I felt eyes on us as we pulled into the village that evening. A sniper could hide anywhere in this soup. A chill danced on my spine. We'd never see them, but they could be there.
Dread clung to me like stink on a hog. I hated this part. Well, I guess I hated a slew of the parts of the job. My last gig ended with my ride blowing up and I wound up in a ditch. Considering all, maybe this job trumps it. .
I killed the engine as we pushed the vehicle behind a building, and hunched down to wait for dawn.
A loud thud pulled my eyelids open. I turned to see three cotton tops with enlarged blue eyes pasted against my window, all six eyes were intent on me.
I fished around my head for the proper phrase, "Uh, Danke!."
All I got were loud snickers .
I replayed the sharp voice of my CO in my mind. No fraternizing with the enemy. Yeah, enemies, he couldn't mean innocent children … the victims of the war.
"Pete, wake up. You know any German?"
"We got us some visitors 'bout the handsomest Germans I ever seen."
"Well,well, blonde headed boy pups!"
"By the way I know enough to know you said Thank You."
We grinned and they giggled.
"Guess they ain't afraid of two big tough yanks," Pete smirked.
"Kinder komen hier."
Three little faces whipped around with a start, "Komende Mutter."
"Kommen jetzt!" a woman's voice demanded.
"Their mama is upset and wants them, now,I think," I told Pete.
"Sounds like it."
I heard trucks headed our way. I raised my field glasses to see our unit thundering in to town. I was always glad to see them arrive, More hands made our somber job easier. Though nothing about marking and tagging our dead brothers could ever be easy.
That was our mission, Grave Registration. We pulled their dog tags to get their info and registered them, bagged them and loaded them on the trucks to be taken to a central location. There they were checked again and prepared to be sent home.
It had been a long day . The town crawled with troops. Little children ran through the streets. The whole village seemed relieved that Americans had come. The children looked hungry and tired but were still having fun.
I took a break outside our headquarters tent. I heard children running toward me yelling something.
Hmm, Kau – gummie ... gummi … gum!
Ohh. They saw me take out a stick of chewing gum. That's what they want.
Lucky for them, I had three packs in my pocket. Sometimes gum helped me lose the taste of death that clung to the air, and permeated every part of me.
I was plum tickled to see the three little tykes, that had eyed me earlier that morning, plus two more.
I pulled out a new pack. They hung on my every move like somethin' wonderful was happening.
I peeled off the red thread, real slow like. Man did I ever have them.
I pulled the sticks out and handed one to the first little guy.
He unwrapped it so carefully, even had to hold his little tongue just right. And then into his mouth .
I could tell when the first taste came. He got the biggest smile and let out a slurp and a giggle.
I had to grin. I handed off the rest of the gum, again to little looks of pure dee-light.
A voice from behind me said, "Private, what did you just do?"
"I gave the little fellars some chewing gum, Sir."
"You did, huh?"
"Yes Sir." I tried to reply respectfully.
"Private, you just lost your First Class stripe."
"That's right, I didn't stutter. You were fraternizing with the enemy."
All I could say back was,"Yes Sir," and saluted him.
Later, my buddy, Pete, asked me, "Paul would you do that over again?"
I laughed, "To see the look on those little faces? Oh yeah, in a heartbeat."
"No puny, gold stripe will ever be worth the joy of givin' pleasure to one of God's little children."
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