By Donald J. Hall
My father died
last year, may he forever rest in peace. His suffering is now done. He was 76.
He left a secret legacy though, unknown to all the family except my mother, who
just thought nothing of the matter until a World War II photograph in my dad's
album caught my eye. I looked at my dads war album many times and this special
picture eluded me over and over again.
The album was always whisked away.
Dad never bragged on the war.
Jerry Hall was a foot soldier in World War II, infantry, and tracked up
through Africa right up to Germany. He was pulled off a farm in the middle
of Illinois to go fight Adolph Hitler. He took pictures all the way, country
to country, battle after battle, horror after horror. His war album was
awesome! Airplanes, jets, bombers, tanks, buildings, piled up dead soldiers,
dead S.S. guards, and even pictures of Hitler's beer garden. Dad didn't
like to talk about the gruesome details and the horrors of World War II.
Like most proud soldiers, you had to somehow pull the war stories from
him. My father's unit was sent up to the very front line one day to fight
a fierce battle with the Germans (Reipertswiller).
At the last moment, my father and another soldier were kept behind to
fix mechanical problems on damaged trucks. No one returned from his unit.
They were all killed. His friends were gone.
The war went on dad said. New soldiers replaced the
once commented, that "there cannot be a God in this world who cares"-after
what he saw on the battlefield. There was one picture, piles upon piles of dead
German soldiers, all naked. There were pictures of dead concentration camp bodies,
piled ten feet high. My father was put in hell without his permission, so he decided
to simply picture it the best he could. It was a way to block out the war.
My dad's unit was a behind lines support company, often moving right behind the
fighting units. He spoke of German bombers flying right over his unit to the front
lines to drop their loads. Many times the enemy planes would save a bomb for them
on the way back-dad said they would fly so low they would smile at them. I asked
why no one tried to shoot the planes down. Dad said that every one was too busy
running for cover. A 500 pound bomb is not to be reckoned with in the open. It
was over in a few seconds anyway. The German renegade planes usually settled for
a truck or a tank being repaired as a target.
He never questioned his orders.
My father was bombed, shot at, frozen for months, deprived of all humanity and
exposed to inhumane conditions for years, for his country. Hardly anyone at home
knew what was happening first hand.
My father told of a night time advance
into enemy territory, no one knew for sure where the company was headed. On a
blind road in the darkness, they marched right past another German company headed
in the opposite direction, on the same road, within speaking distance of one another,
within earshot-in the dead of night. I asked my dad why no one opened fire on
one another, that's how it happens in the movies? Dad simply said, "I guess
they were just as scared of us as we were of them and no one wanted to fire the
first shot, everyone was waiting for the first fire order. It never came. Our
unit talked about it for weeks." Dad often said that war is not like you
see in the movies. He laughed at the movies.
All that my father brought home
were his horrid memories and his photo album. I didn't even see the album until
I was over 40. It was hidden away, buried as deep as his memories of that horrid
war. A couple of times a year the album would surface for discussion and we would
go over the pictures. I had no clue what I was looking at. I had no clue what
real war was like.
After someone dies, we tend to care suddenly about the
person in ways we should have while they were still alive. All of a sudden I could
not get enough of my dad's World War II photos and the history he created with
his buddies in combat. I should have talked more with dad. My father was lucky
to come home, Hitler could not have him, and Germany would not keep him. There
was one photograph that passed me by time and again in my dad's war album.
I called my mom into the room one day
and asked her "Whose horse is this dad is riding?" Born and raised on
farms in Illinois, horses were second nature to him.
But where did he find
a horse to ride in World War II?
My mom replied like it had been on the tip of her tongue forever.
that was Hitler's horse your dad was riding! When his unit entered one of the
towns in Germany, Hitler had a mansion down the road with a stable nearby, and
a personal `beer' garden- The stable was full of his own personal high bred horses.
The saddle had Hitler's name on it. The men in your dad's unit were going to kill
all the horses but your dad threatened to shoot any one who killed a horse. Your
dad loved animals and said the horses did nothing wrong."
Hitler's horse up, mounted and rode off in defiance of a world terrorist.
My father rode Hitler's horse and we never knew? Go figure. As the Infantry finished
the dirty job of cleansing Germany of its terrorist and his followers, my dad
mocked Hitler himself and the country he ruled by riding one of the 'mans' pride
and joys, just because he could.
Near the end of the war while Hitler and
his S.S. troops were all on the run, my father's unit came up on the death camp
Most of the soldiers could not comprehend what they saw and what was
done in this camp-terrorism at its utmost level, dictated by Hitler himself. My
father took many photos of dead Jewish bodies stacked 20 deep. The infantry took
liberties on any of the German soldiers left behind after what they saw. There
often was no mercy my father told. There were no questions asked.
were shot on site or hung.
I pondered the picture, my dad riding Hitler's
horse, and the death camp scenario for weeks and could not get what my dad did
and saw out of my mind.
We must never forget what my dad did. The United States
Military went in on foot in World War II and finished the war. My father mounted
and rode Hitler's horse because Hitler himself 'ran away!' Our infantry drank
Hitler's pride and joy of beers in his own personal beer garden.
It was good
My father rode Hitler's horse, a prolific symbolic act in a horrible
war, so we could all be safe from terror for a while. Now terror it is back.
Let a brave foot soldier ride the terrorist's horse somewhere in a forbidden land.
Take the picture!
To my dead father. God bless him.
Thanks for hopping
up on Hitler's horse and taking a ride for us all, because you could.