Debriefing, A Navigator's Story
2006 Papa Bear Awards - Nominated
Best Original Character - Lt. Harold Nichols
2006 Papa Bear Awards - Nominated
Most Unique Story
2006 Papa Bear Awards - Nominated
Best Overall Story
This is the story of an Allied flyer, shot down during a bombing run over Germany, who manages to be sent back to England by the boys from Stalag 13. The story is told from the flyer’s point of view, during his debriefing after returning to England.
The usual disclaimer applies. I make no claims to the characters or events of the Hogan’s Heroes universe.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Lieutenant Harold Nichols sat on one side of the table in the debriefing room. He poured himself a glass of water from the pitcher that sat on the table and lit a cigarette, then settled back to wait for the officer who would be debriefing him after his ordeal of the past week.
The door opened and Nichols was surprised to see a General walk into the room. He took a quick breath, which made him choke on the cigarette smoke as he struggled to stand at attention. The General just looked at him with a stern expression as he gave the best salute he could while seemingly coughing his lungs out.
The General returned the salute and said, “At ease. When you are finished choking to death, we can begin the debriefing.” The General sat down and motioned for Nichols to do the same.
Nichols reached for his water glass and took several large swallows, giving off slight coughs between each one. Finally, the coughing fit subsided and he put his glass back on the table. “Sorry, sir,” he croaked. “I wasn’t expecting to be debriefed by a General.”
The General arched his eyebrows slightly. “You have a problem with Generals, Lieutenant Nichols?” he asked.
Nichols shook his head quickly. “Oh no, sir,” he stammered. “It’s just that …”
The General waved him to silence. “Let’s get started,” he said gruffly. “I have a lot to do today.”
Nichols nodded slightly. Why would a General be debriefing flyers that were shot down? It’s not like we know any classified military information. His thoughts were interrupted when the General spoke again.
“Now then, Lieutenant,” the General said, opening the folder that he had brought with him. “Tell me your story. You can skip things like what squadron you were in and what your objective was when you were shot down. I have all that here.” The General picked up his fountain pen. “Start at the point where you knew you were going to have to bail out.”
Nichols nodded. “Yes, sir,” he said nervously. He didn’t know why he felt nervous – he didn’t think he had done anything wrong. But for some reason, the General’s demeanor made this seem more like an interrogation than a debriefing. He reached for his water glass to take another swallow before starting. Putting the glass back on the table, he cleared his throat and began …
* * * * *
It was a late afternoon run, and it was dark by the time we had dropped our load on our objective and had begun to head back home. Then the Krauts ambushed us - Messerschmitts, Junkers, too many of them to count. The gunners were doing their best to discourage them from coming too close, but in spite of their efforts, our plane was hit. It wasn't too bad, but our pilot, Captain Samuelson, had a hard time keeping the plane at altitude. Pretty soon, we were separated from the rest of the squadron, which I am sure made the Kraut fighter pilots drool – a wounded duck, all alone, is a very tempting target.
We were hit again and this time the plane began a steady descent. We heard the co-pilot, Lieutenant Wilkes, come on the intercom and say that the plane was going down and we should all get out. I didn’t waste any time, and left the navigation console and headed for the exit. After securing my parachute, I jumped out into the slipstream and left the plane behind.
It took me a few seconds to orient myself. It’s a very strange sensation to be suddenly floating in the air with the sounds of airplanes all around you. In the darkness, I could not see any planes, but I did locate our bomber. It was in flames and heading down fast. As it hit the ground in a huge fireball, I remember praying that everyone was able to get out before it hit the ground.
But those thoughts were short lived because I heard the Kraut fighters still flying around. I saw many little pinpoints of light and realized that the bastards were shooting at me! I heard bullets whizzing past me and then several thuds, which must have been the bullets ripping through my parachute because I began to fall a little faster. Thankfully, they only made the single pass and then flew away.
After the Krauts left, I started thinking about what to do after I hit ground. Those thoughts were very premature because as I got closer to the ground, I saw that everything below me was covered in trees. I thought, “Shit, this isn’t going to be very fun,” and braced myself for what was coming.
It actually wasn’t too bad, all things considered. I could have come down in the water or even worse, right in the middle of a German patrol. As it was, I bounced off a couple branches and then my chute caught. I was stranded – hanging about fifteen feet off the ground.
Now I had a problem. If I stayed hanging in the tree for very long, a Kraut patrol might pass and then I would be captured. I could hear activity off in the distance, and figured that the Krauts were finding my crewmates.
I could see the ground below me, and saw that it would be a clean drop, so began to work at slipping out of the parachute harness. It was kind of tricky – one of the bindings knotted and I couldn’t get it undone. So I took out the knife that I carry with me and began to work on cutting the damn thing – shows how smart I am. I forgot that I had already unfastened the rest of the harness, so when I had cut enough, the damn thing ripped apart and I found myself in a fifteen-foot freefall.
Now if you’ve ever landed flat on your ass after a fifteen-foot drop, you’ll know how I felt – it wasn’t too pleasant. And unfortunately my knife had disappeared from my hand. So here I was, in the middle of somewhere – I didn’t know if I was in Germany or France, all I knew was it was enemy territory – without my knife, and without a clue as to where I should go next.
But I knew I needed to go somewhere, and fast. I heard shouting off in the distance and knew that the Germans had been alerted to my location. I figure that had something to do with the yelling I had done while falling from the tree. So I took off, hoping that I could find a place to stay until the patrols stopped looking.
* * * * *
Nichols reached for his glass of water. He took a swallow and then fumbled with his pack of cigarettes. He offered one to the General who declined the offer and pulled a cigar from his uniform jacket pocket.
The General leaned forward and lit his cigar on the match Nichols held out for him. After puffing a few times, the General leaned back in his chair. “This is all pretty standard,” he commented.
“I’m sorry, sir,” Nichols replied. “I didn’t know how much detail you wanted me to go into.”
The General waved his hand dismissively. “This is fine,” he replied. “We want to hear every little detail. There’s always a chance that you might provide us with some information that could prove useful. Please, go on.”
Nichols took a drag from his cigarette and continued with his story …
* * * * *
I don’t know how long I spent running around the woods, but after a while I came upon a farm in a small clearing. I could see lights on in the farmhouse and could hear animals in the barn. I figured I should be able to bury myself in the hayloft of the barn and the Krauts wouldn’t think of looking for me there. I snuck in as quietly as I could, trying not to disturb the animals and draw the attention of the farmer and climbed into the loft. It took a while, but I eventually drifted off to sleep.
I was awakened the next morning when the farmer came to the barn for his morning chores. I remained still as he took care of his animals, and breathed a big sigh of relief when he left. By this time, I was starting to get hungry, but knew that getting out of the barn in daylight would be a big mistake. So I sat there all day.
When it started to get dark, I figured it would be safe for me to get out and try to find some food and to get my bearings. I still had no idea where I could go, but knew that I wanted to avoid capture as long as I could. I jumped out of the loft just as the farmer was entering the barn for the evening chores.
As I was on the ground, he stood there pointing his pitchfork at me and yelling things in German. I know some German – my mother’s grandparents came to America from Germany – and recognized some of the things he was saying. It seems that the locals do not have a great love for the American Air Corps, and I was not anxious to experience the things he was telling me that he was going to do to me. I grabbed two handfuls of dirt and quickly threw them at the farmer. I think I scored a direct hit because he dropped the pitchfork and began wiping his eyes. While he was occupied, I ran from the barn and didn’t look back.
So here I was, back in the woods and heading in a direction I hadn’t been the night before. “Great, I haven’t eaten in over a day and here I am on a cross country tour,” I thought. Before long, I came across some train tracks. I started following the tracks and after a couple of miles, ended up at a river. The tracks continued across the river, over a wooden bridge. I figured that this would be as good a place as any to stop. I could hide under the bridge, and with the river there, at least I would have fresh water.
So I first headed to the river – not only was I starved, I was thirsty as hell. After having a long drink, I headed towards the bridge trestle. I figured I should try to make myself comfortable while I thought about how I was going to get something to eat.
After a couple hours, I heard voices and saw three figures, dressed in black, in a small clearing by the river. I saw one of them point in my direction and they all went towards the bridge and began climbing on the trestle underneath in different locations. One of the men came to a spot about ten feet from where I was, and I froze, not wanting to be discovered. I saw that he was tying small bundles to the spots where the wooden beams came together. After he had done that, he started unwinding what looked like a long string and hooking the bundles together.
It turns out he was rigging up some dynamite to blow the bridge. Once he completed his task, he stood there. I guessed that he was waiting for the other men to complete their tasks and meet up at that spot. His back was to me as I got up quietly and inched towards him. When I was a few feet away, I asked, “What are you waiting for?”
The man whirled around quickly and I saw that he had a gun pointed at me. I raised my hands quickly to show that I was unarmed. “Whoa, hold on!” I said.
I think after seeing my uniform and hearing me speak English, the fellow figured I was all right. He lowered his weapon and asked, “You’re American?”
I told him that I was and asked if he was a commando.
“Naw, this is just a sideline job,” he replied.
Just then, the other two men emerged into the clearing. Seeing me, one of them asked, “Who’s he?”
The man I was talking to shrugged. “Hasn’t said,” he said. “Seems to be an American.”
Well, I figured that these chaps were good guys. I didn’t think that the Krauts would be out blowing up their own bridges. Besides, one of the men was a colored man, and you know that there aren’t any of them in the Kraut army. “The name’s Harold Nichols, Lieutenant. United States Army Air Corps,” I said. “I got shot down yesterday and just happened to be here when you fellows came by to blow this here bridge up.”
The one man who had asked who I was seemed to be the leader of the group. He stared at me for a couple seconds, sizing me up. Finally, he stepped forward, extending his hand. “Colonel Robert Hogan,” he said. He pointed at the other two men. “That’s Kinch, and you’ve been talking to Carter. I think we can help get you back to England, but you’re going to have to wait while we take care of a little business first.”
I stayed out of the way while the three men fiddled with the wires for a bit. We walked away from the bridge, trailing the wire behind us until we got to a point several hundred yards away. Then they attached the wires to a plunger that they had left at the spot. After hooking up the wires, Colonel Hogan let the fellow Carter have the pleasure of triggering the blast – and boy, was it a doozie! That bridge came down so fast, I could hardly believe it.
“Boy I’m glad I saw you,” I said. “I’d be stuck under a whole bunch of rubble if I had still been sleeping under that bridge.”
Colonel Hogan laughed. “Right now, we’d better get going before we find ourselves confronted by a German patrol,” he said.
I followed them through the woods for what had to be several miles. We got close to a clearing and I could see that there was a camp inside the clearing.
“Lieutenant Nichols, welcome to Stalag Luft 13, your first stop on the trip back to England,” Colonel Hogan said.
“A prison camp?” I replied. “But Colonel, I’m trying to avoid the Krauts!”
He laughed. “Don’t worry, you’re going in as our guest, not theirs,” he replied.
I watched as Kinch, the colored fellow, inched towards the camp. He stopped by an old tree stump and looked around. Then suddenly he lifted some sort of lid on the tree stump and climbed inside! I couldn’t believe it. Once he was inside, Carter began to make his approach.
Colonel Hogan told me that I would follow Carter, and I should do exactly the same thing they were doing. When it was my turn, I crawled over to the tree stump and then realized that I didn’t know how to open it! Lucky for me, it opened by itself at that point and Carter stuck his head out.
“Open sesame,” he said with a chuckle.
I climbed into the stump and down a ladder into a tunnel. Let me tell you, this was some tunnel! After Colonel Hogan climbed down the ladder, I followed them along the tunnel until we came to a big open area. There was another colored fellow sitting by a radio with some headphones over his ears. He took them off when he saw us approach.
“Baker, we seem to have found a stray,” Colonel Hogan said to the fellow. “Go on upstairs and tell LeBeau that we’ll need some hot coffee and a meal. Oh, and have Newkirk bring down a couple of blankets.
“Right, Colonel,” Baker replied, getting up from the table. He walked over to me, extending his hand. “Hi, I’m Baker.”
I shook his hand and replied, “Nice to meet you. I’m Harold Nichols.”
Baker walked over to the edge of the big room and tapped twice on a pipe. Suddenly a ladder folded down from the ceiling and extended up through an opening that had appeared.
“This is some setup you got here, Colonel,” I said.
Colonel Hogan shrugged. “It’s not the Ritz, but we call it home,” he replied smiling. “It’ll be your home for the night – maybe two, depending on when we can get you moving.” He turned to Kinch. “Kinch, get on the radio and see when that will be.”
I sat and watched Kinch operate the radio – amazed that we were sitting underneath a Kraut prisoner of war camp.
“We’ll get you some food and you can sack out down here for the night,” Colonel Hogan said, entering the room again. He had left to remove the grease paint from his face and change into his regular uniform.
“Food would be nice,” I replied. “I haven’t eaten since I left England.”
“LeBeau will fix you up,” he replied. “I’ve got to get back upstairs and see if everything is still in one piece.”
* * * * *
Nichols fumbled for another cigarette and lit it.
“Since you were speaking about food, are you getting hungry?” the General asked.
Nichols nodded as he blew a stream of smoke into the air.
The General picked up the phone that was on the desk next to him. “Mavis, can you have a couple of sandwiches sent down here?” he asked. “Thanks.” The General hung up the phone and relit the end of his now dormant cigar.
The food soon arrived and the General motioned for Nichols to continue his story while they ate.
Nichols took a bit of his sandwich and then continued …
* * * * *
So I bedded down in the tunnel that night. Let me tell you, that little French guy, LeBeau, sure can cook. I don’t know what he called it, but he gave me something that he whipped up from the contents of the prisoners Red Cross packages. Although after going without food for a whole day, I’d have probably been happy with a plate of dog food.
The next morning, Colonel Hogan came down into the tunnel after their roll call and invited me upstairs, as he called it. I climbed up the ladder right into one of the prisoner barracks. I took the cup of coffee that the English fellow, Newkirk, offered me and sat at the table. LeBeau set a plate in front of me and filled it with some scrambled eggs. And let me tell you, these were no powdered substitutes!
I took a few bites. “Mmm, mmm. You fellows eat better here than we do back at the airbase!” I said.
“Now don’t go telling him that, mate,” Newkirk said to me. “It’ll go to his head.”
The whole barracks laughed at that, and I saw LeBeau threaten to whack Newkirk with a spatula. I’ll tell you, these fellows were a tight bunch – I could tell right then and there.
Anyway, I kept on eating because I was still starved from the day before. While I was sitting there, the door to their barracks opened, and a large heavyset Kraut came in.
“Carter, didn’t anyone ever tell you to be careful about locking the door?” Colonel Hogan asked. “You never know what the wind might blow in.”
“Sorry, sir,” Carter mumbled.
There was a lot of scrambling by the prisoners in the barracks, and I suddenly had one sitting on either side of me. One of them leaned over and whispered to me, “Act casual.” I kept on eating, without looking at the Kraut guard.
“What is it, Schultz?” Colonel Hogan asked him. “We’re kind of busy here.”
“Colonel Hogan, Kommandant Klink would like to see you in his office right away,” the guard replied.
“Fine, Schultz. I’ll be there in a minute,” he replied, giving the guard a push towards the door.
“Nein,” the guard said. “The Kommandant said right away!”
“All right, Schultz,” Colonel Hogan said. “Let’s go.”
“Wait,” the guard said. “I smell something good.” He looked in my direction and I thought he was going to say something about me, but it turns out he was looking at my plate. “Scrambled eggs!” he exclaimed.
“Sorry, Schultz,” Colonel Hogan replied. “All out. Let’s go.”
“But he has some,” the guard said pleadingly.
“That was the last of it,” Colonel Hogan replied. “Now you don’t want to keep the Kommandant waiting.”
The big guard walked over to me – I was nervous. “You wouldn’t mind sharing just a little bite, would you?” he asked me.
“For you there is no such thing as a little bite, Schultzie,” Newkirk said lightly.
“Jolly joker,” the guard replied.
Not knowing what to do, I simply handed him the plate and fork and said, “Here, take the rest of them. I’m kind of stuffed anyway.”
The guard took the plate from me. “Danke,” he said and started eating. “Wonderbar,” he exclaimed as he turned towards the door. He had only taken a couple steps when he stopped and turned around. “Wait a minute, who’s that?” he asked, pointing at me.
“Nobody, Schultz,” Colonel Hogan replied. “Just a visitor.”
“Colonel Hogan, you know you are not allowed to have visitors,” the guard whined. “How did he get in here?”
“Do you really want to know?” Colonel Hogan asked him.
The guard thought about it for a second and then shook his head. “No,” he replied. “I think it is best that I know nothing.”
“Don’t worry, he’ll be gone in a day or two,” Colonel Hogan said.
“A day or two? Colonel Hogan!” The guard whined louder this time. “If the Kommandant finds him here, I will get in trouble!”
“Schultz, he’ll be gone in a day or two. Klink will never know he’s here,” Colonel Hogan replied. “I promise.” The guard didn’t say anything. “Have I ever lied to you?” Colonel Hogan asked.
“Yes,” the guard replied. “Many times.”
“I mean have I lied to you yet today?” Colonel Hogan asked.
“No,” the guard replied, placing another forkful of eggs into his mouth.
“See? You have nothing to worry about then,” Colonel Hogan said. “Now let’s go before Klink gets tired of waiting for us and comes here to see what’s taking so long.”
At that, the guard hurriedly finished the eggs and handed the plate to LeBeau. He retrieved his rifle, which he had handed to Carter earlier when I gave him the plate.
“Will he cause you any trouble because I was here?” I asked.
“Schultz? No, he likes to see nothing that goes on,” Newkirk replied. “He thinks it keeps him out of trouble.”
The rest of that day, I spent in the barracks with the men. At one point in the afternoon, I was given a tour of the camp and got to venture outside. It was a very strange feeling to be surrounded by all these people who were stuck in the camp, knowing that I was going to be leaving soon.
Late in the afternoon, Kinch came out of the tunnel to talk to Colonel Hogan. He told the Colonel that the Underground would be able to take me the next night, and that someone names Blue Diamond had some information that needed to get to London as soon as possible.
“Fine, Kinch. Newkirk, you go out tonight and meet Blue Diamond and get the information,” Colonel Hogan said. Turning to me, he said, “Well Nichols, it looks like you’ll be leaving tomorrow. And we’ll send this information back to London with you.”
I told him that I would be glad to help out in any way I could.
Anyway, later that night I was down in the tunnel, getting ready to bed down for the night. Newkirk had gone out of the camp to meet that Blue Diamond fellow. Colonel Hogan came down into the tunnel to talk to me.
“Nichols, it looks like we have a slight problem that you can help us out with,” he said.
“Sure, Colonel. Anything I can do to help,” I replied.
“Newkirk is still out, and it seems that our Kommandant wants to have a surprise roll call in five minutes,” he said.
“A surprise roll call? Why does the Kommandant give you a warning for a surprise roll call?” I asked.
“He doesn’t,” Colonel Hogan replied. “But Schultz likes to give us a warning, in case we are doing something that can get him in trouble. Anyway, I need you to stand in for Newkirk.”
“Me?” I asked. “But I don’t look anything like Newkirk!”
“It’s not a problem,” Colonel Hogan replied. “It’s dark and besides, Schultz, the guard you met this morning, is the one that counts our barracks. He won’t mind seeing a familiar face.”
I had to laugh at that point. Here I was in the middle of a prison camp trying to avoid the Krauts, and I now had to stand in line during a roll call!
I followed the Colonel up the ladder and outside to stand in the spot he directed me to. I hunched myself over a much as possible to try to hide from the guard as he was counting. When he got to me, I saw his eyes grow wide with recognition.
“Colonel Hogan, what is he doing out here?” the guard whined. “And where is Newkirk?”
“LeBeau was going to make Apfel Strudel, but we were all out of cinnamon,” Colonel Hogan replied. “So I sent Newkirk out to get some.”
“You sent … Colonel Hogan, you can’t do that!” the guard said. “Now I have to report this to the Kommandant!”
“Schultz, you’re supposed to have fifteen men, and you have fifteen men,” Colonel Hogan replied. “So this one time we’ve brought one in off the bench to substitute. It’s no big deal.”
“No big deal?” the guard said. “Colonel Hogan, has Newkirk escaped?”
“Schultz, I told you – he’ll be back. Just report everyone here and let us get inside,” Colonel Hogan said. “Besides, it’s Klink’s fault anyway. Hitting us with these surprise roll calls. If it wasn’t for this, you wouldn’t know anything about Newkirk having to go and get LeBeau some cinnamon.”
“Colonel Hogan, I want to know nothing about it right now,” the guard replied.
“Here he comes, Schultz,” Hogan pointed out.
A tall Kraut officer was walking across the compound in our direction. The guard shuffled over to him hurriedly, saluting.
“Repooooooort!” yelled the Kraut officer.
The guard saluted again and said, “Herr Kommandant, I beg to report …”
“What are you babbling about?” yelled the Kraut officer. “Just tell me that all the prisoners are present and accounted for and we can all go back to bed.”
“Kommandant, I wish I could say that,” the guard replied.
“Schultz, how many men are supposed to be in this barracks?” the Kraut officer asked.
“Fifteen, Herr Kommandant,” the guard replied.
“And how many men are standing here right now?” the officer asked.
“Fifteen,” the guard answered.
“Well then what’s the problem?” the officer yelled. “All men are present and accounted for!”
“Herr Kommandant, I … I … I …” the guard stammered.
Then I heard a sound from the barracks doorway and saw Newkirk sticking his head out and waving me over. I ducked behind the line of men and into the barracks while Newkirk ran out to take his normal spot in line.
As I was going into the barracks, I heard Colonel Hogan say, “Schultz, why don’t you count them again so we can go back to bed.”
I went over to the tunnel entrance and found that it was closed – and I didn’t know how to get it opened. So I ran into the other room in the barracks, which was Colonel Hogan’s room. I waited until the men came back in from roll call and then poked my head out to see if the coast was clear.
“Oh blimey, did you see the look on Schultz’s face when he counted again and found me in line?” a laughing Newkirk asked. “His eyes got about as big as saucers!”
“Oui, he was so surprised, he couldn’t speak!” exclaimed LeBeau.
“Your timing was magnificent, Newkirk,” Colonel Hogan said. “Glad you could make it back. Did you have any problems?”
“Not a one, sir,” Newkirk replied, taking out and envelope from inside his uniform jacket. “Here’s the information that needs to get to London.”
I didn’t see any sign of the Krauts, so I figured that it was safe to come out. Colonel Hogan saw me and said, “Oh, there you are Nichols. Thanks for filling in for Newkirk. Too bad you couldn’t stay around out there to see the show.”
“It sounds like I missed a good one,” I replied.
Colonel Hogan began to make the plans to get me on my way the next day. “Kinch, Carter – Nichols will need some papers for his trip. Get him set up tomorrow.”
“What’s his cover?” Kinch asked.
Colonel Hogan thought for a second and then replied, “Businessman this time. Newkirk, LeBeau – fix him up with some civilian clothes.” He handed LeBeau the envelope. “And find a nice little hiding place in them for this. Baker – since you’re on the radio tonight, contact London and let them know the plan and where the information will be. Nichols – I’m afraid you are going to have to trade in your flight suit for a business suit.”
“Gladly, sir,” I replied.
Everyone acknowledged their orders. I followed Baker down to the tunnel to get some shut-eye for the night.
* * * * *
Nichols pause and took another swallow of water. “Am I getting too detailed?” he asked the General.
The General shook his head. “Not at all,” he replied. “Just tell me everything, in your own words. I’ll filter out the information that is irrelevant.”
Nichols nodded and continued with his story …
* * * * *
Everything went smoothly the next day. Newkirk and LeBeau fitted me with a nicely made civilian suit for the trip. They explained to me that the information was sewn into the jacket lining, so whatever happened, I was not to leave the jacket anywhere. Kinch create a very realistic looking set of papers for me under the name of Hans Kohl, and Carter made sure there was a proper photograph in the papers.
Let me tell you, what I saw that day was amazing! The operation they had in place ran smoothly, and those fellows are a real tight bunch. I got the impression I was watching a family operation. The men would laugh, joke and tease each other but when it came down to it, everyone knew their job. As you know, there’s not a whole lot of camaraderie between officers and non-coms, but I got the feeling that the men thought of Colonel Hogan as one of them – and vice-versa.
Anyway, soon it was time for me to be taken out. Newkirk was going to take me to the first stop along the way. I was told that from there, I would be taken to a point closer to the coast and then finally to a British submarine that would bring me back here to England.
“Colonel Hogan, thank you for the hospitality and for getting me back to England,” I said.
“Nichols, good luck – and I don’t want to see you back here again!” Colonel Hogan replied.
I shook hands with everyone and wished them luck in their operation and followed Newkirk out of the tunnel. He took me to a farmhouse several miles away and left me with an older couple. They introduced themselves as Willie and Jenny – Swedish immigrants who had been living there for a while. They fed me and told me what the plan was for the next day.
I was going to be picked up and escorted up the coast to somewhere near Antwerp – they didn’t know exactly where, or who would be meeting me there. Then they proceeded to teach me some necessary German, in case I needed it. I was lucky that I already knew some, learning it from my Grandparents.
The next morning, a fellow came to the house and told me that he was my cousin and would be taking me to see another cousin. He asked to see my papers, and was very happy to see that all was in order. He told me that we would be traveling by train – which made me a little nervous.
“What if we are stopped to check papers?” I asked. “My German is not all that good.”
He laughed. “Just be confident and show them your papers,” he replied. “When you are on the train, just keep reading your newspapers and the other business related papers you will be carrying. In case you didn’t notice it, you’re a pretty important person in the German War Industry.”
I took out my papers and looked at them. “Cripes!” I exclaimed. “Says here that I report to Albert Speer personally.”
Jenny insisted that I eat something before I left, so we all sat down at the table. After eating, my cousin, Gunther, and I left to catch the train.
The train ride was uneventful. There was only one time when I had to show my papers – I believe it was somewhere near the German border. I did as Gunther had told me and simply read my business papers, holding my papers up to the guard doing the checking. Once they looked at the papers, they quickly handed them back and snapped a small salute in my direction.
When we reached the station at Antwerp, Gunther and I got off the train. Suddenly, an attractive young woman came running up to me.
“Cousin!” she exclaimed, wrapping her arms around me and giving me a kiss on the cheek. While her mouth was near my ear, she asked, “What’s your name?”
“Harold,” I replied. I was a little flustered. It had been quite a while since I had, um, well, you know.
“Nein, you fool. The name on your papers!” she said.
“Oh, sorry. It’s Hans,” I replied.
She pulled back and said, “Cousin Hansie, it’s so good to see you again after all these years!”
We made our way to leave the station and were stopped at the exit to have our papers checked. This time when the guard checked my papers, he clicked his heals and came to attention, giving me a crisp, formal Nazi salute. I did what Gunther had told me earlier and raised my arm nonchalantly in return. This seemed to satisfy the guard and he went on to check the papers of the other passengers leaving the station.
From there, we went to another house to wait until dark, and then I was taken to the coast where a small boat was waiting to take me to the submarine. When I got to England, someone was waiting to take my jacket from me.
“The papers I carried are sewn into the lining,” I said to the man.
He smiled at me and replied, “I know. You aren’t the first carrier pigeon to pass this way.”
I felt a little sheepish, but he was just trying to bust my chops a bit, knowing that I had been through some ordeal to get to where I was.
And that’s about it. The next thing I know I am here talking to you.
* * * * *
Nichols stopped talking and lit himself another cigarette. He looked at the clock on the wall and saw that it was almost five in the afternoon. He had been talking since the morning.
“Thank you, Lieutenant Nichols,” the General said. The General was about to say something else when there was a knock at the door.
A young woman entered and said, “General Barton, General Eisenhower is having a briefing in thirty minutes, and he has requested that you be present.”
General Barton looked at her and nodded. “Thanks, Emily,” he replied. “We’re almost done here anyway.” Emily smiled and closed the door.
General Barton turned his attention back to Nichols. “I’ve taken down the important parts of your story. You’ll be happy to know that we have the information that you brought to us, and it is very important,” he said. “But now that you have told me your story, you will have to forget it.”
Nichols frowned. “Forget it, sir?” he asked. “I don’t understand.”
“It’s very simple,” Barton explained. “After you leave this room, if anyone asks how you made it out of Germany, your reply will be that the Underground helped you escape. You are never to mention Colonel Hogan or his operation to anyone – me, your wife, General Eisenhower or even the President of the United States. If you do, it will be considered high treason.” Barton paused to let that sink in. “Basically, you are to forget you were ever in Stalag 13. Do you understand?”
Nichols nodded somberly. “I think I do, sir,” he replied.
“I need you to be more certain than that, Lieutenant,” Barton responded. “The operation at Stalag 13 depends on absolute secrecy. If information was leaked and the operation was discovered, it would likely mean the death of everyone involved.” Barton paused again, looking for Nichols reaction.
“I understand fully, sir,” Nichols replied. “I wouldn’t want anything to happen to those men in the camp.”
“Nor would I, Lieutenant,” Barton replied. “Nor would I.”
“So that explains why I am being debriefed by a General,” Nichols stated.
Barton shook his head. “Not exactly,” Barton replied. “While there have been over seven hundred and fifty people who have been aided by Colonel Hogan – myself being one of them, there are only a handful of us here at headquarters that know of the operation. We need to maintain the secrecy even here at headquarters, just in case. Any person sent back to England through Stalag 13 will be debriefed by one of us.”
“You were helped by Colonel Hogan, sir?” Nichols asked.
Barton nodded. “I didn’t know it until the end, but yes,” he replied.
“That must be quite a story,” Nichols commented.
“And it’s a story that won’t be talked about,” Barton replied. “Are you clear on the fact that you cannot ever mention anything about Colonel Hogan and his operation?”
Nichols smiled broadly. “Colonel who, sir?” he asked.
Barton smiled back. “Very good,” he replied, rising from the table. Nichols rose with him and the pair walked towards the door. Barton reached out to open it and paused with his hand on the doorknob. “Oh, Lieutenant,” he said, looking at Nichols. “Welcome to the club!”
Text and original characters copyright 2004 by Jeff Evans
This copyright covers only original material and characters, and in no way intends to infringe upon the privileges of the holders of the copyrights, trademarks, or other legal rights, for the Hogan's Heroes universe.