Tomahawk: Part 2: Chapter 5: Winnetou Country

On the 18th of January 1945, at Ft. Wolters, TX I raised my right hand and along with 35 other soldiers, following the US District Court Judges instructions recited:

“I hereby declare, on oath, that I absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state, or sovereignty, of whom or which I have heretofore been a subject or citizen; that I will support and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I will bear arms on behalf of the United States when required by the law; that I will perform noncombatant service in the Armed Forces of the United States when required by the law; that I will perform work of national importance under civilian direction when required by the law; and that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; so help me God.”

As I said the last words, I felt a lump growing in my throat and tears forming in my eyes. It was embarrassing. Surrounded by a bunch of tough as nails soldiers and I, wearing the uniform of a soldier in the United States Army, was about to cry. Then I looked around. Half the uniforms in the room were balling. I guess I am was not the only one who had a sentimental side. What would have Tad said to me? “Old Shatterhand, never shed a tear” or perhaps “Apache warriors don’t cry.” Or perhaps he would have said “Son, you are now a Texan!” and then laughed so hard tears would be pouring down his face.

I also wondered what he would think of my new name. One of the options, I had been given when I chose to become a US citizen was changing my name. A number of my fellow soldiers had Americanized their names. My buddy, Franz Wolfson had Americanized and become Frank Wesley. Another guy, a tough looking kid from El Paso, Manuel Enrique Martinez, for some unknown reason had chosen Mac Gordon Lescet. Hugi Israel Flossel (the immigration people gave all Jews without a middle name Israel) was now Sam  Flossel. I am fairly sure he would have approved. He was always big on inventing new names when on a new adventure.

I am quite sure that he would have approved of my next adventure. I had, after a fairly deliberative process, decided to become an officer. Everybody thinks that becoming an officer is what every soldier wants. But I did not know if it was right for me. I was kid. Only 18 years old. For fucks sake I was in 2nd grade 4 years ago.  I spoke with a German accent. I was not sure men would take orders from someone like me. Nor was I sure that I wanted the responsibility of being in charge of men’s lives. A concept that had been drilled into me during at my ROTC classes at Syracuse. Officers primary responsibility is to the men under their command.  I was having such a difficult time deciding that I asked my Sergeant, a battle tested (North Africa and Sicily) 24-year-old veteran from Peoria, Il. what he thought.

He told me that I was worrying about the wrong things. The men will not give a damn about your accent or your age. What they care about is if you can lead. Whether you can get the job done and make the right decisions at the right time. He then added  We e got the Jerry’s on the run. After “the bulge” there is nothing stopping us until Berlin. Who knows by the time OCS is over there may be no war and you will be an officer escorting debutantes to a ball.”

I arrived at Ft. Sill, OK to attend OCS at their Field Artillery School on a dreary day in late January. In retrospect, it seems pre-ordained that I be posted there. Not because I met the love of my life there or had some other earth-shattering experience (although that is what the school was all about.) No, it was pre-ordained because of my love of the Karl May’s books about Old Shatterhand and Winnetou. Not only had many of those books taken place in the Oklahoma territory but Ft. Sill had was the first fort built at the beginning of the Indian Wars. Generals Sheriden and Sherman had rampaged against the Kiowa, Comanche, Cheyenne and the Sioux from here. Wild Bill Hickock and Buffalo Bill Cody led scouting expositions from here. The 7th Calvary, before their adventure at Little Big Horn were stabled here. Geronimo, the famous Indian chief and Sioux warrior was buried here. Hell, the Fort even had its own tribe of Indians, The Ft. Sill Sioux.

I could easily imagine Winnetou and Old Shatterhand visiting The Fort. Hell half their adventures took place in OK.  It served as a constant reminder of Tad and our boyhood games. Of an innocence lost. How I, so far, had been awarded with a happy ending and he had not. I wished more than anything that I could let him know where I was. That is the sad thing about losing your best friend. That sharing of the mundane and the extraordinary that they would understand without explanation or fanfare. The companion who would lift you up when you failed and exam or not let your head get to big when you got a commendation for a perfect bombardment.

I occasionally wondered, in the six or seven minutes that we had of free time daily, usually while waiting on lines for chow, what I would tell Tad about this place.  Perhaps it would be something fanciful such as “here in the heart of Indian Country I was learning how to become a Shatterhand of my own. Not with fists, but with M3 105mm howitzers, the MI 8 inch, and 75 mm mobile gun platform. And taught the cunning of Winnetou in our tactical classes in camouflage, weapons improvisation or signaling. Or would have told him about Paul O’Brien, a 6’5” guy from Ohio who could fart longer than anybody I have ever met. Or Harold Heineman (Heine) who was so smooth with girls that he worth hanging around with just for the leftovers. I know I would have told him about Sgt William T. Holmes Jr, who woke up every morning with my name screaming my name for some offense he imagined I committed. Not that I took it personally, Sgt Holmes liked to scream at officer cadets. Probably, built up resentment from taking orders from shave tail no nothings.

I would have written him about the food. If for no other reason that he used to do the same to me. His table at home had always the best produce, sausages and meats. After all, that is one of the benefits of having a mother who runs a grocery store. Not that Tad would tease me about the food on his table and mine.  He never did, directly. But there were days after we had a cabbage stew that was more cabbage than stew where he would wax poetic about the feast that he had night before…schnitzel, spaetzle, cucumber salad with cheese and apples for a finisher…and my stomach would secretly grumble and I wished I could tell him to shut up.  

For someone who grew up without a lot of food and scrounged meals at Syracuse waiting tables Army food was great. Breakfast was eggs, cereal, pancakes, sausage, bacon and grits on the plate. Lunch and dinner were much the same. Lots of beef, we were in cattle country, potatoes done a thousand different ways, fresh vegetables and fruit that the Army got and civilians dreamt about. And while it was the not the Bison that Shatterhand and Winnetou often feasted on I am pretty sure Tad would have approved of the menu and maybe I could return the favor of making him jealous over food.

Sometime during the first week of April, after I had been at OCS for over 8 I saw a copy of the Oklahoman lying on a table in the mess. While the mainline headline was about how our 3rd Army was marching towards Berlin the headline that caught my eye was “Russians Force Slugs Into Vienna Suburbs.” I had spent the last two months learning the purpose and destructive power of artillery. I had no problem imagining what it would do the city I grew up in and whatever it would be to me moving forward, it would always be the place of my childhood memories. I knew the Russians would be ruthless as they had been ever since they had broken free of their border. While it had not widely reported in the press we had been told that the end of the siege of the city was only the beginning of the pain for its citizens. Rape, looting, and summary executions were all apart of the Soviet battle plan.

My knowledge of artillery and Russian tactics meant I could easily imagine, the fear, pain and destruction that was taking place in Vienna.  Much worse I could see them written on the faces of people I knew and loved. My grandmother. Paul’s mother.  Kids I had gone to school with. The Wurstl near our home who knew my name and let me slide when I was short a pfennig or two. D’vorah Adelstein who proposed marriage to me when we were in first grade. For weeks the images haunted my nightmares.

Then the siege ended. And slowly so did my nightmares. We were moving towards the final push at OCS. More and more of us was asked each day. Perfection was sought in all of the aspects of our new trade like gunnery, tactics, mechanics and command. It made it easier to put my imaginings of the battle of Vienna behind me and focus on getting through the next few weeks until graduation.

Then came V E day, May 8 1945. A day that I would remember less for the celebrations, I never seen so many people so happy, but for the orders to report to Captain Pikes, the Assistant Adjutant Generals office who in the company of Captain Diamond, the commander of the base CIC, order to Vienna by the fastest possible transport.  

{Authors note, up until this point I have been writing a head of myself. A chapter or two ahead of publishing…I have now caught up with myself and will publish mid chapter at logical breaks.}

About 34orion

Winston Churchill once said that if you were not a liberal when you were young you had no heart, and if you were not a conservative when you were older then you had no brain. I know I have both so what does that make me?
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1 Response to Tomahawk: Part 2: Chapter 5: Winnetou Country

  1. Pingback: Tomahawk: Part 2: Chapter 5: Winnetou Country – faujibratsden

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