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The Four Seasons--Spring

An old man daydreams about the events of his life. The first season is spring.

THE FOUR SEASONS

© Copyright 2008, 2010

By Autumn Writer

Prologue

How long shall I take counsel in my soul, having sorrow in my heart daily? How long shall mine enemy be exalted over me?

Consider and hear me, O Lord my god: lighten mine eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death;

Lest mine enemy say, I have prevailed against him; and those that trouble me rejoice when I am moved.

Psalm 13: 2-

"Señor Hal, Señor Hal!" the young man called out.

"I'm in here, Javier," the old man answered from the bathroom.

"Oh, Señor Hal," the young man scolded, "Chu know dat I'm souposed to be wit chu when chu get out of bed in dee morning."

"I've been shaving for more years than you've been alive, Javier."

He finished; buried his face in a wet washcloth and wiped away the excess lather.

"Hell, I've been doing a lot of things before most people were alive. Some of 'em I don't even do anymore."

"Ees not dee point," the young man, clad in hospital whites insisted. "We 'ave dee rules. I could get in beeg tro-bel."

"We go through this every morning, Javier," the old man protested. "You haven't been in trouble yet. You should be off helping the other patients—the ones who need it. I can get by on my own."

"Rase-ee-dents!" Javier insisted. "Dey are not dee paychents—rase-ee-dents."

"Whatever you say, Javier," Hal surrendered with a sigh. "What's for breakfast?"

"French toast, I teenk."

"They had that yesterday."

"Maybe left-overs," Javier replied with a wry smile. "Maybe dey make too much."

"They probably over counted—didn't realize that so many of the headcount died overnight."

"Come on, Señor Hal. Ees no dat bad."

"Well, look at you, dressed all in white. Each time you come in here I think you're the angel of death. If you catch me in bed, it'll be my turn. So, I've got to get up before you get here."

Javier helped the old man on with his shirt, but left the buttoning to him.

"Sit on dee bed an' I help with dee choos."

Hal sat as Javier instructed.

"How's that girlfriend of yours, Javier?"

"Oh, chee ees okay," the attendant answered as he continued working away. "Chee want we get married. All dee time chee say 'let's get married'."

"Well, why don't you?" Hal asked.

"I teenk so, we weel, but no right now."

"All in good time," Hal agreed. "In the meantime, you treat her right."

"All dee time I tell her you say dat," Javier replied. "Chee say you are a nice pairsone."

"Aw, baloney! I'm just an old fool."

Hal's shoes were laced and tied. Javier stood to give him a hand to get onto his feet.

"I'll be down in a few minutes," Hal told him. "I think I forgot to brush my teeth. It's okay; I can get down on my own."

"Eef chu say so, Señor Hal. Call eef chu nid me," he said, and disappeared from the room.

As the attendant left Hal sat back down on the bed. He glanced out the window. It looked like it was going to be a nice day. He liked the fall season best—not too hot or too cold. Soon the holidays would arrive; he'd get to go out more. Each family member would take their turns picking him up to take him to this house or that. Thanksgiving-Christmas-New Years, coming and going in succession, were like leaves on the trees—a colorful ending and then only a memory. He enjoyed the excursions to the grandkids' homes.

What he liked even more was that fewer of his friends died during the holidays. They summoned their energy for one more round of festive days. After the holidays some would bide their time and try for another round the next year. Others were too tired and decided to go to sleep. But, that would be after the holidays.

He hadn't really forgotten to brush his teeth. He'd been brushing them since he had teeth and that was eighty-eight years. It was too old a habit to forget. It was just that the menu of yesterday's French Toast didn't excite him and he still felt a little tired. He hadn't really wanted to get up so early, but he knew that Javier would be on his way. He always tried to be dressed and shaved before Javier arrived. It was a competition, either with the young attendant or with himself—he wasn't sure.

"I'll just lie back down for a few minutes," he said to himself. "Then, I'll get up and go eat my French Toast. The maid will be in to make up the bed soon."

He pivoted himself and swung his feet up on the bed, shoes and all. He lay back and his head landed softly on his pillow.

"Ah, yes—that was a good idea—just a few minutes."

It was so relaxing. He settled into the mattress just right. It wasn't very often any more that his whole body felt comfortable at the same time. The bright morning sun was shining in the window. He could have gotten up to close the drapes, but he would have had to arise out of his oh-so-comfortable position. Then, finding it again would have been nearly impossible. So, he just closed his eyes.

He liked to remember things when he took his little catnaps. They weren't imagined reveries, for he had seen enough of life to not need them. It didn't bother him that he was living in the past. For what was the difference between reality and a daydream but a span of years? All the same, he kept his daydreaming to himself.

It helped when he allowed himself to relax, get a little drowsy. He wouldn't let himself go all the way to sleep, just half way. It was going to be easy today; he was so comfortable. His back hadn't felt so good in so long. He knew he had little time. The maid would be in soon, and if he didn't show up for French Toast, someone would come running to find him. That would be embarrassing.

Time—that commodity he valued so much less than he used to—still meant something. For the moment he would just dream...

Chapter 1: Spring

A soft answer turneth away wrath: but grievous words stir up anger.

The tongue of the wise useth truth aright: but the mouth of fools pour out foolishness.

The eyes of the Lord are in every place, beholding the evil and the good.
Proverbs 15: 1-3

Germany —April, 1945

The jeep struggled through the muck that the tanks had churned up a few hours before. It was an early spring day—closer to March than to May. The lead-gray sky threatened rain, which promised to further liquefy the mud that was everywhere. It wasn't cold enough to be called cold; too much of a chill to be called warm.

Soldiers with rifles and packs made their way in opposite directions on each side of the beaten-up road. They reminded Hal of ants, marching in slow progression to an assigned destination, one after the other. Those moving away from the frontlines were dirty and needed a shave. On their faces they wore disciplined, gray non-expression. They trudged with great effort, lifting one tired foot and setting it down in front of the other.

The men making their way toward the Front were clean and fresh-shaven; uniforms were creased. There were also creases on the faces of the men—or perhaps the boys—moving up to take the place of the Company marching away from them. They were lines of worry and fear—of the unknown and other things. Whatever their thoughts might have been, no words were traded between the replacements and those being replaced, or even eye contact made.

Riding in the jeep, Hal noticed how the new men still tried to keep their fatigues clean as the vehicles splashed up the mire at them. It told him that they were being sent up from a Replacement Depot. The Repple Depples sent nervous young boys to the Front to become expressionless old men. Hal shook his head. If they were lucky, it would all end soon. Most thought it would. The Germans seemed to be spent after the great expenditure of men and materiel in The Bulge. Hal was clean-shaven and wore new fatigues, too, but he hadn't come from a Repple Depple.

The caravan of trucks and jeeps crept forward. As they moved further the lines of men moving away from the Front thinned and those moving toward it were directed by MP's in various directions. Hal noticed a sentry. He looked again and saw a man he knew hiding beneath layers of grime and several days' growth.

Sammy!" he exclaimed to himself.

He knew he was getting close. He'd catch up with his old comrade later.

"End of the road, Sarge," the driver said a little while later as he pulled the jeep to a dry area at the side of the road. "The CP's about a hundred yards over that way."

Hal grabbed his gear from the back of the jeep. He hoisted his pack onto his back and slung the Thompson onto a shoulder. There were a lot of faces he didn't know, stealing furtive glances at him and the chevrons and rockers on his sleeve.

"Pappy!"

Although the voice came from a distance, Hal would always recognize Frank Collins. So far, aside from Sammy, the forlorn sentry, it was the only familiar thing so far in a Company that Hal had left only three months ago.

"Hey, Frank," he called back and waved.

Everyone called Hal 'Pappy' because he was older than most of them. He was twenty-three when he enlisted in '42.

"How come you're not on a ship back to the states?" Frank asked when he came up beside him.

"Because I'm here," Hal answered.

"C'mon, Hal—don't double-talk me. You had to have enough points to rotate back. What in hell are you doing here? The Captain told everyone that you were comin' back to be Top Sergeant. I didn't believe him."

"A couple officers from Regiment came to see me in the hospital—a major and a lieutenant. You know, laid it on thick. There was a re-up bonus and an extra rocker in it. I could ask you the same question."

"More or less the same answer," Frank replied. "I'm Platoon Sergeant for First Platoon. C'mon, I'll walk you to the CP. They made Lt. Graves a Captain. He's the CO now."

"How's he doing?" Hal asked.

"Fine, fine; not much goin' on. We've been encamped in this town for eight days. It's not bad, except for the mud. Most of the men are replacements—some of the officers, too. Nearly all the original guys that made it are rotated states-side."

"That's what they told me back in England. They were complaining that they don't have enough non-coms with experience."

"Well, they told you right," Frank said as they trudged through a muddy field. "Most of these guys have never seen a German."

"Well, the news in England is that the Nazis can't hold out until June. Maybe these guys won't ever get to see a German—at least one aiming at them. I saw Sammy on sentry duty. What gives?"

"Busted! He told off a shavetail lieutenant and the Captain yanked his stripes and half his points."

"Shame," Hal said. "He deserves better. Landed on Utah with you and me. But, I know Sammy. Trouble and him go together—can't stand prosperity."

Frank shrugged. "That's it for the ten-cent tour. The CP's across the street in what used to be the Town Hall. The Captain should be inside. I've got to get back to my platoon."

"Take it easy, Frank. I'll see ya 'round later."

Hal stepped through the door of the CP and took a look around. Things had changed since he was wounded in The Bulge. To Hal, the CP looked like the insurance agency office back home. He reminded himself that there were Germans three miles down the road. He approached a corporal trying to load two sheets of paper with a carbon in-between into a typewriter. A cigarette burned in an ashtray on the side.

"Corporal, I'm Sgt. Weaver. I've got to report to Capt. Graves."

The Corporal looked up for a moment, perturbed at having been interrupted. "He's back there," he said as he took a drag on the butt and then returned to loading the paper.

"Take me to him," Hal commanded in a loud and almost angry voice. "And put out that butt!"

The corporal looked up again, wearing a look of surprise. He crushed out the smoke, rose from his chair and ventured out from behind his desk.

"This way, Sergeant."

"This Company has got to start lookin' more GI," Hal thought as he followed the Corporal to the Captain's office.

The Corporal knocked on the door.

"Sgt. Weaver to see you, sir," the Corporal announced as he opened the Captain's door.

Hal snapped a salute at the officer. "MSgt. Harold Weaver reporting for duty, sir."

The Captain returned the salute and Hal handed him his orders.

"Stand at ease," the Captain ordered. "Glad you're back, Sergeant. What took you so long?"

"I was just ready to leave the hospital and then my leg developed an infection, sir."

The Captain nodded.

"Anyway, you're here now and that's what counts. We've got a tough job to do. About three quarters of the men are replacements—never seen action. That goes for the officers, too. Everyone thinks the war's gonna' end tomorrow. It's hard to be GI."

"There's still plenty of Germans, sir," Hal replied, "plenty of opportunity to get it. That's just what happens when a unit stops bein' GI."

"You're right—that's why I need you. We'll probably go to Japan after this. On top of that, they took my XO yesterday to take over Company B. I'm gonna lean heavy on you."

"Yes, sir," Hal answered.

"For right now," the Captain continued, “the Corporal, here, will show you to your quarters. Then report to Lt. Lamont in Second Platoon. They're going out tonight to reconnoiter a village a few miles east of here. Luben-something. Here it is on the map."

Hal bent over the Captain's desk.

"Not a very big place. Excuse me, sir—why don't they just flatten it with artillery."

"Don't know," Capt. Graves answered. "They could, but this is the way the Colonel wants it. Anyway, when you go out, stick with Lamont. He already has a Platoon Sergeant. Your job is to be there if he needs you. He just got in a few days ago—no experience whatsoever."

"I understand, sir. Can we take Cimino?"

"Cimino?" the Captain asked. "No, he's on Company Punishment."

"He's the best scout in the Company, sir—especially at night."

"He's lucky I didn't send him up the chain to Regiment," the Captain said.

"He's the best," Hal repeated. "Perhaps, sir, if he apologized to the lieutenant involved..."

"Okay—okay. Tell Cimino he's off punishment—but it better be the last time. Once more and it'll be up to Regiment.

"Yes, sir"

"And listen up; don't let Lamont get carried away. We don't know how many Germans are there—if there are any. If you find any in force, just hold a position outside the town and call us in for support. Otherwise, go in and secure the town—but no farther. These shavetails think they're the next Patton."

"I understand, sir."

"And another thing; everyone knows the end's coming any time. If there are any Germans there, they'll be scared and desperate. Who knows what they'll do. So, don't take any chances. This town's not important enough to take casualties over. I don't even know why we're bothering with it, but that's what the Colonel wants. Shove off at 0300 so you'll be in position outside the town just at daybreak."

"Yes, sir—understood," Hal repeated.

"So, am I supposed to salute?"

Hal wheeled around and saw the dirty, unshaven face of Salvatore Cimino. "You know better than that, Sammy."

"Well, it's nice to see ya, Hal—even if you're nearly an officer."

"Good old Sammy," Hal said as he slapped him on the shoulder, "always got a bad word for everybody."

Formerly Sgt., and now PFC, Salvatore Cimino came from Staten Island. He was short and the war had made him skinny. He had black curly hair and under it a long narrow face with sunken eyes. He hoped to get a cab medallion after the war. He shared all his opinions without ever being asked—and he had many of them. Hal had spent many a night huddled in a foxhole with him. Sammy knew how to get serious when he had to.

"It's good to see you, Hal. But I know you didn't send for me to talk about old times."

"I got you off guard duty," Hal pled.

"I was beginning to like it."

"Maybe we can do something about getting back your stripes."

"Keep 'em," Sammy retorted. "I got no use for 'em anymore."

"Then, of course, there's your rotation points," Hal pointed out.

"Now you're talkin'! What've I gotta volunteer for?"

"Lt. Lamont's taking his platoon out tonight to reconnoiter a small town three miles east of here. I'm goin' along to help him and you're going, too, as the scout."

"Lamont! He's the shavetail I told to kiss off. I think guard duty's lookin' better 'n' better, Hal."

"C'mon, Sammy! Knock it off. This is important. We're goin' out no matter what, and I'd rather not go bare-assed. I need someone who knows the score."

"So, you're orderin' me t' volunteer?"

"I'd like it better if you did it on your own, but I haven't got a lot of choices."

"What can I say?" Sammy sighed. "This sounds like almost as much fun as watching a VD film. Just work on gettin' me back those points, Hal."

The Platoon started out on time. The village, Hal never really got the name, was about three miles east of the Company encampment. If all went well they would cover the distance and be in position at 0:500. There was a wood with a creek running through it that came to within about a half-mile of the village. Beyond the woods lay an open field—probably a farmer's field in better days—that extended from the woods to the narrow lanes of small houses. The terrain crested about midpoint in the field, rising up from the woods and then flattening out.

The plan was to position the men in three squads, unseen in the woods. A small scouting party would set up an OP at the top of the rise and try to see if there were any German units stationed in the village. If there were any, they could radio the Company for reinforcements, as ordered, while the Platoon remained hidden in the woods. Otherwise, they could advance from the tree line to the crest, and then into the town. One squad was to be held in reserve for cover—just in case.

It was a simple plan; Hal knew that simple always worked best. It worried him that Lt. Lamont was so slow to accept it when Hal met with him to go over it that afternoon.

"There might be Germans in the woods," he protested.

"Sir, if there are they're sure to be on the road, too. Anyway, if they've got enough men to put lookouts that far away from the village, we'll already know that they're too strong to attack and we'll have to call for Company support."

The Lieutenant suggested something more strategic.

"We could maneuver around this tree line and attack from the rear."

Hal shook his head. "We could get cut off from the Company, Lieutenant, if the enemy is there. It's too big a risk to take."

"We could get air support if that happens," Lamont countered.

"Lieutenant, they didn't even want to lob a few mortar rounds in there," Hal reminded him. "What chance do we have for an air strike?" Hal paused for a second to see if the logic sunk into the young officer. "The Captain would never approve that plan," he added and Lamont nodded his head to show he agreed.

And so the plan to take a village, with a name no one could remember, came to be. It wasn't much of a plan, but it wasn't much of a village, either.

Hal reported to Capt. Graves to let him know they were set to go.

"Did Lamont give you a hard time about tagging along?" Graves asked.

"A little, but not too much, sir. I told him it was your orders and he didn't say anything more about it after that."

"That's the first smart thing that shavetail's done since he got here."

"Yes sir."

"What about Cimino? Did he complain about him going out with his platoon?"

"I didn't tell him about Cimino yet, sir," Hal replied.

"Just as well," the Captain said. "Get some chow and some shuteye if you can. Good luck."

Lamont didn't complain when Hal showed up with Sammy.

"Lieutenant, I suggest we send Pvt. Cimino out ahead of the platoon as a scout. He can take a runner with him. We can use the road if he can clear it ahead of us."

Hal showed Sammy the map and the objective.

"Just get us lined up at the edge of the woods," Hal told him.

Sammy left and the Platoon moved out ten minutes later. It was an uneventful walk down the road. For most of the men, including the Lieutenant, it was their first venture away from safety. Hal knew they were tense; he would have been, too. When they were nearly at the edge of the woods Sammy met them and motioned them off the road and into position in the trees. Soon the Platoon Sgt. found Lamont and reported that all the men were where they were supposed to be.

"Sammy, take your runner to the top of that knoll and wait until sunrise. Get a good look at the village," Hal whispered. "See if you can spot any Germans or heavy equipment. That is, if it's alright with you, Lieutenant."

"I was just about to say that," Lamont croaked in a hoarse voice.

"Just don't let these jamokes shoot me by accident," Sammy warned.

"No problem," Lamont promised. "We're under control."

"Yeah, right," Sammy replied. Hal gave him a scowl. "I meant yeah, right, sir," Sammy corrected. "Tell them to shoot him instead," he said, pointing to his runner. "C'mon kid. We'll crawl out there on our bellies. Stick close to me."

The two men left the safety of the woods and crawled toward the knoll. Hal watched them for a few minutes, and then turned to Lamont. "Lieutenant, you might want to get OP's set up on both flanks and one to the rear, just to be on the safe side."

"I was just about to give that order," he said, and turned to the Platoon Sergeant.

Hal tried to find Sammy crawling through the grass with his field glasses. He could only see shadowy figures in the darkness. It was 0:445. It would be at least fifteen minutes until Sammy was in position and forty-five before there would be enough light to get any information about whatever was in the village.

"We won't have anything to do for a while, Lieutenant," Hal said, as he put his field glasses away. "We might as well relax while we can. I'll pass the word to the men."

"Right, right," Lamont replied as he knelt beside him. Hal noticed the young officer was shivering. It was odd, he thought, because it wasn't very cold.

"You alright, Lieutenant?" he asked. "I can hear you shivering."

"Yeah, I'm okay. It's just this chilly air and the ground's wet. I'll be okay."

Hal nodded and leaned back against a tree. He felt like a smoke, but it was out of the question.

"Maybe I should go out and check out the OP's," Lamont said. "I hate sitting here doing nothing."

"No, I don't think so," Hal answered. "It's dark and the men are nervous. Someone might fire his weapon, and that's all we'd need."

So they waited. Hal didn't speak to Lamont again, but kept an eye on him shivering and fidgeting as he sat on the ground beside him. The Lieutenant wrapped his arms around himself, but it didn't appear to help him. Hal wondered if Lamont was coming down with flu.

Just as he was about to say something to him, Hal spied Sammy's runner making his way down the slope toward them.

"Sammy says you and the Lieutenant should go up there with him right away," the young private whispered.

"Ready, Lieutenant?" Hal asked.

"Maybe you should go by yourself. Someone has to stay with the men."

Hal shook his head.

"I know Sammy and he doesn't 'cry wolf'. Just tell the Platoon Sgt. where you're going. Of course, it's up to you, Lieutenant."

"Okay, okay. Give me a minute." Lamont went back into the woods to find the Sergeant. He returned in a few minutes and crouched next to Hal. "I'm ready," he stammered.

"We'll go on our hands and knees, now that Sammy already cleared the way," Hal said. The three men left the safety of the woods. When they finally came up along Cimino they could see the first traces of daylight washing over the town. It made the village look dirty and gray. It wasn't really sunlight; the sky threatened rain. It was just an absence of darkness.

"You guys took your sweet time gettin' here," Sammy complained as they settled in on either side of him. "I thought you'd want to see what's goin' on."

Hal lifted his field glasses and scanned a street near the edge of the village. In plain sight, a group of German soldiers was standing around an armored vehicle. There were about thirty of them. In the center was a young man wearing an officer's uniform. An older, larger man stood beside him in an enlisted man's uniform. Hal figured he was the Sergeant.

They couldn't hear, but could see in the dull light that the officer was waving his arms in a heated discussion with the men.

"This has been goin' on for about twenty minutes," Sammy reported.

"Anyone in that halftrack?" Hal asked.

"No, I saw them all pile out and no one's gotten back in."

"What's happening?" Lamont asked.

Sammy and Hal looked at one another.

"Can only be one thing," Hal mumbled.

"Only one thing," Sammy repeated.

"What?" Lamont demanded. "I don't get it."

"Lieutenant, that officer has thirty men, three miles from enemy lines. It's the crack of dawn and they're all standin' around arguing."

"I still don't get it," Lamont replied.

"The men want to desert and the officer—probably a lieutenant—is tryin' talk 'em out of it," Sammy answered.

"They were probably ordered in last night to fortify the village and they're scared," Hal said.

"Can't blame 'em," Sammy agreed.

"I don't see any sign of civilians," Hal observed.

"Naw, the all flew the coop," Sammy said.

At that moment they saw several men on the fringe of the group throw down their rifles and bolt away. The German officer yelled after them and drew his Luger. As he pointed it at the deserters, they saw another of the men shoot the officer. The shot sounded like a thud; the young man crumpled to the ground. There was a pause. The sergeant took a few steps backward and another muffled shot sounded. The sergeant fell backward to lie alongside the murdered officer.

A cold rain spattered on them for a half minute and then began to pour in earnest.

"They're past the point of no return now," Hal spoke louder over the sound of the rain.

"They probably want to surrender," Lamont said. The rain began to fall even harder.

"Screw that!" Sammy uttered.

"We have to bring up the men," Lamont insisted. In the distance the Germans were running, either in flight from their crime or the rain.

"Who knows what they'll do," Hal advised the Lieutenant. "They're deserters and that makes them dangerous. They might surrender or they might want to just run away."

Through the pounding of the rain on their helmets they heard another gunshot, this time closer. The four men hugged the earth.

"Was that one of ours?" Hal asked.

"Naw," Sammy shouted, "it came from over there. It was one of theirs."

There was a splash of earth near their heads and another muffled report sounded through the rain.

"I saw the muzzle flash," Sammy yelled and pointed to a small, isolated thicket about forty yards away. As Hal looked where Sammy pointed he heard another thud and a shot.

"I saw it too," he called back.

There was no answer.

"I saw it, Sammy!"

Hal cut loose a burst from his Thompson into the small grove of saplings and waited for Sammy to come up along side him. They would go into the thicket together and flush the Germans. He was glad to know that Sammy was there to help him.

"C'mon Sammy, let's go!"

There was no answer and he reached back for Sammy in the driving rain. He was there, but when Hal pushed on him there was no reaction in his body.

"Oh, no—oh Sammy, not you, too!"

Hal looked behind him and Sammy lay there, his helmet blown off, a hole in his temple. A small trickle of blood seeped out of the wound and was being washed away by the rain already.

Hal fired another burst into the thicket. He saw the shapes of two German soldiers running out of the thicket. One was tall, without his helmet or hat. Even in the poor light the tangle of blond hair was like a neon sign that burned into Hal's memory. He thought of chasing them—give 'em what they deserved. It would have to wait. He had a helpless Lieutenant to look after and three squads to bring out of the woods.

"What's wrong with Cimino?" Lamont yelled over the sound of the pouring rain.

"He got it!" The rage rose up in Hal's throat. "Look at him—he's dead."

Sammy joined a long list of Hal's dead friends. Sammy's death hurt even more than the others because Hal hoped he'd seen the end of it.

The Lieutenant inched forward and peered at Sammy's face—the wound in his temple and the expressionless eyes frozen open. He gazed at the face of death for a few seconds and then let out a muffled groan and retreated back to his place in the mud and grass and buried his own face in his arms. His shivering returned. The shaking was broken every few seconds by a sob.

"Look at him, Lieutenant!" Hal yelled. "That's what it's all about. It's our business."

Lamont didn't answer.

"Take his tags," Hal told the Lieutenant.

Lamont remained huddled in his place, unwilling to raise his eyes from the protective cradle of his arms.

"Never mind, Lieutenant. I'll take them."

He was sure that Lamont had heard him. Hal wondered to himself if it was more cowardly to fear the potential of death, or its reality. Lamont was dead to him at that moment and Sammy was somehow alive.

"Oh, Sammy, it's all my fault," Hal said silently to his dead comrade. "I should've left you on guard duty. You were happy enough."

He hoped that Sammy heard him, wherever he was. It was more an apology than a plea to be forgiven. As he opened the shirt to take his tags he felt for tears streaming down his face, but they did not appear. He thought they might this once; the end was so near to permit the indulgence. He hoped for a moment that they had been there and the rain had washed them away. He dismissed the vain wish; knew it wasn't true. The rain could never baptize away the stain of killing and tears were no repentance.

He had seen men's silent death stares many times. Some had belonged to men with whom he shared a cigarette or a foxhole minutes before it happened. Others belonged to men he had just killed, or would have if someone else hadn't done so before he could do it. Sammy was only the latest. Hal gently covered the dead man's eyes with his bare hand and closed the eyelids. He opened Sammy's pack, took out his poncho and covered his face. He took his personal effects out of his pockets to send to the family.

"It's time to bring up the Platoon, Lieutenant," Hal called above the rain to the sobbing figure still hugging the earth.

The Lieutenant didn't answer. Hal reached over and grabbed the young man's shoulder and shook him.

"Lieutenant!" he yelled.

Lamont lifted his face from the mud. His eyed were bloodshot.

"Go back down the hill and bring up the platoon."

"I can't," Lamont whispered though the rain.

Hal climbed over Cimono's body, which was between them.

"What?"

"I can't," Lamont repeated. He grasped Hal's field jacket and pulled him closer. "I can't; I wet myself."

The young officer hid his face deeper in the crook of his arm, probably fearing the contempt of a hard-edged man. Hal didn't answer.

"I can't let the men can't see,” Lamont explained.

Hal exhaled and then patted the Lamont on the shoulder.

"It's alright. It's rainin' like hell and we're already drenched. No one will know."

The young lieutenant looked at Hal. "Are you sure?"

"Yeah," Hal answered. "It's better this way. Now you've got it out of your system; it won't happen again."

"Did it ever happen to you?" the young man asked. Hal heard the hope in his voice.

"Yes," he lied, "at Utah Beach. I was lucky, like you. We'd been in the water, so no one knew."

The Lieutenant didn't answer. He slowly stood up and made his way down the hill to call up the platoon. The rain was beginning to let up. Hal turned to the runner a few yards away, who had been silently watching all that happened.

"Keep quiet about this," he told the youth.

Hal never asked himself why he lied to Lamont. He had nearly forgotten it as the platoon entered the village. A few of the German deserters were found hiding in basements and attics and taken prisoner. Most of them had run away.

The bodies of the German lieutenant and sergeant lay side-by-side in the street, staring at the sky, just as Sammy, back in the grassy field.

"Cover those guys up," Hal ordered a pair of privates.

But they're..." one of them began to protest.

"Do it!" Hal snarled at them.

The Platoon secured the village. They radioed Company HQ and let them know. Lt. Lamont appeared to be in control; Hal didn't think he was needed right then. Soon the Captain would order him back to the CP to take up his regular duties. Hal had an idea, and before he went back he wanted to check it out.

First, he went back to the field to where Sammy's body lay. His poncho still covered him; his rifle, stuck in the ground by its bayonet marked the spot. Hal paused to tuck the poncho around the body a little better. He reminded himself to send a few men to move Sammy back to the village.

Hal thought about taking a final look at Sammy's face, but didn't want to. He thought, instead, on the memory of the figures of the two German soldiers running from the thicket—the deserters who had killed his friend. Somehow, he sensed justice at the edge of the field. He decided to follow the tree line away from the village to see where the field ended.

Hal climbed to the top of a small hillock. In the distance he spied a farmhouse where the field ended. It wasn't far away. He took the safety off his Thompson and returned to the tree line to approach the farmhouse.

"It makes perfect sense," he reasoned. "They've got no place to go. They're afraid of us, and they can't go back to their own because they're deserters."

Hal crept up along side of the small house; he heard voices inside, confirming his suspicions. It had to be them; all the civilians had fled. Hal stole silently up to a window. Inside the mass of blond hair was devouring a brick of cheese that had been left behind. His companion had a loaf of bread. He saw their rifles propped in a corner.

"I'll give 'em what they gave Sammy."

He needed a better angle to get a good shot. He retraced his steps to the rear of the house. A door swung open in the breeze, as though by an act of Providence. Hal stepped as lightly as he could. He'd surprise them and then cut them down—a burst for each of them. He could hear the two of them speaking in German. He didn't understand, but could tell they were arguing.

"I want to see their faces when I do it. I want 'em to see it coming—the dirty bastards."

The Germans continued to argue. It sounded like they were yelling with their mouths stuffed full of food. It made Hal want to kill them even more. In his mind was a picture of his friend, lifeless in the field behind him. It would not only be for Sammy, but all his friends who got it from Normandy to the Bulge—two worthless lives to atone for the loss of so many good ones.

He burst into the room. The Germans sat at a table—no chance to reach their rifles leaning against the wall in the corner. Their mouths dropped open in shock when they saw him. They were still drenched from the storm. They were young, certainly not yet twenty. One began to sob; it reminded Hal of the Lieutenant an hour ago.

"Bitte, bitte," the blond one managed to blurt out.

Hal braced himself. He had learned, through thousands of moments of truth, that the good soldier had certain things to do, and there was no chance for second-guessing. He took a deep breath.

"Get up!" he ordered them and jerked the muzzle of his Thompson upward to make his point. The men forced themselves to their feet and raised their hands without command. The one who had been sobbing closed his eyes and sobbed again.

"Bitte, bitte," the blond one repeated.

Hal saw him shaking. He let his finger caress the trigger. He felt the cold metal of it. It would require one pull—then another—and then the equation would be balanced.

"Shut-up!" Hal yelled in a stern voice and pointed toward the door. "Move!"

The young Germans would live.

On their way back to the village they stopped where Sammy's body lay covered with the poncho. Hal made the prisoners pick him up and carry the body to the village. When they arrived they placed Sammy alongside the bodies of the German lieutenant and sergeant.

As Hal lay in his half sleep he asked himself why he had remembered the incident at that time, after all these years. There were so many other things from the war to remember, even more terrible and frightening. He wondered what happened to the two young German deserters. He hoped they were old men somewhere, just like him. He heard that Lt. Lamont was a Captain, and then a Major, in the Korean War. He lost track of him after that.

He had never told anyone the story—seldom thought about it. As he lay in the bed having a nap the memory was so clear. Oh, these dreams; if the bed weren't so comfortable he would get up and put an end to them.

To be continued

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