s with the truck looked on. One of the G.I.€s was impatient and bored but the other one had a distinctly unfriendly expression. Since the latter G.I. was carrying a rifle slung over his shoulder, for the first time since my arrival I started to feel apprehensive.

I€m writing this in the back of the truck, just after noon. Several of the people riding with me are saying that we left the highway to Munich about ten minutes ago. I€m considering whether or not I should remove the P-38 from my valise where I stuck it after I got to camp yesterday.

8 May 1945
I reached Willi€s home this evening. But, since this is my first opportunity to write in more than 24 hours, I need to finish my account of what happened yesterday.

The truck did not take us directly to Munich. Around 1400 the truck came to a stop and the G.I. with the rifle came to the back and told everyone to get out. He spoke fluent German but with an Austrian accent. Some of the people complained as they climbed off the truck, saying this wasn€t Munich €" why were we here? The G.I. replied that we€d taken a €œdetour€ - we were in a small town called Dachau. By his manner I could tell that he was not disposed to tolerate backtalk from any of us. He said we should leave our belongings on the truck €" they€d be safe there.

The truck was parked next to a building in proximity to a bridge over a water-filled ditch. The G.I. accompanied us over the bridge and eventually to a large gatehouse on which there was a sign that said, €œWork brings freedom€. Gesturing toward the sign, the G.I. said, €œAfter a little work, you€ll be free to go to Munich.€

At first I thought we were at another of the so-called €œDisplaced Persons€ camps like the one from which we had just come. But, as we walked through the gate, an unpleasant odor I€d noticed walking up became a pervasive stench. Inside, there were large numbers of emaciated, hollow-eyed people standing around. Approaching us was a horse cart pulled by several healthy-looking men. On the cart was a pile of skeletal, naked bodies. The G.I. had us move out of the way to let the cart go past. €œIf you€re wondering, those are some of the €˜fine citizens€ from the town of Dachau we€ve put on burial detail. You are going to help them out.€

I€d had enough. €œI refuse.€ The G.I. unslung his rifle and brought it to an aggressive port arms. €œYou are not allowed to refuse. Your Nazi government did this. We€re in one of your concentration camps. The people in here are your fellow citizens. You are going to bury the dead because you are responsible for their deaths.€
€œWhy should I believe you? How do I know you Americans didn€t do this? I€ve seen what you did to Hamburg!€ The rifle€s muzzle began to move in my direction. €œThis isn€t a debate.€ I could see that several other people in the group were terrified €" their eyes were pleading with me: €œWhy are you provoking this soldier?€

I backed down and, with the rest of the group, went to a building, outside of which was a mound of skeletal corpses. The G.I. had the men load corpses onto an empty horse cart. €œNow we€re all going to the cemetery,€ he said. I and the other men grabbed the thills of the cart and began pulling. The women and children walked alongside €" both children were frightened and crying as were a couple of the women.

The G.I. spoke to me again. €œI€ve had several of the €˜good citizens€ of Dachau protest when I had them bury the dead, saying they didn€t know anything about the camp. Can you imagine that? This camp has been next door for more than ten years, killing and gassing people, and they want me to believe they knew nothing about it. But you take the cake. You say we Americans did it. We Americans liberated this camp only a week ago. People don€t get to looking like that after only a week.€ He pointed back at the cart. I didn€t respond.

We continued out the gate and across the bridge. €œYou€re an officer aren€t you?€
€œWhy do you ask?€ He finally had gotten me to talk.
€œYou€re a young, healthy man so you had to be in the military. And you€re accustomed to giving orders rather than taking them. What are you? Lieutenant? Captain?€ The words he used were generic terms for Army ranks.
€œI was in the Kriegsmarine.€
€œSo, you were an officer in the navy. What rank?€
€œI wasn€t an officer.€
€œRemind me again of your name €¦ was it Algaier?€
€œNo,€ I answered, €œAltmeier. Herbert.€
€œWell Mr. Altmeier, you are a very poor liar.€

We were long past the truck and had left behind a row of low factory buildings on either side of the road.

€œYou€re not from around here, are you? Let me guess €¦ you€re from Hamburg!€
I was getting tired of his incessant questions and his arrogant attitude. €œAnd you€re from Austria,€ I said.
€œYes, I€m from Vienna €" left in 1938. And I take it I was right about you.€ I nodded. €œYou sounded High German and threw out that bit about us bombing Hamburg. It was an easy guess.€ He changed to command voice, €œTurn right!€ We pulled the cart onto a cross street.

€œSo we bombed your home town? Well, we busted up a lot of your cities. You want me to cry over all the poor innocent people who were killed? Boo-Hoo. Most of those €˜innocent€ people voted that psychopathic paperhanger you called €˜The Führer€ into power. What, you don€t like to hear that?€
€œYou have the gun,€ I said.
€œWhy, yes, Mr. Altmeier €" I do.€ He returned to his topic. €œI suppose we Austrians gave you Hitler but you Germans were insane enough to make him your leader and follow him off the cliff.€

€œFunny thing, Altmeier, is that I watched it all happening - it was so obvious to me what Hitler was and I doubt I€m much older than you. Of course, I€m a Jew so I might have been a little more attentive to what was going on.€ Back to command voice, €œTurn left!€

€œAnother funny thing. I€ve known ever since I was able to enlist in the Army why I was fighting. For my buddies it was avenging Pearl Harbor €" most of them would have much preferred to be fighting in the Pacific than in Europe. I was expecting to see places like the Dachau camp once we got into Germany. As horrific as it is, I€ve heard that the camps in Poland the Russians have liberated are much worse. But, to get back to what I was saying, I knew there would be camps like this €" I€m pretty sure most of my relatives and friends who couldn€t escape were murdered in camps like this. When those boys in the 42nd Infantry Division stumbled onto Dachau they had never imagined anything like this could exist. Did you know, Mr. Altmeir, that most of them are illiterate southern farm boys? Nice, decent, simple farm boys. Sure, they were soldiers but even after fighting their way across Europe there was an innocence about them.€

He walked silently beside us for a moment. €œI wasn€t around for the actual liberation but I was told what happened by people who were there. Initially, what they saw was incomprehensible but when it finally dawned on those simple, decent farm boys what you educated and civilized Germans had done, some of them actually gave their guns to the inmates €" those strong enough to hold them. And they watched as the inmates took their revenge on the guards. So, Mr. Altmeier, consider yourself lucky that I am the one carrying the gun.€

We had reached the town cemetery. €œWe€ve made it easy on you,€ announced the G.I. €œSome of the €˜fine citizens€ of Dachau have been kind enough to dig a trench right over there. That€s where you can place the bodies. And please show some respect.€

When we were done placing the bodies in the trench he had us shovel a layer of soil over them. €œYou folks religious?€ No one answered. €œI said, €˜Are you religious?€€ Some people nodded, a few said, €œYes.€ €œGood,€ he said, €œbow your heads and pray €" pray for these people but, most of all, pray for yourselves.€ I crossed myself and bowed my head.

€œOkay,€ he said, €œlet€s take the cart back and we can be on our way.€

We walked quietly for a while. Finally I spoke. €œI noticed you didn€t pray.€
€œDid you now, Mr. Altmeier. Well, I€m an atheist €" I don€t believe in God. But I do believe in respect €¦ and human dignity. Religious people pray to show respect so I made you pray. But, Mr. Altmeier, here€s the big question: Isn€t there something terribly wrong when it takes a man with a gun €" me €" to restore in death the respect and human dignity those poor people were so conspicuously denied in life?€

No further words were exchanged until we had taken the cart back and returned to the truck. The driver was nowhere to be seen. The G.I. looked at his watch. €œI guess we finished early. Frank will be back in a quarter hour.€ He turned to me, €œWhere in Munich are you going, Mr. Altmeier?€ I gave him the address. €œWhere is that?€ I didn€t answer. €œI thought so. Never been there, have you? You are truly the most appallingly bad liar I€ve ever met. Who lives at this address?€
€œMy brother.€ The G.I. eyed me for a moment. €œOkay. Do any of you people know where Mr. Altmeier€s brother lives?€ A middle-aged man spoke up, €œI know. It€s west of Munich €" just off the road to Dachau.€

€œToday really is your lucky day, Mr. Altmeier. Frank and I will be your taxi service €" we will drop you off at your brother€s. No need to thank me €" it€s all courtesy of Uncle Sam and General Patton.€

Later, as we were riding in the back of the truck, the middle-aged man broke the silence. €œWas he right? Were you an officer in the Kriegsmarine?€
€œYes, I commanded U-boats.€
€œThen let me shake your hand, Captain Altmeier,€ the man rose from the bench opposite me and reached across to shake hands. Sitting back down, he continued, €œHe really is a horrid man, isn€t he Captain? Not at all surprising he€s a filthy Jew.€ For the first time, I realized that everything the G.I. had said was the truth.

I knocked several times at the door before anyone responded. A woman€s voice from inside asked who I was and what I wanted. €œI€m Lieutenant Commander Herbert Altmeier €" I served with Willi Braun. Is this his home?€ The door was opened by a petite, blonde woman. €œWilli is my husband. Do you know how he is?€

Willi€s wife is named Elke. She hasn€t heard from him since the beginning of January, when was able to visit for a few days. Now Elke and her two children are living alone, without electricity and running water €" there is a functioning well, however. She said the Americans are trying to restore power and water to the outlying areas of Munich but they€ve obviously not managed it yet. Elke has offered me a room and, in return, I said that I€d help out in any way I could until Willi returns. I can really do no less.

9 May 1945
I went into Munich today to find food. A bus service of sorts has been reestablished and the Americans have set up food distribution stations. There are a few shops open but their shelves are mostly empty. I obtained some stale bread from a shop and something called K-rations from the Americans.

I spent enough time in Munich to see what a shambles it is. The G.I. was right €" the Americans and British bombed everything. War is systematic destruction €" the application of human science and ingenuity to create disorder on a massive scale. It€s a science at which the Americans appear to excel. What a strange people they are: kind and generous and, at the same time, utterly ruthless.

Elke has told me more about Willi. He taught at a U-boat school based in Bremen. She didn€t know but I€m guessing it was for the new Type XXI boats. I told her that Bremen was captured some time last month. The British and Americans were treating their prisoners well and I was certain Willi would be home soon. She seemed to borrow strength from my confidence.

I have more to say now about my experience at Dachau. Yesterday, the G.I.€s words played incessantly in my head until I was finally able to transcribe them onto paper (including that strange Americanism, €œokay€, which I think means €œyes€). It was only then I was granted some peace. Today, the memory I must exorcise is from when I was in the camp loading bodies onto the cart.

There were four of us loading, two men per body. The bodies were light - I doubt the heaviest weighed as much as 40 kilos €" but unwieldy. The other men in the €œburial detail€ had placed handkerchiefs around their mouths and noses. I can€t imagine it helped but the smell was not as intense as might be expected. Spring had been rather cool.

What was most striking was that the bodies were nearly indistinguishable from each other. I€ve described them as €œskeletal€ and they were: a thin layer of tissue covered the bones and appeared to be the only thing holding them together. Even naked, with all the fat and muscle gone, it was often hard to tell the men and women apart €" it was even harder to tell the bodies of the children apart.

I assumed these people must have been dead for some time and the condition of their bodies was the result of partial decomposition. Just as I had this thought, I caught motion out of the corner of my eye. I looked up and two men were bringing another skeletal body to the pile €" this one still clothed. I was wishing they would just put it on the cart themselves when I saw the skeleton was alive and walking haltingly, head down, being borne up by the men. The men and the skeleton stopped not two meters away. The skeleton raised its head and looked right at me, revealing it was a woman. Her eyes were large and brown and filled with such pain and supplication that I had a nearly overpowering desire to embrace her. That was when she smiled at me. Through all that pain, she smiled. I tried to smile back but couldn€t.

Later, I didn€t need the G.I. to tell me that people don€t get to this condition in only a week. I€d seen the evidence with my own eyes and it was irrefutable: Germans had done this awful thing. It€s taken several days for me to appreciate the full ramifications of that fact.

The G.I. said he was an atheist. I€m more certain than ever he is wrong. There is a God. My only uncertainty lies in understanding His nature. Is He a vengeful God, punishing iniquity? Was I right when I speculated that the war was a trial by combat? That the destruction visited upon Germany showed that God had withdrawn his favor? The problem is that the destruction is indiscriminant. I can€t believe that incinerating innocent babies in Hamburg somehow balances the scale of justice for the evil perpetrated in Dachau and, if the G.I. is right, elsewhere. I can€t accept that the sins of the father carry on through successive generations.

I think the better explanation is that God watches and He shows us the path of righteousness but leaves choice to us. We humans created the horror of this war, not God. I don€t find this particularly comforting because it merely highlights my own responsibility. The G.I. said we were all to blame for following €œthat psychopathic paperhanger€ €" by €œwe€ he meant me and every other German who did his duty to the Fatherland. I recall that Yvette once said that immorality was placing duty above a person€s obligation to humanity. If I could honestly claim that I didn€t know what my country was doing then that might relieve me of responsibility but the G.I. said he knew and figured I should have known as well. In this, I think the G.I. was right. To the Seven Deadly Sins must be added an eighth: the Sin of Willful Ignorance. So, I€m guilty of unquestioningly putting duty first, above all other considerations including morality.

Where I most clearly see the Hand of God is in my own life, particularly in the unlikely series of events I€ve captured in this journal that led me ineluctably to the Dachau burial detail.

As Christians, we learn about Christ€s agony on the cross and our salvation through his sacrifice. Well, God forgive me, I€ve seen worse suffering than Jesus€. That skeletal woman didn€t endure a few days of torture - her agony had been going on for months. Yet, though all that pain she stopped and smiled. I understand now that she was forgiving me. I wish that were enough but I saw no forgiveness in the other inmates. They looked at me with unalloyed hatred. I think God€s message is that I can receive absolution but no single act of contrition will suffice.

How then am I to expiate my manifold sins - must I seek forgiveness from everyone I€ve wronged, directly and indirectly? The answer I come to is, yes, even if it takes the rest of my life.

10 May 1945
I€ve been enjoying spending time with Willi€s children €" Gerd is 4 and Ursula is 18 months. I€ve learned to change diapers €" something I missed growing up because I was an only child and my cousins were nearly all older than me.

Gerd behaves like the perfect little man of the house. When Elke gets depressed, which always seems to happen as dinner €" such as it is €" is being prepared, Gerd comforts her and says, €œDon€t cry, mommy. Daddy will be home soon.€ I tell her essentially the same thing but Gerd€s childish earnestness always causes her mood to brighten.

Ursula is curly-haired and rosy-cheeked - she has her mother€s blue eyes. She toddles about the house and is extremely inquisitive. Elke has been telling the children I€m their €œUncle Herbert€ so Ursula keeps calling me €œUncle.€ Just €œUncle.€

I didn€t realize how much is involved in doing laundry. We still don€t have running water so I have to get several buckets of water from the pump and pour them into the washtub. Then I use a bar of soap on the clothes and work them over the washboard. It takes forever to clean the soiled diapers.

11 May 1945
I went into Munich again this morning for food, kerosene, and other household supplies. Thus far I€ve not been able to get extra chocolate. The G.I.€s continue to reserve such gifts for children and young women. Next time I should bring Elke and her children with me. Gerd and Ursula are both very cute €" Ursula, in particular, with her pink cheeks and bright smile would be irresistible. Elke, being young and attractive, would no doubt receive gifts of chocolate as well from appreciative G.I.€s.

This evening, we had just sat down to a dinner consisting of K-rations, bread, and sausage when the front door opened. My first thought was of the P-38 in my valise upstairs and how I might get to it. Then a familiar voice called out, €œAnybody home?€ It was Willi! It was a joyous and tearful reunion €" I shed a few myself. Elke set another place at the head of the table for Willi €" a spot she€d always left open €" and Willi presided over the meal as though he€d never been away.

As he related his experiences up through the surrender and his trip home, the children vied for a place on his lap €" finally both ended up there.

I was right that Willi had been involved in the Type XXI program. He said that, as far as he knew, no Type XXI actually made it into service, which he couldn€t understand. Even though some of them were commissioned in the late spring or early summer of 1944, the training process seemed to take forever. For some reason, I decided not to tell him about the short but very successful career of the U-2501.

After Bremen fell to the British, Willi was held as a POW but right after the war ended they began to release their prisoners. Because his was a non-combat position, he was among the first to be released. I find this a bit surprising. With Willi€s knowledge of the Type XXI, I€d expect the British would have wanted to hold him for an extended interrogation. The only explanation I can come up with is that, in overrunning the ports where the Type XXI was built, the British must have failed to realize what a revolutionary U-boat design had fallen into their hands.

12 May 1945
I was right about how to obtain more chocolate. This morning, I and the whole family went into Munich. I suppose it€s faintly dishonest to send Elke and the children over to the food distribution stations alone but they do come away with extras, including the chocolate €œHershey Bars€. I could tell that Willi was upset by the damage that has been done to his hometown. Willi said it was so extensive that he doubted it could be repaired in his lifetime.

Back at Willi€s home, I helped him with some repair work, which gave us an opportunity to talk alone. I asked him what he knew about the concentration camp at Dachau. He said it had been around eleven or twelve years and had housed €œpoliticals€ €" mostly communists and other enemies of the Fatherland. I told him about the treatment of the prisoners. €œHerbert, at the end the whole country was in chaos. I saw good Germans starving in Kiel and Bremen. If you have a choice between feeding law-abiding citizens and criminals, who are you going to choose?€ I related what the G.I. had to say about the Jews who had been killed. €œMany Jews were communists €" I€m not saying all but a lot were. Karl Marx was a Jew €" did you know that? Don€t be na¯ve, Herbert. You can€t have supporters of the Bolsheviks running around loose.€ I asked him what he thought about the Führer. €œHe wrecked Germany. Just between you and me, I wish that assassination attempt last year had succeeded and Grand Admiral D¶nitz had taken over then.€ I agreed, saying that most men in the Kriegsmarine would have been happy to see D¶nitz in charge.

Although Willi offered a plausible argument for some of what I saw, he couldn€t explain the children in the camp. How can children be enemies of the Fatherland? Rather than get into a dispute with Willi, I decided it was best to drop the subject.

Willi wanted to know more about my end-of-war experiences. I lied, telling him that I was ordered to Hamburg to learn about the Type XXI and was there when the city fell. From there on, my story was factual, if slightly edited. €œYou were smart to pretend you were a civilian,€ he observed.

13 May 1945
I attended Mass with Willi and his family today. I had not recalled Willi being especially devout so I assume that Elke is responsible for seeing that the family€s religious obligations are met.

The remainder of the day, I gathered what I€ll need to resume my journey home. Willi has given me some of his old hiking equipment, including a backpack, canteens, and a lighter. In return, I€ve given him the valise, which he treated as a gift of inestimable value. Elke gave me several pieces of gold jewelry. As she handed them to me, she said it never hurts to have something you can use as money.

I am going to leave tomorrow morning.

14 May 1945
At the end of my first day on the road I€m a little more than halfway to Augsburg. A farmer was kind enough to let me use his barn for the night. My plan is to get to Stuttgart €" I€ve been told that rail service has been reestablished there. From Stuttgart, I can take the train to Strasbourg and on to Nantes. If need be, I can hike from Nantes to Pontchâteau.

15 May 1945
This evening in Augsburg I became acquainted with a man named Helmut Dietrich. He was standing behind me in a food distribution line and commented on my backpack, €œThat€s quite a rig you have there, friend. Where are you headed?€ Stuttgart, I said. €œWhat a coincidence €" so am I.€ He knew Augsburg and its environs and suggested we go to the bombed-out rail yard nearby where we could obtain shelter for the night in a warehouse or railcar.

On the way to the rail yard, Dietrich asked me what I did during the war and I responded I was in the Kriegsmarine. What, I asked, did he do. He was a Sturmbannführer in the 12th SS Panzer Division: the €œHitler Youths€. He could tell by my blank expression that I was unfamiliar with Waffen SS ranks so he added, €œIt€s roughly the same as a Lieutenant Commander in the Kriegsmarine.€ At that point I revealed I had commanded U-boats and that was my rank. €œA brother officer!€ he exclaimed. From then on he referred to me as €œbrother€.

At the rail yard we found a roofless warehouse and built a fire using wood from some broken up crates. Afterwards, sitting next to the fire, Dietrich kept asking to hear my €œwar stories€. I eventually delivered up the story of how, as Captain of the U-390, I sank two Escort Carriers, making it as dramatic as I could. This seemed to satisfy him. For his part, Dietrich told the story of being an officer in the 12th SS as it was driven from the British and American beachhead all the way across France and back to Germany. The climax of the story was about his part in the Ardennes Offensive.

As I write this now, Dietrich is asleep. I€m feeling somewhat ambivalent about his tagging along with me. He€s companionable enough but I find his manner grating after a while. If he starts to bother me too much, I€ll just leave him and go on my own way.

17 May 1945
I wonder how many men I killed during the war. There are two I know of for sure €" the two I shot as a FLAK gunner. There were the planes I shot down €" presumably all those crew were killed and may have amounted to 10 or 15 additional men. The largest number of men killed would have come from the ships I sank. Two of the Bogue CVE€s went down in a few minutes, probably killing most of the crew of 800 or 900. Several escorts exploded and sank €" add another 400 or 500 for that. I think 2,000 is a low estimate €" 3,000 may be closer when adding in all the freighters and troop transports.

I killed a man this morning. I feel differently about killing him, no matter that he fully deserved it. All the others I killed in war and they were anonymous. This man I knew. The trouble started yesterday.

Dietrich and I got an early start €" by sunrise we were walking along the shoulder on the highway to Ulm. He kept trying to engage me in conversation about my service. He wanted to know how many ships I sank, where I was based €" he expressed fascination with what the U-boat war was like. I fed him another story or two €" at some point I mentioned being based in St. Nazaire. €œBeen there €" or close, anyway €" 1943. Brothel.€

He said he was meeting friends in Stuttgart €" why was I going there. In transit, I answered. My wife lived just outside St. Nazaire. He laughed, €œSo, brother, you knocked you up a French *****?€ I rounded on him, €œMy wife is not a *****!€

€œSorry brother. But the fact is, you€re not allowed to marry a French woman €" I don€t know who said you could. That was the rule. I€m not a fanatic about it €" I came across a few French who looked perfectly Ayran. In any case, it€s not as bad as mixing blood with those Slavic brutes €¦ or worse. I did my part though. East Front €" 1941. Cleaned out a whole village of Jews. Most of my brothers got squeamish when it came to doing the kids. Not me.€

€œI€m not your €˜brother€ and I€m tired of listening to you.€ I started across to the other side of the road. He began to follow and I turned and began walking backwards so I could speak to him directly. €œYou stay on that side, I€ll stay on this. I don€t want to walk with you any more.€
€œThe Great U-Boat Captain is too good to associate with an infantryman, is he? I knew men like you - afraid to look your enemies in the eye when you kill them. Well, Captain, the real war was bloody and dirty. Not like looking through a periscope.€ I turned, quickening my pace and lengthening my stride. As he began to fall behind he cursed me and my €œFrench *****.€

After an hour he was a speck in the distance. By noon he had disappeared from sight.

Within 10 kilometers of Ulm I came upon a farmhouse just off the highway and became aware of how tired I was. I walked along a dirt road up to the house and knocked on the door. A woman finally answered. Like Elke, she was initially apprehensive but, with no entrée, it took a little longer for me to convince her I was friendly. She and her three young children were waiting for her husband to return from the East Front. I didn€t tell her how unlikely I thought it she€d ever see her husband again. Instead I offered to share some of my food with her in return for the use of her barn for the night. I ended up giving her about half my K-rations.

I didn€t rise until after sunup. When I did I just collected my stuff and left. If I had stayed to thank the woman for her hospitality I€m sure I would have ended up giving her the rest of my food.

The road led into a heavily forested area about a kilometer from the farmhouse. A few paces in and I stopped for a moment to enjoy the leafy bower surrounding me. Just then, Dietrich stepped from behind a tree about ten meters ahead. €œHello Captain.€ He approached and drew a dagger from a scabbard on his belt. €œI€ve decided to take your rig. If you weren€t a Great U-Boat Captain, I might cut you up a little bit first.€ He saw me glance at the dagger. €œLike my knife? I€ve had it since I was 17 €" killed scores of our enemies with it. Now, give me your pack and I€ll let you go to your French ***** without a scratch on you.€

I shrugged the backpack off my right shoulder and swung it off. Taking the strap in my left hand, I threw it on the ground just to Dietrich€s right side €" his knife-hand side. As he knelt to pick it up, I pulled the P-38 out of my jacket, brought it down against my right side, and fired twice. Dietrich looked up at me with an expression of astonishment. He dropped the pack and ran back in the direction of the tree he had earlier emerged from behind. I took careful aim but before I could fire he stumbled and fell forward.

Dietrich was expelling his last breath when I reached him. He was lying, head turned to his left, with his arms down at his sides. The dagger was close by. I picked it up. There was a legend on it: €Blood and Honor€. I threw it into the woods and then drug Dietrich€s body in the same general direction into the underbrush. His knapsack was propped up against the tree. I took the K-rations and threw the knapsack toward its former owner. After reloading the P-38, I got my pack and continued on to Ulm.

Dietrich was right about one thing. It€s very different to kill someone up close. I have no regrets, no sense of guilt, but I am €¦ unsettled. The image that sticks with me is his expression after I shot him. I know exactly what he was thinking at that instant: €œHe has a gun!? He shot me!?€ He couldn€t believe he had so completely misjudged me. That is the difference between killing at 2,000 meters and 2: up close, at the point of death, you have a fleeting moment of communion with the person whose life you€ve taken.

After replenishing my supplies in Ulm, I made my way back to the road and continued on to Stuttgart.

As I write this now, I€m in my sleeping bag about 20 meters off the road, using one of my candles for light. With any luck, I should make Stuttgart by tomorrow evening €" sooner if I can catch a ride. The American supply trucks don€t stop and there are almost no German vehicles on the road so I don€t expect I€ll be able to avoid another day walking.

18 May 1945
I made it to Stuttgart but I€ve reconsidered my plan to take the train to Strasbourg. I don€t want to go through customs and I definitely don€t want to be searched. I need to get across the French boarder somewhere I won€t be subjected to either. I€ll attack the problem tomorrow.

19 May 1945
Strasbourg! I am now pulling out of the Strasbourg station on the train to Paris. Cost of a one-way ticket was two gold earrings.

Earlier today I loitered around one of the food distribution stations in Stuttgart. It was more a matter of temporizing while I tried to come up with an idea than anything else. I threw away my ID this morning and from then on spoke French exclusively, acting as though I couldn€t understand German. Unfortunately, the Americans don€t understand either language or, more accurately, none of the Americans I came across knew either. Thus the day progressed until around 1500, when a truck pulled up with a Tri-color flag painted on the canvas cover.

The driver got out of the truck and had an exchange in English with one of the Americans. When he started to walk back I rushed over. €œPlease, Sir, I need your help. I€m a fellow Frenchman, and I must get back home.€ The story I told him was that I was a member of the Maquis who had been captured by the €œBoche€ and thrown into a concentration camp but had been freed by the Americans. Now I was trapped in Germany. I could tell the driver was moved by my plight but €œregulations€ forbade giving rides to civilians. I told him I had an officer€s pistol I€d taken off a dead camp guard (implying I had something to do with his demise) and if he could take me as far as Strasbourg, I€d be happy to give it to him. He asked to see the pistol. After looking it over, the driver accepted the bribe and not only took me to Strasbourg, he dropped me at the railroad station.

Now, if all goes well, I should be in Nantes before this time tomorrow. From there, it€s less than an hour by bus to Pontchâteau.

20 May 1945
The train should be arriving at Nantes soon. I€m nearly €œhome.€ But in reality I have no home €" I can only pray I have a wife and child waiting for me.

A disquieting thought I haven€t been able to shake is Dietrich€s statement that it was against the rules to marry a French woman. I knew about such a rule but thought it could be waived and that, in my case, it was when the Old Man €œmarried€ Yvette and me at the gate. From then on she was treated like a German wife by the authorities. Was this yet another instance of the Old Man €œpulling strings€ (or, more likely, knowing which gears in the bureaucracy to lubricate)? I suppose the legality of my marriage is the least of my problems.

One thing is clear: the French government is not going to let me €" a former enemy combatant - stay in France, whether I€m legally married or not. There is only one solution I can see: once I find Yvette, I turn myself over to the Americans. I can trade my knowledge and experience as the Captain of what may have been the only Type XXI to ever see combat for political asylum. The Americans may not realize it yet but they€re going to have problems with the Bolsheviks, sooner or later.

The Americans have moved their Headquarters from Rheims to somewhere in Germany €" I don€t plan on ever going back there. I learned the Americans maintain a communication center in Paris, so Paris is where we€ll go.

21 May 1945
This will be my last entry.

I reached Pontchâteau early in the afternoon. It was largely unchanged from when I was last there. One thing that was different was that the €œSeaman€s Tavern€ was gone. Now there was a sign in front with a cartoonish red pig and the words, €œThe Red Pig€. No doubt Dominique had been keeping this sign in the attic and put it up just as soon as the Americans arrived.

I stood on the opposite side of the street a while, watching patrons enter and leave. I was afraid to go in €" afraid to know whether my worst fears or best hopes would be realized.

I opened the door and a small bell rang. Yvette was alone inside, waiting on a couple of G.I.€s and she didn€t immediately look up. She was thinner, more angular and looked more €¦ mature. I walked over and stood next to her. She said something in English, then €œOne moment,€ in French. I cleared my throat and she turned, starting to say something. On seeing me her expression went from slight annoyance to startled surprise as she brought her hands up over her mouth. I spoke first €" I said something like €œMy beautiful, sweet, Love€ and she leaped into my arms. Eleven months of separation evaporated in an instant.

I€m not sure how long we embraced €" when we separated she turned to the G.I.€s and said something in English. Taking my hand, she led me toward the door. €œYou must see your daughter €" she€s upstairs with mother.€ As we walked together up the stairs, Yvette said my daughter€s name was Beata €" Beata Maria Theresa Lefebvre. It was better, she said, for Beata to €œofficially€ take the family€s name rather than mine.

When I came in the apartment, Dominique was doing something in the kitchen. Upon seeing me, she released a stream of invective and sent a plate sailing in my direction that missed and shattered against the wall. Then she turned her rage on Yvette, screaming €œBoche *****€ and €œget out€. I tried to speak to Dominique but my attempts only fed her anger. As Yvette went to fetch Beata, Dominique grabbed a kitchen knife and advanced toward me. I took a cushion off the couch and used it to catch the blade as she brought the knife down in an overhand stab. I twisted the knife away from her and grabbed her hands. She started screaming €œMurder! Murder!€ while kicking at me. I yelled for Yvette to hurry €" she finally rushed past with the baby and a cloth bag seconds later. I released Dominique and shoved her away and then followed Yvette down the stairs.

At the foot of the stairs Yvette stopped €" she didn€t know what to do next. I said, €œGo to the bus stop,€ and we set off.

Thus was I reunited with my family.

It€s now a bit after 1700 and we€re aboard the train to Paris, scheduled to arrive around midnight. I was able to secure a private compartment using the last of Elke€s jewelry.

Beata is sleeping peacefully on my lap as I write. Other than when Yvette was nursing her on the bus or waiting in the train station at Nantes, I€ve been caring for Beata. She€s a very happy baby and smiles readily €" she seems to like her Daddy.

Yvette is seated opposite me and is reading €œYvette€s Journal€. She€ll be done soon. Then I will give her this, my €œPatrol Diary€ in two volumes. She can easily finish it before we get to Paris.

I hope, dear Beata, your Mother chooses to read it all the way to the end.

To my beloved wife:

Now that you have finished, you know I have committed many sins €" none more grievous than those I have committed against you. I offer no excuse €" only the truth.

I have confessed my sins according to our Faith and have been granted absolution. But eternal life in Heaven would be meaningless if I lose you in the here and now.

So, to you, my Love -


Quia peccavi nimis cogitatione verbo, et opere: mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa.

Please forgive me.

paulhager
11-22-2005, 06:25 PM
To my readers:

Thanks for sticking to the end. The last episode took a little longer to write than planned. It was delayed, in part, by familial obligations. Another source of delay was that I wasn€t quite ready to say goodbye to Altmeier. I€ve gotten used to having him around.

Now I hope to return to my long-neglected political rants on, The Hoosier Gadfly (http://www.paulhager.org/wordpress), my blog. Drop by for a visit sometime. Feel free to email me.

Regards,
Paul Hager

Historical Matters
Some people may notice various historical inaccuracies cropping up. Most were deliberate and were chosen either to further the narrative or to reflect the imperfect knowledge of the characters. One example of the latter is that hostilities officially ended at 0001 GMT, 8 May 1945. I have characters saying the war ended on May 7. The agreement to end hostilities was signed on 7 May so that€s treated as the end by the characters. Most obviously, no Type XXI ever saw combat and that falls into the former category.

The 7 May visit to the Dachau Concentration Camp has a number of factual elements, including G.I.€s requiring the citizens of Dachau to bury the dead. To my knowledge, no person was brought from as far away as a DP camp outside of Nürnberg to the Dachau camp. The Austrian-American G.I. is a fictional character, but not wholly so. My father-in-law and his family escaped Germany in 1938 when he was 15-years-old, just before the events surrounding €œThe Night of Broken Glass€ made emigration by Jews all but impossible. They made their way first to Palestine €" now Israel €" and a year later, to the USA. After Pearl Harbor, he was able to enlist in the U.S. Army. He served in the 42nd Infantry Division €" the €œRainbow€ Division. He landed with the €œRainbow€ in South France, participated in the counterattack against the Germans during the Battle of the Bulge, and was with the first group of G.I.€s who liberated Dachau - about a half-hour ahead of director George Stevens (http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0828419/) and his documentary crew.

Any historical inaccuracies that don€t fall into the above categories are mine alone.

Here is the complete list of episodes, in order:

<UL TYPE=SQUARE>
<LI>Episode 1 (http://forums.ubi.com/eve/forums/a/tpc/f/857101043/m/2141067563)
<LI>Episode 2 (http://forums.ubi.com/eve/forums/a/tpc/f/857101043/m/9141086663)
<LI>Episode 3 (http://forums.ubi.com/eve/forums/a/tpc/f/857101043/m/7411026763)
<LI>Episode 4 (http://forums.ubi.com/eve/forums/a/tpc/f/857101043/m/6311026763)
<LI>Episode 5a (http://forums.ubi.com/eve/forums/a/tpc/f/857101043/m/2041009763)
<LI>Episode 5b (http://forums.ubi.com/eve/forums/a/tpc/f/857101043/m/9351068963)
<LI>Episode 6 (http://forums.ubi.com/eve/forums/a/tpc/f/857101043/m/7461079073)
<LI>Episode 7a (http://forums.ubi.com/eve/forums/a/tpc/f/857101043/m/3701021273)
<LI>Episode 7b (http://forums.ubi.com/eve/forums/a/tpc/f/857101043/m/8601021273)
<LI>Episode 8 (http://forums.ubi.com/eve/forums/a/tpc/f/857101043/m/6151017273)
<LI>Episode 9 (http://forums.ubi.com/eve/forums/a/tpc/f/857101043/m/1391066373)
<LI>Episode 10 (http://forums.ubi.com/eve/forums/a/tpc/f/857101043/m/2461072473)
<LI>Episode 11 (http://forums.ubi.com/eve/forums/a/tpc/f/857101043/m/3201061573)
<LI>Episode 12a (http://forums.ubi.com/eve/forums/a/tpc/f/857101043/m/5111010673)
<LI>Episode 12b (http://forums.ubi.com/eve/forums/a/tpc/f/857101043/m/8731015673)
<LI>Episode 13 (http://forums.ubi.com/eve/forums/a/tpc/f/857101043/m/7891015773)
[/list]

Baldricks_Mate
11-22-2005, 07:14 PM
http://forums.ubi.com/images/smilies/25.gif

This is an ending but not the end, I am sure.

Congrats on sticking with the story, thank you for writing it!

B_M

Schiffmorder
11-22-2005, 11:16 PM
Greetings from just north of stop light city. Great writing and plot!!
Thanks for your efforts!

doug.d
11-23-2005, 12:15 AM
Thanks Paul, good work. http://forums.ubi.com/images/smilies/25.gif

I don't like Altmeier very much, for various reasons, some already mentioned, but a brilliantly written tale nevertheless. I admit to wiping a tear from my eye at the re-union with Yvette, I guess I'm just a big softy. http://forums.ubi.com/images/smilies/cry.gif

I suggest you put all the parts together in a zip file and post the novelette on sites such as Subsim.com. Let them create a sub-section just for you. And don't forget Hollywood! http://forums.ubi.com/groupee_common/emoticons/icon_wink.gif The story deserves wider coverage and distribution. http://forums.ubi.com/images/smilies/11.gif

Oh, and kudos for sending me to a dictionary, it doesn't happen often i.e. I tripped over "ineluctably" and it broke my flow. http://forums.ubi.com/images/smilies/16x16_smiley-indifferent.gif It's certainly not in common usage in my part of the world. http://forums.ubi.com/images/smilies/blink.gif

Gmuno
11-23-2005, 01:37 AM
A great story http://forums.ubi.com/images/smilies/11.gif http://forums.ubi.com/images/smilies/11.gif

There's nothing more to say

paulhager
11-23-2005, 06:22 AM
To Baldricks_Mate:
Regarding the ending - quite right. I've certainly imagined more for Altmeier but this was the logical place to end things within the framework I chose.

To Schiffmorder:
Many thanks. I enjoyed writing the "saga". Kept me from following the news closely for several weeks - probably a good thing.

To Doug.d:
I think your view of Altmeier is similar to my wife's. I see many admirable qualities in the character but he has a number of flaws. There are ways in which he is "tone deaf" when it comes to other people. The two main female characters, Yvette and Inger, don't have this flaw. As I see it, the two women are the only ones in the story who really have their heads screwed on straight.

One thing to keep in mind is that Almeier really is young and, in many ways, naive. I could have written everything from the POV of the Old Man - he was the antithesis of naive - but I thought Altmeier's POV was more interesting and challenging.

I posted a brief explanation along with links to all of the episodes on my website (mentioned above). So, that's "wider" exposure than the Sim community. You might want to check out the entry.

I have no plans to do anything else with the story. I do have several other story ideas I may pursue now: one is a SF novel, one is the John Gardneresque re-imagining of HIGH NOON I've mentioned before, and one is a graphic novel I'd like to do with my daughter (she's becoming a very good artist). The most important lesson I learned from this exercise is how to carry an extended piece of fiction through to the finish.

To Gmuno:
Many thanks... thanks for reading.

WilhelmSchulz
11-23-2005, 01:29 PM
Dude you have got to get this published. 2 thumbs up. http://forums.ubi.com/images/smilies/25.gif http://forums.ubi.com/images/smilies/25.gif and a star raiting of ****. Agian a good story all the way to the end.

Hey hears a idea, do another story/book or whatever you call it only from 1939. You will get to know the person more intamently, and he will be around longer.

paulhager
11-23-2005, 01:42 PM
Originally posted by WilhelmSchulz:
Dude you have got to get this published. 2 thumbs up. http://forums.ubi.com/images/smilies/25.gif http://forums.ubi.com/images/smilies/25.gif and a star raiting of ****. Agian a good story all the way to the end.

Hey hears a idea, do another story/book or whatever you call it only from 1939. You will get to know the person more intamently, and he will be around longer.

Thanks.

As I said, I have some other story ideas I want to play with. Fewer constraints.

I was somewhat more appreciative of the ROME series on HBO after my SimFic/historical fiction. The writers for that series did a very good job of weaving the fictional characters in with the real ones. From everything I've read, they did an exceptional job on the history, including costumes and sets. I did some research for the Almeier story but kept things pretty sketchy.

Anyway, thanks again. If I pursue the graphic novel with my daughter, we might post parts of it on the web in order to generate feedback/interest. If that happens, I'll let folks know.

macker33
11-23-2005, 08:16 PM
Hi paul,i might have imagined it but did you say you were getting your niece to turn the story into a cartoon strip?

IF you did i was reading up and what a lot of comic strip artist do is they break the story up into paragraphs.

One paragraph = one page of the comic and they try to get about 5 or 6 pages done a week(just the drawing,somebody else does the colouring and lettering).

I thought i'd mention it anyway because if you are writing the story for a comic strip the one paragraph one page thing might help you accomadate the artist more.

paulhager
11-24-2005, 03:26 AM
Originally posted by macker33:
Hi paul,i might have imagined it but did you say you were getting your niece to turn the story into a cartoon strip?

IF you did i was reading up and what a lot of comic strip artist do is they break the story up into paragraphs.

One paragraph = one page of the comic and they try to get about 5 or 6 pages done a week(just the drawing,somebody else does the colouring and lettering).

I thought i'd mention it anyway because if you are writing the story for a comic strip the one paragraph one page thing might help you accomadate the artist more.

Actually, daughter (14), not niece. And, not this story but another. One of her drawings is here (http://www.livejournal.com/users/livali/159210.html). She did the banner for my blog, The Hoosier Gadfly (http://www.paulhager.org/wordpress), as well as some cartoons for the articles (see Positive Feedback (http://paulhager.org/wordpress/index.php?p=53) for an example).

If we do something together, I'll probably have to accommodate her preferred style. She'll have to find it interesting, as will I. Thus far, she hasn't been too enthusiastic about the story idea I've suggested. I'll probably have to punt.

I figure a graphic novel would amount to no more than 120 equivalent pages of writing - roughly script size. In fact, I think of this project as a quasi-movie script: graphic novels translate almost perfectly to the screen.

Schiffmorder
11-24-2005, 06:51 PM
To Schiffmorder:
Many thanks. I enjoyed writing the "saga". Kept me from following the news closely for several weeks - probably a good thing.
Lol, yes... never forget we live in the state that once tried to legislate the value of pi to a nice round number!!
http://forums.ubi.com/groupee_common/emoticons/icon_confused.gif http://forums.ubi.com/images/smilies/35.gif http://forums.ubi.com/images/smilies/10.gif <---Indiana Govt
http://forums.ubi.com/images/smilies/351.gif

paulhager
11-25-2005, 12:58 AM
Originally posted by Schiffmorder:
<BLOCKQUOTE class="ip-ubbcode-quote"><div class="ip-ubbcode-quote-title">quote:</div><div class="ip-ubbcode-quote-content">To Schiffmorder:
Many thanks. I enjoyed writing the "saga". Kept me from following the news closely for several weeks - probably a good thing.
Lol, yes... never forget we live in the state that once tried to legislate the value of pi to a nice round number!!
http://forums.ubi.com/groupee_common/emoticons/icon_confused.gif http://forums.ubi.com/images/smilies/35.gif http://forums.ubi.com/images/smilies/10.gif <---Indiana Govt
http://forums.ubi.com/images/smilies/351.gif </div></BLOCKQUOTE>

Ah, a fellow Hoosier. http://forums.ubi.com/groupee_common/emoticons/icon_biggrin.gif

I seem to recall that Doug Hofstadter, when he was a prof at I.U. (I don't know if he's still there) had a sign on his door that said, "If Pi were equal to three, this sign would look like this." Each of the "o" letters was a hexagon.

I think the proposed 1897 law actually had Pi equal to 3.2.

Ratek
11-25-2005, 07:09 AM
How silly wasn't that?!?!?

Had they even considered that there was a world outside thier own state? Or that circles would suddenly look rather odd (take note above).

macker33
11-26-2005, 12:50 PM
[QUOTE]Originally posted by paulhager:
[QUOTE]

I chcked her drawing and its pretty good,looks like raven from teen titans,as for what you are trying to do with"simfic" i have to say i support what you are doing,i see things like simfic as being one of the wonders of the internet,ie.ordinary people being able to share their goods with everyone else,
you should never be short of inspiration either,theres lots of video games to bounce off of.

BTW.PI = 3.14

macker33
11-26-2005, 01:16 PM
To paulhager::

I've a 13yo nephew who seriously wants to get into drawing but he doesnt necessarily want to do what i want him to do,i was the same when i was his age,i only wanted to draw sword carrying skeletons and tanks getting blown up and daggers dripping with blood.

Anyway what i've started doing to keep the enthuasiasim up is to get them to draw something and i will then draw the biggy verson,if they draw a three headed ninja with just one eye i will then draw a three headed ninja with one eye,The idea seems to have life so maybe if you let your daughter write the story and you can "upgrade" it to a proper script which she can then illustrate.

Its a good exercise for both of ye,you will have the test of having to write something outside of your own envelope and she gets to remain inside her own envelope,enthuasiasim will make you work more than talent.

Just my own personal opinion but i think drawing is more like athlethics than than writing,little effort=little reward,much effort=much reward,enthuasiasm is the key,talent is a myth and work inspires and inspiration works.


Strange rant over

paulhager
11-27-2005, 10:12 AM
Originally posted by macker33:

I chcked her drawing and its pretty good,looks like raven from teen titans,as for what you are trying to do with"simfic" i have to say i support what you are doing,i see things like simfic as being one of the wonders of the internet,ie.ordinary people being able to share their goods with everyone else,
you should never be short of inspiration either,theres lots of video games to bounce off of.


Thanks. She's been heavily influenced by Anime, as you can probably tell.

The story idea I'm currently playing with I had earlier this year. It is not a SimFic - it's original science fiction/political thriller. I still like the John Gardneresque story idea since it would be much easier - the characters and the "world" have already been created. It also could be a screenplay. Problem is that it would be so politically incorrect that Hollywood would never touch it.



BTW.PI = 3.14

Indeed ... except that it is a transcendental and goes on forever. I'm reminded of when I had just started grad school and had to take some "makeup" courses, one of which was a digital electronics course and lab. There was this undergraduate twerp who came up to me obviously trying to show off and said he could recite Pi to 20 decimal places. My response was, "Oh, yeah ... well, who was the 13th President of the United States?" Then I walked away. The answer, BTW, is Millard Fillmore, who, if memory serves, brought plumbing to the White House.

paulhager
11-27-2005, 10:32 AM
Originally posted by macker33:
To paulhager::

I've a 13yo nephew who seriously wants to get into drawing but he doesnt necessarily want to do what i want him to do,i was the same when i was his age,i only wanted to draw sword carrying skeletons and tanks getting blown up and daggers dripping with blood.

Anyway what i've started doing to keep the enthuasiasim up is to get them to draw something and i will then draw the biggy verson,if they draw a three headed ninja with just one eye i will then draw a three headed ninja with one eye,The idea seems to have life so maybe if you let your daughter write the story and you can "upgrade" it to a proper script which she can then illustrate.

Its a good exercise for both of ye,you will have the test of having to write something outside of your own envelope and she gets to remain inside her own envelope,enthuasiasim will make you work more than talent.

Just my own personal opinion but i think drawing is more like athlethics than than writing,little effort=little reward,much effort=much reward,enthuasiasm is the key,talent is a myth and work inspires and inspiration works.


Strange rant over

Although I think my daughter is a pretty good writer (the link to the picture is from her LiveJournal blog), if I'm going to do a collaboration, the writing will be mostly (or all) mine. The choice of idea was influenced by what I knew she would be interested in, so in that sense, you and I are on the same wavelength. BTW, she says she's very interested in the idea so phase one will be to write a short treatment/outline.

Right now the story is fairly inchoate: I know when it happens, I have a general idea of who a few of the characters are, and a rough idea of the political conflict. Since it's SF, I also have some ideas about the technology but I probably need to do some research in order to get things right. I can say that a key assumption will be that Moore's law holds through the year 2050, which means that personal computers will run at around 1 x 10^17 Hertz. I'm not sure how you cool something running at those clock speeds - maybe some combination of high-temperature superconductors and diamond chips cooled by liquid nitrogen.