Friday, February 7, 2014

German Boys Visit the American Tanks in the Woods Near Their Village

On a beautiful afternoon in late October less than a month after 4th Brigade arrived in Germany, the five tanks of First Platoon, Bravo Company, moved into a defensive position on a hill outside a small village near Fulda.  The village was visible in the valley below more than a mile away.  

All of the tanks were below the crest of the ridge.  We had an observer team on the ridge.  The rest of the platoon was working on the tanks or scouting out places to sleep near the tanks.  Five minutes after the the last tank was in position, three boys rode up the dirt road that connected the village with our position.  The oldest was ten years old.  

I used to play Army in an apple orchard near my home in Stoneham, Massachusetts, when I was their age.  I was thinking that if I saw a platoon of tanks in woods I would have been on my bike and getting as close as those soldiers would let me.  I also thought how different life in Stoneham would have been if a foreign Army could just park a platoon of tanks in the orchard.

I jumped down from the turret and waved for the boys to come to my tank.  No one else seemed particularly interested in having kids near their vehicle.  My driver and I lifted the kids up on the fender of the tank and let them sit in the driver's seat and gunner's seat.  They put on our helmets and talked to each other on the intercom system.  We gave the kids the waxy, canned chocolate that came in our C-rations.

They oldest spoke excellent English.  I asked if he would to go to the village and bring us back some food from the local baker and butcher shops.  He said he would right away.  I gave him ten Marks.  As he rode away, the driver of Bravo 13, who was from New Jersey, said, "Sergeant Gussman you are never going to see those kids again."  Some others joined in.  I was happy to see the platoon sergeant and the commander of Bravo 15, the only other soldier who had been to Germany before, did not say anything.  

The boys seemed like good kids to me.  Almost an hour later, the older boy came back alone.  He said the younger boys had to go home.  He had a backpack.  Inside was sausage, butter, two loaves of bread, and some small candies.  He spent 9 Marks, 98 Pfennigs, and gave me the two Pfennigs change.  My crew and I got our camp stove out right away while it was still daylight and started cooking that sausage.  I gave the boy some more C-ration chocolate and said to come back tomorrow, we were probably going to be there for the night.  He thanked me again and rode away.

My crew and I made a big show of cooking that sausage and talking very loudly about how you can't trust those German kids.  We also inquired about what the crews on either side of us were having for dinner.
The next time we stopped near a village and kids showed up, it was a competition to see who could get the kids to make a grocery run.  

That little boy is 44 years old today.  The other two are 40 and 42 if I guessed their ages correctly.  I wonder what they think now.  There has been peace in their country for their entire lives, but many foreign armies have lived in their country and trained for a war that, thankfully, never came.  I hope they have good memories of the soldiers who parked a platoon of tanks in their woods.  In fact, I hope they have nothing but good memories of American soldiers.

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