During World War II, as the Allied front lines vacillated through central Europe, an Army captain found himself in need of a meeting with his commanders in the rear. As an artillery liaison officer, he was reliant upon extremely accurate information to the location of friendly troops to avoid fratricide. The shelling this captain would oversee left few survivors. Tracking down his NCO driver, they climbed into a jeep and headed the few miles to the command post.
“As we were driving,” he told me, “I started noticing that things didn’t look quite right. I wasn’t seeing any friendly traffic at all. I was starting to wonder if the lines had shifted.”
Indeed, they had. The captain and his NCO rounded a bend in the road and screeched to a halt in front of a Nazi roadblock. Surrounded, outnumbered, and severely outgunned, they were captured.
The Germans, furiously attempting to slow or altogether halt the Allied advance towards Germany, were dwelling a state of chaos. Prisoners were poorly detained and watched only minimally in the confusion. The captain and his NCO were herded into a small crowd of other prisoners and quickly forgotten. More than likely, they were still trying to grasp that they’d just driven directly into their own capture.
A few days later, as the captain eavesdropped on the Germans, he learned that the Allies were remarkably near. And after only minimal discussion with his NCO and another American prisoner, the captain took advantage of a momentary lull in their already lax detainment and bolted for the treeline with the other two in tow. In a nearby home, they hid their uniforms, disguised as French refugees, and departed quickly towards where the captain presumed the Allied front lines to be at the time.
If recaptured without their uniforms, they would be treated as spies, and summarily executed. They made straight away for friendly lines, directly into the no man’s land of an artillery battle – most likely his own guns firing against the Germans’ artillery pieces.
With shells raining around them from both sides, the captain eventually led the other two prisoners back inside friendly lines, identified himself, and immediately reported all he had learned about the disposition of the nearby Nazis, their numbers, strength, and armament. His valuable intelligence played a key role in the Allied maneuvers against the Germans over the next few days. He had been in captivity for six days.
Not long after, the captain was awarded the Silver Star for his bravery in the face of grave danger, his assistance to the other prisoners of war, and the vital information he provided the Americans as they continued their push towards Germany. I, personally, am thankful he survived. Had he not, he wouldn’t have returned to the states, and my father would never have been born. I had dinner with them both today – Father’s Day.
Wars are not mere strategies and tactics performed by anonymous players on distant lands, but real events, with real people, whose fates determine the course of history. My grandfather is 94 now and mostly deaf, and I confess I don’t visit him enough. But for as long as I am alive, I will remember how six short days, more than 60 years ago in Europe, unfolded to bring him home and set my family history in motion.
Happy Father’s Day, Grandpa. May there be many more.
Copyright © 2009, Ben Shaw, All Rights Reserved