Sainte-Marie-Les-Cloches, 1944
 
 

Dear Mom and Dad,

Please forgive me if I haven't written much lately. I didn't have a chance because I've been away on patrol a lot. Its like that sometimes. We've been ordered out on patrols a lot lately. We get a little tired afterwards; 40 pounds of gear, along with the rifles, radios and rations is a lot to carry.

I hope you tell Evelyn that I didn't get any letters from her last month. She usually writes one every week. Gosh, maybe she'll be sending me a "Dear John" next, and telling me she's decided to go out with Biff Waldemeier! Remember how he wanted to give her his class ring last year? Well, I really do miss getting her letters, though. And when I'm in Paris, I promise I'll get her a box of velvet ribbons. With those in her hair, she'll be the prettiest girl in the whole street.

A bunch of replacements joined us at the outpost today. One of them is called Gates. He's older than me, Dad, and was a grocery clerk back in Pittsburgh. Well, Gates dropped his rifle in the mud at the bottom of a ditch just as he was getting into camp. He's trying hard to be a soldier and fit in good, so yesterday I showed him how to load a clip into his rifle without slicing off his thumb (clip means bullets, Mom). Littlejohn thought it was funny I did that because he remembered he had to do the same thing for me when I first came here. The big guy still looks out for me a lot of the time. He says it's because he thinks I might blow us both up with a grenade some day. Please don't have a heart attack about it, Mom. It's only a joke.

Anyway, I'm just trying to say that, well; I guess Gates is all right.

Sergeant Saunders just came into our bivouac. He took a look at our rifles and said they were all messy, not just Gates's, and so we have to clean them before bunking down. I think I'd give Littlejohn a million dollars right now if he'd do it for me. Guess I'll have to put away my pencil for now. I'll get back to you as soon as I can. Love you both very much.

***

I'm back now, Dad. Sergeant Saunders had a talk with Lieutenant Hanley while we were cleaning our rifles. He made us darken our faces and took the whole squad out for another Recon patrol. There were nine men going out, and we carried full loads on our backs all night long.

We were skirting a hill about ten miles out of camp when Sarge spotted a machine gun nest with a bunch of Krauts inside it, just on the edge of some trees. I don't know how he can spot those things in the dark the way he does, but thank goodness he did that time, cause I never saw anything. Just as I was coming around a bend in the trail, Sarge whistled me out of their line of fire. I would have gotten it for sure, Dad.

That gun nest was only the first we came across that night. We spotted others, all tucked in along some hedgerows near a small town. (Hedgerows are banks built up to reach waist level. Germans dig trenches behind them and install machine guns, sometimes with strings attached so they can fire them without popping their heads out of their holes.) Sarge marked all the Kraut positions on a map for the brass to take a look at. We got back to camp only around daybreak, glad to find our bunks.

A lot of the guys are worried about these patrols. We've been going behind German lines a lot. I don't know, Dad. It looks to me as if something bigs about to happen, but I don't know what. I heard we're going out again tonight. Only this time, Sarge says we're crossing the hedgerows and scouting a whole sector of hills and forests on the other side. We're not coming back until the next day, at least.

Mom, I haven't had any sleep all day, and the mess truck is just coming up to the gate. We don't see it come up here too often. So, I'll start this again as soon as I can. Later.

***

Sir, Madam. Please dont feel alarmed at the difference in handwriting here. The reason for this is simply that your son is in hospital. He was wounded while on patrol a few days ago, and he has trouble writing on his own. I'm his nurse. He's asked me to sit with him and write in his place. Please dont worry too much about him. The doctors say he must rest, but he wishes to try and explain what happened to him as best he can. What follow are his own words:

The same bunch of guys went out on that long patrol the next night. Remember I told you we were heading out on that mission.

Right after we left camp, I filed in behind Mason, who was carrying the radio. I could hear Gates trying to keep up behind me. I think Gates has something wrong in his lungs, cause he wheezes and pants an awful lot. Doc had a talk with him for a while, I guess to try and figure out what might be the matter. But Sarge made Gates keep up with the rest of us; he wouldn't let him fall back too far no matter how hard a time Gates was having. That's just Sarge's way.

We scouted our assigned area and then started back for home. It wasn't a few miles after that when we came up on a German outpost. We spotted three machine guns and some soldiers hiding behind a wall of sandbags. The guys've been in a lot of firefights, and we mostly manage to work our way through them fairly good. Well, those Krauts gave us a real bad run for it. PFC Ernie Berenger (he trained in Biloxi, just like you, Dad) came into an open space. I was right behind him. I saw a flash in the distance, that's all. I was knocked over when Berenger went flying backwards. We both landed in a mud hole. I wanted to drag Berenger out of there so badly, Dad, but there were bullets flying all over the place. I could only duck and press down on the wound in his chest to try and stop the bleeding. That was all.

Mason and Littlejohn took off running just to the right of us. I saw then that our radiod been shot up. Both of them hit the ground behind a log just before bullets slammed into the wood.

Sarge jumped into the hole I was crouching in. He shook Berenger and told him to get up, but Ernie was dead, even if his eyes were wide open.

Bullets hit the trees right next to us. I aimed my rifle out that way, but Sarge pushed my head in the dirt and told me to stay put. I lay down in the mud getting my ears pounded, when I realized something; the Krauts had positions on both our flanks. They were dug in that place real good. We couldn't go around their position, and bullets were coming at us from everywhere. I saw Caje and two others behind a log, pinned down by the crossfire.

Sarge pointed at a ditch near us that went towards the gun nest. He told me to cover him and took Kirby and Rankin with him into the bottom of it, flat on their bellies all the way. The ditch was so shallow, I could see Saunders' cap moving forward. When the three of them got close enough, they stood up behind some trees and sprayed the whole bunch of Krauts in the nest. I guess Sarge managed to take them by surprise. Sandbags don't do much against the firepower of a Tommy gun or a BAR. By the time it was over, the wall those Krauts had built around themselves was turned into nothing but a mess of sand with a few bodies in it.

Sarge pulled off Berenger's dog tags (we have to do that when a buddy gets it, Mom, to have his name put on graves registration) and signaled us to head home. He looked sad while he was marking stuff on his map. Berenger had been a good buddy of Rankin's, and so all the guys kept extra quiet on the way back. Except that Kirby talked with Rankin for a while, to try and cheer him up.

We thought we'd left the Krauts far behind, that we didn't have to worry about them any more. Well, it wasn't like that, Dad. Maybe the Germans on our flanks had let us go on purpose and then followed us; or maybe they'd already known which way we were headed. I don't know. But when we got back to our outpost, we saw that Marshall and the rest of the guys in there hadn't been as lucky as we had.

The Germans were all around there, hiding in the trees. They were waiting for us, and when we came up on them, they called out for us to surrender...

Sir, Madam, the doctor has just come in and asked me to go help him with incoming wounded. So, since your son is very tired right now, he says he will try and start this letter again by himself tomorrow. He may be feeling better then. He asks that you tell Evelyn that he misses her very much, ...and you two of course. From what I have seen, you have a wonderful son. Good-bye, and may God bless you both.

***

Mom, Dad, I'm still in the hospital. The nurse changed my bandage this morning, and even though I'm a bit better, writing is still hard to do.

I haven't had any news about the Sarge, or Littlejohn, or the rest of the squad since all of this happened. But I think they might be having a rough time right now. I'm so worried for them, Dad; it's hard for me to talk about it, but I just have to try and explain what happened as best I can.

We arrived at the outpost after daybreak and found Marshall and the others dead at the bottom of their foxholes. Somehow, Sarge sensed danger around us and made us hit the ground. Just in time, because there were Krauts all around the place. They might have been the same ones we'd run into before, it's hard to say. I remember they called out for us to surrender and then opened up on us. We shot back, but there was nothing to aim at; the Krauts were well hidden. We shot so much that we ran out of ammo, and Sarge finally said we had no choice but to surrender.

I'll make it short Dad; those Krauts were SS, and they got every one of us. They took everything we had. Everything. Then, they marched us back the way we'd come. Their leader, a captain called Steiner, met us along the road. He had a stiff, cruel face, and his eyes looked just like the ones on the big wolverine that got into the back yard a long time ago. Gosh, I haven't thought about that animal for so long.

SS guards made us walk in the sun until we thought wed drop from thirst and took us to a prison compound. Steiner was going to interrogate us there. Other prisoners were already in that place, three soldiers and a sergeant called Akers. I felt sorry for them at first; they all looked so tired and beaten, they couldn't even think about escaping. I mention escaping, Dad, because after we arrived Sarge took me aside and told me he was going to take a chance on squirreling me out of the compound, just by myself. It was a risk that he wanted to take. He gave me the map he had and told me I should try to get it to Lieutenant Hanley any way I could.

That night, our squad sat together and talked, and even though Sarge said I should get some sleep, I couldn't. I kept listening to the guards walking at the fence, and I could hear the other prisoners snoring inside the barn. Shells started hitting to the south of us in the middle of the night. Sarge would know whose they were. I was so nervous I almost started biting my nails again, but none of Akers' men even stirred in their sleep by that noise.

The next morning, though, was the scariest time, Dad. Sarge hid me just before the Krauts came in to round us up. I waited for the others to file out of the compound, and then got in amongst them. I walked to the showers surrounded by the other prisoners. Every step I took along the path, I was sure one of the SS would point at me, ask my name and why I hadn't signed the morning roster.

When we got to the showers, Sarge got me out of sight. Since I couldn't see the Krauts, he had his hand on my head, ready to give the signal. The other guys started talking it up real loud while they undressed, razzing the Krauts good and getting them madder by the minute. A lot of bare feet padded around me, and yet I wanted more of them, so theyd make a better screen for me. I was the one who felt naked right then, thinking how I was soon going to have to run out into the open.

Then, just like that, it was time and I took off. I just ran like crazy, ears buzzing. Still, I heard the men behind me shouting as I headed for some bushes. I dove into a patch of tall grass the same color as our uniforms and froze, waiting to find out if the Germans had spotted me. I wasn't sure which way to go after that; I just knew I had to get out of there quick. So, I crawled through the grass, making the best time as I could.

Before I got far, I ran into Krauts playing soccer in a field. Their ball sailed through the air and landed right beside me. Next thing I knew, those Germans were coming my way to look for it. I ran away through a line of bushes, but not fast enough; I heard yells ring out right behind me. I kept running, but I could hear the Krauts fan out to the sides, shouting to each other. I felt sure I was lost then. The whole place was going to start buzzing with them now.

First thing they teach all the recruits over here is to dig foxholes. It's not safe to stay out in the open. How I wished for a hole to hide in right then, Dad, so the Krauts would maybe go right by me. I heard footsteps coming closer and closer. I stayed low and made like a rock while two of them passed a yard or so to my right.

They pushed on, so I thought they hadn't seen me in the tall grass. But when I started off the other way, a German soldier jumped out from behind a boulder and came at me. I'd been watching the two other Germans so closely that I'd not seen this one. He carried a knife. I was so surprised at first that I didn't think on what to do, either from what the Army taught us about fighting or from what you taught me about fights at school.

I wanted to get away, but I never had time. The German was on me, and he stabbed me with his knife. I felt the blade slice into my arm. I'm telling you this now even though I know you're both going to be worried. But it's the plain truth. I was so scared and so shocked when it happened that I didn't scream. I think I just stopped breathing. There was a quick flash of pain and then nothing at all. But somehow, I turned on the German to try and make him drop the knife. It was all I could do to hold on. He was so strong. I remember his glasses fell off as we were fighting, and I had a good look at his face. He was one of the Germans whod been kicking a ball in the field.

Sarge is a good fighter. I'm sure he would have had a better chance against that SS soldier. Me, I just caught my foot in a hole, lost my grip and stumbled like a clumsy kid.

The German pulled the knife away as I went down, and he came at me with it.

I saw him raise the knife over his head. Dad, he looked ten feet tall with that blade in his hand. I grabbed his arm again with both hands. I don't know what gave me the strength to twist the Kraut's arm away from me. He looked so surprised, Dad, his eyes went wide as saucers. His shoulder made a cracking noise deep inside, and his arm went limp. I don't know what you'll think when I say this, Mom, but I picked up that knife and did what I had to do to make that Kraut silent.

I'd been lucky so far that the German hadn't called out to his buddies, that none of them had heard the fight and come rushing over. They must have known I'd escaped and were sure to start looking for me in earnest. That thought reminded me of the rest of the squad still at the compound, how they'd have to explain why I was gone. I caught my breath; the SS captain in charge of the place looked like someone who would make the Sarge sorry he ever got him mad. But no matter how much I hurt, I knew I had to move fast to try and get to Lieutenant Hanley. It was just hard to think on which way to go to reach our lines.

I could see a big hill cut the sky just beneath the sun, with a thick cover of trees along its slope. I decided to head towards it. A few times along the way, I had to dive into the grass and hide while German patrols went by. It was hard to crawl through the underbrush, because I could barely move my arm. But I finally made it to that forest somehow. Once I reached the trees, I dropped down to my knees to get my breath back and make sure the map was still tucked into my boot.

My hands had gone numb after crawling for so long. They were covered with cuts and scratches. I didn't want to see the blood covering my jacket sleeve or check how deep the knife cut was, but I knew it had to be bad. I'd felt the blade go very deep inside. It hurt a lot more when I thought back on it.

Littlejohn once told me about a time hed been shot in the foot and had walked for miles before hed had a chance to stop and check the wound. He sweated it the whole time, walking on a foot that was killing him. Littlejohn had been sure his boot must was full of blood after all that walking. But when he finally looked at it, hed seen that what he had thought was a bad bullet wound had really been only a graze. His boot was filled with sweat, not with blood so much. Littlejohn's imagination had done the worst damage.

I told myself the same thing about my own wound then. That the Kraut had only scratched me a little bit. I had to be strong and ignore the pain because my imagination was making it seem worse than it was, just like with Littlejohn that time.

All that thinking must have worked, because the pain got a bit less. I caught my breath and decided I mustn't take pity on myself. At least, I was out of the prison compound. The rest of the guys were all still in there. My heart froze when I thought about what Captain Steiner would do to Sarge after he learned that I escaped. I had to get to Captain Jampel any way I could so I could try and help all the guys who were still prisoners. But everything around me looked unfamiliar. I finally figured I might as well keep going in the same direction as before and head towards the sun.

I went from tree, to rock to tree for a while, getting thirstier all the time. My throat burned. I could walk, or stumble really, but it always felt as if I was locked up inside a heavy box of pain. No matter how much I tried to, I couldn't shake it off or get out of it. After a long time, I looked down at my arm and almost passed out at seeing how much more it was bleeding. I couldn't keep going without doing something about it. A shallow creek ran a few yards to my right, so I stumbled towards it. First thing I did when I reached the water was put my face in it. It cooled me and tasted so good, Mom. Afterwards, I took off my jacket and made a bandage with a piece of my shirt. I saw that a blood covered the shirtsleeve, too.

I froze at the sounds of German-speaking voices. I forgot all about the pain in my arm when I spotted a German patrol coming along the other side of the creek. I just barely made it behind a log before they came up right beside the spot I was in, close enough that I saw the SS insignias on their uniforms. I stayed still, worried that that the roots wouldn't conceal me well enough.

I remembered how Akers had told us about two hundred storm troopers billeted on the other side of the hill, very near the prison compound. The thought suddenly hit me that I must have been heading right towards those S.S. troops when I'd followed the tree-covered slope.

The Krauts stopped at the side of the creek and stared in my direction. I didn't understand what they talked about, but one who wore bars on his shoulders pointed down at the river. Dad, I was sure the Germans had found me out then; they just had to cross the stream and get me. I stayed low and clutched my arm, shivering hard enough to think the log was going to shake. So, I curled up even tighter and tried not to move any more.

Some of the Krauts went down the creek's embankment, very close to me. I was so weak, but I almost turned tail and ran like Private Cole had done the day before. He tried to make a break for it, even though Sarge had told him the time wasn't right. Cole was cut down before he got fifty yards.

I heard another faint noise in the distance, sounding like the squeak of a bicycle wheel. I saw an old Frenchman in dark-colored rags come limping along the side of the creek. He looked like grandpa Nelson, only his back was bent more. He coughed as he pushed a wooden cart that looked too heavy for him. When the Frenchman came close, the SS soldiers swarmed around him. The old man pleaded with them and handed them some papers from his pocket. The Krauts tore into that poor man away. They looked like a mad gang, searching through the Frenchman's clothes and pushing him down. The old man stayed down, looking like a heap of dirty rags on the ground, while a dozen Germans kept their rifles on him and went through the things in his cart.

After a while, the Kraut leader said something to the Frenchman. The old man got up and started to pick up all his belongings. The Germans formed into a group while he did. Then, they all moved out again, entering the forest in the same direction theyd been heading in before. It seemed like a long time before the Krauts were out of sight and I dared think about creeping out of my hiding space.

I felt dizzy and sick all of a sudden, just from moving. I needed to splash water on my face and maybe have a drink. I'd thought I'd head out towards our lines afterwards, maybe follow the edge of the stream and have some water once in a while. I held my arm and crawled towards the creek. I saw even more blood oozing out through my fingers. I remembered having dropped the piece of shirt fabric when the Krauts had showed up. I looked for it, but then I saw it lying in the mud behind me. Dad, I have to tell you that I put my face down then, and I cried just a bit.

I don't know how long I stayed that way, but I just about choked with surprise at feeling something come down on my shoulder. I turned around to see who was there, and I saw the wrinkled, sun burnt face of an old man next to mine. Again, it felt as though I was looking at a ringer for grandpa Nelson, except for the man's dirty wool cap and the holes in the front of his jacket. It took a second for me to recognize the old Frenchman from a while before.

I think I felt one huge, big thump in my chest when my heart started beating again.

In English, the old man asked me who I was, and what I was doing there. I told him how I escaped from an S.S. prison, and that my sergeant needed to get important information back to the Americans.

He told me his name was Ignace Villiers, or something like that. Hed seen me across the creek when the Krauts had been busy searching his cart. He told me that, because of my condition, he couldn't leave me there. He was going to take me back to his house; we just needed to get to his cart on the other side first. While Ignace tied an old handkerchief around my arm, he explained that he lived on a farm about a mile away.

I think my head spun too much to remember how he helped me reach the edge of the stream. I had to stop there to catch my breath and let the sickness go away a bit. Then, I pulled the map out of my boot so it wouldn't get all soaked, and put it in my shirt. We waded into water that came up to our waist, and no higher. Ignace held onto me as we made our way across. Once, the Frenchman had to catch me when I stumbled and almost took a dip.

Rocks and tree roots along the other embankment tripped us up as we came out of the water. I had to stifle a scream when I fell beside the old wooden cart. Those old farmers must be stronger than I figured because Ignace managed to lift me into the cart and cover me with some cloth sacks. My shoulder and arm hurt so much by the time I lay on those wood planks, it seemed as if Id never known anything else my entire life. I just lay under the sacks, so tired and hurt when we started rolling, Dad.

Every sound that echoed in the forest made me sure there were more Krauts around. I knew the old man had to be frightened, too. I listened to the creak of the wheels and tried to ignore the jars from the constant bumping. I fell into a daze, imagining I could spot all sorts of snipers in the trees around us. The road we followed was so bumpy that, after a while, the cart broke a wheel and crashed. I screamed when I slid out of the cart along with the sacks and landed on my wounded arm.

We started off on foot again after that, always keeping off the path. I never knew exactly what direction Ignace took me. The trees all looked the same, tall and full of snipers. I needed to stop and rest in the worst way, but Ignace kept me going. He wouldn't give up. It reminded me of something you did when I was ten and had broken my ankle falling out of the oak tree in the front yard. You remember too, don't you?

You always came home from work so late, dead tired after doing those long shifts on your machine. That night, you thought I was too out of it to see you putting your hat and coat right back on again. Well, I did see you, and I remember how you scooped me up in your arms, very gently so you wouldn't hurt me.

It was before we had the Oldsmobile, and you carried me in your arms all the way to the doctor's house without ever saying I was too heavy or that you were tired, even though you really were. You didn't scold me or say that I was a dumb kid, which of course, I had been, climbing so high just to impress Evelyn. I understood only later that you were so very worried about me then that you had forgotten about yourself. So, how could I just think of myself right then? Sarge and the others were still at the compound.

It's getting hard to keep writing. The doctors supposed to come check my arm in a few minutes. I don't want to worry you, but he said something about possible nerve damage. Hey, if that's so, it might just be the million-dollar wound the guys joke about a lot. (That means we get to go home, Mom.) So, I'll get back to you soon. How I miss you both, you can never know.

***

Mom, Dad, I'm back. The doctor had an emergency operation to do, and then he came in to see me. He told me that since I can hold a pencil and write this letter, there probably shouldn't be much to worry about regarding my arm. I'll soon have the complete use of it again. Of course, if the news is so good, then it just means that I'll have to head back to the 361st once I'm out of here. I just, well, I wonder what the squad is going to be like if none of the guys I got to know in it ever comes back. I can't even think about it.

I know youre both waiting to know what happened after I escaped, so I'll try and tell you everything as well as I can.

It was slow going for the old man and me in the forest. I dont know how long we walked, but I was dizzy for a long time. At every step, I had to keep from passing out. Blood poured down my sleeve because the old man had really only tied a small kerchief around it. On the way, I hoped we might run into Americans, or maybe one of our trucks, so I'd make it to Lieutenant Hanley like Sarge had ordered me to do. But we always had to dodge Kraut patrols.

The sun had gotten down behind a ridge of treetops when we arrived at a field with a bunch of haystacks in it. The air felt cool after having walked for so long. On the other side of the field, I made out a barn and the roof of a two-story house right behind it. Ignace told me we'd reached his farm.

A woman with gray hair and rubber boots came towards us in the field. She looked at me with a kind expression. I didn't understand anything she said, but she helped Ignace carry me towards the farm. She reminded me a bit of you, Mom, except she spoke only French. I think she meant that I'd be all right or something.

Inside their house, Ignace helped me take off my jacket and looked at my arm while his wife got some water. I could see then that the knife had done a lot of damage. I mean, the wound looked pretty ugly. The woman explained, through her husband, that it would need stitches, and that Id have to see a doctor. I learned that her name was Marie, and that she was Ignace's wife. They seemed like real nice people, trying their best to help me out, but I noticed they kept staring at the door with worried looks on their faces.

The old Frenchman told me that the boches (he used that word and a few others) had search parties going through the whole sector looking for an escaped prisoner, me. He explained that friends of theirs, who lived on a nearby farm, had been caught hiding guns in their cellar. Just some old hunting rifles. But when the Germans found the weapons, they took the whole family outside and burned their place down because of it.

The Germans retaliate against civilians that way whenever they find any who carry weapons or help out G.I.'s. All the French people here are scared all the time.

My being there meant way too much trouble for Ignace and his wife. Those two old people were risking their lives. I tried to get up, and I asked them to tell me which route to take to go back to my lines. I'd manage on my own. I just needed to figure out how to get past the German search parties.

But the old man would have none of my talk. He told me to stay down and said that he'd help me do what Sarge (but he said ser-gent) had ordered me to do, which was to get back to my lines any way I could. He also said that nobody would be safe so long as the boches were around.

I was exhausted; I'd lost a lot of blood. I thought my strength would give out when I tried to argue with them. Mom, I sank down, feeling dizzy, and fought back tears while the old woman wrapped a bandage around my arm. I remember hearing a whistling sound, just outside. Ignace hushed me and whistled too.

A French boy with a dark cap and a thin, pale face came in. He looked about fourteen, and Ignace called him Pierre. The boy kept pointing towards the door while he talked to the old couple. I remember he said "grand-papa, boches and arrive." Ignace explained that the Krauts had spotted our blood trail in the forest. Theyd tracked it, and so they knew I was in the sector.

Somehow, don't ask me how, I found the strength to stand. Already, I could hear trucks coming and shouts outside.

They were all in such danger then because of me, Dad, but the old farmer just asked me if I felt well enough to move out. He never even said anything about his grandson's safety. We made it out the back door just as the German voices sounded even closer, coming from the front of the house. They were closing in on us so fast!

I heard gunfire hit the walls of the house just as we reached the barn. We just made it inside the door when a German came up near the fence, but looking the other way. Even in the fading light, I could see that Kraut wore the same SS markings as the others. I had to duck out of sight fast when two more Krauts came through the field, circling around the haystacks. The Germans all signaled to each other and pointed towards their right. I watched them turn that way and head off, and then sank down on the ground with my back against the wall, just trying to get my breath back.

Ignace told the boy something in French. Right away, Pierre scooped up my army jacket and put it on, right over his own shirt. He took my cap out of the pocket and pulled it over his ears. Those things were so big on him, they made him look smaller then he really was.

I tried to grab my jacket back, I couldn't just let that boy take it. I needed my uniform or else I'd be shot as a spy. Ignace said I'd be shot as an escaped prisoner anyway. He explained that his grandson would try to lead the Krauts on a chase away from the house. I might have a better chance to escape if Pierre kept them busy long enough for him and his wife to lead me to a safer spot. It was simple enough, Ignace said, because his grandson knew the countryside well.

Dad, I didn't even have the strength to argue with an old couple and their grandkid.

The boy kissed his grandfather on both cheeks, and then he made his way along a side door, creeping like a cat. I couldn't believe how calmly those two old folks watched him go, knowing that their grandson was about to do something as dangerous as that. Pierre reached the side door and stayed there with his hand raised, looking outside.

But just as the old man turned his attention back to watching the Krauts, I noticed his face. For a few seconds, I saw how worried he really was about his grandson, even though he didn't say it. I guess Sarge looks just like that sometimes, when he has to send us out in front of machine guns or heavy armor. It hit me that Sarge would rather face danger himself, a million times, than send out others, knowing they could get killed. I think I realize now just how hard it is to do.

The three of us watched the darkening field from where we were. I saw a German soldier at the fence wave at something behind him, and then turn towards us again. Two other Krauts jumped over the fence and ran towards the house, shooting at the windows. Ignace reacted fast, waving his hand towards the boy, as if it were a signal. Pierre looked at his grandfather one last time (I'll always remember his face right then, and how he looked so grown-up, Dad), and then he took off into the evening.

Germans outside started shouting like mad. A bunch of them scrambled across the field towards our right, firing like mad; I knew that theyd taken off after Pierre. More and more Krauts came through the field; none of them made any efforts to be quiet about it.

At the door of the barn, Ignace pointed towards the haystacks and told me about an irrigation ditch on the other side of the field. There'd be only a few yards of open ground to run across, and then we could creep away from the farmhouse using the ditch. We could follow it all the way to the road to Sainte-Marie. But he'd probably never see his farm again after that. The old man sighed and rubbed his chin with a dirty hand while he glanced at the house.

I told him not to worry, that I'd make it. But then, just as I looked over at the farmhouse along with him, a huge explosion tore it up. I was so startled when the windows shattered. Even in the fading daylight, I saw broken glass fly out all over the place. A rain of it hit the barn. Ignace pushed me backwards, away from the door. I remember falling on my wounded arm and strangling on a scream. But I got back up on my knees again and saw the Frenchman pointing at a big piece of glass stuck in the ground right where I'd been a few seconds before.

A burning stick soared into the barn through the side door. It landed in a pile of hay, igniting a ball of fire a foot high. Before we could do anything to put it out, another burning stick flew in. Already, the first flames had grown into a fire that kept getting bigger every second. The flames had reached the animal stalls. Horses and cows in them were stomping and crying out.

The fire glowed on the old man's face as he watched the flames fan out and reach the roof. He cried out something to his wife and then bolted towards the stalls. He ran fast, for an old guy. Maybe he forgot about the Krauts, I don't know. Ignace must have been so desperate to save his animals; that barn looked like nothing but a mass of wood and dry hay.

Marie almost climbed over me as she went after her husband. There was just no stopping her, Mom. She cried out the old man's name and ran further into the barn. The roof was starting to burn by the time she reached the stalls; I could tell the fire was going to eat the whole place up. The old woman looked so small, standing in front of the wall of flames, but she kept on calling.

Suddenly, a horse came towards me; all panicked, and almost bucked me aside. Sheep and cows stampeded for the door, right after the horse. I didn't know how those animals got free. Marie stood in front of the fire, calling to her husband, and then I didn't see her more. I only heard her voice coming from somewhere off to the side, still calling out her husband's name.

I waited at the door for the longest time I could. The heat scorched the skin on my face and made me sick to my stomach; I went across the threshold when it got too bad in there. I hoped to see Marie or the old man come out, that theyd escape the fire. But the seconds went on and on and I still didn't see them, while flames came right up through the roof. I got a bit farther; maybe a few yards, and then the whole roof collapsed on itself in a big spray of embers and flames. Dad, I wasn't feeling much hope for the two old people at that point. I crawled away from the barn as well as I could, just trying to get to the irrigation ditch so I could take cover in there.

I reached the middle of the yard when the noise of a Schmeisser ripped through the air, so close it startled me; the Krauts were coming back. I started to hurry towards the ditch again, but I only got a bit further when I saw two forms lying on the ground a few yards from the barn. The fire lit the whole place enough to see right away that it was Marie lying beside her husband.

I didn't know if they were far enough from the flames. I went towards them to see if I could pull them away, but when I got close I saw the metal spikes of a pitchfork lodged in old Ignace's chest. The handle lay on the ground beside him, its wood all charred and black. It was too late to do anything for him. The old woman was still alive, though, but I saw she'd been hit by a burst of bullets, and that holes and blood covered her whole dress front. I spoke her name a few times. She might have heard me, but her eyes looked so empty. Shed put her arms around her husband's neck and was rocking her head back and forth a little. She closed her eyes then, without saying anything, and put her head down against him.

Mom, that was the way I saw those two old folks last, lying down and in each other's arms, dead.

It felt like losing the both of you, somehow, though they'd both been strangers. I started to say a word or a prayer, or maybe both. The only thing that seemed right was to take out those pitchfork tines, even if the metal was hot, and leave them on the ground beside the old man. And also, say thank you for having tried to help me. It was all I could think to do.

Then, I started crawling towards the ditch again. A few seconds later, I froze at seeing two Germans come through the field, right in front of me. I didn't have any place to hide, so I twisted back as fast as I could towards the bodies of the old couple. My chin hit the ground, so fast I ducked behind them. I froze there, hoping the Germans would only see a few bodies in a heap if they happened to look my way.

In the light of the fire, I saw them leading Pierre forward. The boy still wore my jacket and cap. He looked pretty shaken up as he watched the burning building. The Krauts pushed him against the fence and hit him in the stomach. One German started shouting and pointing at the house. The other Kraut rammed the tip of his Schmeisser into his chest. They called him a Gefangener, an Amerikaner, and some words that I didnt understand. I got scared that they might shoot that boy right then, no matter that he was just a kid.

Dad, I didn't stop to think about whether more Krauts were coming. I had to help that boy right way, the way Sarge would, before those soldiers saw me. I grabbed the only weapon I could find, the metal tines next to Ignace, and started crawling towards the Krauts with it. Every more I made hurt so much, I was panting and making a lot of noise without wanting to. I closed in behind them and tried to figure how I was going to jump those Krauts.

They kept their attention on the boy. Well, at lest until I got to within a few yards of them and had scrambled onto my haunches with the metal spikes in my hand. I thought I had them, but then one German turned around and stared right at me. I jumped him with the spikes held out. The Kraut and I both fell. I did my best to swing at him, but I could really only use one arm. My weapon slipped out of my hands; I had nothing all of a sudden. The Kraut was on his knees, stunned, so I grabbed his leg and twisted it as hard as I could. He yelled out real loud, that I remember. Though I have to say that my arm hurt so much, so did I.

I rolled away, sick to my stomach. Somehow, my hand settled onto the spikes again; they'd been lying right beside me. I grabbed them just as the Kraut started to get his Schmeisser down from his shoulder. As fast as I could, I brought up the metal tines and rammed them into the German's before he could aim for me.

From the side of my vision, I saw the other German down on his knees, fighting with the boy. He was trying to shake the kid off, but he still had his Schmeisser, and he kept swinging it wildly. He opened up, kicking a line of bullets on the ground right in front of me. I scrambled to get out of the way, but not nearly fast enough.

German weapons will deafen you from close up, as you know Dad, and I thought this burst would go on forever. Something burning hot hit my back. I fell, but there wasnt much pain at first. I just lay there, staring at the ground like an idiot while a million bright points of light filled in my vision. I saw long, dark lines weaving through them, looking like wavy ribbons. Id just been shot from a yard away. The day I'd just lived flashed on a screen inside my brain: running and hiding and fighting to get away. I'd done my very best to get that paper to Lieutenant Hanley, but I'd accomplished nothing. I wasn't the good soldier Sarge wanted me to be. My stomach turned, so shamed I felt that the whole squad was going to buy it because I was lying useless on the ground of a farm some place.

Then, a voice coming from outside of my brain put some sense back into me. I was still alive. I don't know how long I'd been out of it, but pain flashed all the way through me when I came to. There was Pierre, still wearing my jacket and cap, kneeling at his grandparents' side. I could see only part of his face; looking grown-up, covered with marks and bruises, and full of tears. He hugged the old man and said things that were all in French, but that I sort of understood anyway. Then, Pierre touched the old woman's hair and kissed her hand.

Darkness had just about come back again. The barn had burned down to a ruin, and it was lucky the flames had died out before they could spread to the haystacks or the crops. I heard noises at the edge of the yard. My heart beat so fast, Mom. I thought more Germans were coming. But then, I saw Ignace's horse stomping its hooves at the edge of the field. Still, we had to get away from there fast. I mean, Sarge always orders us to move out after mines or grenades blow up, because they alert the Krauts. I tried to warn Pierre about that, but my voice got stuck, remembering on how he had just lost his family and his home, his whole life, even. Between the Krauts and me, the boy's whole life had just been blasted away forever. I couldn't imagine how bad it'd hurt if I were in his shoes.

I heard voices, far away, shouting in German.

Theyd made time getting back, from the sound of it. I remember Pierre saying something about boches, and then he came up beside me. The Krauts had hit him pretty hard; part of his face had turned dark and swollen. When he grabbed my arm, I almost choked.

We started off through the field, there was no time to lose. Mom, I thought the march to the showers the day before had been a scary time, but heading for that ditch was the worst hell I ever lived. I tried to make my legs churn in spite of the pain. I remember stumbling about halfway across the field, just as German soldiers reached what was left of the barn. We made for a broken cart; I hurt so much, I almost passed out behind it. It was the boy who watched the Krauts come around the smoking ruins. He showed me two fingers to signal how many he saw.

He kept lookout while the Krauts fanned out across the farmyard. I saw a small stone in the straw beside me, and I gave it to Pierre while I pointed at the horse near the fence. He was a smart kid and understood right away what I was asking him to do. Dad, the way he pitched the stone into the darkness, I think Mr. Armstrong, from the sandlot, would've taken him on the team. I didn't see where the stone landed, but I heard the horse cry out real loud and stomp off into the field.

The Krauts yelled, firing at the sound of the horse's hooves, and then ran off after it. While their attention was turned to the horse, Pierre pulled me up and helped me away from his grandparents' farm. His shoulders were so thin they sagged at every step we took.

He helped me down into a steep earth ditch, and we slid down amongst some tree roots. After taking the map out of my boots, we sloshed in water that reached above our ankles. I could see the edge of a forest about a half-mile ahead, towards the east. Pierre seemed to think we'd be safer once we reached it. I really concentrated hard to walk as fast as I could, but every few steps, my strength would leave me and I'd fall, getting my face in the water. Pierre pulled me up again and again; I don't know how many times. We went on after we reached the cover of the forest. Pierre spoke in French, but I understood when he said "arrête". He wanted us to stop and showed me that we'd reached an open field. In the moonlight, I could make out a dark ridge of trees on the other side of it, crisscrossing the ditch several yards away. Well, I knew from having scouted the area before that those trees bordered a sector of hedgerows.

All I wanted was to find a way to go across it while it was still dark, like Sarge had made us do the day before. But Pierre refused to budge any more, and I just couldn't argue with him right then.

He reached a boulder along the bank and collapsed beside it. There, Pierre checked the bullet wound in my back. I asked him how bad it was, but he didn't understand me. Guess it was just as well. He did give me back my jacket and cap.

Pierre settled down on the ground, and first thing I knew, the kid was fast asleep. His face looked so young after he'd nodded off that I didn't want to wake him. He sniffled quietly and wiped his face with his sleeve like he was crying in his dreams. I knew I needed to sleep too, but for a long time I kept watch in that place, even though I was weak and almost out of it from the pain. I guess maybe that's what being a soldier is.

One thing I did to keep my spirits up was imagine Lieutenant Hanley taking the map from my hand and telling me I did a good job. Lieutenant Hanley's a good platoon leader, and I know he appreciates when we do our jobs right, but he doesn't talk to the men or pat our backs very often. Except, well, he does talk with Sergeant Saunders sometimes, though not even that much.

I fought hard not to sleep, Mom, but I remember opening my eyes after a while and feeling surprised that the forest seemed much clearer suddenly. I had no watch to tell what time it was, but I could see dawn just about breaking. I listened to the chirps and squawks of birds in the branches just above me.

Then, a loud noise, coming from nearby, gave me a start. Even half-awake, I recognized the sound of machine guns. Dad, I can't ever get used to the sound of those things. I sat up, even though I'd thought I could never move anything again. Pierre had heard it too; I think at almost the same time I had. I remember he jumped and looked out towards the field. My heart almost stopped when a soldier in full battle gear jumped into the water right beside me and turned to shoot over a rotting log. I saw sergeant's stripes on his jacket sleeve. He fired a long burst and then waved another soldier down into the ditch next to him. Four or five more followed them down and started shooting too.

Bullets flew over their helmets; the soldiers all ducked at once, taking cover along the sides of the ditch.

I blinked at them, hardly believing the sight in front of me; those were Americans shooting it out with machine guns in the field. I decided to chance a quick look out of the ditch, but I couldn't see where the enemy was. The moment my head was up though, bullets flew past me and slammed into the trees on the other bank, ripping them all up. I ducked back down and hid my face from the chunks flying everywhere.

The sergeants rifle went silent. He squatted at the bottom of the ditch and took out another clip, asking the others if they were okay. For a second, I could only see the top of his helmet and hear him curse while he pushed the clip into the chamber. That was when the sergeant looked up and saw me next to the boulder.

I figured him to be about Sarge's age, but with a narrower face and dark eyes that grew wide all at once. He lost that fight-hardened look just for a moment, (Sarge does that, too) and asked me what I was doing there and what company I was with. His voice sounded a bit like yours, Dad. Then, the sergeant turned his attention back to the Krauts. He balanced his rifle on the old log and fired back along with the others.

A soldier with a medic's armband came splashing through the water and knelt down beside me. The man's helmet looked so dented and scratched, and I saw blood on his jacket, but he looked calm and composed even though all those bullets were flying around us. It seemed like business-as-usual for him when he told me to take it easy and opened his medical bag.

And then, all the machine guns went silent at the same time. A kind of lull came down on us, like I've seen happen in the middle of a battle, sometimes. The sergeant used that time to come over to my side. He clamped a launcher onto his bayonet lug while he talked to me. His name was Tyler, of Love Company, with the 361st. Sergeant Tyler hadn't expected to run into the machine gun nest out there, or me. His squad had been pushing through the sector, trying to root out Krauts (he called them sonsofbitches) man-by-man, gun-by-gun, for three days straight, hardly ever seeing any Germans. All the time, they hadn't slept, he told me. His squad had advanced so fast that he'd had to swing around and fight the other way to get back.

I knew what he meant. All the fighting in the hedgerows near Sainte Marie is really fluid and mixed up. Even Captain Steiner said it changes from hour to hour. It's like a lot of little wars, involving only small groups and squads. You never see any front lines because everybody keeps his head low and stays hidden. The Germans counterattack in some places, throwing in all they have, and pull back in others. I fingered my shirt pocket, where the map still was, and told the sergeant I was trying to reach battalion with information about the German positions. But he said that Battalion wasn't in Sainte-Marie any more. The sergeant pointed towards the east and said they were a half-mile that way, along a narrow lane.

I was so lost and confused; I thought back on how Sarge had told us in the prison compound that the Americans were going to move into the sector. I didn't know where to head for with my map, so I felt relieved when Sergeant Tyler told two of his men to take me to where I had to go. I remember how the medic smiled when I thanked that sergeant. I was just getting up to go with those men when the machine gun opened up again. I hugged the side of the boulder with my heart in my throat, hoping the big rock would protect us from the gunfire.

One of the Americans was hit; he screamed and dropped his rifle. I saw him slide down to the bottom of the ditch. He lay in the mud, clutching his chest and calling for help. The medic grabbed his bag and crawled towards the wounded soldier. He didn't wait for an order to do it; he just went, right through the bullets.

Right then, a shell exploded about twenty yards from us. I didn't know whose it was, since the whole place had turned a big, mixed-up hell. I ducked with my fingers in my ears while the ground shook. A tree standing near us made a loud cracking sound and fell on top of the radioman crouching just a few yards away from me. Mom, I'll never forget the scream that soldier made when the big trunk came down on him. His body disappeared into the water. His carbine flew out and then quickly went under too. I wanted to reach out and pull him back, but Sergeant Tyler ordered us all to hold our positions. He went down to the soldier himself, reaching beneath the water for him, but he shook his head after a second.

I hoped for a letup after the explosion, Dad. But we kept hearing the pings as the Kraut bullets flew; the roar of all the rifles in the ditch as they fired seemed to scare that French boy. He curled up beside me and covered his ears with his hands.

I remember one of the Americans yelling that the Krauts were trying to form a ring around us, and that we'd be dead soon. He looked really mad as he raised his rifle and fired a long burst from it. I heard a scream from somewhere out there, and then the Germans responded with even more firepower. The Americans all ducked down below the edge of the embankment with their hands on their helmets.

The sergeant looked out again and took a firing stance, turning the butt of his rifle sideways, like he was launching rifle grenades. The machine gun just kept firing at us all the time. Finally, Sergeant Tyler lowered his rifle and said it was no use. We couldn't see a thing out there, but the Krauts had us pinpointed cold. They'd kill us all before we ever hoped to get them. So he would go around and sneak up on their position to knock out the machine gun from the other side. He told the other soldier to get his grenades ready, and then he led him off towards the left. The two of them crawled beside the boulder and disappeared along the ditch.

The rest of the squad stuck close to the edge and gave them cover.

Only a few minutes after they left, I heard a frightful noise, like moaning, and another shell crashed into the ditch, very close to the boulder. I remember I wanted to hide my ears, not just cover them, because my eardrums almost burst from the explosion. It's hard to describe what it was like right then, being so scared that I could feel every part in me that hurt and wondered if that would be the last impression I ever got of the world. I remember explosions ever lasting longer than this one did. Pierre was frozen, trembling, so I did like Sarge does; I brought the kid up against me and did my best to protect him from the flying shrapnel. At one point I looked over at the others saw that fragments had hit two of the Americans. I turned the boy's face away, so he wouldn't see the sight of the soldiers' bodies lying near the water, their helmets gone but their eyes still open.

I looked at Pierre when the explosion had passed, really thinking that he and I were the only ones left alive. But then I saw the medic slowly crawling out from the other side of the boulder and plop down beside one of the dead soldiers. That Doc looked like he needed a doctor himself. Blood streamed down the side of his face, he grimaced and held his arm against his chest. But he was calm as he touched the dead man on the shoulder.

I watched the medic and was about to ask him for help when I realized the place had gotten very silent. It startled me all the more then, when I heard the sound of boots jumping onto the top of the boulder, right above me.

I ducked when I saw a German soldier up there wave a Schmeisser at the Doc and shout something that I didn't understand. The medic looked up and raised his hands in surrender. The Kraut jumped into the ditch and waved three of his buddies down after him. They used the tip of their boots to kick away the M1s and roll the dead soldiers over. When they were satisfied the Americans weren't going to move any more, they turned their attention to the medic. They surrounded him, shouting in their language.

The medic got to his feet and put his hands up higher.

The Krauts shoved their rifles in that Doc's chest, hitting him, but the guy didn't budge. He just kept still while Germans searched through his jacket. They laughed and pushed him down into the water, hard, and then forced him over towards the bank. But they didnt kill him. Maybe those Krauts wanted him to go look at their wounded, or they just wanted a prisoner, I didn't know. But they were taking him.

I watched from behind the boulder while the Germans kept on harassing the medic, always with their backs turned. Beside me, I could see the tip of the radioman's carbine at the edge of the water, beside the fallen tree. I reached my hand out for it, biting my lip not to cry out from the pain. But I could only get the end of my fingers about a foot away from the carbine. It felt like a mile. My fingers shook badly; I really tried not to look at the blood on them as I tried to work my way down lower to reach the carbine. Under the surface, I saw a magazine pouch strapped onto the stock. Maybe it contained a spare clip.

But I'm so clumsy, Mom. My boot knocked over a loose rock and sent it rolling. It landed in the water, making the loudest splash I ever heard.

The Krauts yelled and turned my way. I felt as if shock had hit me in the pit of my stomach. Pierre said something I only half-heard, and then he scooted up towards the trees above the boulder. The boy moved so fast; one second his legs churned, and when I turned my head his way he was just gone.

Two Germans came running around the boulder a second later, their Schmeissers aimed at my face.

The game was up; I stayed still, clutching my arm because I couldn't raise my hands. The Krauts jumped over the log and swarmed around me, shouting. I could only understand "Amerikaner." They went through my jacket and pants pockets and took the Sarge's map. Then, they grabbed me and jerked me to up so hard I thought my wounded arm would come off. They spun me around and shoved me towards the medic, who was sitting on the bank with two Schmeissers aimed at his head. When I couldn't walk fast enough, the Krauts pushed me. I couldn't stop myself from falling. I cried out when I banged my knees on the rocks. One of the Krauts brought his boot down into my ribs, so hard that I choked. I curled up tight, trying to avoid the next blow, while the Krauts ranted around me.

Then, all hell broke loose, Dad.

Rifles opened up on us all at once, from the field. The Krauts ducked at the edge of the ditch fired back; the noise of their Schmeissers filled my ears. A wall of earth and rocks flew up along the side of the ditch; I ducked when heavy chunks fell on my head.

One of the Krauts yelled out and dropped his weapon. I saw him fall back into the water with his face in his hands. Another one shoved me down beside a broken stump and took a firing position beside me, aiming at whoever was firing out there. The whole time, bullets ripped into the trees on the other bank. When I tried to slip away, the Kraut grabbed my sleeve and motioned for me to sit tight. At least, I think. Dad, the whole scene from before was playing again. Only now, Germans were the ones crouching in the ditch and shooting towards the field. They talked to each other really fast. One of them took off along the ditch and disappeared around the boulder. I heard the sound of his weapon firing from several yards away a few seconds later.

The fighting was close; I heard a shout coming from the woods, yelling for the Krauts to give up. Even through the din, I recognized sergeant Tyler's voice. The Germans answered by shooting back and throwing grenades at the trees. I ducked low and shut my eyes, but I still saw the bright flash of the explosion. I clasped my ears tight, but my eardrums just about burst anyway.

Dad, I've heard German grenades, and I know what they sound like. This explosion sounded much louder than mashers, stronger, and it seemed to come from only a few yards behind me. I heard the sound of a carbine through it, too, echoing along the sides of the ditch. The weapon behind me just kept shooting, like something from Hell. A wall of bullets hit the side of the boulder and flew everywhere. Some of the ricochets barely missed me; I ducked behind a dead Kraut for cover. I never saw who was shooting; I just thought Americans must have flanked us and caught those Krauts in a pincer.

The noise died down after the rifle went silent, but my ears still buzzed so much, I couldn't be sure it'd really stopped. I clutched my arm, seeing it dark with blood, and looked around the place to figure out what had happened. All I knew was that all the Krauts now lay with their faces in the dirt, their weapons still strapped to their necks. I couldn't see the medic (I hadn't even learned his name, Mom,) and then I saw him lying beside one of the Krauts. At first, I thought he was dead, but then I saw his chest move lightly. The Doc turned his head towards me, and he waved his hand slightly. I remember seeing Sergeant Tyler jump down into the ditch beside him and kneel at his side. A second later, he patted the medic's shoulder and stood again.

I saw movement at my right. I curled up tight, my blood frozen; thinking the storm of bullets would start up around us again. But while my teeth clattered hard enough to break, I saw Pierre sitting at the top of the ditch, clutching a carbine. He waved at us and jumped down to the bottom with cat-like movements. My breath all went out of me at once, and I sagged down like a heap, too tired to fight the pain any more.

The sergeant waved at the boy. Then, he helped the Doc over to my side and told me to take it easy while he helped me sit up. I asked him to fetch the map from the dead Kraut before it got covered with any more blood than it must be already. I felt so relieved when he got it, Dad. I thanked him and made a remark about there being hardly anybody left in his squad. It was a dumb thing to say, I guess. The sergeant just shook his head at first, and then he said that the Krauts (well, sonsofbitches) were even worse off.

I saw a third G.I. wander through the bodies, checking them, and finally kneel down next to the radioman to pull off his tags. I recognized the angry soldier who had gone out with the Sarge to circle the Kraut machine guns. That soldier didn't look so mad now, just sad and quiet at seeing his dead buddies.

The sergeant went over to talk to Pierre. The kid's face looked so thin and so young. I knew he'd seen his folks killed, and he must have been sorry to leave them behind in order to help out the cause of their death. Sergeant Tyler patted the kid's shoulder and told him that he'd done a good job. I know Pierre didn't understand a word the sergeant said. He just clutched the carbine tightly, looked at me with a bit of a smile, and said nothing at all.

***

Well, that happened to me a few days ago. I guess you might say I finally did bring the map to Captain Jampel, like I was ordered to do. I hope they don't pin a silver star on me though, because my chest is so hurt and full of bruises there's no place to put it.

I'm kidding again, Mom.

The doctors say I'm lucky to have only a fractured shoulder blade, since the bullet grazed it. And they're optimistic about my arm. I'm going to leave hospital when they decide I'm well enough to use a rifle again. Speaking of rifles, Pierre came to see me today. He told me that Sergeant Tyler let him keep the carbine he used to save us. I don't know if the sergeant is allowed to give government property to a French kid like that, but what can anybody do about it anyway? Pierre could just say he picked it off a corpse in battlefield someplace.

But I've just had the best news I've heard in days. Lieutenant Hanley came in and told it to me. Seems that Company just got a report that the guys in the squad might have escaped. He said that nobody has any confirmation yet, but it looks like it might be true. I asked about Littlejohn and the Sarge, and the lieutenant clammed right up into his usual officer self again. But I don't care. He looked like he believed it, so I'm hoping and praying that it is true, and that all the guys made it, and that I'm going to see all my friends ride into Sainte-Marie tomorrow, laughing and free and ready to celebrate. I really hope that it's so.

Hugs and kisses to you all,
From your son in France,

Billy