The German was nineteen or twenty and had bright blue eyes. He’d taken some grenade shrapnel in the stomach and he kept moaning, rolling around like it was the end of the world. It wasn’t a mortal wound, or even a bad one. Just bloody. The German spoke some English and between moans he kept looking at one or the other of the Americans.
“Please, please,” he kept saying in his German-accented English. His accent made the words sound strict, like a command.
The men were on edge. Sergeant Bell had been killed taking a bunker the day before. Rumor had come down that Lieutenant Mitchell had died at the Battalion hospital, after lingering for days fighting his chest wound. Lieutenant Mitchell was well liked. He was fair and knew his business.
Some of the other German prisoners tried to keep the young German quiet. They could see the Americans were agitated. Private Henson didn’t look agitated. He was looking back down the road, where the Americans had charged up while the Germans shot at them. The Germans had been scared and the Americans had been scared, and everybody shot, and some threw grenades, but only the young German had been wounded.
Smith and Aragao were watching the prisoners, rifles held loosely. Nobody expected much more trouble. Henson turned around, walked over, stood straddling the young German and shot him in the face. Everybody jumped, surprised. Blood began to pool around the German’s head.
“Acting like we was gonna kill him,” said Henson, “I wasn’t gonna kill him.”
One of the German prisoners came over and stood in front of Henson. He was an older man with grey hair. He looked in Henson’s eyes. His jaw was set, and his chin held high.
“Gott wird sire richten,” he said.
Henson looked at him a long time. The German looked back. Their faces were close, like lovers just before a kiss. Nobody spoke.
Finally, Smith came up behind the German and hit him in the back of the head with his rifle butt. The German’s head hit Henson and both of them fell down. Henson was holding his eye and cursing.
Smith pointed his rifle down at the German. The German was holding the back of his head and his face was in the dirt.
Just then an American Captain walked up and stopped by Smith. Everybody had been watching the German. Nobody had seen the officer come up the road. Nobody knew the officer. He was from another unit. The officer’s fists were balled up. He leaned in toward Smith. He was a little man with a gut and his face was red. He put his face up close to Smith’s chin and looked up at him, furious.
“What are you doing?” he screamed, “what are you doing?”
None of the Americans moved or spoke. The old German rolled over and looked up at Smith and the Captain.
“What the hell are you boys doing taking prisoners?” said the Captain.
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