Friend or Foe
“Get down!” hollered the young foot soldier to his comrades.
“It’s no use!” screamed another young soldier from their foxhole. The Germans have us surrounded.”
Private First Class Orville Willard Phillips sized up their predicament.
“Fellas,” he cried, “there’s nothing more we can do. We must surrender or they’re gonna kill us.”
Taking a white handkerchief from his pocket, he tied it to his bayonet. Carefully he lifted it from his hiding place.
“Put down your guns and grenades!” ordered a German soldier in broken English. One by one the American soldiers crawled from their foxhole to stand before their enemies. They were now officially Prisoners of War.
The Germans loaded them on the trucks and took them to the train station. There the American soldiers were crammed into boxcars that had been previously used for cattle. The stench was overwhelming. Squished like sardines in their metal prison they began their nightlong ride.
One young lad began to whimper, “Air……. I need air.”
Lifting the soldier’s chin above the others, Orville began sing,
“Through many dangers, toils and snares I have already come.”
Suddenly a chorus of voices chimed in,
“Tis grace hath brought us safe thus far, and grace will lead us home.”
When the choir stopped another soldier would lead out in a familiar hymn, and the mighty chorus would swell again.
Finally, they arrived at their destination. The boxcar door opened. The weary soldiers winced as the bright sunlight blinded them.
“Move it!” Barked a German commander.
The Americans stumbled to face their enemy. A time of interrogation and inspection followed. Orville stood before a young German guard.
“What is this?” the German inquired as he held up a small Bible.
“It’s my Bible.” Orville answered.
“Cannot have.” The commander demanded as he opened the front cover and saw a picture of a beautiful young American woman with two small boys.
“My wife………” Orville said as he pointed to the woman in the picture. “My two boys……. Please may I keep???”
Their eyes locked. Awkwardly, the German soldier stuffed the Bible in Orville’s pocket.
“You may keep.” He grunted.
Orville arrived at Stalog 11 B. This would be his home for the next year.
Panic interrupted his thoughts as one of the men wailed, “That young guard’s coming, Orville. The one who interrogated you.”
Orville quickly tucked his Bible back in his pocket and stood as the German guard entered the room.
“You!” he said as he pointed to Orville. “Come with me.”
Orville’s heart raced as he followed the guard just outside the door.
“Here!” the German replied in broken English, as he placed in Orville’s hand a photograph. “My wife and my two boys.”
Orville scanned the photo.
“She’s very beautiful! Our boys look to be about the same age.”
The guard smiled and nodded his head in agreement as he said, “I was wounded on the Russian front. There are no winners in war. Maybe when the war is over your boys can be friends with my boys.”
Hot tears stung Orville’s eyes as he agreed. “I would like that very much!”
On February 18, 1945 the same young guard appeared at the door of Stalog 11 B and cried, “The war is over! You are free!”
The Red Cross had given every soldier a care package. In each package was a journal. Orville took his and went and stood by the young guard, who had been so kind to him.
“Would you sign this for me?” Orville asked.
“I can’t write in English, but I will write something in German. When you get home you will have to find someone to translate it for you.”
“I will.” Orville promised.
Orville fulfilled that promise. There in his Prisoner of War journal was this young guard’s handwriting. Translated this is what he wrote.
When the war is over,
And we all go back home,
We will always remember our friendship.
Mr. Patberg was right. Orville Phillips, my father-in-law, never forgot his German friend.
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