By Robert Feinstein
It was December 17th, 1944, the second day of Germany’s Argonne Offensive … Battle of the Bulge. A huge force, consisting of some four-hundred and ten thousand Wehrmacht and Waffen SS troops, aided by thousands of Panzer and Tiger tanks, intense artillery fire, and massive air cover, had already surprised and overrun American and British soldiers along an eighty mile front, that stretched from Belgium into Luxembourg. Coordinated with the assault, which Hitler had personally planned, English-speaking Germans, wearing U.S. uniforms and carrying American equipment, had parachuted into the Argonnes, where they cut communication wires, switched around road signs, destroyed fueling depots, and effectively caused general panic. Several of them had actually once lived in the States. Allied intelligence had learned of their existence within hours and spread the word. Strangers became wary of each other, and patrols were unsure if they were encountering friends or foes.
On that terrible day, in the town of Wereth, SS elements first tortured, and then gunned down, eleven African American GI’s they had taken prisoner. Those murders were an evil enough deed, but the reason these scions of the so-called “Master Race,” also tortured them was because they were black. And near Malmady, other captured Americans were herded into a ravine, where scores of them were slaughtered. These were obvious war crimes, and most of the thugs who perpetrated them were never found and brought to justice. But sometimes there are survivors of massacres. Just before the machine guns opened up on the helpless Malmady prisoners, someone yelled: “RUN.” This they did, and a number of them escaped.
Among those who survived were Private First Class Sidney Levine, from the Bronx, and Corporal Gianni Bettini, of Hoboken. They were very much aware that they had fallen into enemy hands as a result of false directions given to their squad by Germans disguised as U.S. MP’s. At one point, in their trek that followed, Levine turned to Bettini and mouthed the old adage: “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.”
For the next day they did not sleep, and wandered together through dense forest terrain. Their objective was to reach what they felt was the safety of Bastogne, the 101st Airborne’s headquarters, under the command of General Anthony C. McCauliffe. They had plenty of water …snow was everywhere, and the handfuls of it that they consumed took care of their thirst, but having no rations, Levine and Bettini were more than a little hungry.
In the early afternoon of December 18th, after emerging from the woodlands, they saw a farmhouse, and decided to take a chance by knocking on its door. The Belgians within were sympathetic, but nervous, as they had been visited by a forward Wehrmacht group that morning. But before ushering them out, they did treat Bettini and Levine to cheese, bread, and coffee, informed them that they were, in fact, seven miles to the Southeast of Bastogne, and provided them with a hastily-drawn map to guide them
An hour later, the two saw soldiers wearing American uniforms, and upon seeing them they threw caution to the wind, unhesitatingly ran up to them, and immediately saluted the commanding officer, Houston-born
Second Lieutenant Albert Spivey. Good fortune had prevailed, and it did turn out that these men were Americans, who were also making their way to Bastogne. They were troopers of the 969th Field Artillery Battalion, who had taken up rifles and assumed infantry duty, after their howitzers were destroyed by enemy fire.
Lieutenant Spivey scowled and did not return the salute. Brandishing a pistol, he stared them down and asked: “Who is Donald Duck’s girlfriend?”
Levine quickly replied: “Huh? That’s Minnie.”
“What the hell did you tell him it’s Minnie for?” shouted Bettini, who had a passion for comic books, and had seen his fair share of Disney cartoons.
“She’s Daisy … Daisy Duck.”
Levine did better on Spivey’s next question.
“What team does Musial play for?”
“You mean, ‘Stan the Man.’ Stan Musial plays for the St. Louis Cardinals. They won this year’s World Series,” he happily stated.
Lieutenant Spivey holstered his revolver and smiled.
“You guys are all right. You’re coming along with us,” he said.
“We knew you weren’t Germans,” said Bettini.
“I’m not at all surprised,” Lieutenant Spivey replied. “After all, the 969th is an African American unit!”
Robert Feinstein is a retired medical librarian. His short stories have appeared in: Literary Yard, Downtown Brooklyn, Stuck in the Library, The Lowestloft Chronicle, The Forward, and other publications.
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