What is it like to have your country taken over by an enemy Army, while it is defeating your own country’s Army? I hope we never find the answer to that question here in the United States.
But that’s the way life was in Germany in 1945 when it was on the verge of defeat after nearly conquering all of Europe. It was to become an occupied country with its population at the mercy of enemy soldiers as we swept through village after village pursuing the German Army.
I was in the conquering Army and Germans told us when we got to talking to them — the them mainly being frauleins, German women — that they were happy their part of Germany was being captured now by Americans rather than Russians.
Rape and rough treatment was the theme of the narrative they picked up from relatives fleeing the Russian-captured portion of Germany, the East.
Symbols of manhood come in many forms. Grow a mustache. Curse a lot (though women have encroached on that one). Develop big muscles. Try to ‘make out’ with almost every woman you encounter.
As a Combat Engineer with my fellow 19-year-olds and a few guys into their 20s, the symbol was hand grenades. We wore them hanging from the lapels of our green mid-length field jackets. The idea was you were ready in case of an attack by Germans sneaking up on you, day or night.
American hand grenades of World War II were sturdy. They didn’t explode unless you pulled a ring attached to a pin hard enough that it came out of the grenade. You did the pulling while holding the grenade tightly, really squeezing, to put pressure on a metal handle curving around the grenade. The handle stayed in place as long as it was gripped tightly. Continue reading →