Someone named David M. left a moving comment on Scott Greenfield’s Memorial Day post:
My grandfather was drafted out of the Hitler Youth into the Luftwaffe in ’43, when he was 16. In early ’45, he was assigned to man an AA gun, shooting at American planes. When the Americans crossed the Rhine in March and it was clear that the war was lost, he deserted along with a few of his high school classmates. They scrounged up a few supplies and split up, each man trying to reach his family. For my grandpa, that meant sneaking through the Ruhr pocket.
About a week later, he was caught by a lone GI. It was dusk, and my grandpa, who’d been sheltering in a ditch, was getting ready to move on under cover of night when the GI stepped out from behind a tree. Grandpa was armed, though he’d shed the uniform, and the soldier held him at gunpoint.
On his knees in a muddy ditch, an armed enemy combatant caught sneaking through occupied territory, he did the only thing he could think of. He said “please.” One word. In German. And after a long pause, the GI put up his gun, said “get up, boy,” and helped my grandpa out of what should have been his grave.
So thank you. From three generations now to another, far greater than any of ours. Not only did they risk their lives, give their lives, to put an end to the awful evil of Nazi Germany, but they showed us mercy, even when none needed to be shown.
To which Scott responds:
That was my father who let him go. Metaphorically.
On the other hand, metaphorically, my father shot him dead.
My dad had started fighting the war in Italy and later ended up in the forces following the D-Day invasion into France. My father was with some unit that was chasing the German occupiers out of some small town in France, and as they were moving down the street, he saw a bunch of people run out of a building up ahead.
One of the runners was wearing a German uniform, and as he had been doing for the past couple of years whenever he saw an enemy soldier, my father shot at him. The German went down. Dead.
Although my father had seen combat several times throughout the war, that was the only time, before or since, that he knew for sure he had killed someone.
Sixty years later, my dad told me that he still sometimes thinks about the man he killed, and he wonders if he could have done something different.