From the American Scene: We Were a P.W.I. Team
We Were a team of six—four enlisted men and two officers. All of us were foreign born, all were now Americans, though none of long standing. Ours was part of a larger team which was in turn part of another, still larger one: the First United States Army. In a year’s time we checked off more than a million Germans behind barbed wire, not counting the dead ones on the roads to the PW enclosures.
We rode in two jeeps. One was called “Phila., Pa.,” because Sergeant Kurt was a Philadelphian (although born at Eschweiler in the Rhineland). The other jeep was named “Sally,” for the girl left behind by our team captain, “Handsome Rudy from Prague.”
Three of us had at one time been Germans, one a Czech, one a Swiss, one an Austrian. Victor, an ex-waiter, held the team record, having come to America from Switzerland more than ten years ago. (He also was the oldest and as T/5 the lowest in rank, his preference for officer’s shirts notwithstanding; he was the only one of us not a Jew.) Swarthy Walter, looking the commuting business man even in his corporal’s uniform, had needed barely five years to complete a typical American career by rising from errand boy to store-owner. Kurt and I had been the last to be sworn in as citizens—in uniform, just before we went overseas, and only a couple of years after coming here as refugees from the very thing we were now returning to fight. Kurt, an ex-salesman and photographer, was only twenty-two; I myself had been a writer. We were the only bachelors.
Our mission explained why the Army had put us together. We were one of a few hundred Prisoner of War Interrogation teams in the European Theater of Operations. Attached to regiments, divisions, corps, and armies, our job was to interrogate prisoners of war. We did other jobs too, later; but grilling Nazis was the one we had been trained and fused into a team for, and we grilled them from D-Day†1 until long after we met the Russians at Torgau.
We kept practicing during the long wait in England, on Nazis taken in Africa or Sicily, or off submarines. “Trained prisoners” with some fifty-odd interrogations behind them told us everything we wished to hear, and drew increased rations as a reward. We gave language lessons and lectured for the GI’s, and we gave “shows”—a necessary but unpleasant duty which meant donning German uniforms and insignia, barking German commands, and generally giving the “real Americans” an idea of the enemy.
All this changed radically as we moved into the marshalling area for the pre-invasion weeks. In a little Welsh town we lived in strict seclusion from the outside world. There was a castle atop a hill and a dungeon below; the atmosphere was cold, with the shadow of things to come hanging over refugee and Mayflower descendant alike. Every man had his hair cut down to one inch, and this sanitary precaution against infections from head wounds had a metaphysical meaning for us, like an initiation into a monks’ secret order. There were other rites, such as the water-proofing of jeeps for an amphibious landing, and a complete dress rehearsal in gas-protective clothing. By the time we were loaded into hundreds of ships and had sailed out of Bristol Channel on a rough sea, past the white English coast toward France and an uncertain future, all of us knew that we were in the same boat.
I don’t know on what beach we landed. I always thought it was “Omaha”; it was the name we kept hearing when we lay off-shore and pretended to pay attention to a gin-rummy game on deck, while our little radio carried prayers from churches and synagogues for the fellows going in ahead of us. But a few days later our Military Police detachment sold us a puppy they had named “Utah,” as it had been picked up on “Utah” beach—so I may be wrong, or else the MP’s went ashore a mile away.
We knew for certain that we were close to Bayeux. It was a place I had loved in past and peaceful days, and I kept thinking of a lovely, famous tapestry there, depicting another, long bygone invasion—the Norman conquest of England—and while all others worried for their and their buddies’ lives, I worried for the tapestry on top of all. Of course, I should have welcomed a barrage on it if any Nazis had been hiding behind; but we were to get them cheaper in the end.
Almost everyone was afraid of something besides being killed. Many worried about amnesia; I myself had deposited my friends’ addresses in a safe place before embarking. In the PWI teams many did not dread death so much as capture, and not without reason. Some had had their names changed before returning to the old continent. Others took pains to destroy every clue to their past, such as notebooks, addresses or photographs. But Kurt could not part from a girl’s picture which in the lower left-hand comer clearly showed the trademark of a photographer from Cologne. Soldiers are sentimental.
I still remember the first German we saw. He was dead, lying face down and covered with dust and debris, and we only saw him after the jeep and our heavily loaded trailer both had passed over his body. Then we saw a French girl standing in a looted shop, desperate and without eyes for her liberators. A colored soldier played the Marseillaise on a piano in a house without a front wall.
Prisoners were coming in; our job began, and was quite different from what we had practiced in England. There we had been looking for invaluable strategic information; here we were much more interested in the whereabouts of that—LMG 42 or mortar that was bothering us from the southwest comer of the next apple orchard.
To me, the very first haul we questioned brought a strange experience. There was a type who thought he remembered my face, from the University of Vienna. It was a situation we had sometimes wondered about and always dismissed as too improbable; yet here it was, and I met it by having the Nazi stand at attention for an hour, to punish him for his insolence. Even now I could not say why all of us were so loath to reveal our past. We were proud to tell a Nazi that we were Jews; but we never let on that we had come from Europe, not even to Europeans. This past of ours seemed so unreal, so like a bad dream that we never mentioned it and never spoke to each other in our native tongues.
PWI teams on regimental level worked anywhere—in a farm kitchen or under a hedge-row. I questioned many a prisoner in a foxhole, with both of us ducking when a shell whistled over. They might easily have attacked me, but never did. They were numb. They looked worst on that level, too, especially if we got them after an aerial attack—then their eyes popped out and their faces seemed no longer human. To put their shock to use while it lasted, most of us questioned them harshly. Robert, the sixth man on our team, was the only one who disapproved of rough treatment.
Robert was our “second looey,” an interesting character who had studied physics with Niels Bohr in Copenhagen, and music with Arnold Schönberg in California. He was cold, dispassionate, objective, a model scholar as opposed to “Handsome Rudy,” our educator who talked so much of the great college where he had studied and so little of the small grade-school where he taught. Robert was always looking for intellectuals to interrogate, and never found any. He was the only one of us who could not be tough, and an ironic fate turned him into our specialist on the Fifth Paratroop Division, among the very toughest outfits in the Wehrmacht.
On the regimental level you worked at close range, and often saw the results of your work with your own eyes. Once, we found out the location of a German battalion headquarters and an artillery position that had held us up for days. Ten minutes later the information had been checked and phoned to Regiment; twenty minutes later Regiment had passed it on to Division, Division to Corps, Corps to our heavy artillery; thirty minutes later shells screamed overhead and an hour later, when we got orders to move up, there was no one left alive at the enemy headquarters and not even bodies remained at the battery that had taken so heavy a toll in American casualties.
It was one of our most satisfactory jobs, especially as it followed closely on the death of one of our own men, an internationally famous pianist, struck by a shell while questioning prisoners at Division. The PW’s survived.
In August a PWI captain named Dreyfus was working under the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, when one Nazi, not properly disarmed, threw a grenade which seriously wounded him. There was something symbolic about a Captain Dreyfus winning the Purple Heart under the Arc de Triomphe as Paris was liberated.
Before Paris, after St. Lô and the victory of Falaise-Argentan, four other PWI teams were combined with ours to serve at First Army “Cage.” There, greater stress than on regimental level was placed on extracting strategic information from the prisoners; and there, from the Falaise Gap on, they kept coming in by the thousands, a dirty, smelly mass of inhumanity.
The “Cage” was not a fixed place, but moved with us. But it was always the same enclosure, the same huge square of barbed wire with many subdivisions. It was set up by the Engineers, on sites chosen by the Provost Marshal before we arrived.
An MP company kept order in the “Cage”; they ran it efficiently. They were “real Americans” but seldom let us feel a difference, or if they did, gave us credit for it. We organized army talks together, nightlong discussions of current events and problems. In those days we read The Stars and Stripes by the fiery glow of Aachen burning in the distance, and one of our friends who had owned a house there wasted only one cynical thought on the subject before reading on.
Late in October we voted in the presidential election. For most of us it was the first chance in life to exercise the basic right of democracy. We felt important and honored. Those who did not get their war ballots in time had no consolation except getting on with the war.
When we finally came to a dirty road sign, inscribed ENTERING GERMANY—DON’T FRATERNIZE, we could not muster any sharp feelings whatever. We merely tightened our grip on our tommy guns while driving through empty villages decorated with white flags.
It was not until night that any news arrived that could impress us. One of our MP’s, a Jewish fellow, was wired that his wife had died in childbirth, and the baby, too. V-1′s were buzzing through the night sky which we had once subdivided like a railroad yard—into tracks numbered from one to seven according to the danger for us; seven meant duck in a foxhole. We gathered in a candle-lit tent, to say Kaddish for the dead so far away. Our own danger appeared so small, so man-made, compared with the decisions that lay in the hands of God.
We were to have a close run with death in the December battle of the Ardennes. On the basis of what we had learned from prisoners, we had long sounded warnings, even alarms, about German troop concentrations and other preparations for an enemy winter offensive. Still it came as a surprise to all of us. Though we had known for months about “Operation Greif,” the plan to pour thousands of Germans in American uniforms and American tanks and jeeps through and behind our lines, we never thought it could be brought off.
The massacre of captured “medics” by the SS Division Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler on a snow-covered field near Malmédy struck the keynote of this offensive. Belgian refugees were herded into barns and churches by the advancing Wehrmacht and burned alive. V-1′s dropped everywhere. For many days and nights truck convoys, troops and tanks kept passing us on the way to the rear. Boys from our outfit who had to go out on missions told of narrow escapes.
One prisoner said that two captured American officers had been executed because they were Jewish. They had been questioning prisoners when they themselves were captured, and one was denounced by the freed Germans as having said he was from Berlin. We noted the name of the German battalion commander responsible for the killing—one Hauptmann Bruns.
Colonel Skorzeny, the rescuer of Mussolini and now the would-be captor of General Eisenhower, had his men drop from the sky by day and night, to cut our communications. Those we caught believed they had been dropped by the tens of thousands. With fear adding to danger, it did look that way; but a close count brought the number of German paratroopers down to an even 1,000—most of them already rounded up, including their leader, Colonel von der Heydt, whom we questioned under shellfire in a Malmédy hospital. The danger from the sky seemed averted, and now we remembered it as a beautiful spectacle with bright flares dropping all over the countryside.
There remained the other, trickier danger of countless saboteurs infiltrating our lines in disguise. Control points were set up on all roads, only a few hundred yards from each other, passwords were asked with a bayonet at your chest, dog-tags and other identifications were checked. Other questions served to make sure: Sinatra’s first name, the results of the past World Series, current Broadway hits or the names of some of our politicians. I was almost certain that I knew the capitals of all forty-eight States; but after an Alabaman had talked to me for half an hour about his home state, I stammered, “Alabama,” when I was asked the capital of New York, instead of Albany. It happened in daytime, when the sentries were not quite so trigger-happy, and after my driver had established his identity beyond a doubt—but at night an error like that might easily have been fatal. Our accent was not exactly an asset, either, though not too damaging if we acted natural otherwise. Some of the Germans sent behind our lines spoke better English and knew more GI slang than we did. Control points kept calling the “Cage” to check on men who claimed to belong to so strange an outfit as ours.
When we got the false Americans into the “Cage,” most of them already roughed up by front-line troops as well as by rear-area troops, overnight become foxhole soldiers, they were no longer treated with objectivity even by our dispassionate “second looey.” All their American equipment was taken from them; they were left not much more than their trousers and those without belts, so that they had to hold them with their frozen hands. They were among the cockiest Nazis we met. One of them proudly admitted that he would kill his own mother if she criticized the Fuehrer. All were ready to die for him. Still, they eagerly gave information—even good information—if offered a chance at the firing squad rather than the rope.
The MP’s needed help and some of our team would volunteer for the execution detail. With shined boots and white gloves, they marched through mud, holding an oily rifle butt. The front row of the firing squad would kneel down; three saboteurs at a time would be tied to poles; some refused a blindfold and stared their hatred at the executioners; they died with a “Heil Hitler” on their blue lips. When our fellows got up from their kneeling position, their knees would shake so that they had to use their rifles for canes. But at least they had fired a shot to avenge those of their relatives who had not been lucky enough to escape from the jungle of Europe.
They could do more soon, when SS prisoners started coming into the “Cage” by truckloads. Blood would be dripping from the trucks—our troops had not forgotten their murdered pals at Malmédy. The “Cage” was a frozen mud hole, and the SS had standing room only. All night long, while we were typing and mimeographing reports that went to seventy-six agencies, I heard the prisoners stamping on the icy ground. But when they broke into one of those sentimental German songs that not so long ago had moved my heart too, I rushed out of my tent and bellowed: “Maul halten—Shut up!”
The Germans still advanced. But our minds had grown used to the danger, and there was too much work to be done to think of anything else. Still, we had to move to the rear. On New Year’s Eve we had our “Cage” set up in a former Gestapo jail in the citadel of Huy, high above the town, on a cliff overlooking the Meuse valley. V-1 fire was being aimed at the important bridge at Huy, but the rockets hit every place except the target. At the twelfth stroke of a church bell, the last stroke of 1944, a V-1 dropped next to a castle where I was celebrating the New Year with Belgian friends. It shattered all windows. We threw another log into the fireplace and had a few more drinks.
These Belgian friends of mine were wonderful people, but exacting. In their home I had to be the American liberator, to represent America, democracy and freedom, and many other good things which I myself had missed through most of my life. I had to create a new life. I had been born in California, to parents who liked to travel, which was why I knew so much German and French and did not always behave like other Americans. These good people never doubted me, and I did not dare disillusion them. I put an English accent into my French; I even lied about my name. And a romance ended suddenly with my departure.
Back at the “Cage” I found a long-expected guest: the Third Army had captured Hauptmann Bruns in the Bulge, and as their staff was on the distribution list of our reports and so had read about the murder of the two interrogators, they had sent him to us by special delivery. He got a cell in the citadel with absolutely nothing in it.
Hauptmann Bruns was a former grocery clerk, stocky, with blue eyes and reddish hair. He played innocent and never committed himself, except to a stool-pigeon we planted in his cell. He remembered those two American officers all right, but they must have been shot on the way from his battalion to regimental headquarters. This was and remained his story, though prisoner after prisoner from his battalion hinted that he had singled out these two officers because they were Jewish, and had them led to the rear through the woods, separating them from other captured Americans. We took Bruns on a long search for the graves of the victims, near Bleialf, a desolate place on the Belgian-German border; he led the way and did not move an eyelid when a detail exhumed the two bodies.
The Hauptmann remained our guest while we gathered more circumstantial evidence. We did not pass him on through the usual PW channels. He moved with us, with his own roll of barbed wire, by which he was fenced off from the increasing number of ordinary PW’s. After more than two months the Inspector General finally accepted our evidence as conclusive and brought the case to a close. Hauptmann Bruns died before a firing squad. Just before his death a third American soldier died because of him, when a jeep skidded on an icy road while transporting a witness, a German prisoner, to the court. The witness survived.
We strictly observed the rules of the Geneva Convention, but some of our prisoners had such bad consciences that they would kill themselves rather than be interrogated. Others died of exhaustion shortly after arriving in the crowded cages. Some were killed by their compatriots and hurriedly buried in the straddle trenches used as latrines. We did not have time to investigate all such cases during the swift advance across the Cologne plain, or after the clean-up of the Harz pocket, when we had fifty to seventy thousand at a time packed tightly into the enclosures, when their uniforms were no longer grey or black but a sickening brown mixed of mud and blood and excrement, when the warm stench that had always marked the “Cage” became overwhelming and a small cloud—of gas—hung above it every hot day.
One man, Kurt, would keep these masses firmly under control. Standing knee-deep in mud, he would bellow jokes into the microphone in Cologne dialect. It was his job to break the prisoners down into units, which was not exactly child’s play, while we were overrunning hundreds of small rear-echelon contingents a day—“stomach” battalions made up of men with digestive ailments, and “ear” battalions of the almost totally deaf. Kurt greeted them in the morning:
“All right—last chance—anyone that still wants to die for the Fuehrer, step out!” Then, the roster of the once mighty Wehrmacht: “All remnants of the Fifth Paratroop Division, step out! What? Any of you still alive?” Or, “All of the 186th Division—why so late? Your comrades are long in America.” Or to the Volkssturm, “Ah, here comes the secret weapon—V-3. . . .”
The biggest disorder in the “Cage” occurred after the capture of some two hundred inmates of an insane asylum; given uniforms and rifles they could not handle, they had been driven into the line, where they died like flies in winter. After capture they were the only ones who ever tried to escape in numbers. The rest were rather happy to be out of the war. We no longer got the fanatics—they were either dead, or in the shrinking hinterland. The ones we got now were all “little people” who had merely taken orders, as befitted “just a little Pfc” or “just a little colonel.” One individual with broad red stripes on the seams of his trousers even asked, “What do you want of me? I’m just a little general.”
“Handsome Rudy” loved to interrogate generals. Toward the end they came in by the dozens, with nothing left of their glory but the red stripes. Rudy had mastered a physical weakness in the service; a life-long stutterer, he never stuttered during an interrogation. The brilliant feuilleton style of his reports gave a vivid impression of the Wehrmacht upper strata—and their accuracy was not diminished by his habit of writing them before he actually questioned the prisoners.
Once the front was entirely in Germany, we got several fellows from the French interpreter teams whom we had helped out during the invasion. To cope with the multitudes coming in every day, we could use every man with a knowledge of German—and some without it. One of the most successful interrogators at First Army was a tough captain who in civil life had worked in Wall Street and, aside from English, could speak Yiddish only. The prisoners understood him perfectly. As a matter of fact, speaking German too well appeared to make them suspicious, so in our team we sometimes faked a foreign accent, such as Russian or French, with good results.
Lieutenant Robert had the thankless job of questioning members of the various small units; seemingly unimportant, they gave a clear picture of the enemy’s dwindling power. Victor worked in the Survey Department, under Guy, a youngster from St. Louis, also born abroad but graduated from an American college. Guy made some of the best surveys on the extent of bomb damage in the Reich, on the condition of the roads about the Rhine, and on underground installations in the Rhine and Ruhr cities.
Working under Guy was a staff of reliable prisoners. Our “trusties” had proved beyond any doubt that the Nazis had persecuted them for political reasons; they had languished in concentration camps or in military prisons and, when sent out on front probation,’ had deserted to us. They had an uncanny knack of spotting the Nazis in every haul of prisoners. But we had to put a stop to their independent efforts when we learned that to help us get information they would make recalcitrant Nazis stand against a wall and rub their noses on it until the bones shone through. We were not running a Gestapo prison, and besides, we got results without such methods.
Guy’s biggest individual case was an SS physician by the name of Schuebbe—the first large-scale war criminal to fall into American hands. He was a short, thin type with a sharp profile and remarkably nervous hands with clumsy finger-tips. He was captured in a trance after attempting suicide by an overdose of opium and failing—he was an addict and inured. Coming out of the trance, and apparently not yet realizing where he was, he had begun to boast of his extermination of people “unworthy to live.”
It happened at Kiev, where he and four others, on direct orders from Heinrich Himmler, had in eight weeks killed some twenty thousand Russians, Jews, Poles, Gypsies, and other members of “inferior races”—men, women and children, old and young, all by injections of morphine. Dr. Schuebbe’s nervous hands, his clumsy finger-tips, had pushed the hypodermic needle into the thousands. He had watched them die, he could tell exactly when and how their eyes broke. He was not ashamed at all; between questionings he could sit peacefully under a blossoming apple tree and read poetry.
We had to treat him like a star. At that time we had not yet seen a concentration camp; stories of one man murdering tens of thousands were still inconceivable to most people in the world. To the Inspector General, a confession made in a trance was insufficient evidence for a trial. But Dr. Schuebbe could not live without opium; so we fed him a few drops now and then, hoping for just one lucid moment. The tiniest part of his story branded him as a war criminal, and for the first time we glimpsed the full horror of Nazism. For three days and three nights Victor kept watch by Dr. Schuebbe’s side, until we had enough supporting evidence to bear out his confession. He got a fair trial, and left a wife and four children in Westphalia.
But it was beyond our power to catch up with all the killers and henchmen, though we tried our utmost. They were the first to be rounded up every morning, by Kurt and Walter—Walter being the toughest-looking of us and the one most feared by the prisoners. Kurt had a special routine for them:
All concentration-camp guards—step out! All murderers—step out! Those who were just working in the office, too!
Many would obey. More would be discovered in the mass by our trusties, or trapped by stool-pigeons, or pointed out by informers. We found SS men hiding in Wehrmacht uniforms, Ortsgruppenleiter disguised as members of the semi-military Todt Organization, “Old Fighters,” veterans of the Munich beer-hall Putsch of 1923, holders of golden party-medals, in all kinds of uniforms—criminals all. But we knew, in those days when they came into the cages by the tens of thousands, that undoubtedly many did slip through. Are they still free?
It became impossible to keep the situation-map up to date. We ran off the map again and again; the interrogation reports we sent out were outdated before they left the mimeograph machine.
I remember V-E Day as the first in a long series of days when I left the team and the enclosure with the milling prisoners. I climbed a hill in the Fulda valley on a gorgeous day. I wanted to be away from hatred for a change; a man cannot hate all the time. Toward sunset I crossed a bridge built by the Nazi Technische Nothilfe. Leaning against the bridge I succumbed to a romantic mood. Then I looked down at the river, and when my eyes passed over the embankment I saw it was reinforced with huge stone slabs bearing Hebrew inscriptions—tombstones from a desecrated Jewish cemetery. I felt sick. And as yet I had not seen the concentration camps.
It was in Buchenwald—on the most gruesome sightseeing trip I ever hope to take, although the corpses that first greeted our troops had already been buried by the townspeople of Weimar—it was in Buchenwald that for the first time in years I shook the hands of Germans. But these Buchenwald Germans really seemed more like citizens of a whole suffering League of Nations. A Czech pianist was our guide—his hands had been crippled by the Gestapo, but he wanted to go on composing. We walked through the “hospital,” wondering how such skeletons were still kept alive; we saw the crematorium with its six-door furnace, and the shaft down which the SS had dumped the bodies of thousands hanged on the three gallows in the courtyard. We saw the forty-nine hooks in front of the furnace, supplementing the gallows—many since taken away by souvenir-hunting GI’s whom nothing fazed after all that they had seen. Today I think of forty-nine American homes scattered from the Atlantic to the Pacific, decorated with the hooks of Buchenwald—and I hope that the fellows who brought them back will tell their story over and over again.
We glanced at a shelf with urns holding the ashes of the very last victims to be burned before our troops came. Suddenly Kurt went white, staring at a name-plate. There, in one of those urns, were the ashes of a boy he had gone to school with in Eschweiler. Kurt’s hand was trembling as he picked up the urn. “Just think—it might have been me.
We hated to look at the Germans we met; they were still too clean, too well-dressed and fed. We got sore at a GI who sat smiling on the doorstep of a house, with two elderly Germans; in our state we could not help reminding him of the fraternization ban. But he answered coolly, “If you don’t mind—they’re my parents.” But Walter had worse luck. He traveled to his native town of Hanover only to hear that his parents had died in the gas chambers of Oswiecim.
We spent some time in the Saar, checking trains that were taking displaced persons into France. My own experience as a refugee had made me an expert on illegal border-crossings; I knew how easy it was. I hope I did a better job than the frontier guards whom I myself had once fooled. We did catch quite a few more or less important Nazi personages who may have been hoping to escape to Spain or South America.
In the Saar we attended the first Jewish services to be held in a synagogue on German soil. The captain of the Military rededicated one of the three German syna-Government Detachment at St. Ingbert had gogues not rendered useless for their holy purpose. Ours had been used by the Wehrmacht as a store room. But a Catholic priest had hidden the altar stones in an attic; the Torah, too, had been preserved through the long years of Nazidom. The synagogue had been thoroughly cleaned by former Nazi officials, and newly painted. Candles were lit; the atmosphere was very festive. The AMG Captain told the story of the building which dated back to another century, and the Protestant chaplain spoke about the freedom of faith which we were to restore all over the world. Three ladies from St. Ingbert were present—Gentiles formerly married to Jews who could not attend this Friday-evening service because the Nazis had killed them.
About the same time, in the Catholic parts of Germany, the first public Corpus Christi processions could move again through decorated village streets and over flower carpets hiding filled-in craters, in an air filled with the scent of decaying leaves from the trees which leaned against bomb-shattered walls.
Had peace come to Germany? I saw a one-legged German soldier walk on crutches to where he hoped to find his home and family. I felt sorry for him, and offered him a ride in my jeep. He showed me a furious face and spat: “Let me walk.” I learned a lesson.
Gradually, our team was breaking up. Captain Rudy had taken a job at Frankfurt, with the Allied Group Control Council, Industrial Section, and been replaced by a young officer come overseas directly from officer candidate school, with only 34 points. He was the first American-born member of our team, and although he was in command he took our advice and was willing to learn. Nobody ever needed to give us orders; we knew our job, we liked our job, and we did it as well as we could.
Lieutenant Robert went to Berlin, on a special assignment to teach German policemen the American way. Kurt left us when we were working at a disbandment center near Marburg, screening PW’s for discharge or arrest; he was going out on points. Victor would be the next to go out—on age. I, too, was due shortly to go out on points.
When I was finally called off my last assignment, I moved to our headquarters in Bad Schwalbach, a famous spa near Wiesbaden. There a thousand fellows like myself were assembled, waiting either to be shipped home or to go out on new assignments. We occupied all the hotels in town, and from the steady contact with us the townspeople correctly guessed that many of us had come from the same old country. It was there, for the first time, that I felt ill at ease and eager to be one of many millions, not one of the few thousands who were strangers wherever they went.
When I got back to the States, a girl in Camp Patrick Henry, Virginia, greeted me across a soda fountain. “Welcome home, Joe,” she said. “Been overseas a long time? You lost your American accent.”