Denouement

By Lois Overton, aka Foxhole Filly

October 1999

Once there was a squad. It was a squad full of brave, strong men who knew what was right and what was wrong. First squad, Second Platoon, K Company, 361st Infantry. And there was no squad like it anywhere…

* * * * *

Saunders sat in the tall grass, one leg underneath him and the other crooked to form a platform where his binoculars rested. Back and forth, the lenses sought out the enemy that might be lurking in the distance. To the extreme right, he thought he had seen something, but he was not exactly sure.

Now that they were in deep on German soil, every man felt the urge to be more careful. They were so near the end. Only a few of the squad who had been in action since Omaha were still around to tell about it. Many brave men would never go home.

"Well, Saunders, whatd'ya think?" Hanley asked.

"Don't know, Lieutenant." He swiped across the thick blond stubble that covered his chin and upper lip. "Something…I can't put my finger on it. Just something doesn't feel right." He handed the glasses back to Hanley.

"That's what I've been thinking. But I can't see anything. Just a feeling."

Kirby came creeping over to them, his body low in the sparse cover. "Hey, Lieutenant. What gives? We got orders?" He pulled off his helmet momentarily and ran his fingertips over the close-cropped hair on top of his head, giving a relieving scratch. "There's something about this place gives me the creeps."

"I know what you mean, Kirby. But we've been here watching for thirty minutes and nothing. Not a blessed thing. We don't even know if there are Krauts in that building."

"Something tells me we're gonna find out," Kirby noted to no one in particular, plopping his helmet back on and giving his heavy BAR a slight adjustment on its strap around his neck. "We gonna take that farmhouse or not?"

Saunders' eyes remained fixed on the field to the right, while Kirby and Hanley observed the ramshackle stone farmhouse to the left. Still nothing was moving. "Maybe we're wrong. Just maybe," he thought.

"Well, Saunders?" Hanley questioned. "How do you vote?"

Saunders rested the short barrel of his Thompson on his knee and peered at the lieutenant. "I didn't know we were taking votes," he noted with a hint of bemusement.

Hanley met his gaze, nodded with a half-grin, and decided without hesitation. "We go. Pass the word to saddle up. Saunders, you take Caje, and Simson. Come in from the right flank and try not to be spotted."

"Good," thought Saunders. "It'll give me a chance to check out the woods over there."

"I'll take Allenby and Doc, and we'll come in from the left. Littlejohn, Kirby and O'Neal move straight in. Find cover as you can. Stay low and look out for snipers."

Word was passed among the men, who readied themselves. Each knew that the number of days left in the war was dwindling. All a man had to do was stay alive a few more days, a few more hours. Then one day, the word would come that it was all over. And they would be safe. They would be going home. Just stay alive till then. Sometimes that seemed like a tall order.

Hanley signaled the men to move out. As he took the first step, a white flag appeared in the doorway of the cottage. A thin voice cried out something unintelligible in German as the flag swayed back and forth. None of the squad spoke German. It had been easy in France because Caje could translate. Now, since losing Oscar, they were without their ears.

"Lieutenant," Caje called out. "Look!"

All eyes turned in the direction Caje pointed. A line of bedraggled Germans was timidly exiting the building, hands raised high, dropping weapons as they came out the door.

"What the…"Hanley started.

The radio on Littlejohn's back crackled.

"Lieutenant," the private called as he handed the dented olive green handset to the officer.

"Yes, sir. We have reached out objective. Over," Hanley announced crisply.

The men watched intently as the enemy soldiers filed from the farmhouse. The Germans came to a stop in front, hands still skyward, eyes darting about nervously. They were all young. Terribly young.

"That's correct, sir. We can see it now. There is a group of Germans who are surrendering. Over." His eyes skipped around the men in the squad. "Say again. Over." His brow furrowed as he listened. "Roger. Out."

Hanley handed the receiver back to Littlejohn and took a deep breath. Everything was still…the air, the birds, the insects. It was so quiet it seemed as if life on earth had suddenly ceased. The squad was ready to advance, but the expected command didn't come.

The lieutenant looked squarely at Saunders. "The war is over."

It was that simple. Four words.

"Hitler is dead. Germany has surrendered," Hanley added.

"Thank God," Saunders murmured, falling back on his heels, shoulders sagging visibly with the enormity of the realization. His Thompson was placed in a relaxed position beside his body.

Each man was momentarily lost in his own thoughts. Then smiles began to appear on weary faces.

"In the meantime," Hanley suggested, "I think we should do something about that." He pointed toward the six Krauts whose faces showed a combination of relief and disbelief. Here were six German men who obviously also wanted to go home.

"Keep your eyes on them. Let's round them up. Captain Buckley said to bring them in. But be…nice." He grinned, the first genuine smile on his face in weeks.

Saunders rose first, hefting his Thompson. He kept it trained on the German soldiers before him as he stepped forward and began moving across the short distance. For the first time since coming over on D-Day, he allowed himself to think about the possibility of going home. Not thinking about it was how he had survived. He had kept his mind on one thing, and one thing only. Each mission. But now…now he could think about Mom and Louise and maybe finding someone and… well, who knew what was out there.

Gradually the others stood and wended their way to their former enemy. Walking across the field, Kirby felt a new lightness. The city began to ooze its way into his very being again, and his step took on a cockiness and swagger that hadn't been there five minutes before.

Caje was almost in a daze. So many times he had dreamt of that very moment; it was almost impossible to believe it. His mind started to fill with ideas of what he wanted to do. So much he'd seen. So many ideas of the world that he'd never had before. He knew that he wanted to make his life count for something…to change the world for the better.

Hanley's mind went to his father's offer of a partnership in the family business. He'd always planned to take it. But lately he'd been thinking about staying in the army. OCS. Or maybe even law school. He had so many options available to him now that it was hard to think about a stifling little office in a hot building. He knew he wanted more.

Littlejohn had his mind on a little parcel of bottomland near home. Not a huge farm, but rich, productive soil. He could grow some corn or wheat. Raise a few cows perhaps. It was a start. There was a girl there. He'd written her a lot over the last year, but even more often lately, as the Americans made their way across Germany. He was beginning to think that maybe he'd go see her when he got back home.

Doc's hand clasped his medical bag tightly. It seemed like it had always been there on his shoulder. What would life be like without it? Very soon there would be no need for bandages or morphine or anything else it contained. He liked being able to help the others. He considered that he might get some training and work at Little Rock General. There were a lot of vets who were going to need care for a long time. And he knew he was good at giving it. At least he was certain that he was not going back to the grocery.

The Germans had set up a chatter of the only English phrases they knew. Most of them cried things like, "Don't shoot!" or "I surrender." But one hapless, shaking soul could only say, "New York Yankees, good ball." The Americans smiled at the simplicity and honesty of his plea.

As the GI's reached a point about fifty feet from the German soldiers, the squad's attention was caught by a sudden noise to the right, coming from a thick patch of bushes. Without warning, a Tiger tank, its treads clanking noisily and its radio antenna hanging uselessly, burst into sight and opened up with its machine gun.

The startled Americans were caught off-guard.

"Damn," Sarge breathed and fell before he could get the Thompson into action.

The Germans waved their hands and shouted, trying to silence the monster. They ran at it, hands still erect and were caught in the stream of death that belched forth without discretion.

The tank took only a few moments to cut down everyone on the field, and then it was quiet. The only sound was the turret creaking back and forth, surveying the scene through its sights and the knock of the engine.

Kirby was on his knees, hands clasped to his belly as he looked at the bodies around him. Friend and foe lay sprawled in the hot sun. He glanced down at his hands and saw his life flooding onto the grass.

"This can't be," he thought, glancing at Caje, and Littlejohn, Doc, Hanley, and Sarge, the life gone from each of them. Only he remained. "What a stupid thing to have happen. Ambushed as the war was finally over."

The sound of the moving turret faded as his gaze turned skyward where he observed an eagle, or at least some large bird, catching a thermal and riding it without need of a single wing flap. The sky was bright, bright white hot. His vision …it was hard to see in the bright light. There was no sound…only the bird and the sky and the white heat. The machine gun fired off another round, and Kirby joined his squad in death.

* * * * *

"Rat-a-tat-a-tat!" he cried. "Machine gun bullets were flyin' everywhere. And then the brave Kirby went 'splat' on the ground. Dead as a doornail."

"Daddy, you didn't tell that story right," the little girl cried, pulling the blanket down from her face where she had held it, pretending to be scared. It was an old ritual for the 6 year old and her father.

"What'ya mean I didn't tell it right? Who was there, you or me?"

"Oh, Daddy, you're such a silly-puss. You weren't killed. The good guys won. "

"A silly-puss, huh? We'll just see about that." He reached over and began to tickle the girl. She screamed gleefully, her tiny, high voice and his deep one blending in laughter.

“Stop, Daddy, stop!" she screamed, trying to protect her tummy. "You bad boy." She slapped at his hands through the giggles. "Tell me another story. And this time tell it right."

"Tell it right, huh? What story you wanna hear?" He rubbed his chin in thought.

"How about the one where you saved the sergeant from the dirty Krauts."

"Yeah, Kirby," the voice from the doorway intoned. "Let's hear how you saved the sergeant from the dirty Krauts."

The voice startled the man on the bed. He turned and faced the blond man leaning into the doorjamb, arms folded across his chest.

"Heh, just a little joke," Kirby laughed half-heartedly.

The girl was out from under the covers in a second and was bounding toward the man in the doorway. "Uncle Sarge! Uncle Sarge!"

As she reached the man's arms, she leapt into them and wrapped her scrawny arms around his neck, planting a huge kiss on his cheek. In return, he gave her a bear-hug squeeze and rocked her back and forth.

"How's my favorite Kirby?"

"Did you bring Annie and Joey over to play, Uncle Sarge?" she asked as she absently wound a strand of his hair around her fingers.

"No, Annie and Joey are with the babysitter. Aunt Jessie and I are over to visit with your mommy and daddy."

"Can I visit, too?" Her voice was as creamy as pudding as she looked up at him with huge brown eyes that melted right through the cares of the day.

"Sorry, sweetie. You have to go to bed," Saunders said, giving Kirby a sideways glance for confirmation.

"Do I daddy?" she purred, her lower lip stuck out.

"Yup, you gotta go to bed. Sleep tonight. Play tomorrow," Kirby said as he straightened the blankets for her.

Saunders strode across the floor and dropped her into bed, and Kirby pulled the covers up to her chin. He noisily buried his face in her neck, growling as he pretended to be eating her up.

"What about my story?"

"Yeah, that's one I want to hear, too." Saunders sat at the end of the bed while Kirby settled himself next to her.

"Well," he began with a single glance back at Saunders before continuing, "Once there was a brave squad."

"First Squad, Second Platoon, K Company, Three sixty-first," she added, punctuating the end with a deep head nod.

"You telling this?"

She pressed her lips together and zipped them up with her fingertips, then pulled the sheet over her head so that only her dark curls tumbling across the pillow showed.

"The bravest of all was the sergeant," Kirby continued.

The little girl pulled the covers down under her chin, and pointing at Saunders, mouthed the words, "That's you." She giggled into her hand.

Saunders nodded his head in agreement, his eyes twinkling.

Kirby continued. "Now the sergeant had a very handsome BAR man who…"