Tell Me, What Were Their Names?

In my novel, The Secrets of Dr. John Welles, John and one of his best friends, Sam Feldman, go to war as civilian doctors assigned to the Army.  Their motivation is the attack on Pearl Harbor, an eye-opening event in the lives of many Americans who believed we could stay neutral in regards to the war taking place in Europe and atrocities such as those that occurred during the Rape of Nanking.

For most Americans, World War II started with Congress declaring war after the attack on Pearl Harbor.  However, for other Americans, specifically sailors in the U.S. Navy, it started in the early morning hours of October 31, 1941, with the sinking of the U.S.S. Reuben James by German Submarine U-552.

The Reuben James, a World War I Clemson-class, four-stack destroyer, was part of an escort for convoys bound for Great Britain carrying war materials from the “Arsenal of Democracy.”  German U-boats (submarines) didn’t hesitate to fire on any ship in the convoy, considering them all to be fair game.  For this reason, it was only a matter of time before America became involved in a “shooting war.”

The Reuben James was torpedoed and sunk while escorting convoy HX-156.  The incident resulted in the loss of 115 of the 160 crewman, including all officers.  Although not the first U.S. Navy ship to be torpedoed before the war, the Reuben James was the first one lost.

When news of the sinking reached America, many concerned people wrote letters to the U.S. Navy trying to determine the fate of loved ones and/or friends.  Unfortunately, most of the country ignored the sinking.  One person who did not was folk singer, Woody Guthrie, who wrote “Sinking of the Reuben James” immediately following the incident.

I mentioned the Reuben James in my novel in an effort to remember all who lost their lives during a dark time in history.  Also, in the spirit of one tagline I came across during my research, friends don’t allow friends repeat history.

A Wish for Snow

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I wrote the following flash fiction based on the picture to the left.  I immediately thought of Band of Brothers and decided to write my story from the German point of view.  It was also based on an account my husband, William, mentioned.  He watched a documentary where several members of Easy Company met with their former German enemies, all of them very old men by that time.  The soldiers of E Company asked their German counterparts why they didn’t overrun the American position.  The Americans admitted they were fewer in number and without supplies.  The Germans’ response was that they knew the “Eagle Heads” were over there.  So impressive was the reputation of the 101st Airborne Division that the German soldiers were hesitant to attack.

I post this in honor of Veterans Day.  God Bless every member of the American Armed Forces, both retired and currently serving.

A Wish for Snow

Private Franz Stieber refuses to open his eyes. He huddles in a machine gun nest in the Ardennes with three other soldiers, trying his best to fend off the bitter cold. He can hear two of them, Emil and Poldi, blowing on their hands to keep warm. The fourth, Corporal Kneller, kicks Franz’s boots.

“I know you’re awake, Stieber. Get up,” he orders.

The otherwise peaceful morning is disrupted by the corporal’s constant litany of barked orders. One would think the man a General the way he swaggers around regaling them with heroic war stories. No one has ever witnessed one of his deeds. They laugh behind his back, wishing an American sniper would take him out.

Franz opens his eyes to pale winter sunshine piercing a blanket of thick fog. What would normally be a welcome respite from the gloom of overcast days is a curse to the German troops hunkered down in the Ardennes. He has yet to decide if waking each morning is a blessing or a curse.

For weeks they’ve been fighting over this God-forsaken stretch of land. Much to the German Army’s shame, little headway has been made in this particular battle. For just over the rise, just across the open field, just through the bomb-blackened trunks of splintered pines are the Eagle Heads, formally known as the 101st Airborne Division.

No amount of shelling or machine gun fire can unearth these demon warriors. Their ranks never seem to diminish, their spirits never flag. Now, with the advent of a sunny day, Franz is sure they will be given the order to attack the American Army’s position

“I will storm their ranks, kill one of their officers, and cut out his heart for a trophy,” the Corporal brags around a mouthful of brown bread and cold coffee.

Emil and Poldi stare in disbelief as Franz spits at the Corporal’s feet.

“No, fool, you won’t. You’ll be lucky to not piss yourself at the order to charge,” he says.

He turns away, unwilling to meet Corporal Kneller’s eyes. Giving him the attention he craves only encourages him, and his youthful bravado will get them all killed. Franz steels himself, expecting to be shot for insubordination once Kneller recovers from embarrassment. The cowed Corporal simply shoves the rest of his bread into his mouth.

As they finish their meager breakfast, the sun retreats behind a mantle of clouds. Franz breathes a sigh of relief as snow begins to fall. There will be no offensive, only more shelling. Today he will not die in the Eagle’s talons.

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