[This is an original story based on the characters created by Sy Bartlett and Beirnie Lay, Jr., in their 1948 book "Twelve O'clock High," (Harper & Brothers) and the 1965 Quinn Martin Productions Television Series of the same name.]
THE PRISONER OF WAR
WEEK ONE, Tuesday, Morning
It was an unusually perfect summer morning in wartime Cambridgeshire, England... sunny and warm with a slight breeze, and dry, not a cloud in the sky. You had to appreciate days like this; they didn't come along that often. Rain and fog were almost a daily occurrence.
This part of Cambridgeshire, the northeast, was populated mostly by farms, and for as far as you could see, in almost any direction, there were fields of wheat ready for harvesting. Because of the war, however, there was a great shortage of farm labor. Most of the men had been called up for military service, and the labor gap was being filled by 'Land Girls' of the Women's Land Army, women who volunteered to work on the farms... and by Prisoners of War.
Due to gas rationing, there was hardly any traffic on the highways, only military and government vehicles going about their wartime business. The vehicle travelling down the A11 now was an American Army staff car carrying Brigadier General Frank Savage, Commander of the 918th Bomb Group, 1st Bombardment Wing, 8th Air Force, back from a meeting at RAF Bodwell, Norfolk, to his base near Archbury, a small village in the South of Cambridgeshire.
Savage was six foot tall and well built, with brown hair and steely blue eyes. He was young for a general officer, and at thirty-seven, one of the youngest generals in the Army Air Force. But he was an experienced wartime officer. He was there at the birth of VIII Bomber Command (now 8th Air Force) and had piloted one of the twelve B-17s - a 'maximum effort' at the time - to Rouen, France, the AAF's first mission of the air war. Before he had taken command of the 918th, he had served his time as an Assistant Chief of Staff (S3, Operations) at 8th Air Force Headquarters (code name 'Widewing'), at Bushy Park, London, and before that had commanded a Fighter Group.
Sitting back in his seat, and gazing out the window at the swaying fields of wheat, Savage could almost forget there was a war on... almost, but not quite, as he focused on yesterday's meeting, the details of which were safely locked in the briefcase on the seat beside him.
The meeting with the 112th Fighter Group had been the culmination of months of work; its purpose, to plan and coordinate the first mission in which heavy bombers, would be escorted by P-47's fighters equipped with the new external 75 gallon belly tank that would greatly extend the fighter's operational radius. The meeting had been a long time coming, and the wait had been costly in terms of bomber losses.
The original strategy for the B-17 'Flying Fortress' - that a tight formation of 'Forts' would create a crossfire of machine guns sufficiently lethal to fend off enemy fighters - had not proven as effective as originally envisioned. It had been a hard and costly lesson that regardless how many guns your formation had - and a formation of three full squadrons fairly bristled with over four hundred .50-caliber Browning machine guns - hitting a fast-moving fighter with guns in a turret, or stanchion-mounted in a gun port, was extremely difficult, and had poor results; whereas hitting a slow-moving bomber from a fighter with a gun sight was much easier and resulted in heavy losses.
Unacceptably high losses had demanded a closer look at strategy, and the conclusion had been that fighter escort for the bombers was critical. But current fighters, like the P-47, didn't have the range to escort the bombers all the way to their targets, especially those deep into Germany. The Germans knew this, and their fighters would wait until the bombers' escort had to turn back, then attack... with devastating results.
Overall Savage was pleased with the results of the meeting. It had run longer than expected, and he had had to spend the night, but it had been worth it. Within the next few weeks, with approval from the 'Old Man', Lieutenant General Patrick Pritchard, Commander VIII Bomber Command, 8th Air Force - and weather permitting, of course - the 918th, with other Groups of the 1st Bombardment Wing, would lead a mission, operation 'Spoil Sport', against industrial targets deep in the heart of Germany, and they would be escorted all the way to the target, and back, by the P-47 Squadrons of the 112th Fighter Group.
What he was not pleased about, what stuck in his craw, was the fact that even though this mission was his 'baby', and he had worked at Air Staff for months to make it happen, he would not be leading the mission.
The problem was, he was grounded. Almost three months earlier, he had been seriously wounded on a mission over Hamburg and had only been released from the hospital a few weeks ago. His release had been conditional, however, he was DNIF, duty not to include flying. (Read 'Above and Beyond')
On longer trips such as this, Savage would normally pass the time talking with his clerk and driver, Corporal Ross. Ernie Ross was a short, stocky twenty-year-old UCLA engineering student with blond hair and blue eyes. He had a penchant for jalopy racing, and the two would often compare the merits of flying versus that of dirt track racing, with neither convincing the other of their point of view. These genial debates generally relaxed him, and took his mind off the war for a while. But today Savage had been thinking about the mission and lost in his own thoughts for almost the entire trip.
Glancing in his rear view mirror, Corporal Ross saw a vehicle coming up fast behind them. As it got closer, he saw it was a British military truck, or 'lorry' as the Brits called them, and as it crossed into the right lane and began to pass, he could see it was filled with German Prisoners of War.
Breaking the silence, Ross said, "You know, General, when the war started, I enlisted to fight the 'Krauts', but it looks like the Germans in that truck," indicating the POWs as the truck passed by, "are probably as close as I'll ever come to seeing any Germans, much less fighting them."
Savage hadn't noticed the truck until Ross had called it to his attention, and seeing the men in the back with the letters 'PW' painted on their backs, asked, "Is there a Prisoner of War Camp around here, Corporal?"
"Yes, sir. Camp Barton, over in Ely, a few miles from here. It has a couple of hundred PWs. They're mainly low risk prisoners, ones with no particular loyalty to the Nazis.
They let the 'good conduct' prisoners out to work on the local farms... transport them to work each day, then pick them up and take them back. I've heard some prisoners are even allowed to live on the farms where they work."
"How do you know all this, Ernie?"
"My girl, sir. She lives around here in Exning, and her parents have several POWs working on their farm. She says..."
Just then they heard a loud explosive 'bang', and looking ahead, saw the British truck begin to swerve over the highway. It looked like they had blown a tire.
When the front passenger tire burst, the truck suddenly veered to the left, and the driver, Sergeant Bill Douglas, fought the steering wheel, attempting to straighten the truck out. The brakes screeched as he floored the pedal trying to slow the truck down, and it seemed for a moment that he had regained control. But then he overcorrected, and the truck swerved back right, crossing the highway toward the opposite side where its front wheels ran over the edge and angled down a slight embankment.
Slowed, but still moving, the truck leaned precariously to the downhill side, and with this sudden tilt, the men in the back toppled from their benches, the extra weight causing the truck to lean even further until it rolled over onto the driver's side and slid down the embankment coming to a rest on its roof.
The truck was packed with Prisoners of War, and their guards, on their way to work in the fields. Most of those riding in the back were thrown clear, but several were pinned under the truck bed, including one of the guards; and Sergeant Douglas was trapped in the cab.
Smoke was rising from the engine, and it was only a matter of minutes before it caught fire and exploded. The men who had been thrown clear quickly began to help the others and drag them away from the smoking vehicle.
Corporal Ross, anticipating General Savage's command, sped toward the accident then braked to a stop opposite, but several yards back from, the overturned truck; he knew from his racing days not to stop too close to a smoking vehicle.
Jumping from the car, Savage and Ross ran toward the injured men. Yelling to Ross to help the men in the back, Savage ran toward the cab where he heard someone calling for help. "Hilfe! (help!) Hier! (Over Here!) Ich brauche Hilfe mit dem Fahrer. (I need help with the driver.)" Savage didn't know German very well, but he recognized a cry for help when he heard it.
Reaching the overturned cab, Savage saw a man with a 'PW' painted on his back, trying to pull open the door to the cab. The frame was bent, and the door wouldn't budge. Savage grabbed hold of the door, and began to pull. The German looked up to say something, but seeing Savage froze. For a second they just stared, each instantly recognizing the other. Then the moment passed, and the German said, "I will push the top of the truck to free the door; when I do, you pull it open and get him out."
As the German put his weight into relieving pressure on the door, Savage put everything he had into hauling it open. The door groaned and scraped as it slowly inched open until it was enough to reach the driver who was slumped unconscious against the door. Grabbing him by the shoulders, Savage began to pull him free.
As he dragged him into the open, he heard voices yelling in German and English, "Passauf! (Look Out!)" ... "Es wird sprengen! (It's going to explode!)" ... "Lauf! Lauf! (Run! Run!)"
Then seeing the smoke had turned to flames and was engulfing the engine, Savage shouted, "Get away from the truck! It's gonna blow!"
The two of them ran, dragging the unconscious driver between them. Then a tremendous blast propelled them several feet into the air. The German and the driver landed on the grass at the edge of highway; Savage hit the pavement, face down and unconscious.
Savage woke with a bright light shining in his eyes. He blinked, pushing the flashlight aside, trying to orient himself. He had a terrible headache, and when he was finally able to focus, he saw Doctor Donald Kaiser, his chief medical officer, standing over him.
"Doc? What ...?" then "...the truck!" Wincing, he propped himself up on an elbow and looked around the unfamiliar room, "Where am I?"
"Camp Barton, a Prisoner of War Camp in Ely. You're in their Medical Hut. You've been out for a while, General. How's your head?"
"Splitting." he said as he tenderly probed the bandage on his forehead. Then lowering his hand, felt a bandage on the side of his face.
"I'm not surprised." Kaiser said. "Judging by the size of that lump, your head hit the pavement pretty hard when the truck went up. You also have some abrasions on the left side of your face. Your leather jacket saved you from more serious damage... good thing though that you've had a recent tetanus shot."
Then grinning, "May I suggest that the next time the General is compelled to run from an exploding vehicle, you run away from the hard pavement, not towards it ... it will be a lot easier on you, and your uniform."
"Thanks. I'll try to keep that in mind." Savage said, observing his ruined flight jacket and pants. Then giving Kaiser one of his best glares, "Doc, have I ever mentioned that I'm getting really tired of waking up and finding you standing over me?"
"All you have to do, General, is stop flying."
"I wasn't flying today!"
"No, I guess you have me there." Kaiser said with a laugh. Then serious again, "I'll want to do a full examination and get some x-rays when I get you back to the Base, sir, but other than that bump on your head, and those scrapes and bruises, I haven't found any serious injuries."
"Here, take these." He handed Savage a couple of aspirin and a glass of water. "They'll help reduce the pounding. I don't want to give you anything stronger until I've had a chance to look at some x-rays."
Savage sat up and leaned against the back of the bed, then swallowed the pills and washed them down with the water. "How did I get HERE?" he asked, "...for that matter, how'd YOU get here?"
"There was another truck following behind the one that blew up." Kaiser explained. "They arrived just minutes after the explosion, and brought everyone back to the Camp.
As soon as he could, Corporal Ross called back to the Base to report the accident. Harvey Stovall got the call. Ross told him what happened ... that you were unconscious, and they'd brought you here. He also told Harvey they only had a small clinic with one doctor and a medical orderly, and with all the injured from the accident, he thought might need help.
Harvey told him to stand by and he'd send an ambulance. Then he called me and filled me in. Since I was going to come with the ambulance anyway, I decided to bring along a nurse and a couple of orderlies and some supplies..."
"Thanks, Doc. You did the right thing." Then looking around, "Where IS Corporal Ross, by the way?"
"He's over there." pointing to a bed down the row to Savage's left. "When the truck exploded, one of the prisoners' clothes caught fire; Ross beat it out with his hands. He has some first and second degree burns, but he'll be all right. We've given him something for the pain, and he's sleeping."
Savage frowned suddenly, and sat straight up, "Doc, where's my car? I had a briefcase ..."
"It's alright, General." Kaiser said, motioning him back down. "Ross - burned hands and all - rescued your briefcase. Doctor Harrod, that's the camp doctor, said no one could take it from him; said he guarded it like it contained the crown jewels, and wouldn't let anyone near it until he promised to lock it up in his office."
"That's a relief. I had forgotten all about it until just now... Take good care of Ross, Doc. He earned his pay today...in more ways than one."
Savage took a more studied look around him. The 'Medical Hut' appeared to be a Nissen Hut, the British version of an American Quonset Hut, but bigger. It had an open floor plan with an entrance and some rooms in the end to his left, and more rooms at the end to his right; the rest of the area in between was taken up by two rows of beds, each bed with a chair and separated by about three feet. Providing light, there were windows along each wall spaced every second bed; and down the middle was a wide aisle with several wood stoves vented through the roof. Most of the beds were occupied.
"Doctor Harrod is over there." Kaiser said, indicating an officer in a white coat treating a patient across the room to his right. "We got here about an hour ago, and he immediately put us to work. It's quieted down now, but it was pretty hectic for a while."
"What about the others?" Savage asked.
Before Kaiser could reply, they saw the doctor coming slowly toward them. Savage studied the man as he approached. Harrod looked about thirty-five, medium height with a slight build, blue eyes, blonde hair, and skin almost as dark as his hair was light, probably, he thought, due to long exposure to the sun. Savage also noted that he was walking with a pronounced limp, supporting his left leg with a cane.
Harrod noticed the General watching him, and as he stopped at the foot of his bed, tapped his left leg, "Souvenir of North Africa, I'm afraid. Land mine." Motioning around the room, "Quite a few of our 'guests' are Afrika Corps, and I sometimes wonder if one of them is the sapper who laid that mine. Pointless, I suppose ... but, well, there you are..."
Then turning back, "General Savage ... Major Charles Harrod, sir. Camp Medical Officer, and at the moment, Senior Officer in charge. Leftenant Colonel Smythe, Officer Commanding, and his deputy, Major Howard, are attending meetings in London this week. He has been notified of the accident, and your presence, sir, and sends his apologies that he is unable to return. He has instructed me to provide you every courtesy and assistance."
"Now that I have satisfied protocol ..." he continued, "I hope you're feeling better, sir. You took a rather nasty knock on the head."
"I'll be fine, Doctor. Thank you for your hospitality."
"Least we could do, sir, for your assistance at the accident. From what I've been told, Sergeant Douglas over there," indicating the man he had just been treating, "wouldn't be with us if you and one of the prisoners hadn't pulled him out of the cab just in time. As it is, he only has some bruising and a broken radius in his left forearm."
"How are the other injured doing, Doctor?"
"All things considered, sir, much better than they could have done. We were lucky that there were no fatalities. The truck was carrying ten PWs and three guards. Most, including yourself and your driver, have only minor injuries...assorted broken bones, cuts, bruises and the like. Only three, our Corporal Sims and two of the Germans, had serious injuries, and I've sent them off to district military hospital.
We have almost 200 prisoners here, sir, plus administrative personnel and a guard compliment of seventy, but my medical staff consists of myself, one medical orderly, and a prisoner field medic, who also acts as a translator. I am woefully understaffed, and I'd still be sorting this lot out, but for Doctor Kaiser's arrival with personnel and supplies. Thanks to them, most of the injured have already been seen to."
"But, before I forget." he said suddenly, "One of the injured prisoners, the one who helped you with Sergeant Douglas, is rather keen to speak to you, General. He also took a crack on the head, but I'm afraid he's not responding as well as I would like. I wouldn't normally entertain such a request, but he's a decent enough chap and has always been a good influence on the younger prisoners. ... If you are willing, sir... and feel up to it, of course..."
"Certainly, Doctor, lead the way." Savage got up from the bed, and with a steadying hand from Kaiser, followed Harrod across the aisle toward a bed down the row to his right.
As they neared the bed, Kaiser observed a man in his mid-forties. He had dark hair cropped short with a sprinkling with gray, and had a scar that ran from the left side of his temple down past the top of his left ear. His face was weathered and worn, like a man who had spent most of his life outdoors, and his eyes were a bright bluish grey, but as he got closer, Kaiser noted his pupils were uneven and constricted. His face was almost as gray as his hair and reflected a great deal of pain.
Savage smiled as he stopped at the side of the bed. "Sergeant Müller." he said. "I thought that was you." (Read 'An Act of War Revisited')
"We meet again, Herr General," Müller replied, his face also wearing a weak smile, "This time, I am YOUR prisoner."
"It looks like you're the one banged up this time, too. Are you all right?"
"Just a little thump on the head, sir." he said. "I have had worse." But his discomfort was clearly visible.
Both doctors were dumbfounded by this exchange, but Kaiser was the one to react first and ask, "Do you know this man, General?"
"Yes. Do you remember last year, Doc, when I crashed near Metz? ...This is 'Sergeant Müller'."
"The sergeant who gave you the aspirin?"
Savage nodded, "The very same."
Kaiser was trying to process this information, when Müller asked, "If it is permitted, may I ask the Herr General, how is it he is here... and alive?"
"Excuse me?" Savage asked, and still a little unsteady on his feet, pulled over a chair to sit down.
"No disrespect, sir, but a few days after we left you, it was reported that you had been taken by the Gestapo. Prisoners of the Gestapo are very often never seen again, and we thought...
I am glad this is not so. But, I am very ...'neugierig' ...ah, curious, ...very curious... how you come to be here."
Savage laughed slightly as he replied, "Well, the short version, Sergeant, is that the 'Gestapo' were not Gestapo; they were British agents, there to free the French prisoners. I just happened to be at the right place at the right time. They had a plane waiting, and I was back in England by the next morning."
Müller shook his head and laughed softly. "Unglaublich! Unbelievable!"
Kaiser knew the story behind General Savage's brief acquaintance with Sergeant Müller, and while they continued to talk about his escape from France, Kaiser took Harrod aside and related to him the story of how Savage had been shot down on a mission over France the previous year and captured by Sergeant Müller's patrol. Apparently neither the officer or Müller were Nazis and had treated the General decently.
He'd had a head wound and concussion from the crash, and Müller had taken care of him and doctored him with the only thing he had, his own aspirin. During the two days he was with them, he and Müller developed some sort of relationship. A short time later, he escaped with the help of some your Special Operations Executive agents.
"As the General said," he finished, "it was just luck that he made it back."
"That's quite a story." said Harrod as they returned their attention to Savage and Müller.
Savage was saying, "...Now let me ask you a question. There was no military activity, no fighting, in that area. How in the world did you end up here?"
"Because of you, Herr General... at least partly."
"Me?" Savage said taken aback. "What did I have to do with it?"
"As a reward for capturing you - ein Amerikanische Luftwaffengeneral - we were all given leave. I took mine with an old comrade from the last war who had married and remained in France. He lived in a village on the French coast near Calais. The night before I was to return to my unit, I was out for a walk and suddenly found myself surrounded by British Commandos. It was a raid. The next thing I knew, I was on a boat headed for England... Unlike you, I was at the wrong place, at the wrong time... although, in truth, I am not that discontent to be out of this war."
Müller paused for a moment, then went on, and Savage noted the change, as his smile faded, and his voice took on a more serious tone.
"Do not mistake what I say, Herr General. I am no 'Feigling'... no coward. I fought for my country in the First War, and I would fight again... but not for these Nazis. This is a bad war. Its purpose is evil and our leaders morally corrupt. Even should Germany win, and I pray not, there would be no honor in it.
I have no family left to worry about, or to worry about me, so I am content to be a prisoner until this war is lost, as it must be, and we" ...indicating the other prisoners..."can go home and rebuild."
Savage was taken by the resolve in Müller's voice, and was at a loss as to how to reply, when Kaiser, who had been watching Müller, interrupted. "Do you still get those headaches, Sergeant?"
"General Savage said the reason you carried the aspirin you gave him was because you had frequent headaches. Do you still get them?"
"Yes, sir. I was wounded, here," he said, tracing his finger over the scar on his forehead, "by a grenade at Arras in 1940. The surgeons were not able to remove all the fragments. When I recovered, the doctors said it was a miracle that I had survived. They said I would always have headaches."
"Have you seen any doctors about this since then?"
"No, Herr Doktor. Why would I?"
"There have been a lot of advances in brain surgery since 1940, Sergeant. It's possible those fragments could be removed now... Do you mind if I examine your eyes?"
Kaiser took a penlight from his pocket and flashed the beam back and forth from one pupil to the other, observing the size of the pupils and their reaction to the light and its removal. As he had noted earlier, Müller's pupils were uneven and constricted and slow to respond to the light stimulus.
To Harrod he said, "Are you seeing this, Doctor?"
"Yes. I had noted this when I examined him earlier. I was waiting to see if there was any improvement with rest... but I didn't know about his prior history."
Kaiser continued. "I'm sure the blow to the head he received this afternoon hasn't helped his condition any, probably worsened it. I think x-rays and a complete examination would be in order. What do you say, Doctor?"
"I tend to agree. But my x-ray is an old machine from the First War. It is fine for identifying broken bones and foreign objects, but I doubt it would be very useful for neurological purposes." Harrod replied. "What did you have in mind, Doctor?"
"My hospital is well equipped. I would like to take Sergeant Müller back to the Base with me, take some x-rays, perform a complete examination, and possibly consult with a neurosurgeon I know."
Turning to Savage, Kaiser said, "General?"
"Fine with me, Doc, but I'm not the one you have to convince. Sergeant Müller is a British prisoner. I don't know that they'd let him out of their custody. You'll need their approval."
"You are correct, General." Harrod said, conflicted. "Ordinarily I would request authorization from Colonel Smythe for a prisoner to receive medical treatment, other than for an emergency, outside of the camp. I am temporarily in charge, yes, but I know Colonel Smythe would not authorize the release of a prisoner to American custody, even for a short time. The Colonel is a strict, by the book officer, and I can't in good conscience authorize what I know he would not... even though I would like to."
At this point, Sergeant Douglas, who had been listening from the next bed, spoke up, "Doctor Harrod, sah! I could guard the prisoner..."
"The prisoner's name, Sergeant," Savage put in, tersely, "is Müller... Sergeant Karl Müller."
"Yes, sir. Sorry, sir. I meant no disrespect. I just meant... well, the pris... Sergeant Müller, ... and you, sir... saved my life, and I would like to do something to repay the favor."
Addressing Doctor Harrod, Douglas continued, "If a camp guard escorted Sergeant Müller, sir, he would still be in British custody. With my broken arm, I will be 'Excused Duty' for at least a couple of weeks, ... if it will help, sir, I volunteer."
"Thank you, Sergeant." Harrod said nodding. "That may just be the solution to our problem."
Then turning to Kaiser, said, "As I said, Doctor, Colonel Smythe goes by the book, but he is a fair man. Under the circumstances... Sergeant Müller WAS injured saving one of our own, after all, and with Sergeant Douglas as escort, I think even the Colonel would allow it... at least, I'm willing to take that chance."
"Is this alright with you, Sergeant? You understand that you need a complete examination?" Kaiser asked.
"Herr Doktor, I have no objection. I am a prisoner. I do what I am told."
"That settles it." Harrod said. "When would you want to leave?"
"As soon as possible." Kaiser said, relieved. "If Sergeant Müller is fit to travel, and we can get the necessary paperwork out of the way, I'd like to get everyone back to the Base tonight."
Harrod nodded in agreement, "Archbury is less than an hour away. The Sergeant should stand the ride in the ambulance, and it would be better to get him into hospital tonight." Checking his watch, he thought for a moment, then said, "It's half two. I think we can have them both ready to go within the hour.
I'll give you a chit authorizing you to transport him, with escort, to your base for medical treatment. If anything more is required, I'll bring it down to you tomorrow; I shall want to check on his condition anyway."
With the decision made, Harrod quickly instructed his medical orderly to help Douglas get his things together for the trip, then called his German orderly to put together a kit for Müller.
While Harrod was preparing the paperwork, Kaiser called the Hospital and arranged for a bed for Corporal Ross, and instructed a room with an extra bed be prepared for Sergeants Müller and Douglas, and another for General Savage... just in case he wanted to keep him overnight for observation.
Savage and Kaiser rode in the staff car driven by one of the medical orderlies. They led the way, with the ambulance carrying everyone else following. The two vehicles made the drive back to the Base in good time.
The Base, located a few miles outside Archbury, covered almost a square mile of former farmland and private property. At the beginning of the war, it, along with other parcels of acreage around the country, had been purchased by the English Government and leased to the Americans for military bases.
The greater part of the 918th's acreage was taken up by runways, hangers, hardstand parking areas, fuel dumps, munitions bunkers, and other fight line facilities necessary to operate and maintain a heavy bomber group. Only a small portion of the land contained the heart of the base: headquarters, operations, hospital, mess hall, barracks and crew quarters, officer and enlisted clubs, and the numerous other services that made a military base of almost eighteen hundred personnel function. These buildings were all centrally located, and clustered together within convenient walking distance from each other.
The 'convoy' stopped at the Base main gate, and Savage showed his AGO card to the sentry, vouched for both vehicles, and left instructions for the Provost Marshal to meet him at the Hospital. Verifying Savage's identity was merely a formality; there wasn't anybody on that base who didn't know General Savage by sight or sound, so his ID wasn't really necessary... except that on his first day in command, a sentry had made the mistake of waving him through without checking his identification or a salute... it was a mistake that had NOT been repeated.
As the ambulance backed up to the hospital receiving doors, two gurneys and several medical orderlies were waiting. Ross was carried from the ambulance first. He was still out from the painkillers he had been given, and probably would be until morning, and they moved him quickly inside to settle him into his bed in the Burn Ward. Then they carried Müller, awake and curiously looking around, to the second gurney. As they rolled him through the hospital doors, Kaiser went with them to see Müller settled into his room.
Savage had remained out of the way to let the medical personnel do their jobs, and as he waited, he was approached by Major Don Henderson, the Provost Marshal.
Don Henderson was a six foot four lanky kid with red hair and, for a redhead, unusually brown eyes. Before he was called up, he had been studying Law at the University of Nebraska and had been a starting forward on the 'Cornhuskers' Basketball team. He was young, at twenty-three, for a majority, but he had earned it.
"You wanted to see me, General?" Henderson said saluting.
"Yes, Major." said Savage, and quickly explained about the accident and the presence of a German Prisoner of War on the Base. Then seeing Sergeant Douglas standing off to the side, his left arm in a sling and looking somewhat lost, he beckoned him over.
"SAH!" shouted Douglas, stamping to attention and saluting as only a British NCO could.
"Major, this is Sergeant Douglas. He is prisoner escort for Sergeant Müller, and will remain with him throughout his stay."
"Sergeant." said Henderson.
"SAH!" shouted Douglas, stamping again.
Savage resisted a smile, then said to Henderson, "I'm sure Sergeant Douglas is extremely capable, but he can't watch his charge twenty-four/seven, so I want a detail of MPs to report to Sergeant Douglas and follow his direction as regards Sergeant Müller."
"Yes, sir. said Henderson. I'll set up a schedule immediately. One of my men will report to him within the hour."
"Is that acceptable to you, Sergeant?" asked Savage.
"Very acceptable, SAH!" bellowed the Sergeant.
"OK. That's settled then."
"And, Major," continued Savage. "Camp Barton's Medical Officer, Major Charles Harrod, will visit periodically as long as Sergeant Müller is with us, so I want you to leave a pass for him at the gate. After he presents his identification, he is to be passed through."
"Yes, sir. I'll see to that first thing tomorrow."
"One more thing... there's a briefcase in the backseat of my staff car. Please take it to my office, and ask Major Stovall to lock it up."
"Yes, sir." said Henderson, then saluted and went to retrieve the briefcase.
Turning to Douglas, and indicating a waiting orderly, Savage said, "The orderly here will give you a quick tour of the hospital, Sergeant... so you can find your way around... then take you to Sergeant Müller's room. If you need anything, let Doctor Kaiser or myself know."
"Very Good, SAH!"
"Oh, and Sergeant... While you're with us, a simple 'sir' will do."
"SA... Sir." replied the Sergeant, then stiffened to attention, saluted again and followed the orderly into the hospital.
Alone now, Savage lit a cigarette and reflected on the day's happenings. 'Well, it certainly wasn't a dull day.' he thought, as most of his days behind a desk were. 'and Müller... what were the odds!'
Savage put out his cigarette, and turned to go into the hospital, but as he reached the door, he met Kaiser coming out.
"Sergeant Müller is settled in his room," he said, "and I've given him something to help him sleep. I'd like him well rested when I examine him in the morning. Now, I'd like to get those x-rays, General, if you're ready."
"OK, Doc." he said. "Let's get this over with."
While Savage was being X-rayed, The medical orderly, Sergeant Dunn, gave Douglas a tour of the hospital. It was like many he'd been in before; he'd have no trouble finding his way around. But what really amazed him was the informality among the American hospital staff. He heard officers of different ranks call each other by first name, and there was an almost unmilitary display of informality with the Other Ranks. He stiffened to attention as an officer walked by, but the officer passed him without notice. Affronted, Douglas thought to himself, 'Bloody Yanks have no military discipline. This was going to take some getting used to'.
And Müller. He didn't know what to make of the German. He was an enemy soldier, but he didn't seem to bear any animosity towards the guards or other British personnel, and accepted his captivity with a calm dignity that he didn't think he could have. And why had Müller risked his life to safe his? He was grateful, certainly, but didn't know had the situation been reversed, that he would have done the same. He hoped he would have done, but...
Finally Dunn led him to the room he would share with Müller. Douglas was surprised that they would have a private room. In the British army, rooms were reserved for officers, the critically wounded, and the dying. Other Ranks had to settle for a bed in a ward with a privacy curtain, if they were lucky. 'The Yanks do alright for themselves'.
When they entered, they found Müller already asleep. Looking around, Douglas observed a large room with a window. There were two beds, one occupied by Müller, a table and chairs, a wardrobe for personal belongings, and opening a door, he was amazed to find a private bathroom. There was even a pair of hospital pajamas, a robe and slippers neatly laid out for him on the second bed. 'All the bloody comforts of home'.
Dunn helped Douglas, with his broken arm, put away his things; then, his curiosity getting the better of him, asked, "I heard about the accident, Sergeant, but" nodding his head at the sleeping Müller, "what's the story with the German?"
"Sergeant John Dunn, by the way." offering his hand to Douglas, "My friends call me 'Jack'."
Douglas took his hand and shook it. "Cheers, mate. I'm Bill Douglas... as to Müller, I don't know the whole story, but from what I heard back at Camp, your General knows him. He apparently was Müller's prisoner once..."
"You're kidding!" Dunn interrupted. "He's THAT Sergeant Müller!? 'Aspirin Müller'?"
"Everyone keeps calling him that. What's all that about then?"
"Everybody knows the story... Savage crash landed in France and was captured by Müller's patrol. The General had a head injury, and Müller doctored him with aspirin; practically saved his life.
The General managed to escape later with the help of some of your SOE guys, and flew back to England. No one could believe it when he landed back here in a light plane with the guys that rescued him. All this happened in less than three days."
"The story was all over the base in no time. After a while, everyone started referring to him" indicating the sleeping Müller, "as 'Aspirin Müller'... even though he's a German, he's kind of a 'good guy' around here because of how he helped the General."
"Well, I better get going, ...Bill, is it? ...before they come looking for me. Fred will be by in a bit with dinner. If you need anything, just ask anyone for Jack Dunn. I'll get the word."
"There is something, if you could..." Douglas quickly put in. "It's going to be dead boring around here having to stay with Müller all day. If I could have something to read, and possibly, some playing cards?"
"Sure thing, pal. I'll round some up, and bring 'em by later."
Just then, the door opened and another orderly appeared pushing a cart carrying several dinner trays. "Hey, Jack. I've got dinner trays for..." reading from his clipboard, "... Sergeants Douglas and Miller?"
"This is 'Bill' Douglas, Fred. He's a Brit." Dunn said, taking a tray and handing it to his new friend. "and that... is Sergeant Müller," emphasizing the German pronunciation and indicating the sleeping patient, "...not Miller. Just leave the tray. He may want it later."
Then to Douglas, "Bill, this is Private Fred Freyberg. He delivers the meals and medication and whatever else needs delivering, so you'll probably see a lot of him while you're here."
"Nice to meet you, Bill." Freyberg put in. "Like Jack here says, I get the meals from the mess hall, so if there's anything special you'd like, just let me know."
"Thank you, Private." Douglas said, not comfortable with the familiarity displayed by the Other Ranks.
Then Dunn said, "Come on, Fred, let's leave the man in peace so he can settle in. He's going to be here a while."
Closing the door behind them in the hall, Dunn asked, "Do you know who that was, Fred?"
"Who, the Brit?"
"No, you idiot. The patient, Müller."
"I think he's a German."
"Of course he's German! That's 'Sergeant Müller'... 'Aspirin Müller'?!"
"Holy Cow! How'd he get here? Does anybody know?" Fred asked.
"Not yet," he said, grinning. "But they will." and Dunn set off down the hall to find some magazines and books and playing cards.
Savage's x-rays had been clear, but Kaiser had insisted on a complete examination, so it was after eighteen hundred, after six, when General Savage finally left the hospital and headed across the road to his Headquarters. In his outer office, he found his adjutant, Major Harvey Stovall, still at his desk.
Stovall was a forty-eight year old WWI retread, a reserve officer, who had until a couple of years ago been a successful practicing attorney in Ohio... and a grandfather. He was also Savage's right hand and managed all the administrative details for the Group.
"Don't you know what time it is, Harvey? Why don't you call it a day? Whatever it is will still be there tomorrow."
"I've been waiting for you, General." Stovall replied. "Don Henderson brought over your briefcase a couple of hours ago. I put it in the safe, then went looking for you at the hospital, But a nurse said Kaiser had you in an examination room, and you'd probably be there a while, so I came back here to wait. I knew you'd head here as soon as Doc Kaiser turned you loose."
"How'd the meeting go?
"Good. It's FINALLY coming together, Harvey. I'm hoping we'll get the go-ahead in the next ten days...weather permitting, of course. I'll go over the details with everybody tomorrow."
"Henderson said you looked pretty beat-up. How's the head? I hope your face feels better than it looks. It looks like you tried to scrape half of it off."
The head hurts like hell, thank you very much, and let's just not talk about the face."
Heading into his inner office, he called back over his shoulder, "If there's any coffee left out there, bring me a cup, will you, and join me in my office."
Savage sat down at his desk and found it covered with the day's strike photos and mission reports. He hadn't been gone that long, but his in-basket was overflowing. That could wait until tomorrow, he decided. Then he carefully ran a hand over his face, rubbing his eyes. It had been a long day; his head hurt, his face hurt, and he was tired.
As Stovall came in with the coffee and set the hot cup in front of him, "Pinetree was notified of the accident, sir. General Crowe said to tell you that he was glad you weren't badly injured, but to remind you that your job,…. and I quote,... 'is to bomb the Germans, not almost get killed saving them'. He also said he'd come down when he could get away to discuss the Bodwell meeting."
Major General Wiley Crowe, Commander of the 1st Bombardment Wing, Bomber Command, 8th Air Force, was Savage's immediate superior and long time good friend. His headquarters, code name 'Pinetree', was located in Wycombe Abbey, a former exclusive girls' school, just outside London.
"Thanks, Harvey. I'll call Wiley tomorrow and smooth his feathers." Taking a drink of the coffee, he breathed a deep sigh of satisfaction and leaned back in his chair, "I needed this. It's been one of those days." Then glancing through the strike photos, asked, "How'd today's mission go?"
"Good. Intelligence reports over ninety percent destruction of the Minerva factories. The Germans will have to look somewhere else for fighter parts for some time."
'That's great, Harvey... What was the count?"
"Twenty-four out of the twenty-six came back. We lost one on takeoff and one over the target. Wade on takeoff. The plane blew a tire, ran off the runway and exploded; no survivors. Williams went down over the target; everyone got out. The Resistance has been notified to look for them. We'll hear from the International Red Cross, if they're captured, or killed, but the IRC is very slow, as you know, so it could be months before we hear anything."
"Nine wounded, though none critical...and none from the Lily's crew. Seven of the planes have damage, including the Lily." The 'Piccadilly Lily' was Savage's plane.
Savage nodded acknowledgement, then closed his eyes for a moment and tried to picture the faces of the crews he'd lost today. But he found he couldn't. There had been so many since he took command; now the faces were all a blur.
"We alerted for tomorrow?"
"Yes, sir. Bordeaux sub pens, again. Mission briefing is at zero five hundred (five o'clock); will you be attending?
"Yes. How many can we put up, and who's leading?"
"Sergeant Nero says he can have twenty, maybe twenty-one, ready by morning...if he works through the night. Major Cobb will lead again."
Savage nodded in approval, then said wearily, "You know, Harvey, there are times when I get really tired of this stinking war." and staring down into his coffee, he went on, "I don't have enough men, enough aircraft, enough fighter protection... and I'm losing what I do have faster than I can replace them. Sometimes I wonder if all this death and destruction is worth it... if we're making any difference at all."
Seeing the General was heading down a dark path, Stovall changed the subject, "Henderson said you brought an injured German POW back with you."
Looking up, Savage asked, seemingly out of context, "Harvey, have you ever heard of 'Déjà Vu'?"
"Yes, sir. Isn't that when you think that something you're experiencing has happened before?"
"Something like that, yes."
"That accident this morning, with the German prisoners." he said, taking an old beat-up flask and a bottle of aspirin from a bottom drawer and setting them on the desk. "One of them was Sergeant Müller, the German who took me prisoner last year in France."
"The one with the aspirin?" Harvey asked, doubting he'd heard correctly.
"That's the one. I haven't thought about that time for months, Harvey; then today, at that accident, there he was, right in front of me, and it all came rushing back." He related to Stovall everything that had happened at the accident and at Camp Barton, and the reason Müller was at the Base Hospital.
"I don't know why, Harvey, but I feel like I owe the man something. We were enemies, and I was his prisoner, but by the time we got there, to the compound, it was like there was this... I don't know,... some unspoken connection between us... I can't explain it... you had to be there."
Savage picked up the flask, and staring at it, remembered... He'd had severe pain from a concussion when he was captured. Müller had given him aspirin for the pain, and at night, schnapps from his flask to help him sleep. Then when they left him, Müller had stuffed both the aspirin and the flask into his jacket pocket.
He hadn't even remembered he had the flask until he found it in his pocket days after his return to the Base. He'd never really looked at it; he had just put it in his desk drawer and hadn't thought about it again... until now.
The flask was dented and badly tarnished, almost black with age. Examining it, he saw some scratches, and rubbing over them with his thumb, discovered it was engraving.
Stovall brought him a towel, and after a few moments, he had removed enough of the tarnish to make out the words,
Unteroffizier Karl Müller
über die Vergabe der
Eisernes Kreuz 1. Klasse
Oberleutnant Erwin Johannes Rommel
Königlich Württembergisches Gebirgsbataillon
"How's your German, Harvey?"
"Not that great, General. But I have a German/English Dictionary in my desk."
Stovall quickly fetched his dictionary, and between them they translated the inscription. It read,
'Sergeant Karl Müller, on the award of the Iron Cross, First Class, with gratitude, First Lieutenant Erwin Johannes Rommel, Royal Wurttemberg Mountain Battalion, Caporetto, 1917'
"Well I'll be!" Stovall said, amazed. "Rommel! He served under Rommel in the First War. What do you suppose he did to earn an engraved silver flask?"
"Caporetto..." Savage said. "If I remember my Military History from 'The Point', the Germans and the Austrians decimated the Italian line at Caporetto. It was a full scale breakthrough, forcing the Italian armies to retreat from near the Austrian frontier to within twenty miles of Venice. That battle was one of the most crushing German victories during the Italian Campaign.
And, I believe, it was at Caporetto that Rommel was awarded the 'Pour le Mérite', the German equivalent of our Medal of Honor, for capturing Matajur, a key mountain strongpoint, and it's 7,000 defenders, with only 100 men. He was just a young officer then."
Handing Stovall the flask, "Harvey, get this cleaned up for me, will you? I think I'd like to give this back to its rightful owner."
"Yes, sir." Stovall said, taking the flask, and started to leave. Then, he turned and said, "Frank, is it wise to become more personally involved with this man. I know you feel some sort of a connection with him, but he IS the enemy, and I don't think..."
"I'm NOT getting involved, Major." Savage said defensively. "I just want to satisfy my curiosity about that inscription."
"Yes, sir... If you don't have anything else, I think I'll take your advice and call it a day." Stovall said and continued out the door.
"Have a good night, Harvey." Savage called after him. "I'll see you in the morning."
Savage continued to sit there for a while, drinking his coffee, lost in thought. Then rubbing his tired eyes again, checked his watch; it was almost nineteen hundred (seven o'clock). It was time he called it a day, too. Turning out the lights, he closed the outer door, and headed down the road toward his quarters and a good night's sleep. He'd have to be up early tomorrow.
WEEK ONE, Wednesday, Zero Four Hundred
It looked like rain as Harvey Stovall approached Headquarters the next morning. He had come in a little early, as he always did, when there was a mission to be flown. As he entered his office, he saw a light under General Savage's door.
Knocking, he called, "General?"
"Yes. Come in, Harvey."
"Have you been here all night?" Stovall asked, entering.
Looking up, Savage said, "No. I wanted to get an early start on some of this stuff" ... indicating his in-basket... "before the mission briefing."
Seeing Savage's face, Stovall almost laughed. "God, Frank. You look like you just went ten rounds with Joe Louis!"
"I know, I know..." he of the right side of his face was red and raw and what wasn't, was purple and black from bruising... and he had a beauty of a shiner.
Seeing Stovall cover his mouth with his hand, trying to smother a laugh, Savage threatened, "Harvey, if you laugh..."
But Stovall couldn't help it and started to chuckle. "Sorry, sir." Then as he contained himself, "Does it hurt much?"
"My dignity more than anything else."
Just then the phone rang. Stovall answered it, listened for a minute, then said, "OK, I'll tell him." and hung up.
"That was, Pinetree, sir. Today's mission has been scrubbed... primary and alternate. Weather's socked in over the continent, and they don't expect it to clear for another seventy-two hours. We're to stand down until notified."
"OK... Better notify Joe Cobb, and the Duty Officer. No point in getting the crews up any earlier than they have to, and let the ones already up, enjoy their breakfasts... the mess hall is serving real eggs today."
"...Speaking of which, I haven't had any breakfast yet, and come to think of it, I didn't have much to eat yesterday. Some real eggs sounds good. Come on, Harvey. I'll treat.
Karl Müller's eyes snapped open. He was suddenly wide awake and alert, but disoriented; he didn't know where he was. Somebody had taken hold of his wrist, and he instinctively pulled it back. Then his mind focused, and he remembered he was in the American hospital. Looking up, he saw a medical orderly standing back away from the bed.
"Hey, fella, take it easy." the startled orderly said. "I was just trying to take your pulse. I've got to record your 'vitals'."
"Es tut mir leid ... I am sorry," Müller apologized. "I did not know where I was for a moment. Please continue with what you need to do."
While the orderly took his pulse and blood pressure, Müller saw his guard, Sergeant Douglas, sitting on his bed and watching him from across the room. "Good morning, Sergeant."
Douglas nodded, but said nothing. He just continued to watch the German as the orderly finished writing on his chart.
"Fred will bring your breakfast trays in shortly." the orderly said, ... then to Müller, "and you're scheduled for x-rays at zero eight hundred (eight o'clock)." He hung the chart at the foot of Müller's bed and started to leave, then stopped at the door, turned and asked, "Are you really the German who captured General Savage?"
"I was there, yes."
"Damn!" he said, clearly impressed, then left.
As soon as the orderly was out the door, Douglas spoke up, "I have to know... Why'd you pull me out of the cab? We're enemies, you and me. Why'd you do it?"
"Sergeant, when I was a soldier, you were my enemy, and it might have been my duty then to let you die. But now I am a soldier in name only; a prisoner of war. You needed help, and I gave it. It is as simple as that."
Douglas continued to stare at Müller for a moment, then nodded, as if he had come to a decision, and said, "I guess I can accept that."
Then he stood and walked over to Müller's bed, "Thank you for saving my life." He held out his hand to Müller, who looked at him hesitantly for a second, then held his hand out too, and they shook.
Then Müller said, "We cannot go on calling each other 'sergeant', Sergeant. I am Karl Müller; you may call me 'Karl' or 'Müller', as you please."
"I suppose your right, but first names could be considered 'fraternizing'. Colonel Smythe would have my stripes. 'Müller' would be safer." Smiling for the first time, he said, "I'm Bill Douglas. You can call me 'Douglas'."
Pulling one of the chairs from the table over to the side of the bed with his good arm, Douglas sat down and said, "Back at the Camp, I overheard you say you were wounded at Arras in '40... You were there in May? During the counterattack?"
"Yes." replied Müller. "I was with an infantry regiment supporting General Rommel's 7th Panzer. We were assigned to stop the British advance across the Baumetz railway. It was there I was wounded by one of your 'Mills' grenades...here," pointing to the scar on his left temple... "I still have fragments in my head."
"You were there also." It was a statement, not a question.
Douglas nodded, "Durham Light Infantry with the 6th Battalion; I was with the left column advancing across that railway you were defending... I could very well have been the one" he chuckled, "that threw that grenade."
"Well, if you were, your aim was poor, for I am still alive." Müller countered, also laughing.
Then more serious, he shook his head and said, "It was a hard fought and determined attack; many good men died, on both sides. I heard later in the hospital that General Rommel believed he was attacked by five Divisions, not two. You 'Tommies' were driven back, but the attack stopped our advance for several days, and gave your British Expeditionary Forces time to escape to Dunkirk."
"Yes, I suppose if you look at it like that, it was a success. Our mob were some of the last to get out at Dunkirk... but it bloody well felt like defeat at the time."
"Perhaps while we are here," Muller offered, looking Douglas in the eye, "we could just be two soldiers in hospital."
Before Douglas could respond, the door was opened by the MP stationed outside, allowing Orderly Fred Freyberg to enter with his cart of breakfast trays.
"Wakey, wakey! Zero seven hundred (seven o'clock)," he announced. "Time for Breakfast." He set Müller's tray on his tray table, pushed it over the bed, then adjusted the height. "Enjoy your breakfast."
"Where would you like yours, Bill?"
"The table will due, Private. Thank you." 'Cheeky bugger', he thought, 'He was taking liberties; he'd only met the man once'. He didn't know if he could get used to this Yank informality.
Seeming not to notice, or mind, the British sergeant's standoffishness, Fred set the tray on the table, then reached down to the lower shelf of the cart and came back up with a stack of magazines and books and set them on the table too. "Present for you from Jack Dunn."
Surprised, Douglas quickly sorted through the pile: there were several copies of Time Magazine, and Life, and Reader's Digest; Stars & Stripes newspapers; and two packs of playing broke the ice, "Thanks, mate! And thank Jack too!"
After breakfast, Savage and Stovall returned to Headquarters to find Major Joe Cobb waiting in the outer office.
Cobb was one of his squadron commanders, the best one. He was young like all of his air crews, but he was an exceptional pilot, had good judgment, and was a natural leader. Cobb had run air operations while he had been laid up in the hospital, and he had been considering promoting him to Air Exec. He had lost his last one, Major Jim Peterson, on the same mission he was wounded and hadn't got around to replacing him.
"Morning, General, ...Harvey." If Cobb noticed the damage to the General's face, and it was hard to miss, he didn't let on.
"Morning, Joe." Savage said as he walked into his inner office. "Come on in. What do you need?"
"Well, since we are standing down today, sir, I thought you might want to go over your meeting with the 112th yesterday."
"I do, Joe, and will, but not this morning. I need to clear my desk first."
Checking the time, he thought for a moment, then said. "Harvey, notify all Squadron Commanders there will be a meeting in my office at thirteen hundred (one o'clock) to go over the Bodwell meeting. You will attend as well."
"That work for you, Joe?"
"Alright then... Now if you gentlemen will clear out of here, I have a small mountain of paperwork to get through."
As they left, Savage said, "Harvey, close the door behind you. I don't want to be disturbed for a while."
For the next couple of hours Savage ploughed his way through his in-basket. This was the part of command that he hated. He was a pilot, a 'stick and rudder' man, not a paper pusher, but it came with the job.
He had already written a concise report on his meeting yesterday for General Prichard, at 8th Air Force Headquarters. Now came the endless reports to Air Staff, Officer Evaluations, requests to Marry an English Civilian, requests to Air Staff for more men, more aircraft, more medical personnel, more support personnel, more everything...in triplicate.
He didn't mind the Recommendations for Decoration. They were always a pleasure, especially one he had written very recently for the award of the Medal of Honor for a young bombardier, who after Savage had been wounded on that last mission, had brought their badly shot up plane and crew back home.
The ones he dreaded, however, were the letters to the 'next of kin'. Harvey would write a draft, but he reviewed every one to make them more personal, not just a form letter... a little of his time was the least he give for the grieving families of those sons, and fathers, and husbands, and brothers, who weren't coming home.
He had just finished the last 'request', when Stovall called over the intercom, "I know you didn't want to be disturbed, General, but Doc Kaiser is on the phone and would like to talk to you. He says it's important."
"That's OK, Harvey. I'll take it."
Picking up the phone, "Morning, Doc. What can I do for you?"
"Good Morning, General. How's the head today?"
"Still aches a little, but it's not too bad."
"That's good... I have the results of Sergeant Müller's x-rays, and I'd like to discuss them with you, if you have the time."
"Sure thing, Doc. I was coming over to see how Corporal Ross was doing anyway. About thirty minutes?"
"That'll be fine. Thank you, sir."
Savage finished the report, then gathered up the pile of paperwork and took it out to Stovall. "Here you go, Major." he said as he dumped the stack of correspondence on his desk. "It's all yours. I'm going over to the hospital to see how Ross is doing and see Kaiser. I shouldn't be gone too long. Try not to fill up that basket while I'm gone."
Then he thought for a moment and coming to a decision, "and Harvey, cut orders assigning Major Cobb as Air Exec... effective immediately. He's been doing the job; he might as well have the title."
Walking over to the hospital, Savage looked up. The sky was overcast, and threatening rain; it looked like it was going to get wet here too, and soon. Wearing just his uniform shirt and tie, he made a mental note to call Supply and order a new Flight Jacket to replace his damaged one.
Entering the hospital, he went directly to the Burn Ward. As he pushed through the doors, he quickly located Ross's bed. Making his way across the room, he paused at the beds of the other patients and chatted briefly with each. When he finally arrived at Ross's bed, a nurse had just begun to change his bandages. She stood to acknowledge his presence.
"As you were, Nurse. Could I speak with the Corporal for a minute?"
"Of course, sir. I can come back..."
"No, that's alright; carry on."
As she continued to apply the new bandages, Ross looked at the General and said, "Gee, sir, that 'road rash' did a number on your face."
"Corporal! That's no way to speak to the General!" exclaimed the Nurse.
"That's all right, Nurse. I'm getting used to it... How are the hands, Corporal?"
"Not too bad, sir. A little tender right now, but I've been hurt worse racing cars back home. Doc Kaiser says I'll be back driving in a couple of weeks. Said there might not be too much scaring either."
"That's good... About that accident, Ross." Savage said jokingly, "I thought you said you wanted to fight the Germans, not save one of them and get yourself burned in the process."
"Well, sir, it happened so fast, I didn't have time to think about it. I was scared silly, but I couldn't let that man burn to death... even if he was a German."
Savage was serious now, "That's what being a 'man' is all about, Ernie, knowing what's right and being willing to act on your convictions...even though you're 'scared silly'. You should be proud of what you did; it was a brave and compassionate thing to do."
Ross was embarrassed with this praise, his face reddened and he lowered his eyes to stare at his hands, but Savage continued with what he had to say.
"You also recovered my briefcase, and guarded it. That was quick thinking... Thank you."
He chatted with Ross for a few more minutes, then running out of things to say, and checking his watch, said, "Well, I've got to get going, I just wanted to see how you were doing."
He started to leave, then turned to the waiting nurse, "Take good care of the 'Sergeant' here, Nurse. I'd like my driver back as soon as possible."
As Savage headed back toward the door, Ross said, "He called me 'Sergeant'. Do you think he meant it?"
The nurse looked at him and said, "I don't think General Savage has ever said ANYTHING he didn't mean... SERGEANT."
"Sergeant." Ross said smiling.
Savage knocked on Doc Kaiser's door, then entered. Kaiser was at his desk, and as the General entered, stood, then seeing Savage's face, laughed, "They say no good deed goes unpunished, General, but... God, you look awful."
He walked around his desk and began to examine Savage's face, gently probing the raw areas. "Does it hurt as bad as it looks?"
"I would have expected something a little more professional than 'God, you look awful from a doctor, Doc." he said with a wincing grin as Kaiser continued to probe. "It doesn't hurt too much, except when I laugh, but it's a bitch to shave around."
"Well, the abrasions are superficial. It should heal in a few days. I'll give you some antibiotic ointment. Just keep it clean and moist... and don't try to shave that area. I don't think there'll be any scarring. But I'm afraid the bruising will have to run its course...I'd say about two weeks."
"Oh, great. Remind me to keep driving the next time... just kidding. Now, what's the story with Müller's x-rays?"
Kaiser had the x-rays already set up for viewing and switched on the backlight. The films showed several views of the skull, and he pointed out three metallic fragments of varying size toward the bottom left of the skull on one of the side views.
Pointing to a dark spot on the same film, Kaiser said, "The original injury was here in the left Temporal lobe. But over time, the fragments have migrated... see the dark trail of necrotic tissue," ...tracing the path with his finger... "and now the fragments are located here," ...pointing... "near the base of his brain, in the cerebellum. This is the area that controls motor movement, coordination, equilibrium... I'm surprised Müller hasn't had more problems than just headaches."
"The blow to his head yesterday, appears to have shifted one of the fragments, the biggest, very close to the cerebellum wall adjacent to the brain stem. You can see it's a very recent move as there's no trail; there hasn't been enough time for cell necrosis."
"I believe the fragments can be removed, but it needs to be done soon. If that one fragment shifts again, and enters the brain stem... well, best case could be paralysis, but typically, damage to the brain stem is fatal. I'm afraid, Sergeant Müller has a time bomb in his head, just waiting to go off."
"Is there anything you can do?" Savage asked.
"This is way above my surgical skill. I've called an Army neurosurgeon I know, Doctor Phillip Hays, for consultation. He's currently on temporary assignment with the Royal Army Medical Corps at the Military Hospital at St. Hugh's College, in Oxford. It's a hospital established specifically to train surgeons in the treatment of head trauma. I talked to him this morning and outlined the case. He's very interested and said he'd try to get down this afternoon; failing that, it would be first thing tomorrow morning."
"Have you told Müller any of this?"
"Not yet. I wanted to wait until Doctor Hays has had a chance to review his x-rays and examine him. I didn't want to tell him we could operate, and get his hopes up, and then have Hays find that it's not operable. Or that it's operable, but with an unacceptably high risk of paralysis or death."
"Müller is an old soldier, Doc; he can take whatever you tell him... If it were me, I'd want to know everything."
Kaiser thought for a moment, "Maybe you're right, General... and I suppose there's no time like the present."
"Would you like me to come with you?"
"If you wouldn't mind. I think it might be easier on him if there was a familiar face in the room."
"All right, but give me a few minutes with him before you come in."
Muller's room was at the end of the hall in a quiet wing, one of those reserved for the critically wounded or terminal. Savage was intimately familiar with that room, he had recently spent several weeks there himself.
As he approached the door, the MP sitting outside stood to attention and saluted. Savage returned his salute, "Good Morning, Private."
The man's eyes widened a little as he saw the General's ruined face, but to his credit that was the only indication he gave, and he merely replied. "Good Morning, sir."
"You're one of Major Henderson's people? What's your schedule?"
"Yes, sir. Private Wilson, sir, Ronald T. Our schedule is six men rotating on four hour shifts."
Savage nodded approval. "You've met Sergeant Douglas, and he's explained about the patient, Sergeant Müller?"
"Yes, sir. Except for medical personnel, and yourself, of course, sir, we're to check with him before admitting anyone," ... then with a little grin, finished, "and we all know about Sergeant Müller... sir"
'Thank God, this wasn't supposed to be a secret', Savage thought to himself. 'Nothing spreads faster around here than a good story, and right now, I guess, Müller and I are it'.
Knocking on the door, Savage entered the room, and found Müller and Douglas sitting at the table talking. Seeing the General, they both stood; Douglas to a rigid attention.
"As you were. How are you feeling today, Sergeant?"
"I am well, thank you, sir. The Herr Doktor's pills are much better than my aspirin... they take away all pain."
There was a slight pause, then, "But... I think, Herr General, perhaps it is I who should ask that question of you. You looked better when we first met." Muller had said this with a perfectly straight face, but a slight upward turn at the corners of his mouth and a humorous twinkle in his eye gave him away.
"I'll have to take your word on that, Sergeant." Savage laughed. "I was a little distracted at the time."
Turning to Sergeant Douglas, "and how are you two getting along?"
Douglas had been at 'parade rest', standing quietly to the side while this unusual exchange went on between the General and Müller, but now in response, he came to attention again, and said, "I believe the Sergeant and I have come to an understanding, sir... one soldier to another."
"May I take this opportunity, sir, to thank the General for his part in saving my life?"
"Not necessary, Sergeant. I'm sure you would have done the same had the situation been reversed."
Before either of them could say anything further, there was a knock on the door, and Doctor Kaiser entered.
"Good morning." Kaiser said to the room, then to Müller, "I have the results of your x-rays, Sergeant, and I'd like to discuss them with you."
"I'll wait outside, sir." Douglas said and started to leave.
But Müller stopped him, "No. It is all right. I would like you to stay. You also, Herr General."
During the next half hour, Kaiser explained to Müller everything he had found...he told him of the metal fragments he had seen on the x-rays, how they had shifted, and the danger they now presented. He also told him that another doctor, a specialist, would examine him today or tomorrow, to determine if the fragments could be removed...and what the risks were.
Müller had asked questions as Kaiser talked and nodded at the replies. When Kaiser was done, he asked, "and if I do nothing?"
"You'll go on as before having headaches, possibly more frequent or severe; but sooner or later - sooner if there is another blow to your head - the fragments will enter the brain stem, and the result will be the same... paralysis or death."
"If I survive the operation, there will be no more headaches?"
"I can't promise that, but more than likely, no; no more headaches."
"I would like not to have the headaches." Müller thought for a moment, then, "I think I will choose the operation, but I will listen first to what your specialist has to say, then decide."
Kaiser was impressed both with Müller's command of English as well as his understanding of his medical condition. "Sergeant you have a very good understanding of English, may I asked how you acquired it?"
"In the 'gymnasium', sir... the equivalent of your 'high school'. One modern language was required; I chose English. I was a few months from graduation when I was conscripted into the Imperial Army. But I have had many opportunities over the years to practice and improve on what I had learned. It has served me well many times... including now."
"High school English," Kaiser laughed as he headed for the door. "Well, why not... Try to get some rest, Sergeant,... and General, please stop by my office on your way out."
Savage remained after Kaiser left. He pulled a chair over from the table and sat down by the side of the bed. Sergeant Douglas, forgotten, sat quietly on the edge of his bed and listened.
"Are you comfortable with this, Sergeant? You're not being pressured by what the doctors want."
"I am my own man, Herr General, and I am content with my decision. I have fought in more battles than I can remember; each time I should have died, but I survived. If it is meant to be, I will survive again; if not, perhaps it is my time."
Savage shook his head, "A pragmatist and a philosopher...I never would have guessed." He paused for a moment, then asked, "I know you said you had no family left, but is there anyone you would like notified, if..."
"No family in Germany, Herr General." Müller corrected. "I have, perhaps, a younger sister...in America. My two brothers were killed in the last war, and my parents died in an automobile accident in 1929. I was able to remain in the Army, and with no one left at home, and no reason to stay, my little sister, Anna Lisa, emigrated later that year. She was only nineteen.
I have heard from her only two times since then. I received a Postkarte saying she had arrived safely, and she was being sent to a place called Nebraska ... Gretna, Nebraska. Then, in 1933, I received a letter. She said she had married a good German-American boy named Walter Stossel, a farmer, and they had a daughter, Anna Marie, named after our mother. She said she was happy. I wrote a few times, but I do not know if she received my letters, as I never heard back. After a while, I just stopped writing."
"If you would like," Savage offered, "I could try to locate her and let her know you are a Prisoner of War and in England."
"Yes," he said brightening. "I would like that very much. Thank you, sir."
Savage took a pencil and piece of paper from his shirt pocket and jotted down a few notes... names, dates and places, that would help locate Müller's sister. Then putting the paper in his pocket, Savage turned to Müller and asked the question that had puzzled him from the first time they had met,
"Müller, when I was your... 'guest', you were the chief obstacle in any attempt to escape, so I studied you. You were clearly an experienced career soldier, and I couldn't help but wonder what you were doing there, in a quiet backwater of France, chasing downed flyers with a company of ... what did you call them ... 'children who still thought of war as an adventure'?"
"That is a good question, Herr General. I often wondered that myself." He paused for a moment, looking for the right words...
"After I was wounded at Arras, I was sent to a hospital in Germany; then later to a convalescent hospital near Darmstadt. When I was finally released, I was considered 'unfit for further combat' and assigned to the garrison of a nearby Infantry Regiment while I awaited orders.
I had not been home for any length since 1938, and I found my country had changed... at least in Darmstadt."
"There had always been discrimination against the Jews, sir, still we got along. But when Hitler came to power, laws were passed... they were banned from many professions, prohibited them from marrying outside their race, their citizenship revoked. Even so, I had never seen organized violence against them. Not until Darmstadt ..."
Muller paused for a moment, and Savage could see the sadness on his face as he began to recount what he had seen.
"I saw things, Herr General, bad things that made me ashamed to be a German. Jews - even little children - forced to wear 'yellow stars' on their clothes. I saw these people harassed, humiliated, beaten and even killed, and not just by the Gestapo and Polizei, but by the 'good people' of Darmstadt. And it was not just Jews that were treated so; anyone who disagreed with 'Der Fuhrer's' policies was arrested for no reason or disappeared in the night. I saw much more, sir, almost beyond belief,... and no one spoke out against any of this.
I reported things I had seen to my superior officers, but I was told it was not a 'military matter', that they were 'subversives', enemies of the state, and to leave it to the civil authorities. I was ordered to stay out of it."
"But you didn't..." Savage said softly.
"No, sir. The next... the last time, I went into the city, a group of Hitler Jugend - just boys - were beating an old man with the yellow star on his coat. I ran them off, and helped the man up, but he was terrified... even of me. I had never felt so ashamed... or so angry."
Müller's eyes were moist, and as he wiped the tears away, he went on, his tears replaced by anger. "I had barely returned to my quarters, before I was summoned by the Garrison Commander and placed on a charge. I had been reported by the Hitler Jugend for 'interfering' with their 'questioning' of a subversive. Within the week, I had been tried by a 'People's Court', and pronounced 'politically unreliable'. I was stripped of my rank, and sentenced to a labor camp for 're-education'. My military record - over twenty-five years service - meant nothing."
Then Müller quietly laughed to himself, as he continued. "But then came my reprieve. Two days before I was to be sent to the labor camp, I was visited in my cell by Generalleutnant (Lieutenant General) Steiner, commander of the regiment."
"The Herr Generalleutnant said he had just reviewed my case. He disagreed with the outcome and would overturn my sentence. He could not restore me to my former rank, he said, but he would make me up to Sergeant again. All he asked was that I accept a posting to an infantry company in occupied France... There was no question, of course. I immediately accepted."
"What do you mean 'former rank'?" Savage interrupted. "What rank were you?"
Müller drew himself up a little straighter, answering proudly, "I was Hauptfeldwebel, Herr General... Sergeant Major."
Savage nodded, "Yes, I can believe that."
Müller then grinned at Savage, saying, "You will appreciate this, sir... This company was commanded by a new young Leutnant named..."
"Kurt Steiner." Savage finished for him and again nodding his head. "The General's son?"
"Yes, sir. The Herr Generalleutnant hoped I could toughen the boy and teach him the things he needed to know to become a good officer and to survive the war. The following day I was given new orders and released."
"Young Steiner had just received his commission, and was fresh from the Infanterietruppenschule... the school for Infantry Officers. Like all young officers," he said smiling at Savage "He was green as grass and full of himself. But he had a good head on his shoulders, and he was willing to listen and take advice."
"He learned fast, and the only time we were under fire, he behaved well; I was not ashamed of him. I had been with him for almost a year when you became our... 'guest'." Pausing for a moment, he said, "He will be a good officer... I hope he survives to see the end of this war."
"I'm sorry, Müller, to bring that all back up."
"It is all right, sir. It is always with me. It is not something you forget."
Before Müller could say anything further, the door opened admitting a nurse, "I'm sorry, sir, but it's time for the patient's medication, and I need to take his 'vitals'. I won't be a minute."
"That's alright, Nurse. I was just leaving."
Sergeant Douglas followed the General out of the room. Once outside, "He's had more than his fair share, hasn't he, sir. I mean, I know he's the enemy and all, but the more I'm around him, the more I respect him."
"A good man is a good man regardless of the uniform he wears, Sergeant. But it's best not to get too close; this war is hard enough without getting to know the man you might have to kill."
"Yes, sir. Still, when I get back to camp, I don't think I can look at the prisoners the same as I did before. They're still the enemy, and I know my duty, but many of them are like Müller, tired of a war they didn't start and don't support. A lot of them are just like us; they just want the 'bloody' thing to be over."
"Don't we all, Sergeant. Don't we all."
It was noon by the time Savage left the hospital and headed back across to the Headquarters. The rain he'd expected had started, and fog was settling in. By the time he got to his office, he was soaked to the skin. Slapping his wet hat against his leg to beat off the water, Savage found Harvey Stovall just turning away from the window where he had been watching the General's progress.
"I didn't know you could move that fast, General."
"For all the good it did me. I'm soaked."
Knowing his jacket had been ruined the day of the accident, Stovall offered, "Perhaps you should have worn your jacket today, sir."
Savage gave Stovall a withering glare, then began to laugh, "OK, Harvey, you win." Then, as he headed into his inner office where he kept a spare uniform shirt for emergencies. "No visitors for a while; I want to change into something dry."
Returning to Stovall's outer office a few minutes later, "That's better. But I need to call over to Base Supply and see about a new Flight jacket."
"Not necessary, General. While you were at the hospital, I took the liberty of ordering you another Jacket. Supply had your size in stock, will deliver it this afternoon after they sew on your rank and insignia."
"Thanks, Harvey. I meant to do it; I just haven't had the time."
"Also, while I'm thinking of it, type up promotion orders for Corporal Ross to Sergeant. Then, draft a Recommendation for Decoration... the Soldier's Medal. You know the language... act of heroism, saving a life, voluntary risk of life under conditions not involving an armed enemy... I'll fill in the details later."
"Right away, sir... and if you don't mind my asking, how is Sergeant Müller?"
"It's not looking good, Harvey. Kaiser showed me the x-rays. Müller has three grenade fragments in his head. They've moved over the years, and they're in a location now where if they move again, Kaiser says, it'll probably paralyze or kill him. He says Müller needs an operation, and he's called in a specialist."
Heading back into his office, Savage called over his shoulder, "Ask Major Henderson to come by, will you, Harvey?"
He settled into his chair, drew a piece of paper from his drawer and began to write. It took a while to find the right words for what he wanted to say, but when he finished, he was satisfied. He folded the paper and put it in an envelope, addressed it to 'Anna Stossel, Gretna, Nebraska', and sealed it.
Then Stovall called over the intercom, "Major Henderson is here, General."
"Thank you, Major. Send him in."
Henderson entered the office, and saluted. "Good afternoon, General. You wanted to see me?"
Returning the salute, Savage motioned for him to take a seat, "Don, I have a task for you... a personal request.' He hesitated a moment, then charged ahead. "There is someone I would like you to track down for me."
Savage spent the next twenty minutes summarizing the situation regarding Müller and his sister and providing all the information he had. Then he handed him the sealed envelope, "Also, I would like you to send this the fastest means possible to be hand delivered at its destination. If there is a reply, the person delivering it, should wait for it."
When he was finished, Henderson said, "I don't think it will be a problem, General. I'm originally from Omaha, and I'm very familiar with Gretna, and the farming community there. The basic information should be relatively easy. There's probably already a file on them because of their German ancestry."
"As for the letter...There is a B-17 training base, Lincoln Army Airfield, near Omaha; I send and receive mail through them all the time. It's just a matter of checking the schedule for the diplomatic mail flights, but there's usually one going every couple of days.
And under the circumstances, sir, I think it would be best to send this to my folks, and ask them to deliver it; I'm sure they wouldn't mind. It shouldn't be hard to find the Stossel family in Gretna, it's a small community. Also, it might upset Mrs. Stossel unnecessarily if an official Army car came driving up to her door. With a little luck, I should be able to get you what you're looking for in less than a week."
"Thank you, Don. I appreciate your assistance."
Henderson started to leave, then hesitated, "May I make a personal comment, sir?"
"This is a little outside the norm, sir, to say the least,..."
"Major, if you'd rather not..." Savage started to say, but Henderson went on.
"No, sir. Excuse me. That's not it. What I'm trying to say is... I had an uncle in the Marines in the First War; I was named after him. He was killed at Belleau Wood. He went into the woods, but didn't come out, and they never found his body. He has a grave and a cross in the cemetery there, but there's no body. My mother and grandparents grieved for years not knowing what happened to him. If I can help some other family find an answer, then I don't have a problem bending the rules a little."
Having said his piece, Henderson saluted, and left.
After Henderson had gone, Savage turned in his chair to stare at the rain out his window. 'Don't get involved... that was great advice, I gave Sergeant Douglas', he thought to himself. 'So why can't I follow it... What am I doing trying to track down Müller's sister? What is it about Müller that makes me want to get so involved with the man?'
Then the intercom buzzed, "Yes, Harvey, what is it?"
"Everyone's here for your meeting, General."
"OK, Thank you. Send them in."
WEEK ONE, Thursday, Early Afternoon
The Neurosurgeon, Doctor Hays, arrived mid-morning. He was passed through the gate and given directions to the hospital.
Doctor Philip Hays was in his early thirties, average height and build, with thinning blonde hair and a fair complexion. His hands were his most distinguishing feature, small with long, almost delicate fingers... the hands of a surgeon. As he entered the hospital, he shook the rain off his raincoat and hat, and spotted Kaiser heading toward one of the wards.
"Doctor Kaiser." he called out. "Good morning."
"Doctor Hays,...Phil." Kaiser said, changing direction and going over to him, "Welcome. I hope you didn't have any trouble getting here."
"None at all, Don. A pass was waiting for me at the gate, and the hospital was easy to find. How's your patient?"
"I took the x-rays yesterday; the grenade fragments are clearly visible. Come on back to my office, and I'll fill you in." and they headed back down the hall.
Doctor Hays was intrigued by Müller's case. There were few documented cases of penetrating head trauma that had presented like Müller's and that had, except for recurring headaches, been asymptomatic for several years. He felt it would make an excellent case study for his Hospital, and as such, he believed he would have little difficulty getting approval to operate... if it came to that.
Neurosurgery was still a fledgling branch of medicine. Though lessons in the treatment of head wounds had been learned in the First War, and advancements in technique and equipment had been made between the wars, not all of that experience was remembered twenty years later. Neurosurgery remained a very small specialty practiced by surgeons learning as they went.
Doctor Harrod had also driven down from Camp Barton that morning, and had arrived shortly after Doctor Hays. Shown to Kaiser's office, Harrod found him conferring with another officer.
"Sorry to interrupt, Doctor," he began, but Kaiser cut him off. "You're not interrupting. Come in; you're just in time."
Kaiser made the introductions, and the three doctors began to discuss Sergeant Müller's case. After studying the x-ray films, Doctor Hays agreed with Kaiser, that the smaller of the fragments could be removed without too much difficulty. However, the large piece near the brain stem gave him great concern.
As Kaiser had thought, he said there was a high risk, maybe sixty percent or greater, that Müller wouldn't survive the operation, and if he did, he could be paralyzed, to what extent he couldn't predict. Hays thought those were bad odds, but understanding that it was only a matter of time before the fragment moved again, with the same likely results, he agreed to operate... if the patient was willing to take the risk. The three doctors agreed that an operation was probably Müller's best chance, but Hays still had to examine the patient.
They found Müller in his room, and while Kaiser and Harrod observed, and Sergeant Douglas stood quietly by, Doctor Hays examined Müller and questioned him about how and when he had been wounded, his medical treatment at the time, and the frequency and severity of his symptoms since.
When he was satisfied he knew all there was to know, Hays discussed the operation with Müller as well as his concerns and the risks. Hays was relieved that language was not a problem, and that Müller understood, and comprehended, everything he had told him. Finally, Hays asked, "What do you want to do, Sergeant?"
Müller considered everything the doctor had told him. The headaches had been getting worse and more frequent, and he should have died many times before, so... "I would like to have the operation, Herr Doktor. I accept the risks. I have been a soldier for many years; there are always risks."
A date for the operation was set...Monday of the following week, in five days. It would take Doctor Hays that long to get approval, clear his schedule and prepare his surgical team.
After finishing his rounds late that afternoon, Kaiser returned to his office and called General Savage.
"I thought you'd want to know, General... Doctor Hays examined Sergeant Müller this morning. He agreed with my diagnosis... the fragments can be removed, with great risk, but the eventual outcome is certain if he does nothing. He discussed everything with Müller, and Müller has decided he wants to go ahead with the operation."
"Doctor Hays plans to operate Monday morning at St. Hugh's. We'll transfer Müller to the hospital Sunday afternoon."
"OK, Doc. Thanks. Keep me posted."
WEEK ONE, Friday, Morning
It had stopped raining, when Savage entered his office early the next morning and found 'Sergeant' Ross sitting at his desk, slowly pecking at his typewriter with bandaged hands enclosed in large white gloves.
"What you doing here, Sergeant?
"I work here, sir." Ross answered, pleased with himself.
"Don't be flippant. You know what I mean. What are you doing out of the hospital?"
Before Ross could answer, "I found him here when I came in this morning, General." Major Stovall said, as he came out of Savage's office. "He said Doc Kaiser released him yesterday afternoon. He'd been bored silly in the hospital and said he wanted to get back to work."
"Can he do anything useful, Harvey, with his hands like that? At the rate he's typing, and the mistakes he making, it'll take him all day to get out the Morning Report."
"Typing might not be his strong suit at the moment, sir, but I have some filing he can help me with."
"All right, Sergeant. You can stay, but if you do anything to impede the healing of those hands, it's back to the Burn Ward. Am I clear?"
"Yes, sir. Thank you, sir."
Entering his office, Savage poured himself a cup of coffee from the fresh pot Stovall had just made, then went to his door and called, "Harvey, get me Major Rosen on the phone and send for Sergeant Nero, will you... and Harvey, remind Nero to shave."
A few minutes later, Stovall called on the intercom, "Nero's on his way, General, and I have Major Rosen on the phone."
"Thanks, Harvey." Savage picked up the phone, and without any preliminaries, said "The rain has stopped, Major. What's the forecast for the next week?"
"I'm sorry, General." Rosen answered unhappily. "This is just a brief break in the local weather. I'm afraid the continent is still socked in and will be for five to seven days."
"All right, Major." Savage said wearily. "Let me know if there are any changes."
Savage hung up the phone, and sipping his coffee, turned to look out his window. He was not in a good mood. Pinetree had called last evening to let him know 'Spoil Sport', HIS mission, had been put on hold. The Old Man still had some concerns. Savage had mixed feelings about this. On the one hand, he was frustrated by the delay, but on the other... it was just possible, during that delay, he could convince Kaiser to let him back on flight status. He was due for his next visit Monday.
'Give me enough rainy days', Nero thought as he stuffed his cigar in his jacket pocket, straightened his uniform, and entered General Savage's outer office, 'and I'll have every hangar queen on this base purring'.
Unlike most of the base personnel, Master Sergeant Tony Nero, LIKED the rain. Nero was the 918th's Maintenance Chief. He was a feisty second-generation Italian from New Jersey, built like a fireplug, and always chewing on a cigar. He was career Army, and bragged that in his almost twenty years of service, he had worked on every airplane engine ever made. Whether that was true or not, there was no denying that he knew the B-17's 1200Hp turbocharged Wright Cyclone engines inside and out. Nero was the man primarily responsible for keeping the Group's airplanes in the air.
His one noticeable failing, however, was that he wasn't the most 'military' of NCOs, and he didn't always shave. Savage had called him on it several times, until finally Nero explained to the General that he and his crew often worked round the clock to get his birds ready for the next mission, and he just didn't always have time to shave. He frankly told Savage he could fix his birds, or he could shave; he couldn't always do both. Savage had thought about it, then compromised; he decided he could turn a blind eye occasionally to Nero's unmilitary appearance if that's what it took to keep his planes flying, but if Nero wasn't on the flight line working, he had better be shaved and appropriately uniformed.
"Good morning, Major." he said to Stovall. "The General wanted to see me?"
"Yes, Sergeant, go on in. He's expecting you." Stovall replied, after checking his appearance.
"You wanted to see me, General?" Nero said saluting and assuming a position of attention in front of Savage's desk.
"Yes... At ease, Sergeant." said Savage, noting Nero had shaved and returning his salute. "How are you coming on the armor plating for our planes?"
The outer skin of the B-17 was composed of light weight aluminum, which while it improved the bomber's speed, altitude and load capabilities, it was also so thin that you could punch a hole in it with a screwdriver. Against the enemy's 20mm cannon shells and anti-aircraft flak, it was no protection at all. Armor plating was essential to protect the crew and vital areas of the aircraft. However, armor plating was heavy. The challenge was to find a happy medium between the protection provided and the adverse affect of the extra weight. New planes coming off the line were designed with improved armor protection, but the B-17s already deployed had to improvise.
"I've strengthened the areas under the nose and cockpit seating, sir, and around the gun ports in the waist. I think that will provide some increased protection for the crew without negatively affecting aircraft performance."
"Good. That's very good... Now I know you like this type of weather, Nero, but it's bound to break soon, and we'll get a Field Order. How many will we be able to put up when that happens?"
The 'official' Army Air Force definition of a Group was four squadrons of twelve aircraft each - forty-eight B-17s. But the air war was young, and until war production caught up, the most Savage, and the other Group commanders, had to work with was three under strength squadrons, and inexperienced crews. On his best day, Savage couldn't put up more than twenty-four, and there were always combat losses that hadn't been replaced, aircraft with battle damage that hadn't been repaired, and the 'hangar queens', aircraft non-repairable due to a lack of parts, and from whom parts were constantly being 'cannibalized' to get the damaged back in the air. So the 918th, on any given day, was doing very good to get twenty-two or twenty-four planes into the air.
"This weather's been good for us, General. We've got all but three of the last mission's damaged birds ready to go now, sir. Another couple of down days, and some parts, and I'll give you those, and maybe a couple of the 'hangar queens', too. By Monday or Tuesday, we should be able to put up twenty-two, maybe twenty-three."
"What about 'the Lily'?"
"I don't know how Major Cobb brought her back ... but she's ready whenever you want her."
"OK, Nero, thank you; and thank your crew for me. I'll see that you and your men get some leave as soon as I can."
"Thank you, sir. I know they'll appreciate it... Was there anything else, General?"
"No, that's all." he said, and returned Nero's salute.
By early afternoon, Savage had cleared his desk.. again.. and had met with the mornings appointments: a visit from the Vicar of Archbury with a complaint from a local family that one of his gunners had gotten their daughter in 'trouble' (he would have a talk with the 'boy', but reminded the Vicar that 'it's takes two'); a reporter from the 'Stars and Stripes' had heard there was a German POW on base and wanted an interview (denied); and an appeal from a young gunner for the General to reconsider his denial of the boy's request to marry a local girl, who, according to the background investigation performed for such requests, was some years older than the boy and well-known to be of less than virtuous character (request denied and a mandatory counseling session with Chaplain Twombley).
Major Henderson was next with the Provost Marshal's Morning Report. "All things considered, General," Henderson said, "it was a relatively quiet night."
Henderson's 'quiet night' had included a charge of 'insubordination' by an officer against an enlisted man after a verbal altercation; the charge was dropped after the officer calmed down, but it was indicative, he said, of the stress building on the base. There had been the usual 'drunk and disorderly' calls, numerous minor fights and 'dust-ups', and two actionable incidents: two of his pilots had started a brawl in the 'Star and Bottle' in Archbury, resulting in considerable damage, but no injuries, and a Sergeant had single-handedly tried to dismantle the NCO Club, also resulting in considerable damage and sending several personnel, including the Sergeant, to the hospital with assorted minor injuries. There had also a few 'fender-benders' due to the fog, but no injuries.
"Tempers are short, sir, and getting shorter." Henderson said. "It's all symptomatic of a 'weather hold'; and as you well know, these incidents are only going to increase if the rain and fog continue much longer."
"Don't I know it! Handle the minor cases as you see fit, Major, but, I'm afraid we'll have to hold those pilots and the sergeant for Court-Martial. If you haven't already done so, notify their Squadron Commanders so they can make the appropriate changes to their crew rosters."
"I'm willing to cut the troops a little slack so they can blow off steam, Don, but give me a 'heads up' if this starts getting out of hand. Let's just hope the weather breaks... and soon."
Henderson stood, saluted and started to leave. At the door, he turned and said, "Oh, and General...I was able to get your 'letter' out with the Wednesday night mail. You should have a reply soon."
"That's great. Thank you, Don."
"No more appointments, Harvey." Savage said after Henderson had left. "I'm going catch some lunch, then take a drive around the base."
During his drive, Savage stopped at the flight line, bomb dump, enlisted mess, and other facilities to chat with the troops, share their frustrations and listen to a joke or two... generally at his expense. He stopped at the hospital last and made the rounds of the wards, noting there were more patients waiting to be seen than was normal.
As he left one of the wards, he ran into Doc Kaiser. "You seem to have a lot of new patients, Doctor..."
"Yes, sir, there seems to be an 'accident' epidemic going around the base. More come in every day."
"Anything serious, Doc, that would keep them grounded?"
"No, General, most should be released within a few hours, if that's soon enough for you, sir! ..." Kaiser stopped and tiredly rubbed a hand over his face, "I'm sorry, General, I didn't mean that the way it sounded. I guess this weather is getting to me, too."
"That's OK, Doc. It's getting to all of us, but it can't last too much longer... at least, that's the thought that keeps me going."
"How's Muller doing? I haven't had a chance to come by since Wednesday."
"He's doing well, sir. Medication is keeping his headaches down, and his color is much better... and from what I've seen, he and his 'escort' Sergeant Douglas seem to be getting along just fine."
"Do you mind if I drop in for a visit?"
"No, but he's probably not in his room right now. Sergeant Douglas commandeered a wheelchair the first day, and has been wheeling him around the hospital…. just to get out of their room, I would imagine. It hasn't negatively affected his condition, so I allow it."
Then as an afterthought, Kaiser added, "Müller's actually a popular patient, General. A few of the staff and other patients were a little standoffish at first because he's German, but most seem to take to him after they've had a chance to talk to him, and even some of the more unfriendly ones have come around.
...and of course, sir, they all want to hear him tell 'the story', even the ones who've already heard it. It's been repeated so often in the last few days, I half expect it to be in the 'Stars and Stripes' next."
"It had better not, Doc." Savage said. He was not joking.
Appropriately chastened, Kaiser offered, "You can probably find Müller in the Patient Lounge, General. He's usually there in the afternoon playing chess with Chaplain Twombley."
"Yes, sir. He stops by the wards every day, visiting the patients. He called on Sergeant Müller that first morning, and has been back every day since. They seem to have hit it off... especially since discovering they both played chess."
"Alright." Savage said, checking his watch, "I'll try there first."
As he entered the Patient Lounge, Savage could see a cluster of patients and staff gathered around one of the tables in the center of the room. The crowd moved aside as he drew near, and he observed Müller and Twombley concentrating on a chess board, oblivious to everything but the game. Then shaking his head, Twombley took his King and laid it down in surrender. Cheers, and a few groans, sounded around the room, and Savage saw money changing hands, but decided to ignore it... this time. Then the crowd dispersed. The show was over.
Looking over Müller's shoulder, Chaplain Twombley caught site of the General and nodded. Then he said something to Müller, stood, and headed over to where Savage was standing. As soon as he left, Sergeant Douglas sat down in his seat and began setting up a checker board.
"I didn't know you played chess, Chaplain. I hope I didn't interrupt your game."
"You didn't, General. Karl had me beat; there was no point in delaying the inevitable. I find chess relaxing, and occasionally, when I find a good opponent, challenging. Karl is an excellent opponent; I've only beaten him once."
Becoming serious, Twombley said, "He and I have had several long talks. He's a very intelligent and interesting man, and but he's also a man in great pain."
"Yes, the grenade fragments..."
"No. Not physical pain, sir; emotional pain."
"I don't get your meaning, Chaplain. He seems normal, and under the circumstances, reasonably content with his situation."
"That's just his outer shell, sir. His way of protecting himself from being hurt... I'm not making myself clear. Let me explain." he said, leading Savage to some chairs in the far corner of the room.
"Karl Müller is a man in turmoil, General. On the surface he seems normal, but he's just going through the motions; on the inside... I don't think he cares anymore. He may smile, but there's no laughter in his eyes."
"No laughter in his eyes." Savage repeated flatly. Where was Twombley going with this?
The Chaplain could see the question on Savage's face, but continued. "He has no family, and he never married. For almost twenty-five years, the military has been his home; his fellow soldiers, his family. The Army, and his love of country, was all that he had. Now he feels betrayed... he told me about Darmstadt ... and everything he has ever known or loved is gone, and he's alone... I don't think he'll survive this operation, General. I don't think he cares."
"You learned all that in a few conversations?!"
"I'm a good listener, General, and very good at my job."
"Yes, of course. Sorry, Chaplain. But you may be wrong about 'no family'. There's a possibility he may have a sister in Nebraska. I'm trying to trace her now."
A nurse approached, "I'm sorry to interrupt, General, but one of our critical patients has asked to speak with the Chaplain."
Twombley stood to go with the nurse, then said, "I hope you're successful, sir. The man needs a reason to go on."
WEEK ONE, Saturday, Mid-Afternoon
By Saturday morning, it was raining again... and the day was so dark, and the fog so thick that Savage had difficulty making his way to his office. The sun did shine in England, Savage knew that for a fact; he had seen it himself just a few days ago. What they were experiencing now was called the 'London Particular', a fog so damp and dense that you could hardly see more than a few yards in front of you.
The Group was still grounded, due to the local weather now as much as the weather over the continent. It did no good to have clear skies over the target if pilots couldn't find their way back to their base in overcast skies, and during extreme fog conditions, safe landings were impossible. They'd lost several aircraft that way.
Local leave had been granted Thursday, but the rain and fog put a damper on the things they could do, and places they could go, so the crews mostly stayed on base. Those who could, slept late, and everyone caught up with whatever they had to catch up with... so long as it could be done inside. At first, as always, it had been a relief to have a break from flying, from the war, but there can be too much of a good thing. These 'weather waits' were often more stressful on the aircrews than flying the actual combat mission, and as he was seeing in the Morning Reports, the stress of waiting was building to a head. If the weather didn't break soon, he was going to have real trouble.
General Savage and Major Stovall had been in the office since early morning working on several overdue combat effectiveness reports, and they were still at it at fourteen hundred (two o'clock).
There was a knock on the door, and Savage looked up, annoyed to be interrupted so close to finishing. Then he saw Major Don Henderson, standing in the doorway.
"I have that information you asked for, General."
"Come on it, Major, and take a seat." Savage said, returning Henderson's salute.
"We'll finish this later, Harvey. I'd like a few minutes with Major Henderson." Savage hadn't informed Stovall about his search for Müller's sister. If there was going to be any trouble resulting from this, he didn't want Harvey involved.
"Certainly, sir." said Stovall, and as he left, closed the door behind him.
"That was fast, Major. It's only been a few days. I didn't expect to hear anything this soon."
"Yes, sir. Neither did I. Everything just clicked... It went out on the diplomatic mail flight to Bolling Field that night, and then onto a cross-country training flight with a short stop at Lincoln Field. The reply came back with that group of B-24s ferried over this morning."
Taking the offered seat, Henderson reported, "As I expected, there was already a file on Walter Stossel. He joined the Nebraska National Guard in '38, and they did a background investigation then." Then removing a folder from his leather portfolio, he took out two typewritten sheets, and with a nod from Savage, read:
Gerd and Marta Ohme Stossel, immigrated 1905 from Karlsruhe, Baden-Württemberg, southern Germany. They were naturalized in 1910. Their son, Walter Johann, was born 1910 in Gretna, Sarpy County, Nebraska.
Anna Lisa Müller, daughter of Johann and Anna Marie Schmidt Müller, born 1910, in Kleiningersheim, Baden-Württemberg, southern Germany; immigrated in 1929 and was naturalized in 1932. She married Walter Stossel the same year. They live on the family farm in Gretna which Walter inherited after his father died in a farming accident in 1936.
The Stossel's have four children, all born in Gretna: Anna Marie, born 1933; Karl, born 1935; Wilhelm 'Willi', born 1936; and Friedrich 'Fred', born 1938.
"That was from the official report filed in 1938, sir. The following notes are from a quick review of his military file in their local records unit."
Second Lieutenant (then Master Sergeant) Walter Stossel joined the National Guard in May 1938. By June 1941, he had advanced in rank to Master Sergeant. His Guard unit was activated and federalized shortly after Pearl Harbor, and integrated into the First Infantry Division. After training with the 'First' at Ft. Benning, Georgia, they were shipped out in time for the landings in French North Africa. Stossel's unit participated in most of the major engagements, and he received a battlefield commission after the Kasserine Pass. His unit is now with Patton's II Corps.
Anna Stossel manages the family farm with the help of German PWs from a small satellite Prisoner of War Camp in 'Weeping Water', Nebraska.
Henderson then placed both sheets back into the folder and laid it on Savage's desk. Finishing, he said, "From all reports, General, the Stossel's are honest, god-fearing, loyal Americans with no ties to the 'fatherland' other than Anna Stossel's oldest brother, Karl, with whom she's had no contact since she left Germany in 1929, and who she believes to be deceased."
Then, Henderson took two sealed envelopes from his portfolio: one was addressed to 'General Savage'; the other to 'Karl '. He also handed these across to Savage.
"Don, I can't thank you enough for this. This was a more than slightly 'irregular' request, and I appreciate your help and your discretion. In your next letter home, please thank your parents for me."
"...and if you're going to be in the Officer's Club about eighteen hundred (six o'clock), I'd like to buy you a beer."
Henderson smiled broadly, "I'll be there, sir. Thank you."
After Henderson left, Savage opened the letter addressed to him. It was just a short note in flowing old fashioned script. It began,
I cannot tell you how overjoyed I am to receive your letter and learn my beloved brother, Karl, is alive and out of this terrible war ...'
She went on to say how she had wondered for years if he were alive and how he was. How she had written to him many times in care of the Army - especially at the birth of each of her children, who she had named after her mother and her brothers - but her letters had come back 'undeliverable' or not at all, and she had eventually had to accept her worst fears. To learn now that he was not dead brought her more joy than she could say. She closed with the request that he give her letter to Karl with the hope that she would hear from him soon.
Savage folded Anna's note and put it back into the envelope, then hefted the one addressed to Karl. It was heavier and stiffer, and he suspected it contained several family pictures as well as a letter.
He thought for a moment, then placed the two letters and the folder into the top drawer of his desk.
Then he called Harvey back into the office and went back to the report they had been working on. He didn't want to keep Henderson waiting for that beer.
WEEK ONE, Sunday, Noon
War doesn't make allowances for Sundays. Had the weather not still been bad over the Continent, the 918th, along with most of the 8th Air Force, would have been flying. But the weather WAS still bad across the Channel, although it had finally broken over Archbury, if not all of England. The sun had come out, burning off the fog, and most of the base personnel had taken the opportunity to attend church services, go into Archbury, or play some ball. It was just good to be able to get outside for a change.
General Crowe arrived around noon and found Savage in his office on the phone, and staring out his window.
"No change? None at all? That's not good enough, Major... Well, check again... No... Am I not making myself clear, Major Rosen?... Good, now get it done." and he slammed the phone back into its cradle.
"Don't you have anything better to do, General, than harass your weatherman?" asked Crowe.
"No..." Savage almost shouted, then swung his chair around, and seeing Crowe, stood to acknowledge his superior officer's presence.
"Sorry, sir, I'm just tired of this weather. It's cleared here, but it's still socked in over most of Western Europe. We've been down for five days now, and according to Major Rosen, it's not looking good for the next week. The stress of waiting has been getting to the men..." and with a rueful grin, "and me, too, I guess."
"It's not just here, Frank; the entire 8th Air Force is grounded. The meteorologists are scratching their collective heads. But it can't last too much longer, and, on the positive side, the Germans can't fly in it either.
"Yes, I suppose there is that... Can I buy you a cup of coffee, Wiley?"
"Please." Crowe said. Taking the proffered cup, he took a good look at Savage, "I'd heard you messed up your 'good looks' when you got involved with those POWs, Frank." he said with a teasing grin. "I wouldn't have any pictures taken right now, if I were you."
"Thanks. You should have seen me a few days ago. Kaiser said it'll be another week before I'll look human again."
"Now you didn't come down here just to admire my 'good looks', Wiley. What's up?"
"It's a little slow at Pinetree right now, so I thought I come down and get some feedback on your meeting with the 112th. General Pritchard is very concerned about the timing; that's why he's delaying it. We've had a positive report from both you and Colonel Mason, but Pritchard wants to discuss it with you in person. There's a lot riding on the success of these 'belly tanks', Frank, and Pritchard wants to make sure we get it absolutely right before we risk any more aircraft."
"OK. I put everything in my report, but I'll go up to Bushy Park and see him first of the week...
It was a productive meeting, Wiley. There were some disconnects at the start, but we worked them out. As far as I'm concerned, we're ready to go... as soon as the Old Man will give us a 'green light'. The only thing I'm still not happy about is that, unless there's a miracle, I won't be leading it."
"Doctor Kaiser still has you grounded. Any idea how much longer?"
"No. It's been over three months since I was wounded, and I've been DNIF for almost a month. I'm just about ready to have it out with him."
"Well, you know my position on the subject; I've told you often enough. I'd like you to stay on the ground more, Frank. Stop trying to fly every mission. You've been very lucky up to now. I'd hate to lose my best Group Commander."
"I swear. You and Kaiser! Give it a rest, will you Wiley."
"OK, OK... Speaking of doctors..." Crowe said, changing the subject. "There's a rumor around Headquarters that you brought back a German POW from Camp Barton, and have him here in the hospital. Any truth in that?"
"Yes, sir. One of the PWs was injured saving one of the British guards. Camp Barton has only a small clinic with one doctor, and Doc Kaiser felt that he could be better treated here. A camp guard came with him as 'escort'... the one he saved actually."
Savage then went on to explain everything that had occurred since the accident, up to and including the plan for Doctor Hays to operate on Müller at St. Hugh's Hospital, in Oxford, tomorrow.
"And you say this Sergeant Müller is the SAME Müller you ran into in France? What is it everyone calls him, 'Aspirin Müller'? That's quite a story, Frank. If it were anyone but you, I'd be highly skeptical."
Just then there was a knock on the doorframe, and Major Stovall entered carrying a small package. "This was just sent over from the Post Exchange, General." Opening the box, he removed Müller's flask, examined it, then handed it to Savage. "It cleaned up like new. The PX jeweler says it's real 'sterling' silver and expensive."
Handing the flask to Crowe, Savage asked, "Recognize this?"
"This isn't that old flask you brought back from Metz!?"
"Yes, sir. Note the inscription."
Crowe found the engraving and squinted at the inscription. "What does it say, do you know?"
"It reads: 'Sergeant Karl Müller, on the award of the Iron Cross, First Class, with gratitude, First Lieutenant Erwin Johannes Rommel, Royal Wurttemberg Mountain Battalion, Caporetto, 1917'."
"Rommel!" Crowe exclaimed. "He served under Rommel at Caporetto? Why would Rommel give him an engraved flask? And an Iron Cross, First Class... the old Imperial German Army didn't award those lightly... especially to enlisted men."
"Harvey and I have been wondering the same thing... I had it cleaned up so I could return it to him. Today might be my last chance before they take him up to St. Hugh's tonight for the operation tomorrow."
Over the next few minutes, Savage told Crowe of everything he had learned about Müller... about Arras and the grenade, Darmstadt and the treatment of Jews he had witnessed, his court-martial, how he had come to be with the Germans who had taken him, Savage, prisoner, and his anti-Nazi feelings. When he had finished, "Would you like to meet him, Wiley?"
Arching an eyebrow, Crowe looked at Savage. "You know, I think I would like to meet this German who seems to have made such an impression on you. I must admit he doesn't sound like your average German soldier."
Savage grabbed his hat and headed for the door with Crowe right behind. At the door, however, he stopped, paused for a moment, then returned to his desk. He opened the top drawer, and hesitating, retrieved the folder and letters, "Before we go over, Wiley, there's something I need to tell you."
Savage took a deep breath, then said, "I asked Müller if he had anyone he wanted notified, in case the operation didn't go well. He said no; all of his family were gone except for a sister who immigrated to the States in '29... Gretna, Nebraska, he thought, but hadn't had any contact with her for years and had long thought her dead."
"Yes? What's your point, Frank?" Crowe said impatiently.
Savage hesitated again, knowing the storm that would follow, then said, "I looked her up, Wiley, and sent her a letter about her brother..."
The words were barely out of his mouth before Crowe exploded, "You what!"
"...and I received a reply." he finished.
"Have you lost your senses!? ...Frank, what were you thinking?"
Incensed, Crowe stared at Savage for a moment, then drew himself up, and said formally, "May I remind you, General Savage, that Sergeant Müller is an enemy soldier, a prisoner of war, and that communicating with his family is questionable at best, and at worst a court-martial offense... You are a General Officer, for God's sake, not a chaplain!"
"Yes, sir, I realize all that, but... "
"Look, Wiley, for years neither of these people have known whether the other was alive. Is it so wrong to help have that question finally answered? Especially as there's a very real chance that Müller won't survive the operation tomorrow. Wouldn't YOU want that chance to know?"
Shaking his head, Crowe said, "I don't understand you, Frank. Why are you so involved with this man?"
"I've asked myself that question a hundred times, Wiley. I don't know... I feel an obligation to him, yes, but... I just don't know... Maybe I'm just tired of this war." he said, his voice rising... "Maybe I just want to do something good for a change, something that doesn't involve death and destruction!"
"Let's don't shout at each other, General." Crowe said quietly.
"I'm sorry, sir."
Calming down, Crowe asked, "Have you read those letters?"
"Just the one addressed to me." He took Anna Stossel's note from the envelope and handed it to Crowe. "The other one is not mine to read."
Crowe read the note, then handed it back without comment.
"Her husband, Walter Stossel, is in the Army." Savage added, handing him Henderson's information. "Because of his German ancestry, there was a background investigation done on the family."
Crowe took his time reading both pages. "Stossel has seen some action." He said nodding. "He appears to have a good record... and a battlefield commission speaks well of him." Finished, Crowe handed them back to Savage.
Crowe breathed a deep sigh, then said, "All right, Frank. What's done is done. Since you have the letter, I suppose there's no harm in giving it to him."
"Don't thank me yet, Frank. I have a feeling this isn't the end of it."
Crowe and Savage entered the hospital and started down the hall toward Müller's room, and as they passed Doc Kaiser's open door, Kaiser called after them.
"General, ... General Savage, ... a word, sir."
They paused and waited as Kaiser caught up with them. "General Crowe. I'm sorry, sir; I didn't see you. If you don't mind, I need to speak to General Savage for just a moment."
"That's alright, Doctor, Go right ahead."
Turning to Savage, "General, I just had a call from Doctor Hays. There's a problem with Sergeant Müller's operation. St. Hugh's has just received an influx of critically wounded from Tunisia. The treatment of these wounded take priority, and Hays has lost his operating room. He doesn't want to wait for another one to come open, and would like to perform the operation here."
"CAN he do it here, Doc? Doesn't brain surgery require special facilities and equipment and specially trained staff?"
"Hays says he can bring the necessary equipment and instruments, and he'll have his own team; he just needs an operating theater. If it's alright with you, he'll come down later this afternoon with his team and set up in our operating room, then go over the procedure and do a dry run with his team. Assuming no problems, he said the operation would go ahead as scheduled tomorrow morning. I just need your approval."
"You have it. Just keep me apprised. What time will the operation start?"
"Doctor Hays hasn't said, but I would expect him to want to get an early start...six or seven. It will be a long procedure."
"I guess that means Müller won't be transferred to St. Hugh's tonight. General Crowe and I were just on our way to visit him, do you want me to tell him of the change, or do you want to do it?"
"That's alright," Kaiser said. "You can do it. Doctor Hays and I will drop by later this evening to go over the operation with him."
As Crowe and Savage neared Müller's room, the MP at the door sprang to attention and saluted. "Are they in there?" Savage asked.
"Yes, sir." he replied. "They came back before lunch and haven't left."
"Good. We'll be inside for a while and don't want to be disturbed, unless it's a medical necessity."
Entering the room, they found Müller propped up in bed, dozing. Sergeant Douglas was sitting at the table reading. As the door opened, Douglas looked up, and recognizing General Savage, with another general officer, a two star, he immediately stood, and with a loud "SAH!" stamped to rigid attention... but he didn't salute...in the British Army a soldier only saluted when wearing his cap.
Muller, awaken by the noise, started to rise, but Savage waved him back down.
"As you were, Gentlemen. This is just a social visit."
Douglas, clearly not comfortable under the scrutiny of two general officers, assumed a loose 'parade rest', but that was as far as he was willing to go. Speaking up, he asked, "Would the Generals like me to wait outside?"
"No, Sergeant; that won't be necessary. Sit. Carry on with what you were doing."
Douglas sat down on the edge of his bed, but remained almost as rigid as when he stood at attention.
Savage returned his attention to Müller, "Sergeant, this is my superior officer, Major General Crowe. He has heard a lot about you, and wanted to meet you."
As best as he could propped up in bed, Müller straightened, and said, "Zu Befehl, Herr Generalmajor. I am at your command, sir."
Crowe nodded in reply, "Sergeant."
"I'm here for two reasons, Sergeant." Savage started. "The first is to let you know there has been a slight change of plans with your operation. Doctor Hays has lost his operating room, and doesn't want to delay your operation until another room becomes available. He will perform the operation here instead, so you will not be transported to St. Hugh's this afternoon."
"The operation should go as scheduled tomorrow morning. Doctor Hays and Doctor Kaiser will come by later and go over it all with you."
Müller nodded his acknowledgement, then waited as Savage continued.
"The other, and main reason, I've come..." He reached into the pocket of his jacket, removed the polished flask and handed it to him... "is to return THIS to you."
"My flask! You kept it?" Müller said, accepting it like the return of a old friend, then hefting it said, "and it is still full."
"Yes," Savage said. "Well, things happened rather quickly after you left me; I never had chance to take it out of my pocket... I didn't notice the inscription until a couple of days ago, when I was having it cleaned up for you."
"I had it translated, and we, General Crowe and I, admit to being a little curious as to what caused 'Lieutenant' Rommel to present you with this flask."
Muller smiled, "It was because the Oberleutnant felt that I had saved his life..."
Continuing, Müller explained, "It was just before we took Matajur. We were a greatly under strength company, only a hundred men, scouting the village under cover of darkness. As we moved forward, we stumbled into a hidden machinegun position. The Italians were just as surprised as we were, and started firing blindly.
I pushed the Oberleutnant down, out of the line of fire. Then the Italians' gun jammed, and I and three others rushed their position. We were almost on them when they cleared the stoppage and started firing again. I threw a grenade and destroyed the emplacement, but not before they had cut the others down. Because I was the only survivor, they gave me a medal; and Oberleutnant Rommel gave me the flask for saving his life... Over the years, the flask has been much more useful. When I gave it to you, I did not think to ever see it again. Thank you for returning it."
"Is that where you got your Iron Cross?" Crowe asked.
"Yes, sir. The others should have been awarded the medal, ... the only difference between their actions and mine was I survived. They were good men."
For a moment no one spoke, then, "Tell me, Sergeant Müller," Crowe asked, glancing at Savage. "What kind of prisoner was General Savage."
Müller thought for a moment, then replied, with a roguish grin. "Troublesome, Herr Generalmajor. We did not really 'capture' him; we found him unconscious in a barn. He had a head wound, and at first, I thought he might die. Soon, though, I worried more that I would have to shoot him. He could barely walk that first day, but always I could see him looking to escape. I had to watch him every minute. He was a lot of trouble."
" 'Troublesome'. Crowe repeated, and looking Savage hard in the eye, "Yes, I think that is an apt description of General Savage."
Returning his attention to Müller, "On a more serious matter, Sergeant... General Savage tells me that while you were in Darmstadt, you witnessed some of what is happening to Germany's Jews."
"Yes, sir. I cannot say what is happening in the rest of Germany, but in Darmstadt, I saw many things I wish I had not."
"Would you be willing to make a written statement about what you saw... as best you can remember?"
Müller thought for a moment, clearly caught in a dilemma between his desire to tell what he had seen, and his reluctance to speak out against his own people. Finally, he said, "Yes, sir. I will this."
"Good. Thank you. We'll speak of this again after your operation... It was a pleasure to meet you, Sergeant. Good luck tomorrow."
Turning to Savage, Crowe said, "General, I need to head back now, and I believe you have something to discuss with Sergeant Müller, so I'll leave you to it... We'll talk again later."
After Crowe left, Savage stood staring at the door for a moment, then turned back to Müller and said, "Sergeant, I told you I would try to locate your sister..."
Müller's face blanched as he braced to hear what he had feared for years, that Anna was dead, like the rest of his family.
Savage finished, "and I have." But Müller didn't seem to understand the words.
"I found her, Karl." Savage was past rank formality. "She's living in Gretna, Nebraska, as you said. She's still married and has four children now... one girl and three boys."
Smiling now, Savage added, "She named the oldest boy, 'Karl'."
Müller couldn't believe what he was hearing. It was all he could do to breathe, and his eyes were filling with tears. He couldn't find any words as Savage continued.
"She's been contacted, Karl. She knows you're alive and a prisoner of war." Then Savage took the letter from his pocket and offered it to him. "She sent you this letter."
Müller stared at the letter for a moment, as if he couldn't comprehend what it was. Then, his face an emotionless mask, he gently took it from Savage's hand.
Savage motioned to Sergeant Douglas, "Let's give the Sergeant a little time to read his letter... We'll be right outside the door, Karl, when you're ready."
Once outside in the hall, Douglas said, "I know it's not my place to say, sir, begging your pardon, but that was an uncommon kind thing you did for Karl."
"Perhaps a little humanity every now and then - even in a war - is good for the soul, Sergeant."
"Yes, sir... perhaps, especially in war."
"It's likely he will want to write a reply. Do you think you could scare up a pencil and some paper for him?"
"I'm sure I can, sir. I know just the man." and he headed down the hall to find Jack Dunn.
Turning to the MP at the door, Savage said, "You can inform Major Henderson that a guard detail won't be required after tomorrow morning, Private."
"Yes, sir, General." the guard replied. "and sir, I hope things go alright for Karl tomorrow. We've - all of us guards - got to know him over the last few days, and well, for a German, he's OK."
A short time later, "General Savage? Would you come in, sir?"
Re-entering the room, Savage saw a smile slowly cross Müller's face, a smile clearly reflected in his eyes. 'Twombley was right about the eyes', Savage thought. 'I never noticed.' But he noticed now; Müller's eyes almost sparkled. He was a different man. He appeared somehow younger than he had, his face more relaxed ... he was a man contented.
"I do not know what to say, sir. This is a great gift you have given me. To know my Anna is alive, and happy, and has a good life with a family of her own. I can never repay ... Thank you."
"Karl, whether you intended it or not, you helped me through a bad time not that long ago. If I had been picked up by any other patrol... I'm not sure I would have made it... I think we can call it even."
"If you want to send a reply, Sergeant Douglas is finding pencil and paper for you now. You can write her a letter, and finish it tomorrow after the operation..."
"If I cannot?"
"I'll finish it for you."
As Savage turned to leave, Sergeant Douglas returned with the writing materials, and as he closed the door behind him, he heard,
"Come, Bill, see the pictures my sister sent."
Later that evening, Müller was visited by Doctors Kaiser and Hays.
"Good evening, Sergeant." Kaiser said as they entered. "Doctor Hays would like to go over the operation with you so you understand what is going to happen tomorrow."
"Thank you, Doctor. I would like to know what to expect."
Looking at Müller, Kaiser thought he appeared different somehow. He seemed in better spirits, more relaxed; certainly not like someone about to undergo an operation that was likely to kill him.
"Sergeant." Hays began, "If you have any questions, just stop me..."
"To start, you'll fast tonight; no food or drink after midnight. You'll be awakened at five-thirty tomorrow morning, and taken to the operating room at six.
Once you're on the table, the left side of your head will be shaved and you will be administered a general anesthesia. When you're asleep, I will begin the operation.
I will incise and pin back a flap of skin to expose the left side of your skull, then perform a craniotomy, that is, I will remove a section of the bone, called a bone flap, from your skull. This will expose the part of your brain where the fragments are located.
Once exposed, I will debride... remove... the old dead tissue to reduce the risk of infection, then remove the fragments themselves. The large fragment near the brainstem will be the most difficult, the one with the most risk, but I have no doubt that it can be done.
When the procedure is finished, I will close, replacing the bone flap, then overlaying and suturing the skin flap. I expect the entire procedure will take six, maybe seven hours."
Hays had observed Müller as he was speaking, and saw that he was following his explanation with understanding and interest. "Immediately after the procedure," he continued, "you'll be taken to the recovery room for observation and monitoring of your vital signs. When you're awake, you'll be periodically asked to move your arms, fingers, toes, and legs so we can determine if there has been any nerve damage. As I explained to you earlier, paralysis is a serious risk in your case. When your vital signs are stable, and you're alert, you'll be brought back here."
"In the first twenty-four hours or so after the operation, there may be some swelling of the brain, but I don't expect much. But if there is, you may experience dizzy spells, weakness, poor coordination, confusion, speech problems, memory loss. This sounds bad, I know, but these symptoms are only temporary; they will usually lessen and disappear as you recover. It may take a few days, or a few weeks, but they will go away."
"Do you understand everything I've told you?"
"Yes, Herr Doktor, I do. Thank you."
"Do you have any questions?"
"Do you know how soon I will be able to get up? How soon I can return to Camp?"
"Assuming all goes well, we'll have you up and walking the next day. You'll stay in the hospital for another week or so, to regain your strength and make sure there are no complications. Then you will be transferred to the rehabilitation unit at St. Hugh's for a period of time so we can monitor your progress. After that, I assume you will go back to Camp Benton."
"Thank you, Doctor." Müller said with a grin. "It should be an 'interesting' experience."
Leaving the room, Hays stopped outside, looking back at the door. "Has anything changed with him?"
"What do you mean?"
" When I initially examined him, he seemed almost disinterested, like he didn't really care. I was worried about his mental state, but now... now he's more engaged, more interested. Now I think he's got a very good chance."
WEEK TWO, Monday, Zero Six Hundred
Karl Müller was being wheeled into surgery. With Doctor Hays' consent, both Kaiser and Harrod would observe. Just before he headed for the operating room, Kaiser called Savage's office to inform him the operation was about to begin. It would be several hours, Savage had been told, before there would be any news. Kaiser would call when it was over.
Today was a banner day for General Savage, too. Today was the day he would have it out with Kaiser. He went through his daily routine of clearing his desk and dealing with visitors, but in the back of his mind he worked on the arguments he would use to convince Kaiser to release him from restricted duty. He couldn't wait for thirteen hundred (one o'clock) ... and neither could Harvey Stovall, as Savage's restlessness was driving him crazy.
Finally it was time for Savage's appointment. "Major, I'm going over to the hospital. I might be a while, Harvey," he said determinedly. "I'm not leaving this time until he signs me off to return to full duty."
Kaiser was late! Savage waited in his office impatiently for almost fifteen minutes. Then as he was about to leave, he heard voices, and the office door started to open,
"...to the Patient Lounge and rest your leg, Charles. Down the hall and turn left; it's on the right, you can't miss it. I just want jot down a few notes and make a call. I'll be along in a few minutes, then we'll get some lunch."
Then the door opened, and Kaiser entered. Seeing Savage standing there, he was momentarily puzzled. "General?... I was just going to..." then glancing at his watch, "Oh, God. General, I'm terribly sorry. I forgot. Charles ... Doctor Harrod and I were observing Doctor Hays' procedure."
"Is the operation over, then?" Savage asked, his irritation slightly appeased.
"Yes, sir. Doctor Hays was able to remove all of the fragments. He's is closing now."
"He's alive, General. In fact he came through remarkably well, better than Hays, or I, expected. I'm very optimistic."
Savage was relieved. "That's great, Doc. Why don't we get my exam out of the way, you can fill me in on all the details later."
After Kaiser examined, prodded and probed him, Savage got dressed again, then waited as Kaiser reviewed his medical file.
"Well, General, all of your tests are normal. You're wounds have completely healed, and there's less scarring than I expected. You've regained the weight you lost, plus a few pounds... you might want to watch that. So I guess the bottom line is that you are in perfect health. I'm releasing you to full duty and flight status."
"Finally!" Savage said. "Sorry, Doc, I don't mean to be ungrateful, but you sure took your time."
"I'm sorry, General. But with the amount of blood you lost, and the time it took to replace it, I've been worried about systemic damage to your liver and kidneys. Your thirty-seven year old body doesn't recover as quickly as these kids, and it takes time for that kind of damage to present itself... But your tests show all of your systems are functioning normally, so, as they say, 'you are free to go'."
"Thanks, Doc, I appreciate your thoroughness and concern. But no more checkups? Right? And I'm cleared to fly."
"You're good to go, General. I'll sign the paperwork this afternoon. Now, get out of here, and I don't want to see you back - as a patient - anytime soon."
Savage returned to his office in a jubilant mood, and Stovall could tell immediately just from the look on his face that he had been successful.
"I see you won your case with Doc Kaiser, General."
"That I did, Harvey. You can erase that 'DNIF' from beside my name on the Pilot Status Board."
"Right away, General, just as soon as..." Stovall, who had been going through the day's mail, suddenly stopped and opened one of the letters. Quickly reading it, he said, "This is from the International Red Cross, about Sergeant Jones. They report that he was badly wounded, but alive, in a hospital just outside of Hamburg. He is expected to live and be moved to a P.O.W. Camp, a Luft Stalag, when he's able. We'll be informed which Camp when they know."
Sergeant Jones had been the ball turret gunner on the mission when Savage had been wounded. The rest of the crew had made it back, not all alive, but their status was known. Jones had been literally blown out of the ball turret and was listed as 'Missing in Action'. But not any longer. He may be a prisoner, but he was alive.
"That's great, Harvey! Pass the word, would you, and put a notice on the bulletin board."
Leaving his office later that evening, Savage entered the hospital and sought out Doc Kaiser. Kaiser put in long hours, too, and Savage found him where he expected, in his office.
"How's Müller doing?"
"Good...very good, in fact. When he was awake and alert, we moved him back to his room and gave him some pain medication. He's sleeping now, and will probably sleep through the night."
Then Kaiser laughed, "Sergeant Douglas certainly takes his 'escort' duties very conscientiously. He's watching over Müller like a mother hen; if there's any problem, we'll hear about it... hell, the whole hospital will probably hear about it."
Then more serious, "So far there has been no indication of any paralysis, but we'll continue to monitor him over the next forty-eight hours. It's actually amazing how well he's doing. Neither Doctor Hays nor I had initially given him more than a forty percent chance of coming through the operation alive."
Savage nodded. The Chaplain was right again. "When do you think he'll be able to have visitors?
"We'll have him up walking around a little tomorrow, then gradually increase his activity level over the next couple of days. I'd give him until Wednesday, or Thursday, before you come for a visit."
After he left the hospital, Savage stopped by the Club for a beer and to evaluate the mental state of his men. The atmosphere in the room was subdued and somber. 'If we don't get a mission soon...' he left the thought unfinished as he downed the rest of his beer, left the Club, and headed toward his quarters.
WEEK TWO, Tuesday, Zero Six Hundred
Savage had just poured his first cup of coffee of the day, when Harvey Stovall called on the intercom, "General, Major Rosen is on the phone."
"OK, Harvey, thanks."
"General," Rosen started, "Sorry to call you so early, sir, but you asked me to let you know if there was any change in the weather... Unless I'm badly mistaken, sir, I think the weather's going to clear over parts of Western Europe tomorrow morning."
"Which parts, Major, and for how long?"
"All along the coast, sir, from Amsterdam to Brest... and for at least forty-eight hours, maybe longer."
"What about the local weather?" The rain and fog that had left Sunday, had returned this morning.
"I'm afraid it will be with us a little longer, sir. If we're alerted, it's likely we'll need 'FIDO' "
'FIDO' (Fog Investigation and Dispersal Operation) was a procedure the 8th Air Force had developed for bombers and fighters returning from a mission in heavy fog. It involved burning huge amounts of fuel alongside runways to temporarily evaporate the fog, and allow the returning pilots a visual aid to see the runway and land safely. But it involved the use of an enormous amount of fuel, and their supplies of fuel were limited, so 'FIDO' was only employed when it was absolutely necessary.
"Alright, Major, thank you. Keep me posted on any changes."
Hanging up, he called Major Stovall, "Harvey, ask Joe Cobb to come into my office."
As Air Exec, Major Cobb's office was just down the hall, and he was at Savage's door almost before he could take another sip of his coffee.
"You wanted to see me, sir?" he said saluting.
Savage returned his salute, and motioned him to come in. "I just had a call from Rosen, Joe. He says the weather's going to break over the coast tomorrow morning for at least forty-eight hours..."
"Finally." Cobb responded.
"I expect a Field Order to come down at any time, so I want to get a head start on this. You're the Air Exec now, so start the ball rolling. Alert all department heads to expect a Field Order soon and to make what preparations they can without knowing the target... Also, Rosen says the local fog will still be with us, so inform Sergeant Nero we may need to use 'FIDO'."
"Yes, sir... Who will lead?"
The Field Order had come down at eleven hundred (eleven o'clock). Their target was the submarine pens at St. Nazaire. Word spread around the base quickly: They had been 'alerted'! All leaves and passes had been cancelled.
A 'milk run', Savage thought. Well, that was fine with him. Give the crews an easy one to get back on their game.
"Harvey, notify the Air Exec."
Major Cobb, now 'Air Exec', Savage's Deputy Commander for Air Operations, was already hard at it, working with the heads of departments planning and coordinating the details for the mission.
There were a million details involved in planning a mission. The primary target was identified in the Field Order, but the selection of alternate targets if the group had to divert was the local commander's prerogative. Then there was the armament, munitions and fuel loads that had to be planned to the last bullet, bomb and ounce of gas; route selection (in and out) with headings, altitudes, navigational control points, radio frequencies, and call signs; identification of areas of heavy flak and enemy fighter concentration; fighter escort coordination; position of other groups (if it was a maximum effort), rally points, weather, ... and that was just for the airborne part of the mission.
The support personnel, without whom the planes couldn't get off the ground, had to be alerted, too: the cooks and bakers, truck drivers, crew chiefs, men in the bomb dumps and fuel farms, fire fighters, tower controllers, the cartographers, intelligence analysts, weathermen... everyone on the base had an important role to play in getting the Group into the air.
By sixteen hundred (four o'clock) preparations had been made; lead pilots, navigators and bombardiers briefed; and all crews notified there would be a mission briefing tomorrow morning at zero five hundred (five o'clock).
They were finally going back to war.
WEEK TWO, Wednesday, Early Afternoon
His first mission after three months behind a desk and Savage was bone tired when the Piccadilly Lily's wheels finally touched down on the runway. The fog had been thick when they took off that morning, and the formation over the field a little ragged, but all twenty-three got off (as Nero had promised), made it over the target and back to base, landing in just a light mist. They had no losses.
With a target so close to the Coast, the fighters had been able to escort them all the way. The Germans hadn't been able to put up as many fighters as usual, as their aerodromes farther inland were still socked in, but the fighters that had appeared, had been easily driven off. The flak had been thick, but the bombers had come away with only minor battle damage and just a few wounded. This was the type of mission Savage liked; it's a shame they couldn't all be like this one.
Mission effectiveness was another story, however. They had bombed the sub pens at St. Nazaire he didn't know how many times, with mainly the same results. They couldn't drop enough bombs to penetrate that concentration of concrete. The best they could do was destroy the floating docks adjacent to the pens, the storage depots, machine shops, and barracks; hamper the flow of materials to repair previous damage; and harass the workers. Even that little served to reduce the effectiveness of the submarine base, and any damage they could do, any delay they could cause in U-Boat sailings, reduced the risk to the convoys crossing the Atlantic with vital food and war supplies.
After Mission Debriefing, Savage returned to his office to find General Crowe waiting.
"Good mission, Frank?"
"As good as we ever have trying to punch holes in those sub pens," he replied tiredly, "but at least we had no losses and only a few wounded. So, from that perspective, it was a very good mission."
Pouring himself a cup of coffee, and offering one to Crowe, he asked, "What brings you down here twice in one week?"
Shaking his head to the coffee, Crowe walked over and closed the door to Savage's office. "I wanted to see how your bruises were coming along," he said, going through the motions of examining Savage's face. "Fading nicely. A few more days, and they'll be gone completely."
"Wiley, I'm too tired... "
"Yes, of course you are. I'm really here, General, because I thought you might be interested to know that General Pritchard has given 'Spoil Sport' the green light... It's a 'go', Frank."
Suddenly Savage wasn't tired anymore. "Finally! When?"
"Six days from today...weather permitting." Missions were always 'weather permitting'.
"The combined bomber force will consist of the 918th, 911th and 915th Bomb Groups, with the 926th held in reserve. The 918th will lead; the 112th, of course, will provide the fighter escort.
The target is an ambitious one, Frank. Hannover. A 'triple play'... the Limmer oil refinery, Misburg Rubber Reclamation Plant and the Ricklingen Metal Works."
"Whew" Savage whistled. "In one raid? The Old Man doesn't want much, does he?!"
"I know, I know. I'll let you know when I have more information. But plan on attending a meeting at Widewing in the next couple of days."
Changing the subject, Crowe asked, "I understand Müller had his operation. How'd it go?"
"He survived the operation and from all reports is doing very well. Kaiser said he couldn't have visitors until today; I was going to see him this afternoon. He'll probably be here for a few more days, then I understand they intend to move him to a rehab unit at St. Hugh's.
"I'll need to talk to him, Frank, before he goes. I want to get that statement from him about what he witnessed in Darmstadt."
"Is it important?"
"Very. The Allies have been hearing reports of the widespread and systematic murder of Jews, gypsies and other 'undesirables'... even rumors of extermination camps. They haven't taken these reports too seriously, discounting most of them as being too fantastic to be believed. But, they're beginning to take them seriously now and want to document everything they can.
Sergeant Muller's statement will add to that documentation. It's possible, after the War, should there be War Crimes trials, he may be asked to testify. But it needs to be kept under wraps, Frank, that's why I want to do it here. If any of the other German POWs find out he's been talking to us... 'collaborating'... life for Müller could get very unhealthy, if not deadly."
"Assuming Müller is still willing, when do you want to do it?"
"Let me know when Kaiser thinks he's recovered enough to answer questions and make a statement."
It was late afternoon before Savage could get away from the office and walk over to the hospital. He stopped by Kaiser's office, "Is Müller cleared for visitors yet, Doc? How's he doing?"
"He's really doing very well, General. He initially had some speech and language problems, mostly memory related, but we expected something like this, and it only lasted a few hours.
Remarkably, there's no paralysis. We've had him up walking. He's a little unsteady on his feet, but that'll get better as he regains his strength. These were all expected effects of his surgery, and will disappear in a few days. It's really amazing."
"He was writing a letter..."
"The letter, yes…." he said as he removed an unsealed envelope from his desk drawer and handed it to Savage. "Sorry, sir. I meant to get this to you as soon as you got back today, but we got busy with the wounded, and I forgot. He gave this to me last night and asked that I give it to you...said you'd know where to send it."
"Yes, I do." Savage said as he folded the letter and put it in his jacket pocket. "Thanks, Doc… What about the visit?"
"I think it would be better if you could wait another day. Give him a chance to get over these side effects."
"OK, Doc. I'll come by tomorrow."
Later that evening in his quarters, Savage took Müller's letter from the open envelope and began to read. Because he was a Prisoner of War, Müller's letter had to be censored, so Savage did it himself. When he was finished, he replaced the letter in its envelope, sealed it, and addressed it to 'Mrs. Anna Stossel, Stossel Farm, Route 4, Gretna, Nebraska'. He'd mail it first thing tomorrow.
WEEK TWO, Thursday, Morning
For the 918th, the air war was back on with a vengeance. They were alerted again. The Field Order had come down at zero-nine-thirty. The target: the rail yards at Saarbrücken. They had bombed Saarbrücken several times before, but with all the available labor from their conquered countries, the Germans rebuilt the tracks and marshalling yards almost as fast as they destroyed them. However, the Saarbrücken yards were a critical hub in the movement of troops and material into France, Belgium and Northern Germany, so any interruption of traffic, be it months, or just weeks, or even days, was worth the trip.
Major Cobb had gathered the heads of departments again and was working out the myriad details for the mission. When he was ready, he would brief his recommendations to General Savage, and with his approval, he would then hold a briefing for all lead pilots, navigators and bombardiers.
Savage was thinking about the mission when Stovall knocked and entered his office carrying a large stack of folders, "You wanted to look at the 66-1's for the new replacements."
"Yes. Have you had a chance to look at their Service Records? We get anyone with some experience this time?"
"Yes, sir. We drew a couple of good ones. Major Paul Chaffee and Lieutenant Donald Moore, both transfers from the RAF. Chaffee came over in '40 to fly with the American Eagle Squadron. Flew Spits in the Battle of Britain, then transferred to bombers, Lancaster's primarily. Applied for transfer to the Army Air Force shortly after we entered the war.
Moore joined the Canadian Air Force in early '41. He completed his flight training in England and was posted as a Sergeant Pilot with RAF Bomber Command, also flying Lancaster's. He transferred to the AAF in March '42 as a Flight Officer and was assigned to the 92nd Bomb Group at Alconbury. He's flown sixteen missions and was promoted to second lieutenant four months ago."
"What about the rest of them?"
"Right out of training and just off the boat, I'm afraid... But, we also just got a message from Wing. We can expect four replacement aircraft by the middle of next week. The crews are still en route; they're expected to arrive within the week."
"It's about time." Savage said. "And with 'Spoil Sport' coming up we can certainly use them... and the replacements, even if they are green."
Savage thought for a moment, then, "Chaffee will make a good squadron commander once we get him up to speed in daylight bombing. He'll have an adjustment to make after night bombing with the RAF. Joe Cobb's pulling double duty as Air Exec and 901st Squadron Commander, so put him in Cobb's squadron. Once he's qualified, he can replace Cobb as the 901st's Commander.
"Assign Moore to Major Andrew's 904th Squadron. He could use a good experienced pilot. Give the rest of these folders to Major Cobb. He can make recommendations on the rest, but tell him to make sure Major Stone gets his fair share for the 907th, or he'll be in here 'bitching and moaning' again."
Savage took an early lunch, then walked over to the hospital to check on the wounded from the last mission and see Doc Kaiser. After making the rounds of the wards and spending a few minutes with each of the wounded, he found Kaiser in his office talking with Doctor Harrod.
Seeing the General in the doorway, Kaiser and Harrod stood. "Did you want to see me, sir?" Kaiser said. "Please come in. Doctor Harrod and I were just discussing Sergeant Müller."
"I take it he's doing better today?"
"Better doesn't describe it. Doctor Hays was here this morning to examine him and evaluate his progress. He couldn't believe how well he's doing. His recovery far exceeds that of other patients with similar head trauma. He plans to write a paper about the case."
"Can I take it, then, that he can have visitors again?"
"Absolutely, as often as you would like. Although I don't expect that he will be with us too much longer. I believe Doctor Hays plans to transfer him to St. Hugh's early next week for observation and further rehabilitation.
I doubt he'll be there very long either, however. That's what Charles... Doctor Harrod and I were discussing ... when Sergeant Müller would be returned to Camp Barton, and when Sergeant Douglas could be returned to his regular duties."
"Yes." Harrod put in. "I'm afraid Colonel Smythe is becoming rather impatient about when he can have his people back... both of them."
"As far as Sergeant Douglas is concerned," Savage said, "you can have him back whenever you'd like. He was really only here for appearances sake. I doubt there was ever any real likelihood of Müller trying to escape, and once he's off the base, Doctor Hays will be the one to make the call on him."
"Now if you'll excuse me, I think I'll go check on your remarkable patient... and Doc? Let me know as far in advance as possible when you have a date for his movement. There are some people who would like to talk to him before he goes."
When Savage got to Müller's room, he found the door open and the hallway filled with staff and patients. "Make way. Let me through." Savage said as he tried to enter the room.
"Hey, quit pushing; I was here first." said one of the patients. Then seeing who it was, immediately moved aside and came to attention. "Excuse me, sir, I didn't see you."
Recognizing the man as one of Major Andrew's gunners, "Shouldn't you be in bed, Sergeant?" Then to the rest of the crowd, "Don't you people have some place to be."
The hallway quickly emptied, and Savage proceeded into the room. As he had suspected, the cause of the crowd was another chess game between Müller and Chaplain Twombley. Müller, with his head heavily swathed in bandages, reminded him of a Hindu snake charmer. All that was missing was his flute. He almost laughed.
"Has Sergeant Müller having his brain probed helped your game any Chaplain?"
"I'm afraid not, General," Twombley said as he rose to his feet. "He's as sharp as ever. Unless I miss my guess, it's check and mate in four moves."
"Three moves, I think, Herr Kaplan (Chaplain)." Müller said chuckling. "Doctor Kaiser has barely permitted me to leave my bed, much less my room, so the Herr Kaplan and I, we play here."
With a smile on his face and his eyes sparkling with humor, Müller said, "The Herr Doktor can be...sehr autokratisch, ah... very autocratic... very commanding... at times. But he comes by this naturally, yes? You know 'Kaiser' in German means 'Emperor'."
Savage laughed, "For God's sake, don't tell him that. He's hard enough to live with as it is."
Just then Sergeant Douglas entered the room, his arms overloaded with magazines, cartons of cigarettes, and several boxes of Hershey Bars and Baby Ruths, "Karl, look at what... "
Registering the General's presence, he dropped everything on his bed, and coming to attention said, "Good afternoon, sir. Excuse me, I didn't mean to interrupt."
"That's alright, Sergeant. That's quite a haul you have there."
"Yes, sir. Doctor Hays indicated Karl..., that is, Sergeant Müller would be transferred to St. Hugh's hospital early next week, and that means I'll be heading back to Camp any day now. I've made several friends here, sir, and they wanted to give me some hard to acquire items to take back with me... if that's allowed, of course, sir."
"Of course it is. I'm glad you're stay here has not been that unpleasant." and nodding his head at the pile on Douglas's bed, "nor unproductive."
"No, sir. Not at all. I've learned a lot and made several friends. I'm very grateful for the experience, sir."
"General, if you'll excuse me," Twombley interrupted. "I'm running a little late, and I have other patients to visit."
"Of course, Chaplain, don't let me keep you."
"Herr Kaplan," Müller called after him. "You forget your chess set."
"No. You keep it, Karl. I have another."
After Twombley had left and shut the door, Savage turned to Sergeant Douglas, "Sergeant, what you hear now is not to leave this room. Do you understand?"
He clearly didn't, but promptly replied, "Yes, sir!"
"Karl, when I visited you before your surgery, I had another officer with me, my boss, Major General Crowe. Do you remember? He asked you about what you had witnessed in Darmstadt and if you would be willing to make a written statement about what you saw. You said then that you would."
"Yes, sir,... I remember."
"Are you still willing to make a statement?"
Müller hesitated for a moment, then said, "Yes, sir."
Savage debated for a moment, then asked, "I don't want to dissuade you, Karl, but have you thought this through? You must know that if you make this statement, it could... no, it would be considered 'collaborating with the enemy'. You would be a traitor in the eyes of your fellow POWs. Should they find out, your life could be in danger. So think carefully before you make a commitment."
"Herr General," Müller smiled. "I was a soldier for almost twenty-five years; I was always in danger... A traitor? No. I do not think this. I think I would betray my country more if I did not speak out. I think my country is at war now because people were too afraid to speak out... Please tell Generalmajor Crowe, I will make this statement."
Savage nodded. He expected no other answer, but he'd had to ask. "OK. I'll tell him. As soon as I know when, I'll let you know; but I expect it will be in the next few days."
Savage turned to leave, then said to Douglas, "You understand now why no one must know about this?"
"Yes, sir. I'll not say a word."
Then turning back to Müller, "Karl, I mailed your letter. I don't know how long it will take for a reply to reach you, but if you've already been transferred to St. Hugh's, I'll see you get it."
Smiling broadly, Müller replied, "Thank you, sir..." then he asked hesitantly, a little embarrassed, "Sir, if you have a moment, would you like to see the pictures of my Anna and her children?"
Savage had no family; he was a bachelor, and probably always would be. The Air Force and flying was his life, his family... in that respect, he was not unlike Müller. He was uncomfortable at times like this - when people want to share their family photos - but he gamely answered, "Yes, of course."
The first picture was of an attractive woman, he guessed in her early thirties, standing with three small children in front of their house, all smiling shyly at the camera. The second picture was obviously the wedding photo of Walter and Anna Stossel, and the last was of a boy about eight, tall for his age, with unruly blonde hair, obvious in even a black and white photo, bright mischievous eyes, and a wide gap-toothed smile. If he had to make a guess, this would be young Karl Stossel, Müller's namesake.
"Your sister has a handsome family, Karl. YOU have a handsome family." Savage admitted honestly. "We'll have to see if we can't find a camera, and send her one of you. I'm sure Camp Barton has your P.O.W. 'mug shot', but I think we can do better than that."
"Sergeant Douglas, you've made a lot of friends here, do you think you could find one with a camera?"
"Absolutely, sir." Sergeant Douglas responded, smiling. "I know just the man."
It was almost thirteen-thirty (one thirty) by the time Savage returned to his office. He had barely had time to pour a cup of coffee and glance at the reports on his desk when Major Cobb called to request time to go over the mission plan with him.
"Now's a good time, Joe. Come on over."
For the next hour, Savage listened, with only a few comments, as Cobb briefed him on the details for tomorrow's mission. "Sounds good, Joe." Savage said as he signed the Air Order authorizing the mission. "Brief the lead crews. Mission briefing at zero-five-hundred."
WEEK TWO, Friday, Zero Five Hundred
Twenty-one air crews, two hundred and ten men, filed into the briefing hut for the mission briefing. The 'lead' crew for each squadron already knew where they were going, but they joined in the groaning with all the other crews when Saarbrücken was announced as the target.
Saarbrücken wasn't deep into Germany, in fact, it was just over the French border, not that long a flight, but their fighters still couldn't cover them all the way, and the FWs had been as thick as fleas on the way in and out every time they'd bombed it before, and Saarbrücken had brutally accurate flak. It was rare that a plane, or crew, returned from Saarbrücken without having been mauled... if they returned at all. They had reason to groan.
Then the briefing was over, and the crews were ferried out to their planes to make the necessary final preparations, go through their checklists, and wait for the green flare, the 'go' signal.
Savage sat in his jeep with Stovall, waiting for the flare that would send him up, and thinking about the mission, going over the details in his mind. Once in the air, he would have to make instant decisions, there would be no time to hesitate.
"How do you handle the waiting, Harvey?" Savage suddenly asked. "You stay here and wait mission after mission... how do you do it? I couldn't stand it. For me, flying the mission is easier."
"Sometimes I wish I could go up. Then I remember my age and know I have no business up there. But still..."
"No. You're right. You're needed on the ground, Harvey, keeping this place running. I don't ever want to be put in the position of having to write one of those letters to your wife."
Then a green flare arched overhead, and he called out to his crew, "All right. Green for 'Go'."
"I always seem to be saying 'good luck', Frank." Stovall said as Savage climbed out of the jeep and grabbed his gear.
"Thanks, Harvey. A little 'good luck' never hurts; just don't start saying 'goodbye'. Hold down the fort. I'll see you when we get back."
Early that afternoon, the returning aircraft circled overhead waiting for their turn to land. It was obvious from the way they had straggled in that the mission had not gone well. Stovall counted the planes as they landed; the Piccadilly Lily first to land.
As Savage taxied to his designated handstand, parked and shut down the Lily's engines, Stovall drove up in his jeep and waited. Savage swung down out of the nose hatch, stretched, then quickly waved in an approaching ambulance to pick up his wounded - his co-pilot, Lieutenant Swanson, and his right waist gunner, Sergeant Peters. Neither were critically injured, but they would be both be out of action for some time. He would have to find replacements, he thought.
The ambulance drove away, and Savage started toward Stovall's waiting jeep. Then he suddenly stopped, shocked that he had just been more concerned about gaps in his crew roster than his men. He yanked his hat off and rubbed his hand over his face and head, 'God! Where did that come from?' he asked himself. 'Have I become that callous?'
"Welcome back, Frank." Stovall said as Savage removed his parachute harness and climbed into the passenger seat of the jeep.
"Thanks, Harvey." He said tiredly. "What was the final count?"
"I counted thirteen, sir." Stovall replied softly.
"Out of twenty-one?! ... Harvey, that's almost a forty percent loss!" he said shaking his head with disbelief. "Drive me over to Mission Debrief. I know where we lost three, but I want to know about the others... and whether it was it to flak, or to fighters."
Later that afternoon, Sergeant Ross drove Savage down to Wycombe Abbey to see General Crowe. This was the first time Ross had driven since he had burned his hands, and while they were still wrapped in bandages, and rather bulky, he had been cleared to drive.
It was good to be driving again, and Ross was all business as he drove. He could see from the General's face that he was in no mood for talking.
Ross made good time, and as Savage got out of the vehicle, "Get something to eat, Ernie. I may be a while."
"Yes, sir." he replied, then, "I'll be right here, General, when you're ready to go back."
Crowe was in a meeting when he arrived, and Savage paced impatiently around Crowe's outer office for over fifteen minutes before the meeting finally broke up. He had calmed down a little, but not enough, and as the last officer left Crowe's office, Savage stormed in.
Standing in front of Crowe's desk, Savage threw his hat onto a chair and gave vent to his frustrations, "Wiley, you've got to talk to the Old Man. He's got to give 'Spoil Sport' the green light! We can't afford to wait any longer, our losses are too great. You... "
"Calm down, General, and stop shouting at your superior officer." Crowe said patiently.
Savage took a deep breath and expelled it slowly. "I'm sorry, sir."
"Alright then. What's the problem, Frank?"
"Wiley, I lost eight planes today. EIGHT! That's an almost FORTY percent loss. Three were due to flak. But five, Wiley... FIVE!... were shot down by fighters.
You've got to get the Old Man to release 'Spoil Sport', Wiley... If I have another mission like today, I won't be able to put up a squadron, much less a Group."
"Aren't you getting some replacement aircraft next week."
"Wiley, I was under strength before today's mission. Those four will only replace half of what I lost today... and what do I do about the eighty men who were flying in those planes? What do I do about them?"
"The only thing you can do, Frank. Replace them."
"That's not funny, Wiley."
"I wasn't trying to be funny, Frank." Crowe said quietly. "We're in a war. Men die. It's a hard cold fact, but that's just the way it is."
Savage finally sat down. "I know, Wiley," he said, all the fight out of him now. He was tired. "I know."
Crowe had known Savage since he was a cadet at West Point, had watched him grow into the man he was today, and he knew how deeply he felt the loss of any of his men, but there wasn't anything he could do to lesson his feeling of having failed them; all he could do was try to make him see that the sacrifices today would buy them the time needed to get enough planes and men to do the job.
"Frank, you know as well as I do, 8th Air Force is fighting for its life right now. We don't have enough men or planes to really take the war to Germany. So we have to hold on... you have to hold on... until we start getting the numbers we need. It's coming, Frank; maybe not this year, but it will come ...we just have to make do and hold on a little longer."
"Wiley, if we keep losing men and planes like I did today, we won't make it to next year." Savage said tiredly rubbing a hand over his face.... "You don't have to look at their faces before each mission, knowing that by the end of the day many of them will be dead or a prisoner of war.
"You command one Group, General. I command three. I don't like the numbers any more than you."
"I'm sorry, Wiley, I didn't mean..."
"It's alright, Frank. I know you didn't... Look, I'll have another talk with Pritchard. He's been delaying the mission, waiting for the right moment when we have the best chance for success. We can't afford a major failure right now, Frank, not with Congress about to vote on military appropriations.
But maybe I can convince him were losing more planes, getting more bad press, waiting for the right timing, than if we just went ahead and flew the damn thing."
"Thanks, Wiley... and thanks for letting me blow off some steam. I guess I've been wound a little tight lately."
"I've noticed..." Crowe said concerned. "Look, Frank, there's nothing in the works for the next few days, I'd like you take a couple of days leave. Go up to London... relax, catch a show, get a good meal...forget about the war for a little while."
"Thanks, Wiley, but I can't get away right now; I've got too much to do."
"It wasn't a suggestion, General. I want you off the base by this evening, and you're not to come back until Sunday afternoon. Is that clear?"
"Yes, sir." Savage said reluctantly and got up to leave. "Oh, before I forget... Müller can have visitors now and is still willing to give a statement, but you'd better move quickly, he's scheduled to be transferred to St. Hugh's sometime early next week."
"OK. I'll set something up and let you know Monday... Have a good time in London, Frank, and try to get some rest."
"Yes, sir." Savage replied, but without much enthusiasm.
WEEK Three, Monday, Zero Six Hundred
By the time Savage had returned to the base Friday afternoon, Crowe's office had already arranged a room for him at the Embassy Club. Sergeant Ross drove him up to London, with instructions to return Sunday afternoon. Over the next two days, Savage slept late, wandered the city, lunched at Claridge's, caught up on his reading, and attended a Vera Lynn performance at the Savoy. Then, Sunday afternoon, as arranged, he found Sergeant Ross waiting to take him back to the base. Despite his every intention not to, Savage had had a good time. He felt rested and more like himself than he had in a long time.
As usual Harvey Stovall was already in the office making a fresh pot of coffee when Savage arrived. "How was London, General?"
"It was relaxing, Harvey, and quiet... no air raids. The Germans must have taken the weekend off, too."
"I'm glad... You were overdue, Frank. You haven't taken any time off since you took command. I'm surprised General Crowe waited this long to force the issue."
"OK, OK. I get the message, 'all work and no play'..."
Savage poured himself a cup of coffee, sat down behind his desk. As he started to go through his in-basket, Stovall placed a folder in front of him. "What's this, Harvey?"
"Joe Cobb went over the records of the new replacements, as you requested, and made recommendations for squadron assignments and crew rosters.
He also reviewed our currently unassigned personnel and made some recommendations to fill the gaps in our existing crews and for those new birds coming in. Their crews are on the way, but they'll need some experienced people on their rosters as well."
Savage went over Cobb's recommendations, nodding occasionally as he read. When he got to the replacements for the Piccadilly Lily's crew, he asked, "He's recommending two of the new replacements for the Lily; Lieutenant Baker as co-pilot... and Sergeant Matthews for waist gunner. Do you have their 66-1's?"
"They're in your basket. I thought you'd want to look at them... Baker has prior civilian flying experience and graduated top of his pilot training class. Matthews is a transfer from the 91st and has five missions and two FWs to his credit. They should both be good additions for the Lily."
"OK. Assign them to the Lily's crew and cut orders for the rest according to Cobb's recommendations... What else?"
"Not much at the moment, sir. Just what's on your desk and in your basket. The Morning Report will be ready shortly and... Oh, yes..." Stovall said pulling a report out from under the pile on Savage's desk and placing it on top. "Sergeant Nero brought over a report on aircraft status Saturday afternoon. All but one of the damaged aircraft are ready to go... including the Lily, and he worked in their scheduled maintenance with the repairs. He's also set up a schedule to go over the new planes when they come in. Replacement aircraft usually come with some spare parts, so with a little luck, he said he might be able to fix those last two 'hangar queens', too... but not to hold him to it."
"Lastly," Stovall finished, "He says he's found a source for more scrap metal, and once the new birds are checked out, he'll start on the additional armor plating for the Group.
Savage had skimmed through the report as Stovall was speaking, and when he had finished, "I don't know what we did to deserve Nero, Harvey, but pray we never lose him. I don't even want to think about what would happen to this Group without him. He and his maintenance crews are the only reason we can put anything in the air... But don't let him know I said so, his head is big enough as it is." Then he initialed the report and placed it in his out-basket.
"Have I got any appointments this morning?"
"Not at the moment, sir."
"Good. Let's keep it that way for a few hours... unless it's something that can't wait. I need to get out some reports and make a few calls."
By zero nine hundred, Savage had cleared his desk. He was going over the Morning Report with Major Stovall when General Crowe called.
"Good morning, Frank. How was your weekend?"
"Relaxing, Wiley, and as much as I hate to admit it, I guess I needed it."
"Good. Don't make me have to make it an order next time."
"Frank... the reason I called. If it is acceptable to Doctor Kaiser, I'd like to bring some people down to meet with Sergeant Müller tomorrow morning at ten hundred to take his statement. Beside's myself, there will be two officers: one from the British Office of the Judge Advocate General and one from the Army JAG's new War Crimes Division. They'll also be bringing a stenographer. Can you make the arrangements?"
"Yes, sir. I'll set it up with Doc Kaiser and Müller. It shouldn't be a problem."
"Also," Crowe continued, "as you and Sergeant Douglas already know what's going on, I'd like you both to attend and witness his statement. Can you do that?"
Savage paused for a moment, then said, "Wiley, I know it's only been a couple of days, but have you... "
"... had a chance to talk to General Pritchard?" he finished for him. "No. Not yet, Frank, but I have a meeting with him this afternoon; I'll bring it up then. I'll try to have an answer for you when I come down tomorrow."
"Thanks, Wiley. I hope you can convince him. I'll notify your office when the arrangements have been made and meet you at the hospital tomorrow morning."
WEEK THREE, Tuesday, Zero Nine Thirty
Expecting the JAG's visit with Müller to take several hours - in his experience with the Judge Advocate General's Office, nothing was accomplished in less than half a day - General Savage had come in earlier than usual to clear his desk before going over to the hospital.
He had made the necessary arrangements with Doc Kaiser the afternoon before, and had requested an orderly on the door so they wouldn't be disturbed. If asked, Kaiser was to say that Müller's visitors were doctors from St. Hughes for a follow-up examination prior to his transfer to their hospital.
Checking the time - a quarter to ten - Savage finished his coffee, and went out to Stovall's desk. When the air had cleared after his confrontation with Wiley Crowe about the letter to Müller's sister, he had finally told Stovall everything and had kept him in the loop ever since.
"Harvey, I'm going to head over to the hospital now. It's time for Müller's meeting with the War Crimes people. Keep the rest of the day clear. This will probably drag on for several hours," then knowing Stovall was an inveterate attorney in civilian life, he added a little dig, "You know how lawyers are."
"I don't know, General.' Stovall replied, seeming not to notice Savage's sarcasm. "You may be a little optimistic on the time. I've known some depositions to take all day, and a few, several days. It'll depend on the questions asked and how much Sergeant Müller saw."
"You're kidding!" Savage said alarmed. He was prepared for three or four hours, but several days! "I can't waste..." then Savage saw the smug grin on Stovall's face and knew he was being had.
"Yes, I am kidding." Harvey said laughing. "You should never cast aspersions on a person's livelihood, General."
"OK, Major. I guess I asked for that one."
Starting for the door, he said, "Hold down the fort, Harvey, till I get back. General Crowe said there was nothing planned... but if an Field Order does come down, have Major Cobb start working it.
Savage and Doc Kaiser were waiting outside when General Crowe's party arrived. Both saluted as Crowe approached, "Good morning, General."
"General Savage, Doctor Kaiser." Crowe replied, then motioning to the others with him to draw near, "This is Major Heston from the Army JAG Office, and his British counterpart, Major Pigot-Smith."
"Gentlemen." he said, as he returned their salutes.
"Pleased to meet you, sir." Major Heston said, then indicating an Army Corporal standing off to the side carrying a small case, "and this is Corporal Wagner, General. She will record everything said during our interrogation of Müller, and if there is any problem with the language, she speaks fluent German, as do we."
"Corporal." Savage said, acknowledging Wagner.
Then turning his attention back to Heston, "What do you mean 'interrogation', Major? It was my understanding," he said looking pointedly over at General Crowe and then back, "that you were here to take down a 'statement' freely given by SERGEANT Müller of events he had witnessed in Germany."
"Yes, sir. 'Interrogation' may have been a poor choice of words. Perhaps we could go inside, and I can explain."
"Now," Savage asked, once they were all settled in Doc Kaiser's office. "What's this about an interrogation?"
"Sir," Major Heston began, taking the lead, "Let me repeat that 'interrogation' was a poor choice of words on my part."
"We... the Allied governments... are getting a late start on this 'war crimes' business and are just catching up. There have been numerous reports from inside Germany and the occupied countries about the persecution of Jews, and the wide-spread murder of civilians, even rumors of extermination camps, but these have mostly been from victims or their families, or resistance fighters, and mostly unsubstantiated. Sergeant Müller, to my knowledge, is the first German soldier who has witnessed these things first hand and is willing to talk to us about it, which makes what he has to say extremely important."
"I understand that, Major, and Sergeant Müller is freely willing to talk to you."
"Yes, sir." Major Pigot-Smith put in, "But in our experience, General, we often find a witness may exaggerate or embellish his testimony... for various reasons... because he thinks it's what we want to hear or because he has an ulterior motive,... revenge for some hurt, for example. In some cases, sir, the passage of time has affected the memory, and the witness is uncertain of what he actually saw.
For these reasons, we may need to ask the same or similar questions repeatedly to insure the answers are consistent, factual and true; not something he heard or was told about, but what he actually saw."
"In this respect," Major Heston picked up. 'A deposition may seem much like an interrogation, but it's the best way to ensure the testimony he gives will hold up in any post-war trial. That's the reason Corporal Wagner is here. She will record our questions and his answers, word-for-word, on her stenotype machine so there can be no confusion or doubt later.
We do recognize that Müller's participation today is entirely voluntary, sir. General Crowe has briefed us on the accident that brought him here as well as his behavior since he's been here, and everything in his Prisoner of War File indicates he is an honest and honorable individual and harbors no loyalty to the Nazi cause."
"I hope this puts your concerns at rest, sir." Heston finished. "I can assure you we will do nothing to cause him to regret his decision to speak with us."
"Yes. Alright. I suppose I can see the necessity for your methods."
Doc Kaiser had been listening to Major Heston's explanation, and while it eased Savage's concerns, it created a few for him. "If I may interrupt, General. This deposition process sounds like it could go on for several hours. It's only been just over a week since Sergeant Müller's surgery, and while his recovery has been remarkable, he still tires easily and should not be exposed to any undue stress that could set back his recovery."
"I'm sure none of you would want to do anything to set him back, so I think it would be advisable for me attend your meeting and monitor Müller's condition. But know that if I see him becoming tired or distressed, I may call a halt to the proceedings."
"Now wait a minute, Doctor, we can't just stop..." Heston started.
Before Heston could go on, Crowe shut him down. "Sorry, Major, that's the way it will have to be. Doctor Kaiser is Chief Medical Officer on this base. His word is final in all things medical... Is that understood?"
"Yes, sir." Heston responded, but clearly not happy.
"I'll only step in if it's necessary," Kaiser said. "and then all that may be needed is a short break..."
"A hospital room was not practical for your meeting, Gentlemen, so I've had our conference room prepared. Sergeant Douglas should have already taken Müller there. So if you'd all like to go ahead, I'll clear my schedule for the day and join you there in a few minutes. It's just down the hall to your right."
As the group filed out, Savage stayed behind, "Thanks, Doc. This wasn't exactly what I expected. I was beginning to get a little worried about how Müller will handle this."
"You're welcome, General. So was I... Now, if you'll leave me to make my arrangements, I'll follow in a few minutes."
Müller's deposition, with a just a short break for lunch, had taken most of the day, concluding a little after seventeen hundred (five o'clock) that evening. Müller had held up better than Kaiser expected, and had seemed totally unruffled by the repeated questioning. The former Sergeant-Major had had an excellent memory, and although it had clearly bothered him to speak about it, the information he had given was factual, detailed and explicit. And it had been very disturbing to everyone in the room, especially Corporal Wagner who had had to pause occasionally to wipe her eyes.
When the meeting ended, Major Heston thanked Müller for his testimony, then cautioned him against speaking with anyone about what he had seen or they had discussed, and assured him they would keep his participation confidential, although Müller didn't seem at all concerned.
The room began to empty out. Sergeant Douglas left first, wheeling Müller in his chair back to their room. Next was Doc Kaiser, and then Corporal Wagner with her equipment. Generals Crowe and Savage were standing by the door talking, when Major Pigot-Smith asked, "General Crowe, General Savage. May we speak with you for a moment?"
"Certainly." replied General Crowe, returning to the table where the JAG officers were organizing their notes.
"General, I'm sure you recognize the significance of Sergeant Müller's testimony today." Pigot-Smith began. "It's extremely damning."
"Yes, it is. What's your point?"
"By speaking to us, Sergeant Müller has put himself at great risk."
"He is well aware of that, Major." Savage said. "I discussed the risks with him before he agreed to talk to you. He was not concerned about the risk. He wanted to speak out about what he had seen because, he said, in Germany no one else would. He felt he would be betraying his country if he didn't. I have come to know Sergeant Müller as a man with strong principles."
"Yes, I agree." replied Heston. "When General Crowe first approached us about our interest in information about possible war crimes, I reviewed Müller's POW File to see what kind of man he was. After he was captured, he consistently refused to give any information to his interrogators other than his name, rank and serial number. Yet his file indicated he was a cooperative prisoner, not a troublemaker, and a good influence on the young firebrands. Then there was the accident where he saved Sergeant Douglas's life, and now according to General Crowe, he wanted to give evidence of war crimes. And his testimony today, well... "
Interrupting Heston, Major Pigot-Smith unexpectedly asked, "General Crowe, is Sergeant Müller to be returned to Camp Barton after he is released from St. Hugh's?"
"Yes, I believe that is expected, and I've heard nothing to the contrary."
"We don't believe this would be wise, sir. As far as we're concerned, what Müller did today was heroic, but his fellow Germans would see it quite differently."
Explaining, Pigot-Smith said, "You may not be aware, sir, it's not generally known, but since we began housing Prisoners of War on British soil, there have been numerous incidents in the Camps where German POWs have been beaten, and even killed, by fellow prisoners because they spoke out against Nazism, or talked during an interrogation, or committed some other offense that caused them to be considered traitors.
By his statements today, should they become known, Sergeant Müller will have condemned himself in the eyes of his fellow Germans. We will do everything we can to keep this under wraps, but there's always the chance the information will leak."
In short, General," Heston concluded for him, "England is no longer a safe place for Sergeant Müller, and it is our intention to recommend to our superiors that he be sent to a POW Camp in Canada or the United States."
"I think that's probably a good idea, Major, but why are you telling this to us?" asked Crowe. "He's a British prisoner. That's not our decision to make."
"If you'll forgive me, sir; I don't believe that's entirely true." replied Pigot-Smith. "He may be our prisoner, as you say, but you brought him to us, so I think you could have some say in the matter. And, because of his cooperation, so should Sergeant Muller. At least, that will be our recommendation."
With a smile and a nod to General Crowe, Pigot-Smith turned to Savage, and asked straight-faced, "Would you have any recommendation, General Savage; I believe you know him best? Would you know of some place he would like to be sent? Someplace small and out of the way?"
Savage was beginning to smell a setup, and seeing the grin on Wiley Crowe's face, he was sure of it, but decided to play along. "There is a small camp near Gretna, Nebraska, I've recently heard about. 'Weeping Water', I believe it's called. I think he might like it there. Would that do?"
"I think that would do quite nicely, sir. I'm certain we can get that approved, especially with General Crowe's recommendation." replied Major Pigot-Smith, and both he and Heston were unabashedly smiling.
Then Heston and Pigot-Smith retrieved their briefcases from the table, "I think that about finishes our business here, General Crowe." said Pigot-Smith. "We will notify you when all the arrangements have been made, and thank you very much for your assistance in this matter."
After they had gone, Savage gave Crowe a withering look. "Wiley..."
"What?! You're not the only one who likes to do a good deed occasionally, you know. And they're right; it's not safe for him in England any more. So why not Nebraska?"
"You had this already arranged! Why didn't you tell me?"
"When I first approached the JAG's War crimes Division to see if they would be interested in Müller's information - and they were - Major Heston explained the risks involved and that if Müller spoke to them, he would probably have to be moved to a POW Camp out of England.
I remembered the Weeping Water Camp from the Stossel's background investigation. I explained to Heston about Müller's sister, Gretna, and the nearby POW Camp, and asked about the possibility of moving him there.
He didn't know anything about Müller then, and wasn't enthusiastic about making life easier for 'Kraut' POW. But after I explained a number of things, and he found out more about him, he began to warm to the idea. He finally took it up his chain for approval, and got it... but it depended on the value of Müller's information... and that would only be decided after he gave it. I saw no point in telling you before I knew it was a done deal."
"Apparently, his information was good enough." Crowe continued. "But I only got the nod from Pigot-Smith just before he asked for your recommendation."
"Wiley, you never cease to amaze me!"
"That's as it should be, General...," Crowe stated rather smugly, then laughed, "Come on, Frank. Let's go back to your office. I'll tell you about my meeting with the Old Man, and you can pour me a drink from that bottle you keep in your bottom drawer...after sitting through this all day, I need one... maybe two."
"So what did he say," Savage asked, his hopes up as he poured himself and Crowe a healthy two fingers of bourbon. They were alone in the office now. Harvey Stovall had waited until Savage's return to brief him on the day's events, and then had left.
"He isn't ready to commit, yet." Crowe admitted, and Savages hopes plunged. "BUT, I think he's going to go for it. You're not the only Group Commander complaining, Frank. He's under a lot of pressure, concerned about the possible bad press, and the resulting impact on Air Force appropriations, if 'Spoil Sport' is a failure, but I think he realizes he can't sit on the fence forever. He wants to talk to me again after he's had a chance to sleep on it; said he'd have a definite answer for me Friday."
"Friday! Wiley, I can lose a lot of men and planes, between now and Friday."
"But you won't. There's nothing brewing right now, I've already told you that, and even if there was, you don't have enough planes to put up. You have those replacement aircraft due in tomorrow, and those still being repaired from your last mission. It'd be at least Friday before you'll be up to strength again and ready for a Field Order. Just be patient a few days more."
"Alright, Wiley." He said, downing the remained of his drink. "Since I don't have a choice, I guess I'll have to be patient."
"Good! Now, it's been a long day. Why don't we chase these drinks with some dinner. I've heard the 'Star and Bottle' in Archbury serves good food, even with rationing."
WEEK THREE, Wednesday, Zero Eight Hundred
After a brief stop at his office to see what was on his desk and grab a cup of coffee, Savage headed over to the hospital to see Müller. On the way to his room, he met Sergeant Douglas in the hall going in the same direction.
"Good Morning, Sergeant." Then noticing something different about the man, "What happened to your cast?"
"Morning, sir." Douglas replied, then holding out his left arm, "Doctor Kaiser just removed it, General. Said it was as good as new. Feels a bit funny though, and itches, but I'm glad to be rid of the bloody thing."
"General, do you mind if I ask a question, sir?"
"No, go ahead."
"What will happen to Karl... I mean, Sergeant Müller, now, sir? After what he told those officers yesterday... In my last Camp, a prisoner was beaten to death because he criticized Hitler, just 'criticized' him. If anyone found out what he told... "
"Yes, I know. We don't know for sure where he'll be sent, but he won't be going back to Camp Barton. The risk would be too great."
"I'm sorry he won't be coming back to Camp with me... we've become rather used to each other, but I'm glad he'll be sent somewhere safe. He's really not a bad bloke."
They had reached the room, and Douglas opened the door for Savage, then followed him in. Müller was sitting at the table, reading, and stood as Savage entered.
"Sit down, Sergeant. I just wanted to see how you were feeling today. Are you still OK with yesterday's events? No regrets?"
"No, sir. No regrets. I feel relieved to have been able to talk about it. I am more at peace with myself than I have been for a long time. Thank you for making this possible."
"I'm glad, but ... I have some news that you may or may not like."
"You remember, we discussed the risks you would be taking if you made a statement. Well, after hearing what you had to say yesterday, the JAG people don't believe it would be safe for you to return to Camp Barton... or to any Camp in England. They are recommending that after you're released from St. Hugh's, you be sent to a Camp in Canada, or the States."
"Canada, or the United States." Müller repeated. "I am sorry not to return to Camp Barton; I have a few friends there." he said looking over at Douglas for a moment. "But I think I would like to go to the United States... or Canada. Either would be closer to Nebraska, would it not?"
"We don't know exactly where you'll be sent, or when. I'll let you know as soon as I find out."
Savage reached into his jacket pocket and retrieving an envelope, handed it to Müller. "Oh, and this came for you last evening. It's looks like another letter from your sister... "
Savage started to leave, then added, Sergeant, when you reply to her, be sure not to mention anything about your meeting yesterday... It's too risky, and I'm sure it's nothing she would want to hear about anyway."
It had been a slow day so far, no traffic all morning, and Sergeant Stevens on duty at the Control Tower stepped outside to lean on the railing and gaze out over the flight line. Just beyond the runways, at the edge of the field on all sides were farms. He could see men and women working in the fields, and it reminded him of home. It was as if for a moment there was no war... but the moment didn't last as a radio call broke into his reverie, and he heard a feminine voice say,
"Ferry Charlie Bravo to Archbury Tower. Ferry Charlie Bravo to Archbury Tower. How do you read? Over."
"Archbury to Charlie Bravo. I read you five-by-five. What is your traffic? Over."
"Archbury we are a ferry flight of four B-17's approaching your station. We are approximately five minutes North of the field and request landing instructions. Over."
"Charlie Bravo, You are cleared for a straight in approach on runway two-five-zero. I repeat, you are cleared for a straight in approach on runway two-five-zero. Be advised wind is," quickly checking the direction of the wind sock, "wind is from the South. "
"Roger, Archbury. Wind is from the South. Runway two-five-zero."
"After you land, Charlie Bravo, follow the jeep to your parking area. Archbury, Out."
"Roger, Archbury. Thank you. Charlie Bravo Out."
Stevens immediately picked up the phone, "Get me the Flight Line."
"Flight Line, this is the Tower. Your replacement Seventeen's are on approach. Send a jeep out to lead them in, and notify Sergeant Nero... What? ... Yes, I think it's the same bunch as last time."
As soon as he had hung up, Stevens picked up the receiver again, "Get me the Air Exec."
"Major Cobb, this is Sergeant Stevens in the Tower. Your replacement aircraft are on approach; should be landing in about five minutes... yes, sir, Sergeant Nero has been notified... Yes, sir... Thank you, sir."
Savage had just left the hospital and was crossing over to his office, when he saw Joe Cobb come running out and head for his jeep.
"What's the rush, Major?"
"Our replacement aircraft are on the way in, General. They're about five minutes out."
Savage quickly altered course and ran for the jeep, jumping in the passenger seat. "Let's go."
They got to the parking ramp just as the first of the four B-17's taxied to its hardstand and cut its engines. As the waiting ground crew chocked the tires, the nose hatch opened and a young woman in flight coveralls swung down, quickly followed by a crew member... also a woman. The sight was the same as the three other B-17s taxied in and shut down, and their female crews carrying their flight gear and parachutes converged upon the first group.
These were WASPs, Women Airforce Service Pilots - women pilots who ferried combat aircraft across the Atlantic to England to free up male pilots to fight. They routinely flew unarmed aircraft - fighters, bombers, single-engine, multi-engine - from the factory to a point of departure in New England, on to Gander, Newfoundland, then across the Atlantic to RAF Prestwick, Scotland, the receiving base for ferried aircraft. There they rested while their planes were checked out and refueled, then flew on to the operational unit. Each plane was crewed by a pilot, and a navigation certified co-pilot.
These WASPs were not unknown to the men of the 918th. This was their fourth visit bringing replacement aircraft, and they were received like the professionals they were.
The crews of the other three B-17s threw their gear into the back of a waiting crew truck. The lead pilot, Elizabeth Jones, 'Jonesy', gave her gear to her co-pilot who also climbed into the back of the truck with the others, then Jonesy told the driver to go on.
Savage, already heading in her direction, joined her as the crew truck drove by. "Welcome back, Miss Jones. You and your aircraft are a welcome sight. Uneventful flight, I hope."
"Nice to see you again, General Savage. No problems with the flight, but I'm afraid we have a longer than usual list of Form 1 discrepancies for Sergeant Nero. They're rushing these birds off the production line awfully fast these days, sir, and occasionally their inspection process misses a few things."
"No 'red X's'." On the AAF Form 1, for each discrepancy noted there was a separate line with a little box. A 'red x' in any of those boxes indicated the aircraft was not airworthy and would be grounded.
"No, sir. They're all airworthy. Just minor stuff, sloppy work for the most part. Nothing that would ground any of them."
Savage motioned to Major Cobb, who had been standing by. "Miss Jones, I believe you know my Air Exec, Major Cobb. He's arranged quarters for you and your people."
Turning to Cobb, Jonesy said, "Hi, Joe... 'Air Exec'! Well, Congratulations!"
"Thanks, Jonesy. Everything's ready for you. You'll be billeted in the Visitors Quarters again, and I've arranged a couple of jeeps for you so you can get around. And," he said pulling an envelope from his jacket, "here are base passes for you and your crews while you're here. Just fill in the names." Cobb paused for a moment, then said, "I've also included some ration books for you and your crews, since you're not technically military personnel."
"Thanks, Joe. Looks like you've thought of everything." She was grateful for Joe's thoughtfulness, but her smile faded for a moment at the mention of not being 'military'. WASPs had not been given military status, but hired as civil service personnel, and did not receive military recognition or benefits, unlike their male counterparts, and this was a very sore subject with all WASPs.
"Now that that's taken care of, Miss Jones," Savage said, quickly changing the subject. "I believe you have some documents for me?"
Jonesy reached down into a pocket in the lower leg of her flight coveralls and pulled out a thick sealed envelope and a few forms, and handed them to Savage. "There all here, sir, as well as copies of the Form 1's; I have the originals for Sergeant Nero. I assume you'll want to have them cleared before you sign and accept delivery."
"You assume correctly." Savage said glancing through the Form 1's. "Sergeant Nero will go over these this afternoon, and let me know if there are any problems, but I don't expect any. Will ten hundred tomorrow morning work for you to go through the acceptance formalities?"
"That will be fine, General."
"Good... Will we see you ladies at the Club this evening?"
"You'll probably see some of us, sir, but" looking at Sergeant Nero waiting over by a maintenance truck. "I'm afraid I have a prior engagement."
Savage followed her gaze and noticed Sergeant Nero for the first time, and did a double take as he took a closer look. Nero was combed and shaved, wearing a clean fresh uniform, and his ever-present cigar was missing. He'd never seen him look so sharp; he looked like an ad for Army recruiting.
"Ah, yes." he said smiling. "Well, don't let me keep you, Miss Jones. I'm sure Sergeant Nero is anxious to discuss those discrepancies and the spares you've brought."
Savage watched as Jonesy walked over to greet Nero. "I had forgotten she and Nero had become friends. They certainly make an unlikely pair."
"Yes, sir, they do." Cobb replied, shaking his head. "Nero's a confirmed bachelor, and while I wouldn't say he was a misogynist, he doesn't miss the mark by much. And Jonesy's engaged to a P-47 pilot with 9th Air Force in Africa, so it's nothing romantic. I don't know what got them together, but they're almost inseparable whenever she's here."
Nero and Jonesy WERE an odd pair... a thirty-something short stout Italian and a willowy red-headed twenty-three year old girl of Irish descent. But they were just friends who enjoyed each other's company. Their relationship had begun a little fractious - in Nero's mind, women had no business flying airplanes - but after getting to know her, he had grudgingly come to give her the respect she deserved. What totally won him over, however, was when he discovered they were both from 'The Burg', a small close-knit, multi-cultural neighborhood in South Trenton, New Jersey. After that, whenever Jonesy made a delivery, Nero was on his best behavior... and God help any jerk that tried to take liberties.
"Jonesy! I was hoping you'd be with this batch. What'd you bring me?"
"It's nice to see you, too, Nero!"
"Awww, you know what I mean."
"I know, Nero. But a girl likes to be appreciated for herself, sometimes, not what spare parts she's carrying." she said giving him a hug.
"You know there's no one else but you." Nero said jokingly and somewhat embarrassed by the public hug.
"Yah, right. Me and my magnetos, regulators, fuel pumps, and bombsights." she laughed.
"Come on, Nero." she said grabbing his arm and pulling him toward the Maintenance Hangar. "I've got a list of Form 1 write-ups that you need to clear before the General will sign off on these aircraft tomorrow. So let's get to it."
WEEK THREE, Thursday, Ten Hundred
Savage was working on his third cup of coffee when Stovall called over the intercom, "Miss Jones is here, General."
"Right on time, as usual. Send her in, Harvey."
"Good morning, General." Jonesy said as she entered his office.
Savage noted that she looked tired and had dark circles under her eyes. "You didn't get much sleep last night. I heard you and Nero and his boys were working most of the night to clear those discrepancies. That didn't have to be done by this morning, you know. We could have put off the paperwork for a day or two."
"I wish." Jonesy said tiredly. "I'm afraid we have to get it done today, sir. My girls and I will be on a plane home tomorrow."
"So soon? You usually stay for a few days to rest up before heading back."
"Not this time, I'm afraid. As I said, General, the factories are really turning out the planes. Boeing's Seattle plant is turning out 16 B-17s a day, and Ford's Willow Run plant is turning out 20 B-24s ... and that's just those plants, and just bombers. There are more airplanes waiting to be ferried than there are pilots to fly them. We'll get home tomorrow night, have a day to rest up, then turn around and head back."
"Then I guess we'd better get to it, and get the signing out of the way, so you can get some rest."
It was noon before Savage had reviewed and signed the necessary documents, in triplicate, and formally accepted delivery of the four B-17s. Technically, the aircraft had been accepted several times along the way - by the AAF Inspector-in-Charge on the Production Line, the Contractor's Inspector, the AAF Resident Representative at the Factory, and the Ferry Pilot - but the 'final acceptance' was at the operational unit... where the rubber literally hit the runway.
Jonesy separated a copy for Savage and sealed the rest in an envelope and stuck it in the leg pocket of her coveralls, then she stood, stretched, and extending her hand to Savage, "I think that concludes our business, General. Sorry to be leaving so soon, but duty calls, as they say. My people and I will leave the base this afternoon and spend the night in London. Hotel rooms have already been arranged."
Savage took her extended hand and shook it. "We'll arrange a crew truck to take you up." he said. "You'll never get all your people and gear in those two jeeps. Just let Major Stovall know when you're ready to leave and what hotel you'll be staying at."
"Thank you, General. That would be very helpful."
Savage walked with her to the door, "I don't know that I've ever said this, Miss Jones, but you WASPs are doing an essential job, under difficult circumstances, and I hope someday you'll be recognized for your accomplishments. Good luck, and have a safe journey home."
"Thank you, General. We don't often hear that, and it is appreciated."
Savage watched as she left the office and climbed into a waiting jeep with Nero at the wheel. As they drove away, he shook his head again, then said to Stovall, "Harvey, arrange a crew truck to take Miss Jones and her WASPs up to London this afternoon. She'll let you know when they're ready to leave."
"... and see if you can get an update on when those new crews will arrive. We should be getting a Field Order any day now, and I'd like to have some crews for those new planes."
"Right away, sir."
It was well past time for lunch, and Savage, his stomach rumbling, was just finishing up a report to Wing when Stovall buzzed the intercom, "General Crowe is on the phone, General."
Without any of the usual pleasantries, Crowe got right to the point. "Frank, how many planes can you put up by Monday?"
"I don't know, Wiley. With the four we just got, maybe eighteen or nineteen."
"That's not good enough."
"Why? What's going on?"
"Pritchard's finally got off the fence, Frank. 'Spoil Sport' is back on... for Monday."
"Monday? That doesn't give us much time to prepare and coordinate with the other Groups."
"Alright! Alright! Let me think. A lot of needed spares came in with those replacements. I'll have to check with Nero, but he can probably get another two, maybe three, operational by then. That'll give me twenty-one or twenty-two."
"Finding the crews to fly them, however, is another story. The crews for the birds we just got aren't due to land for another week, and even if we had them, I wouldn't send green crews right off the boat on something like this."
"I'll have to find them from the people I have. Several of my co-pilots are ready to move up," he was thinking out loud now, "and I can backfill them with that last batch of replacements ... they've at least got a couple of missions under their belt... "
"Look, Wiley. Let me see what I can come up with, and I'll get back to you."
"Ok, Frank. But make it fast. There'll be a briefing at Bushy Park Saturday; you'll get the time and place tomorrow morning... If you can't come up with the right numbers, Frank, the 918th is out. The Old Man'll find another Group to lead."
"You're sure it's the real thing this time, Wiley? He's not going to change his mind again?"
"It's the real thing, Frank. Now get on it."
After Crowe hung up, Savage called Stovall, "Harvey, find Nero and tell him to come to my office as soon as he can. Then call Major Cobb, and have him to bring all the maps and mission plans for 'Spoil Sport'. When you've done that, come in here and bring all the crew rosters. We've got work to do."
"Does that mean 'Spoil Sport' is back on?" Stovall asked.
"It's on. Now get going."
While Stovall was making his calls, Savage quickly walked over to the hospital to see Doc Kaiser. Finding him in his office, Savage got straight to it. "How many patients are due to be released in the next couple of days, Doc? I've got an important mission coming up, and I need crews."
As Savage had expected, Kaiser immediately went on the defensive, "Now wait a minute, General. You can't just take wounded men out of a hospital bed and send them right back..."
"I'm not talking about taking wounded men out of their beds, Doc. I asked how many men you plan to release in the next few days. If any of them are ready to return to full duty, then I need 'em. Can you get me a list?"
"It's that important?"
"It's that important."
"Alright, General. I'll see what I can do. When do you need it?"
"As soon as you can get to me. I'll be in my office."
"Yes, sir... oh, and General?"
"Yes, what is it?"
"I just got word, sir. Sergeant Müller will be transferred to St. Hugh's tomorrow morning."
"Ok, Thanks, Doc... Get that list to me as soon as you can."
Stovall was waiting with the crew rosters when Savage got back. Cobb, then Nero, showed up a few minutes later. With a little pressure from Savage, Nero reluctantly agreed he could have another four planes operational before Monday morning, bringing the Group total to twenty-two.
For the next several hours Savage, Stovall and Cobb played with the crew rosters. Kaiser sent over the names of seven men fit to return to duty - four gunners, two navigators and a bombardier, and Stovall came up with two co-pilots and a gunner that could be recalled from local leave. By the end of the day they had managed to come up with twenty-two crews, made up of a mixture of green and experienced personnel. It would have to be good enough; it was the best they could do. Now it was up to Nero. But Savage had confidence in his Line Chief. If it could be done, Nero would do it.
It was late afternoon when Savage called Crowe's office at Pinetree. "I will have twenty-two B-17s crewed and ready to go Monday morning, Wiley."
"I knew you could do it, Frank. I'll call you tomorrow with the time for the briefing. Have a good night."
WEEK THREE, Friday, Mid-Morning
Savage was studying the flight plan for Hannover when his intercom buzzed, "General. Sergeant Müller is here."
He had forgotten, Müller was to leave for St. Hugh's today. "Send him in, Harvey." he said and turned the maps he had been studying face down on the desk.
Müller entered and stood before Savage's desk at attention and saluted. As he returned the salute, Savage noted that this was the first time he'd seen Müller in anything but a robe and hospital pajamas since the accident. Now he was wearing his POW uniform. It was very similar to the British Army battle dress uniform, only darker with the letters 'PW' painted on the back of the jacket and down the trouser leg. Even in the uniform of a prisoner, Müller carried himself with the pride of a senior NCO and professional soldier.
"I will not keep you, Herr General. I see you are preparing for an important mission... "
Alarmed, Savage asked, "How did you... ?"
"The 'look', sir." he said matter-of-factly. "When you were our prisoner, you had the look of a man who HAD to escape, not just because you didn't want to be a prisoner, but because you had something important you had to do. I see that same look now."
"You're very perceptive, Sergeant." Savage said as he came around from behind the desk to face Müller.
"Sergeant Douglas is driving me up to St. Hugh's before he reports back to Camp. I wanted to say 'good-bye' before I left, and thank you for all you have done for me. I can never repay your kindness, or that of the people here. I will never forget."
"Take care of yourself, Sergeant." Savage said and extended his hand. "Maybe we'll meet again sometime."
Müller accepted the offered hand and they shook. "Lebt Wohl (Farewell), Herr General."
Müller saluted again, then turned and left the office. Savage followed him outside where he found Sergeant Douglas waiting by a jeep.
"Think you can get used to doing things the British way again, Sergeant Douglas?" he asked with a smile.
"Yes, sir. Although, I must say, my stay here has been very... 'interesting'."
"Good. Well, have a safe trip, and watch out for flat tires." Savage said with a grin. "We don't want a repeat of what happened last time."
Straight-faced, Douglas straightened his cap, and in his best parade ground stance, came to attention with a stamp of his boots, rendered a crisp quivering salute, and bellowed, "SAH! No, SAH! Thank You, SAH!"
As the jeep drove away and Savage re-entered the building, he thought to himself, 'in another time, under different circumstances, Müller and I could have been friends...'
"But this is here and now," he said aloud, "and I have a mission to prepare for."
As he passed Stovall's desk, Harvey said, "Sergeant Müller left something for you, General." and he handed Müller's cherished flask to him. "He said he wouldn't be needing it any longer, and wanted you to have it ... for luck, he said."
"Thanks, Harvey" he said as he continued into his office. He looked at the flask for a moment, then smiled, and set it on the window sill behind his desk where he could see it.
WEEK THREE, Saturday, St. Hugh's Hospital
Müller had been met by Doctor Hays when he arrived at St. Hugh's the previous afternoon, and after saying his farewells to his friend, Bill Douglas, had followed him into his new temporary 'home'.
He was settled in a room with another patient; the area divided by privacy screens. Once back in hospital bathrobe and pajamas again, Hays gave him a quick examination. Doc Kaiser had removed most of his bandages and his stitches two days before, and his head was now protected solely by a light bandage and a removable plaster 'helmet'. He would have to wear until the 'bone flap' Doctor Hays had removed to access his brain completely healed.
Hays carefully removed the 'helmet' and probed the scar on the side of his head to see how well it was healing. Satisfied, he replaced the 'helmet', and as it was getting late, left Müller in the care of the Ward Nurse, or 'Nursing Sister' as the British called them, saying he would return in the morning with some other doctors.
"Wo bin ich? (Where am I?)" Müller asked as he woke the next morning in an unfamiliar place. But it took only a moment for him to remember where he was and why.
The Nursing Sister was tending to the other patient and, surprisingly, speaking in German. She heard Müller speak out, and came over to put him at ease. "Es ist in Ordnung, Herr Feldwebel. (It's alright, Sergeant.) Sie sind im Krankenhaus, bei St. Hugh's. (You're in hospital, at St. Hugh's.)"
"I speak English, Sister. I was just confused for a moment... a new place. I am alright now." Then looking across the room, he asked, "He is also German?"
"Yes. Doctor Cairns, our head surgeon, takes all wounded with serious head trauma, even enemy soldiers. He learns from them all, and what he learns, he uses to treat others. That is why you are here... so they can learn from you."
Suddenly there was a crash from the bed behind the screen. The Sister rushed over only to find her patient trying to get out of bed. The privacy screen tipped over, and Müller saw the Sister struggling with the patient, a boy barely out of his teens.
Müller quickly got out of bed and crossed over to the boy's bed. His head was swathed in bandages, and he was shouting at the Sister as she tried to hold him down.
"Was werden Sie tun? (What are you doing?) Halt dieses Verhalten, auf einmal! (Stop this behavior, at once) Ich bin Feldwebel Müller. (I am Sergeant Müller.) Was ist Ihr Name! (What is your name!)"
The boy stopped struggling and responded to Müller's command. "Gefreiter Hans Dieter, Herr Feldwebel. (Private Hans Dieter, Sergeant.)"
"Das ist besser. (That's better.) Nun, was ist alles dieses Geräusch über. (Now, what is all this noise about?)"
"Sie meinen Kopf aufgeschnitten und experimentieren auf mich heute wollen. (They want to cut open my head and experiment on me.)" The boy was clearly terrified and on the verge of panic.
"That's not true! Doctor Hays is going to operate this afternoon to remove a bullet from his brain."
"Sie lügt. (She is lying.)"
Noting the boy obviously understood what the Sister had said, Müller asked, "Do you speak English, Dieter?"
"Jawohl... Yes, Sergeant."
"Then, be polite and while you are here, speak it!"
"Now, who told you they were going to experiment on you?"
"They did not know I understood English. I heard them talking. They said they were going to try an experimental procedure on me."
"Yes, well, the procedure may be 'experimental', but they will not be 'experimenting' on you," Müller attempted to explain, "not the way you think... Look, Junge (boy), there are more head injuries in this war... injuries that used to be fatal. But now many live, because Doctors have learned new ways to treat these injuries. But it is all new; they learn as they go."
While Müller had been trying to calm the boy, Doctor Hays and some others had entered the room unobserved and were quietly listening.
Dieter was paying attention, but not convinced. "Dieter, look at me." Müller said as he removed his 'helmet' and bandage.
"You see this scar?" he said tenderly tracing the half-moon-shaped scar along the left side of his head. "Two weeks ago, I was operated on. This is where Doctor Hays, your Doctor, removed a part of my skull and operated on my brain. He removed grenade fragments from a wound I received in 1940, then put my skull back together again. He warned me it would be very risky, and I could die, or be paralyzed. Clearly, I did not die, nor am I paralyzed."
He could see the boy was calmer now and really listening. "I cannot promise your operation will go as well as mine," Müller continued. "but if it does not, I can promise it will not be because Doctor Hays did not do the best he could. That is all anyone can ask."
"I couldn't have explained it better, Sergeant." Doctor Hays said as he made his and the others presence known. "Although, it would have helped to know Private Dieter spoke English."
"Perhaps, Doctor, now that you know, you could explain the operation to the boy as you did for me. The 'known' you can deal with, it is the 'unknown' that is often more frightening."
Then addressing Hans, said, "Your surgery will not be as complicated as Sergeant Müller's, but it is a new procedure, a less invasive method. After I finish with the Sergeant, I will come and explain everything that will happen."
There was still anxiety in Dieter's eye, but the panic was gone. "Thank you, Doctor. I would like that."
Dieter's operation had been successful. It was a simple procedures really, removing a bullet from his occipital lobe using a new procedure that entailed less risk to the patient's vision.
When he awoke the next morning, with both Müller and Hays standing over him, Müller said. "So Junge, it wasn't so bad after all."
"No, Sergeant." he replied with an embarrassed grin. "But I do have a terrible headache."
"That's to be expected." Hay's said. "You remember the side effects I described to you. They're all temporary and will go away in a few days... Now get some more sleep, and after lunch, we'll get you up for a little exercise."
"Yes, Doctor... and thank you. Thank you very much."
WEEK FOUR, Monday, Zero Six Thirty, 'Spoil Sport'
'Spoil Sport' had been postponed numerous times since they had first received the 'green light'. But not this time... today it was a go.
"Forty...Fifty...Seventy...Ninety," the flight engineer called out the speed as the Piccadilly Lily sped down the runway and took off, then climbed to four thousand feet and circled the airfield until the rest of the Group, twenty-two aircraft, as Nero had promised, lifted off and formed up behind.
As he waited and circled, Savage could see the wreckage of the '' Lady', the plane he had been flying on the Hamburg mission; the plane his bombardier Jack Walker had brought home because he, Savage, couldn't. The 'Lady', and its crew, especially its pilot, had been badly shot up. They had crash landed; the 'Lady' coming to rest in the middle of a field off the end of the runway. Her presence didn't interfere with flight operations, so Savage had left her there as a reminder to his aircrews that the B-17 could take an awful lot of damage and still bring them home.
Finally airborne and in a staggered formation slightly behind Savage's lead squadron, with the low squadron down to the left, and the high squadron up to the right, the 918th turned east toward Margate at the far eastern tip of England, their point of departure from the English coast.
The call sign today was Wolf Pack. Savage was Wolf Pack Leader in the Lead squadron, and the squadrons in his Group were Red Wolves; the 911th and 915th's squadrons, Blue and Green Wolves, respectively.
Their flight plan would take them Northeast across the North Sea. At Control Point Able, they would rendezvous with the other Groups, and at Control Point Baker, their fighter escort would join. Once the formation was complete, they would continue Northeast to a point off Alkmaar, on the Dutch Coast, where they would alter course West and proceed inland to Hannover. Once they had dropped their bombs, they would rally and re-group at Control Point Foxtrot, Southwest of Hannover...where the P-47s would be waiting to escort them home.
Leaving Margate behind, Savage began a slow, three-hundred-foot-per-minute climb to 28,000 feet, their operational altitude. As they had passed 10,000 feet, they had gone on oxygen, and they donned their electrically heated suits and heavy gloves to protect them against the cold. At 28,000 feet, the temperature would drop as low as 60 degrees below zero, and the cold could kill a man just as quickly as an enemy bullet.
When they were over the North Sea, Savage knew his formation was now registering on the German radar screens, and German pilots were being alerted. Each of the B-17 Flying Fortresses, or 'Forts', carried thirteen Browning .50-caliber machineguns, and as they flew on, Savage gave the gunners the OK to test fire their guns. Looking down out his left window, he could see little puffs of smoke from his low squadron as their gunners fired short bursts to clear their guns.
As they approached the designated Control Point where they would rendezvous with the 911th and 915th, Savage radioed, "Wolf Pack Leader to all Red Wolves, the other Groups will be joining in about three minutes, stay alert, and keep it tight."
Moments later, Savage heard over the interphone, "Red Wolf Eight (that was Major Joe Cobb, leader of his low squadron) to Wolf Pack Leader. Blue and Green Wolves approaching on my six, sir."
"Roger." replied , "Wolf Pack Leader to all Blue and Green Wolves. Welcome. Form up and keep it tight. Wolf Pack Leader out."
As the other Groups joined, Savage's single group box formation expanded into a combat wing formation with Savage's Group in the center, and the two joining Groups immediately behind in an inverted 'V'; the Blue Wolves, a thousand foot above to his right, and the Green Wolves, a thousand feet below on the left... all flying in tight formation for optimum defense.
The formation flew on towards the Dutch Coast in radio silence; even though the Germans already knew they were coming, there was no point in giving them any more information than they had to.
At Control Point Baker, they rendezvoused with their P-47 escort. Because of their much faster speed, over 400 mph, almost twice the fastest speed of the Forts, the Thunderbolts had given the bombers a thirty minute head start before they had taken off from their base at Bodwell.
"Radio to Pilot. Groundhog Leader calling on Channel Three, sir. "
Switching Channels, Savage heard, "Groundhog Leader to Wolf Pack Leader. On station. Over."
"Wolf Pack Leader to Groundhog Leader. Roger. Welcome to the Party. Wolf Pack Leader Out."
Switching back, Savage called to the formation, "Wolf Pack Leader to all Wolves. Groundhog is on station. Keep alert. We will be within range of the fighters soon. We'll have a surprise for them today, but I want to see a really tight formation... all the way in and all the way out. Close it up and keep it tight."
It was an unnecessary reminder, the gunners were already searching the skies for bandits.
High overhead the Thunderbolts broke their group formation as a P-47 squadron took position high over each of the bomber groups. The formation flew on without incident until they were within sight of the Dutch Coast. Here, at Alkmaar, Control Point Charlie, the point where they would alter their course to head inland, the point when their escort would normally be 'bingo' fuel and have to turn back, is where, Savage knew, the fighters would be waiting.
At 0822, Savage called over the interphone, "Pilot to Navigator. Check in."
"Navigator to Pilot. On course, on time, sir. Dutch Coast dead ahead. Three minutes to new heading."
"Pilot to Navigator. Roger."
Fifteen minutes after the bomber formation had altered its course inland, Savage heard the dreaded, but expected, call over the interphone, "Enemy fighters at eleven o'clock high! It looks like the whole German Luftwaffe!"
The fighters, ME-109s, had waited just past the point when the bomber escort should have had to turn back, then came on in a rush like a swarm of bees. They attacked the bombers head on trying to get the lead planes and split the formation. The Lily shuddered as the gunners opened fire at the fighters darting through the formation doing as much damage as they could.
Over the interphone, Savage called, "Gunners, short bursts. Verify your targets. Remember there are 'friendlies' out there."
Then as the German fighters turned wide to make another pass at the formation, they were attacked from above by the P-47s. The 109's were caught by surprise, and the Thunderbolts chalked up several kills before they could react to the presence of the American fighters.
The fighters broke up into individual dogfights with the B-17's and their crews becoming almost spectators. Over the group radio and interphone, Savage could hears shouts and cheers as the P-47s took on the 109's. "Go get 'em guys!"... "Way to go!"... "Get one for me!"... "How do you like it, you SOB!"
"Cut the chatter! Maintain radio discipline." Savage yelled into his mike as the formation continued inland. "Gunners, keep alert. Remember they're after us, not the fighters."
The German 109's continued to chase the bombers and press their attack for over an hour as they tried to break through the P-47s and get inside the bomber formation. Some did manage get through and do some minor damage, and many of them paid for it as the Group's gunners shot them down.
As the formation approached the outskirts of Hannover, Savage could see a thick blanket of little white puffs waiting for them in the distance. In sight of the flak field, the fighters finally broke off and limped away, having lost a substantial number of their comrades. But they would re-fuel and re-arm, and be waiting for them when they came off the target and out of the flak.
The P-47s, had dropped their belly tanks when they engaged the 109s, and were now flying on the fuel in their internal tanks, but those tanks were still mostly full as they used the fuel in the belly tanks first. The P-47s had lost one of the number. They would be waiting when the 109's returned.
The fighter attacks were bad, but at least you could defend yourself against them. But the flak... flak was a different story altogether. In a flak field, all you could do was sit there and take it, and pray you came out on the other side.
'Flak' was the by-product of 88mm anti-aircraft shells whose fuses were set to detonate at a different altitudes, or when the shell came in close proximity to an aircraft. This technique enabled them to create a several thousand foot barrier of flak through which the bombers had to fly. 'Flak' itself consisted of the thousands of pieces of splintered metal from the exploding shells that when they hit, destroyed engines, blew up fuel tanks, and cut through a B-17s unarmored aluminum skin... and human flesh... like it was paper. Everyone hated and feared 'flak'.
Frank Savage was a brave man. He had the medals to prove it, and you didn't do what he did for a living voluntarily if you weren't. But he was also a man who could admit to his own fear, again because you didn't do what he did, or survive very long, without having a healthy respect for your own mortality.
Savage had almost died from flak wounds on that mission, months ago over Hamburg, and he wouldn't be human if that wasn't on his mind as he entered the flak field. For bombing accuracy ... and you wanted to be accurate because you didn't want to have to come back and do this again ... the group had to maintain a straight and level course. It took a lot of 'resolve' to calmly fly straight into exploding shells when there was nothing you could do but sit there... and hope you didn't get hit.
The flak was thick and brutal. The Lily shuddered and shook as shells exploded all around them. It was all Savage could do to maintain his course and altitude as they bounced around. He glanced over at his co-pilot, Lieutenant Baker, one of the new replacements. This was only his second mission. Though the cockpit was freezing, the boy's forehead was covered in sweat, and as Savage watched, he pulled away his oxygen mask to wipe the sweat from his face. He was terrified, but he was doggedly doing his job, monitoring the engine gages and instruments, and instantly responding to his pilot's commands. Savage shook his head, where do we get these kids.
Checking the formation, Savage looked down at Joe Cobb's Low Squadron; they were taking a lot of hits, but so far they were all still there. Looking further down, however, he saw one of the 915th's Green Wolves suddenly disintegrate in a brilliant explosive ball of flame, then watched as the other airplanes closed up to fill the gap that was all that was left of ten men.
They were at their Initial Aiming Point, the Church steeple in Kolenfeld, a small town on the outskirts of Hannover. It was here the three Groups would separate, each to attack their specified target: the Blue Wolf Group would take the Misburg Rubber Reclamation plant, the Green Wolf Group, the Ricklingen Metal Works, and Savage's Red Wolves would go straight in after the Limmer Oil Refinery.
"Wolf Pack Leader to Blue and Green Wolf Leaders. IP dead ahead. This is where you get off. Good luck. Re-group at the rally point. Wolf Pack Leader out."
Almost immediately, he heard a 'Roger' from both group leaders as they slowly left the formation and altered course toward their individual targets.
With a visual on his target, the oil refinery, Savage engaged the Lily's autopilot, and squeezed his throat mike to activate the interphone, "Pilot to Bombardier... " but before he could continue, his co-pilot, Baker, tapped him on the shoulder to get his attention and pointed out his overhead window to a B-17, one from his high squadron, out of control and spiraling toward the earth. He counted seven chutes before it hit the ground and exploded. But the survivors chances of survival were minimal; they were floating down right into the middle of the target area.
Snapping back, Savage called, "Pilot to Bombardier. Coming off the IP, Walker. Center your PDI."
The Pilot's Directional Indicator, or PDI, was part of the Norden Bombsite System. When the PDI was centered with the autopilot engaged, and the airplane properly trimmed, the autopilot would automatically make the necessary course corrections for altitude, speed, wind and other factors as the Bombardier set his sight on the target.
Within moments, Savage heard, "PDI centered, General."
"OK... You've got it." He said, removing his hands from the yoke, and giving Walker control of the aircraft.
Heading into their bombing run, Savage felt the bomb bay doors open. A few moments later, he heard "Bombs Away!" and felt the Piccadilly Lily lift as four thousand pounds of bombs and incendiaries left the bomb bay and fell towards the target.
As the first bomb dropped from the Piccadilly Lily, the bombardiers in the rest of the Group pickled their bombs as well. The Group bombed off the Leader, and Lieutenant Walker was not only 'Lead Bombardier', he was the best Bombardier in the 918th, which is why he was on Savage's crew. Jack Walker was also the young Lieutenant Savage had recently recommended for the Medal of Honor.
As the Lily's bomb bay doors closed, Savage disengaged the Auto Pilot and took back control of the aircraft.
Almost immediately, his ball turret gunner reported that Red Wolf Nine from Cobb's low squadron had dropped out of formation and was trailing below and behind.
"Wolf Pack Leader to Red Wolf Nine. What's your status? Over."
"Red Wolf Nine to Wolf Pack Leader. I've lost my number three engine, and some of my hydraulics. Losing speed and altitude, but I think I can make it. Over."
"Wolf Pack Leader to Red Wolf Nine. Try to make it to the rally point. If you can't, find some clouds and make your way as best you can. Stick to the flight plan. I'll try to send you an escort. Leader out."
Savage thought they had a chance. If they could make it out of the flak and to the rally point, they'd have the P-47s to protect them. But if they couldn't, the fighters would be waiting to pick off any stragglers.
Suddenly, the Lily shuddered as a shell exploded almost underneath them. A fragment of white hot steel shot up through the cockpit floor between the seats and out Baker's overhear window, and at the same time, Savage felt a solid thump under his seat, as if someone had just whacked him hard in the butt with a baseball bat. "Thank you, Sergeant Nero!" he said, though only he could hear it. His 'butt' was uncomfortably warm, but it, and 'everything else', was intact.
"Savage to crew. Check in and report damage."
All reports were negative, except the flight engineer. "Flak burst under the bomb bay, sir. Good thing it was after we pickled... We took some shrapnel through the bomb bay doors. Hydraulics for the landing gear are out. If I can't fix it, we'll have to crank 'em down for landing."
"Alright. Get on it."
The Limmer refinery had been a large, sprawling complex with extensive piping, chemical tanks, cracking towers, blending pools, storage tanks, and rail yards. By the time the last B-17 finished it's run over the refinery, the entire complex was in flames with widespread secondary explosions.
Fingering his mike, Savage radioed the Group, "Wolf Pack Leader to all Red Wolves, commencing a ninety degree turn to the right. I say again, a nine-zero-degree turn to the right. Close it up. The fighters will be looking for stragglers."
As the Group flew out of the flak towards their rendezvous with the waiting P-47s, Savage looked to his left across the city to see fiery explosions and columns of smoke coming from the Rubber Plant, and a slightly thinned and loose formation of B-17s making its turn off the target. Looking to his right, he saw a similar scene over the Ricklingen Metal Plant. Savage fired a green-red flare to identify himself to the other Groups, and as the other Groups altered their courses to rejoin Savage's Group, he was pleased to see them begin to fill in the gaps and tighten their formations.
0925, at Control Point Foxtrot, the Thunderbolts circled and waited. They had followed the bombers as they entered the flak field, then withdrew to their Control Point outside the area and waited in the clear for the bombers.
"Groundhog Four to Leader. B-17s approaching, ten o'clock low. Approximately two miles out. Over."
"Leader to all Groundhogs. Let's get over there. Groundhog Two, they'll have stragglers; take your element and go find 'em. Everybody keep alert for those 109's. Leader out."
Savage had slowed his Group to allow the other Groups to form up, and they all scanned the skies looking for fighters...ours and theirs. Savage knew there were several crippled forts straggling behind, trying to keep up, but once their combat wing had re-formed, he wouldn't be able to hang back to protect them. They had a long way to go, and the safety of the Group had to be his overriding concern.
Then he heard, "Fighters. Two o'clock high... They're ours! They're P-47s!"
The Thunderbolts roared overhead to circle around above them, while three split off and kept going to hunt for stragglers.
"Wolf Pack Leader to Groundhog Leader. You're a welcome sight. Over."
"Groundhog Leader to Wolf Pack Leader. Always nice to be wanted. I've sent some of my boys to bring in your stragglers. Do you want to wait?"
"Negative, Groundhog Leader. It's a long way home, and there are still a lot of fighters out there. The safety of the Group has to come first.
"Roger that. Just thought I'd ask. Taking station overhead. Groundhog Leader out."
"Wolf Pack Leader out."
"Red Wolf Eight to Wolf Pack Leader. Red Wolf Fourteen's tail gunner reports five stragglers following below and about three miles behind. Three P-47s are escorting. He thinks Jacobsen is with them, sir. He thinks he can see a red triangle on the tail of one." The 918th's group identifier was a 'red triangle-H' on the bomber's vertical fin.
"Wolf Pack Leader to Eight. Roger."
'I hope he's right.' Savage thought to himself. Jacobson was the pilot of 'Red Wolf Nine', the crippled ship from Joe Cobb's low squadron that had fallen behind after the bomb run.
Time to report, "Pilot to Radio Operator. Mike, break radio silence and send the following Strike Report to Pinetree. 'All targets destroyed, minimal losses. Proceeding back to base according to flight plan.' Then give them our position."
Then switching from interphone to radio, "Wolf Pack Leader to all Wolves. Close it up. Let's go home."
Once again the 918th had fulfilled its mission and was heading home... now all they had to do now was get there.
The bombers didn't have long to wait before the German fighters returned. ME-109s and Focke-Wulf 190s, this time; at least three full squadrons. They knew the Thunderbolts were waiting now, and they came up at them in a coordinated assault, attacking in pairs from every direction trying to pull the P-47s away so they could get at the bombers. Strangely, they ignored the stragglers trailing a few miles behind with only the three P-47s to defend them; they wanted the main body. The guns of every B-17 were firing as the enemy fighters darted in and out of their formation, and the interphones were alive with chatter as crewmen called out warnings of approaching fighters, and gunners claimed kills.
The running battle went on for almost an hour. The Thunderbolts lost two more of their own, and two of the 911th's Blue Wolves were lost, one when a crippled FW flew into the side of the bomber, and they both blew up. But they were taking a heavy toll on the Germans. Between the bombers and the P-47s, they accounted for almost a third of the fighters. The sky was dotted with parachutes as Americans and Germans alike floated down to earth; the Germans landing to a warm welcome and a bottle of beer; the Americans, if they survived, to captivity and a Luft Stalag for the remainder of the war.
The attacks were becoming less frequent as the 109's ran low on ammunition and fuel. They were beginning to tire of the chase, and their attacks slowly diminished until at last they were gone.
They were approaching Holland. They had flown over several areas with anti-aircraft emplacements, but the flak was minimal and not very accurate. And while they spotted the occasional fighter in the distance, none approached or attacked; it was if they were just following to make sure they were leaving. Whatever it was, Savage wasn't going to question it.
After another hour without incident, Savage heard the sweetest words ever, "Navigator to Pilot. North Sea ahead, sir. Five minutes to our new heading."
"Roger." he replied.
The formation flew on into the North Sea, altered their heading, then began a gradual descent toward England and home. Approaching Margate, the radio operator called Savage on the interphone, "Groundhog Leader on Channel Three, sir."
"Groundhog Leader to Wolf Pack Leader. Party's over. Time to go home. It's been a pleasure, sir; we'll have to do this again sometime."
"Wolf Pack Leader to Groundhog Leader. Thank you for your company. Wolf Pack Leader out."
Savage watched as their escort departed and headed home. Almost immediately, the 915th and 911th called in their departures, and shortly it was just the 918th again.
"Savage to all Red Wolves, close it up and let's go home."
1335 (1:35). The returning B-17s of the 918th circled the field at Archbury waiting for their turn to land. Sergeant Wells, Savage's flight engineer, had not been able to restore the hydraulics to the landing gear, and they'd had to crank the gear down by hand, but they didn't know if it was locked.
The cripples had to be the last to land in case they crashed and blocked or damaged the runway, and the Piccadilly Lily was the last in line. Savage had ordered his crew to bail out, and as he circled and waited his turn, he saw them land safely and a truck rush out to pick them up. At least he didn't have them to worry about.
Finally his turn came, "Savage to Tower. I don't have a green light on my landing gear indicator. My wheels are down, but I don't know if either wheel is locked. I'm coming straight in. Prepare for a crash landing."
In hind sight, Savage would have preferred to make a wheels-up landing, but it was too late for that now. He had run the various scenarios over in his mind: the best case, his wheels were locked, and it would be a normal landing; the worst case, only one wheel was locked, and he would ground loop or cartwheel and probably explode.
Coming in on a normal approach, the Piccadilly Lily glided lower and lower until her wheels were just barely above the runway. Then she touched down, and as the wheels held, Savage expelled the breath he had been holding. He continued his roll down the runway, then taxied to his hardstand and parked. He sat there for a moment, glad to be alive, then stiffly climbed out of his seat. He had just swung down out of the nose hatch when a staff car drove up.
As soon as the car stopped, General Wiley Crowe jumped out and ran over to Savage. "Do you ALWAYS have to make such an 'entrance', Frank?" he said returning Savage's salute.
"It's not top on my list, Wiley, no." he replied with a grin as he shook hands with his friend and superior officer.
Removing his parachute harness, Savage stretched and arched his back to loosen the tight muscles. After almost seven tense hours in the air, he was stiff and sore and tired... and his butt hurt.
"Come on, get in." Crowe said motioning to his car. "I'll give you a ride back to your office. I want to hear all about it."
As Savage headed for the car, Crowe noticed he seemed to be limping a little. "Are you alright. You're limping."
'Just tired and sore from the mission." Savage replied. Then giving Crowe a 'look', "You've been sitting behind a desk too long, Wiley."
Crowe laughed and said, "Maybe so, Maybe so."
"Welcome back, General." Harvey Stovall said as Savage and Crowe entered the office. "The crews are still being debriefed, sir, but from all reports it was a very successful mission. The strike photos are on the way over."
"See if you can find out what the final count was, will you, Harvey?" Savage asked as he and Crowe continued on into his Crowe took a seat, Savage opened the bottom drawer of his desk and withdrew a bottle and two glasses.
"Drink?" he offered as he poured a shot into his glass.
"Not right now, thanks." Crowe replied shaking his head. Then asked, "Rough one?"
"Yeah." Savage downed the shot, then put the top back on the bottle and replaced it and the glasses back into the drawer. He had just needed a little something to take the edge off. Then he tiredly rubbed his hand over his face and gingerly sat down.
"They threw everything they had at us, Wiley. If we hadn't had those P-47s we'd have been cut to pieces. As far as I'm concerned, 'Spoil Sport' was an unqualified success. We successfully hit and destroyed three priority targets deep into Germany. I don't know what the count is yet, but we weren't hurt too badly."
"I have the count now, General." Stovall offered as he entered Savage's office. "and the strike photos."
Stovall laid the photos on the desk, then referring to his notes, said, "Combined bomber force losses were eight: four over the target, two to fighters on the way home,..."
"Yes. I saw one." Savage interrupted. "A crippled FW flew right into him."
"….another ditched in the Channel." Harvey continued. "Air Sea Rescue picked them up, and one of the stragglers crashed on landing at an RAF Colburn, just past Margate."
"What about the fighters?"
"They lost four out of their twenty-four, and three damaged.
"How many did WE lose?"
"Three...Christianson and Stevens over the target; Wilson ditched in the Channel."
"What about Jacobson?" He was one of the stragglers Savage had had to leave behind.
"He made it. Landed at Colburn with the other stragglers, just before the last one crashed."
"It was a very successful mission, General," Stovall said. "But Sergeant Nero isn't going to be happy. Almost half of the planes that made it back have damage. He and his crew will be working day and night to patch them up."
"Speaking of Nero," Savage suddenly said. "Make out a 48-hour pass for him and his crew... let him work it into his schedule however he wants. I owe him a big one!"
As Stovall left Savage's office and closed the door behind him, Crowe exclaimed, "Eight losses out of sixty-six, Frank, and only two due to fighters! That's fantastic!" and as he looked through the strike photos, "Look at these strike photos! If the other Groups' results are half as good as the 918th's, Pritchard will be ecstatic!"
"But before he starts outfitting every Fighter Group in 8th Air Force with belly tanks, he'll want to have a sit down with both you and Joe Mason from the 112th to go over the mission details... what worked; what didn't."
Standing to leave, Crowe said, "I'll check back with you later with a date and time. Right now I'd better get up to Bushy Park, Pritchard will be biting his nails waiting for mission results. If you don't mind, I'll take these photos with me."
At the door, Crowe turned and asked, 'What's this about owing Nero?"
"We took a flak burst in the belly coming off the target. Didn't do too much damage, but a couple of good sized fragments came up through the bomb bay and the cockpit floor. One piece continued out my co-pilot's overhead window; but the other imbedded itself in the bottom of my seat. It Nero hadn't just put some armor plating under there..."
"Owwww." Crowe said screwing up his face. Then with a grin added, "Maybe you should make that a 72-hour pass."
After General Crowe had left, Savage cleared some of the paperwork from his desk, then walked over to the hospital to check on the wounded. He sought out Doc Kaiser, and found him coming out of one of the wards.
"What's the story with the wounded, Doc? How bad is it?"
"Not bad, General. Not bad at all. Eleven wounded. Only three will require surgery; the rest are relatively minor. Several have already been treated and released… From what I've heard, it was a very good mission… if there is such a thing."
"Yes. It was... Say, Doc, do you have some kind of salve for burns?"
"Why? Are you hurt?"
"It's nothing serious. I'd just like some salve."
"If you don't mind, General," Kaiser said as he pulled Savage towards an empty examination room. "Let me be the judge of what's serious. Come in here."
Kaiser shut the door behind them, then said, "Now where's the burn?"
"I'm not even sure it's a burn; it just smarts a little."
"Damn it, Kaiser. It's my backside, if you must know. A piece of flak came up through the bomb bay and embedded itself in the bottom of my seat."
"Drop your pants, General, so I can take a look, and climb up on the table, face down."
Savage wasn't too happy about it, but reluctantly did as Kaiser ordered. "You don't leave a man much dignity, Doc."
Making a quick examination, Kaiser said, "What you've got, General, are first degree burns across both buttocks. That fragment must have been red hot to radiate that much heat through your seat. I'm surprised you were able to stay seated."
"I didn't have much choice. I was a little busy at the time…. Can you give me something for it?"
Kaiser opened a cabinet and removed a jar. "Spread this on as needed. It will give you some relief, but I'd recommend you wrap some ice in a towel and sit on it. The cold will pull the heat out and help it heal faster. You'll be fine in about three to five days, but sitting will be very uncomfortable until then…. I'll leave it up to you, but I'd recommend you sit out the next couple of missions… no pun intended."
Savage re-dressed, and stuck the jar in his jacket pocket. "Thanks, Doc," he said as he started to leave, then stopped and said, "This is just between us, right."
WEEK FOUR, Tuesday, After 'Spoil Sport'
Savage had been very tired after yesterday's mission, and had overslept. Maybe he couldn't handle these long missions as well as he used to. He had also stayed up late sitting on an ice-filled towel while going over some reports he had brought back to his quarters. The ice had definitely helped, as Kaiser had said it would, but his backside was still extremely tender. He wanted to stay on his feet as much as possible today.
When he entered the office, Stovall met him at the door with a cup of coffee, "Saw you coming, General. Thought you might like a cup of coffee."
"Thanks, Harvey. I need one."
Looking around, he saw Sergeant Ross typing away, his hands now relatively bandage free. But he also noted he was studiously avoiding looking up from his work. Harvey also seemed to be acting a little strange. Probably just not used to him coming in late.
Sipping his coffee, he started toward his inner office, when Stovall, struggling to keep a straight face, said, "Oh, General. Sergeant Nero sent something over for you this morning. Said you might want to keep it as a memento of yesterday's mission. It's in your office."
Entering his office, Savage found the bottom portion of his flak-embedded seat from the Piccadilly Lily sitting on his desk. Turning the seat over, he saw a metal fragment about the size of a misshapen softball. It had slightly penetrated and fused into the bottom of his steel strengthened seat, and the seat cushion was scorched and discolored from the heat. Unconsciously, Savage placed a hand on his buttocks and gently rubbed; then realizing what he was doing, quickly stopped.
Stovall and Ross were both standing in his doorway chuckling. Stovall couldn't resist, "I've heard of flying by the seat of your pants, General, but... "
His face an unreadable mask, Savage responded, "You two are treading on dangerous ground. You'd make a silly looking second lieutenant, Major." he said to Stovall, then glaring at Ross, "and those stripes can come off as fast as they went on, Sergeant!"
Then he gave in and began to laugh, too, and a relieved Stovall and Ross joined in.
"It wasn't funny at the time, however." Savage said sobering. "And aspects of it aren't too funny now. Kaiser says I have first degree burns. So sitting for the next couple of days is not going to be my favorite thing."
Stovall nodded in the direction of the door as a sign for Ross to leave, and as he closed the door after him, said, "I'm sorry, Frank. I didn't know you'd been hurt. And I'm sure Nero didn't mean anything by it. He just wanted to show you how effective that armor plating had been."
"Believe me, I knew that as soon as the damn thing hit." he said laughing again. "Send the seat back to Nero, will you, Harvey... and thank him."
"Now, what's on my plate today?"
Müller had been at St. Hugh's for almost a week, and since he'd been there, he had been repeatedly examined, and x-rayed, and questioned, and his daily routine observed for any sign of complications, and all of this was recorded in minute detail for further study. He had taken all of this in his stride, without complaint, recognizing the value of the information to the doctors, but he was becoming tired of doing nothing. It had been almost a month since the accident, and over three weeks since his operation, and he was tired of sitting in a hospital room all day.
His routine had been briefly interrupted a few days ago when he had received another letter from his sister; it had been forwarded from Camp Barton. He enjoyed reading her letter as she described their farm and the apple orchards, and her children. He had immediately sent a reply, but knew it could be weeks before he heard from her again, and he contented himself with reading her letters over and over again.
Out of a need to be useful, and have something to do, Müller began to accompany the Doctors as they visited other German patients. He acted as a translator where one was needed, and told his story to those who wanted to hear there was hope for them, too.
But Müller was ready to move on. Surely the Doctors had all the information they needed from him by now.
Each day he wondered where the British would send him when they let him go. General Savage said they were going to send him out of England, to Canada or America. America would be good. He knew it was a big country, but wherever in it he was sent, he would be closer to Anna than he was now, and Anna had said in her letters that when the war ended he was to come and live with them. More and more, he hoped the war would end soon.
WEEK FOUR, Wednesday, Mid-Morning
It had started out like any other day, but it had soon become chaotic as busses carrying forty airmen, the crews for the four new B-17s, and all their baggage, began to arrive. They were deposited at the Debriefing Hut, as it was the only place big enough to hold them all while they were processed in and assigned temporary billets. That was the easy part, the hard part was reviewing and changing all the Squadron and crew rosters again. Savage and Cobb were working on the latter when Stovall came over to say General Crowe had called and wanted to see Savage at Pinetree immediately.
Savage usually didn't like it when Crowe pulled him away in the middle of something, but not this time. Assigning personnel to the right squadron and crew, so there was the right mix of 'experienced airmen' and 'green troops' was an important, but tedious and mind-numbing job, and Savage was happy to let Cobb carry on without him. So when Ross appeared with his staff car, Savage was happy to climb in and sit back while Ross drove him up the Wycombe Abbey. He wondered what Wiley wanted this time.
"Frank, I've just heard from Major Pigot-Smith. The British have approved Sergeant Müller's transfer to the 'Weeping Waters' Camp. He also said that there's a returning troop ship sailing from Liverpool to New York, and among her other passengers, she will be transporting a contingent of Prisoners of War. The ship is leaving in two days, and Karl Müller will sail with her... I thought you might want to be the one to tell him."
"Thanks, Wiley. I think I would."
"Karl, you have a visitor," the Sister said as she escorted Savage into the room.
Müller had been teaching young Dieter to play chess with the set Chaplain Twombley had given him, and as he looked up and saw Savage standing there, he smiled and rose to greet him.
"General Savage. It is good to see you, sir." Then seeing that Dieter had not moved, "Did they teach you nothing, Private? Stand to attention in the presence of a General officer!"
Dieter, his face red with embarrassment, jumped to his feet and stood at rigid attention as Müller continued, "My apologies, Herr General. They take these 'children', give them a uniform and a rifle, and tell them to go be a soldier, but they teach them nothing. This one was wounded on his first day, never fired a shot."
"At ease, Private."
Dieter relaxed, then in almost a whisper asked Müller, "Ist er der Eine? (Is he the one?) Der General, der Ihr Gefangener war? (The General that was your prisoner?) Der Eine, der die Gestapo entkommen? (The one who escaped from the Gestapo?)"
"Ja, Junge, er ist der Eine. (Yes, boy. He's the one.)"
Savage didn't understand what was being said, but he did know 'General' and 'Gestapo', and noticed that both the Sister and the boy were staring at him.
"Am I missing something?" he asked, certain that whatever they had said was about him.
"To ease the boy's fears before his operation, I told him about mine and how it came about. I also told him a little about you, how we met and everything... It is possible I may have exaggerated a little." Müller said apologetically.
"Great!" Savage said with a grimace. "Have I won the war yet?"
The Sister, knowing the General wanted to speak to Karl alone, took Dieter by the arm and said, "Come, Hans. Let's go for a walk and let them talk."
After they had gone, Savage said, "Karl. Your transfer has been arranged. You'll be leaving the day after tomorrow on a ship for New York. You'll be given all the details later."
Müller's face broke out into a smile, as he said, " So I go to America. This is good. I am ready to leave this place ... Am I allowed to know where?"
"Yes. You'll be going to Nebraska, to 'Weeping Water', a little Camp about twenty miles from Gretna."
"Nebraska! Gretna! That is where Anna lives." Müller couldn't believe what he was hearing.
"Yes, it is."
"How is this possible? You did this for me?"
"No, Karl. You did this for yourself. After your testimony, you couldn't stay here. The British were looking for a small out-of-the-way Camp, and 'Weeping Water' fit their needs. It's as simple as that."
"I think there was more to it than that."
Müller was about to say more, but at that moment, Doctor Hays appeared in the doorway with Sergeant Douglas in tow. "Karl, I found the Sergeant here, wondering the halls looking for your room ... Oh, General Savage, excuse me, sir, I didn't know you were here."
"Quite alright, Doctor." Savage replied, then acknowledging Douglas, "Sergeant, nice to see you again."
Addressing Hays again, "I came to tell Sergeant Müller he would be leaving in a couple of days for a new Camp in the States. I assume the hospital has been notified."
"Yes, sir. I had been expecting it. There's not much more we can learn from him, and I know he was getting tired of us. We'll send his records on to the Camp with a request that their medical people monitor the healing of his skull flap."
While Savage and Hays talked, Douglas had gone over to speak with Müller. "I hear you're off to America, you lucky bugger. The Camp was notified this morning of your transfer." Then dropping the kit bag he was carrying at Müller's feet, said, "Colonel Smythe had me pack up your kit and bring it along for you. I think I got everything."
"Thanks, Bill. They are sending me to Nebraska, to a Camp near my sister's farm. I still can't believe it."
"I'm happy for you, Karl. I'm glad you're going someplace out of this bloody war."
Then Douglas held out his hand, and they shook. "I have to get back to Camp, Karl. Goodbye, mate, and good luck to you."
"Goodbye, my friend... Lebt Wohl. Farewell."
Walking back over to where Savage and Hays were still talking, "General... Doctor... Colonel Smythe was notified of Sergeant Müller's transfer this morning, Doctor, and had me bring over his kit. His records are to be sent on later."
Turning to Savage. "General. With your permission, sir, I should be getting back to Camp now... "
"Certainly, Sergeant. Give my regards to Captain Harrod."
As he was in hospital, Sergeant Douglas restrained himself, and simply replied "Yes, Sir."
Doctor Hays also excused himself and followed Douglas out of the room, leaving just Savage and Müller to say their goodbyes.
"This will be the third time we have said 'goodbye', Herr General. I think there will not be another time. They are only words, but know your kindness will never be forgotten."
"You give me more credit than I deserve, Karl." Savage said as he sat down on the end of the bed and rubbed a hand wearily over his face. "I'm tired, Karl. I've been tired ... I'm tired of the death. I'm tired of sending boys up that don't come back, and I can't even remember their names or faces. I'm tired of this war."
"I needed to see something good, something descent come out of all this... and that was you. In helping you, I've been helping myself... and it has helped... you've helped, again."
Then Savage stood, and with a smile, said, "Go find your family, Karl, and have a good life."
Savage extended his hand, and Müller took it, and they shook, holding it for a few seconds. Then Savage nodded and left.
WEEK Six, Thursday, Afternoon
It had been over two weeks since 'Spoil Sport', and the 918th had flown five missions since then. They had been lucky and had drawn the 211th for fighter escort on three of the missions, and had had only minimal losses. They had not fared so well on the other two.
Today they had bombed Saarbrücken again. The last time, before 'Spoil Sport', they had lost eight planes; today they had lost none. They had been escorted by the 211th again.
Savage returned to his office tired, but happy that he wouldn't be writing any 'next of kin' letters, not today. Stovall met him as he came in with a cup of coffee, and the news that General Crowe was waiting for him in his office.
"Wiley." Savage said as he entered and saw Crowe sitting in one of his chairs. "What brings you down again?"
"I come bearing tidings." Crowe replied, rising. "Several weeks ago, I told you that giving Müller his sister's letter wouldn't be the end of it. Do you remember."
"Well, I think we have just come to the 'end of it'... "
"I had another call from Major Pigot-Smith today. He wanted to let me know Müller arrived in New York about three days ago. He should be at 'Weeping Water' any day now.
"Good." Savage said. "I'm glad he's out of it." He turned to stare out his window, a habit he had when he was thinking. He was happy for Müller, but it was more than that... he envied him... he would not be alone anymore; he had found a home and, more importantly, peace.
Crowe said nothing, giving him a moment.
Then Savage turned back around, the moment gone.
"Wiley... We had no losses today. That was because we had the 211th's P-47s to escort us again; but we can't count on their Group always being available. So, when is the Old Man going to start outfitting the rest of the Fighter Groups with belly tanks? Or better yet, when is the 8th going to get some of those new P-51s?"
"I swear, Frank, is there no making you happy?" Crowe said shaking his head. "No matter what you get, you want more."
"I'll stop asking for more, Wiley, when I have enough."
After General Crowe had left, Savage sat alone in his office, again staring out his window. As he began to turn back around, in the corner of his eye, he saw Müller's flask setting on his window sill. On impulse, he reached into his bottom desk drawer and withdrew a glass. Then he picked up the flask, unscrewed the top, and poured a small measure into the glass.
"Karl Müller!" Savage said as he lifted his glass into the air. "May we all someday find the peace you have." He emptied the glass and set it on his he screwed the top on and set the flask back on the window sill.
Karl Müller was tired. He felt like he had been travelling forever. First, ten days on a ship crossing the Atlantic, then three days on a train, and now he'd been on a bus for most of the day, with just a few relief stops. When he had started this odyssey, he had been with two hundred other POWs. Most had been dropped off at various POW Camps along the way, until now it was just himself; six other prisoners, all remnants of Rommel's Afrika Corps; and two bored Army guards. Their destination was the 'Weeping Water' Prisoner of War Camp, a small camp of POWs working in agricultural jobs on the surrounding farms.
Karl was anxious to arrive. He hoped he would be able to contact his sister, Anna, once he was there. He knew her farm was in the area somewhere. He had written her before he left England to let her know what Camp he would be in, but didn't know if she had received his letter.
Finally the bus turned off the highway onto a dirt road, and after a few minutes, he saw the Camp Gates ahead. The bus drove through the open gates and stopped in front of a building marked 'Headquarters'.
The doors opened and the bus began to empty. The Guards first, followed by the other prisoners who were quickly escorted into the building to begin processing. Karl got off last, looking around as he stepped down, and as he began to follow the others into the building, he saw a woman come out.
Though it had been almost fifteen years, Karl recognized her at once. She was a woman in her mid-thirties, but in Karl's eyes, she was a young girl of nineteen.
"Anna... mein kleine Anna! (My little Anna!)"
Anna Stossel smiled and wrapped her arms around him, "Welcome home, Karl."