This week’s article is dedicated in honor of the marriage of Carly Rothenberg to Marc Friedman:
May they always be blessed, and may they always appreciate all their blessings….
Some time ago I had the privilege of meeting a World War II veteran with a fascinating story to share:
Born in Germany he was lucky enough to be born of parents who saw the writing on the wall, and he was sent away for High School to boarding school in England.
Eventually, his family succeeded in getting out, and he wound up a young Jewish immigrant with a German accent in America. Victor (not his real name) succeeded in enrolling in a prestigious Ivy-League University and was eventually drafted into the U.S. Army, but as a College student assumed he would never see the front lines at least. And then D-Day and the beaches of Normandy changed all of that; with over a hundred thousand dead on the beaches, the army desperately needed to send fresh troops into the field to keep the war machine moving towards Berlin, and Victor was sent to the U.S. Army infantry. A couple of months later, after training stateside, he found himself in December of 1944, manning a foxhole in an infantry battalion along the front lines in Belgium.
As it happened, he had very large feet, and when he arrived at the Belgian front, supplies being what they were in the army in 1944,the only pair of size-twelve army boots available had been given to a battalion commander, and he was forced to shove his feet into boots that were two sizes too small and leave them unlaced. It didn’t take long for him to develop first blisters from the boots, and then frostbite on his feet from wearing open boots in the bitter cold Belgian winter.
Every so often he would manage to get to see the company medic who would give him more salve for his feet.
It happened that his company’s particular area along the front lines in Belgium was a very quiet area with very little going on, which may have been why the company commander agreed one evening to let Victor leave the foxhole and ride back to company headquarters with him to have his feet examined.
Back at Company headquarters, the medic took one look at Victor’s feet and decided he had frostbite that needed treatment and marked him down for transfer to the battalion infirmary. A couple of hours later, he joined a truckload of soldiers, mostly wounded on the front, being sent down to the battalion infirmary. Once there he was ‘tagged’ as having frostbite, and told to await the arrival of the battalion doctor who could only look at his feet when there was a break in the more seriously wounded men from the front lines. At this point, army bureaucracy took over; in an army of millions of men, at a certain point you are no longer a person with an injury; you become a classification and are thrown into the system. That night, for whatever the reason, frostbite victims were being sent to the Brigade infirmary, further back from the front lines, and he was sent onto another truck and transported to Brigade headquarters. There, he was given a bed, and again tagged as a frostbite victim; whereupon it was soon decided he was to be transported further to the rear, to the field hospital at division headquarters.
By this time, Victor realized he had been swallowed up by ‘the system’, and tried desperately to get released back to his unit, but no one was listening.
It is no small thing to be stationed with men with whom you have trained, and buddies who can listen and keep your mood up, and Victor started wondering whether he would ever succeed in getting back to his unit. With the front in constant flux as the American army pushed towards Berlin, he was afraid that by the time his feet got better, he would be sent elsewhere and would lose touch with his buddies for the duration of the war. But in an army of over four million men, sometimes you get lost, and eventually, having been categorized as a frostbite case, Victor finally found himself on a troop transport train which took him all the way back to the hospital in… Paris!