Once Upon a Time: Songs of Innocence
2006 Papa Bear Awards - Nominated
Best Portrayal of a Canon Character - Sergeant Carter
2006 Papa Bear Awards - Nominated
Most Unique Story
One in a series of five stories about how the Heroes ended up at Stalag 13
Andrew Carter pulled his key out of the lock and made sure the door was secure, still humming “We Can Work It Out,” the last tune he had heard on the radio inside his pharmacy. It had been a long day; the bitter winter brought with it many colds and other ailments, and he had spent a good part of the day giving out remedies and advice, which left precious little time for his own project: coming up with his own concoction to cure the common cold.
He was preoccupied with thoughts of formulas and the warm, welcoming home he was heading to, so he nearly jumped when a voice behind him said, “Hey, Mr. Carter, can I talk to you a minute?”
Carter turned around to the voice and grinned, a common expression for him if one judged by the laugh creases around his eyes. “Oh—gee, Charlie, you startled me.”
“Sorry, Mr. Carter. I was just waiting for you to finish.”
“That’s okay. Going my way?” Carter started walking down the street. The young man followed. “What can I do for you?” Carter always had time for people like Charlie Mathers. An enthusiastic, sincere young man, Charlie was studying at nearby Ball State University, in the hopes of being a history teacher. Carter himself had always thought of teaching as a noble profession, but he couldn’t keep his hands off test tubes and chemicals. Maybe a science teacher. Someday… when he got bored being a pharmacist and a chemist. Not that that would ever happen.
“Well, Mr. Carter, we’re doing a research project in one of my psychology classes on World War Two, and I wanted to focus on Prisoners of War, and what it was like for them getting caught and kept by the enemy.” Carter raised an eyebrow but did not speak. “There’s a lot of stuff in the library, Mr. Carter. But… my dad says you were a POW yourself… so… I was wondering if I could talk to you. You know, interview you, and record it.”
Carter smiled. “You mean use me like a text book?”
“Well, sure. I mean, who knows better than the men who were there?”
The pair reached a crossroad. Carter stopped. “Well, I don’t usually talk about it much,” he mused. “That was a long time ago now.” Charlie noticed Carter’s eyes change as the man’s mind obviously reached back. “But maybe it’s time I did,” Carter said, with a new determination in his voice. “The guys all deserve it.” He nodded. “Okay, Charlie. Come and see me on Saturday after the drug store closes. I’ll tell you everything you want to know.” He nodded down the road. “Here’s where I turn off. See you then.”
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Carter opened the bulky envelope that had been pushed through the mail slot onto the floor of his living room and pulled out several neatly typed sheets of paper. Peering into the envelope, he then retrieved a handwritten note scrawled on a folded piece of paper that had clearly been ripped from a notebook.
Dear Mr. Carter, it began. Thought you might like a copy of our conversation from a couple of weeks ago. I’d appreciate it if you could take a look at it and make sure it’s all okay. Some of it seemed too wild to be true!
Carter immediately abandoned the note, plodded over to his favorite recliner, and sat down thoughtfully, already scanning the pages. He turned on the lamp and settled in for a read. Though he had no doubt that Charlie had properly copied down what they had said, it all still seemed a bit unreal to Carter, too, and he was anxious to see what he had blurted out when he got on a roll.
TRANSCRIPT OF CONVERSATION
ANDREW J. CARTER
JANUARY 1966 (MUNCIE, INDIANA)
*Charles Mathers to be represented by CM
*Andrew Carter to be represented by AC
CM: Thank you for letting me talk to you today, Mr. Carter.
AC: That’s okay, Charlie. Is that thing on now?
CM: Yes, sir, it sure is. We’re ready to roll.
CM: I thought I’d start by just letting you free-form, Mr. Carter. You know, say whatever comes to mind.
AC (pauses): Well, you need to get your hair cut. I can’t see your eyes.
CM: I mean about being a POW during the war.
AC: Oh. Well, what do you want to know? A lot of stuff comes to mind when I think about being a POW.
CM: Like what?
AC: The people, the food, the weather, the fear, the excitement…
CM: The excitement? I heard being a POW could be really boring.
AC: That depends on where you were.
CM: What do you mean?
AC: What do you know about being a POW, Charlie?
CM: Well… if you were caught by the Germans, they kept you in a camp until the end of the war. And you’d get books, theater, sports, Red Cross packages and things. But you didn’t have to work, and they didn’t let you do much else. So I guess it would have been pretty tedious.
AC: That could be true. I suppose it was for most.
CM: It wasn’t for you?
AC (chuckles): No. I tell ya, sometimes I wish it was.
CM: What branch of the service were you in?
AC: US Army Air Corps. I was a Sergeant.
CM: And were prisoners in the Air Corps treated differently than other POWs?
AC: Only if you had Colonel Hogan as your commanding officer.
CM: Who was Colonel Hogan?
AC: He was the senior POW officer at my Stalag Luft. That’s the kind of camp they kept Allied flyers in after they were shot down and processed. There were a couple of dozen of them spread out around Europe.
CM: Tell me why it was different with Colonel Hogan.
AC: Everything was different with Colonel Hogan. But then, Colonel Hogan wasn’t an ordinary guy, even for an officer.
CM: In what way?
AC: He thought differently. It was like he operated on a different plane than the rest of us sometimes. And even when we all thought he was nuts, just plain out of his mind, he wasn’t, boy. I mean not at all. You might think he’d slipped a gear, gone completely around the bend, as Newkirk would have put it, but he hadn’t. No, sir, he had it all under control. It was fantastic—although it was a bit scary to watch his mind work sometimes.
CM: Let’s back up. What did you do when you were in the camp?
AC: Have you ever heard of Papa Bear, Charlie?
CM: You mean like from Goldilocks and the Three Bears? Yeah, I’ve heard of that.
AC: Have you heard of it in connection with the war?
CM (thinking): Not a lot. I remember Dad said something about it once, that there was some secret operation that was just declassified a few years ago. Something about sabotage, or espionage, or something like that. Hey, are you saying that was you?
AC: No, I wasn’t Papa Bear.
CM: But you knew him? Was Colonel Hogan Papa Bear? Were you in the spy business, Mr. Carter?
AC: Well, I didn’t set out to be. Demolitions were more up my alley.
CM: Man, I can’t believe that! You? A spy? I am gonna have to come back to this! (Pause as CM scribbles notes. Then, reluctantly) Okay, let me go back to the beginning. Tell me about the people. What were the people like in the Stalag?
AC: Well, the prisoners were a pretty good bunch, they sure were. We were a mixed lot but we all got along pretty well. I think the Colonel would have had our heads if we didn’t. I was in Barracks Two with fourteen other guys including Colonel Hogan, but he had his own room because he was the senior officer. But I was always closest to Louis, Peter, Kinch, and the Colonel.
CM: What made your friendship work?
AC: A common problem, maybe. I mean unless something changed, we were stuck there till the end of the war. There was no way the Germans were just gonna let us walk out any time we wanted to. And even though we went out and in a lot, we were still prisoners, and we knew we could be out of business at any time, or be shot, or both, and that wasn’t going to go over well. So we always looked out for each other.
CM: You “went in and out a lot”?
AC (surprised): Yeah. We had a lot of work to do. Anyway, I think the key was that we really respected each other. We were all completely different. We all had different skills. Newkirk—Peter—he was really worldly. He’s English, you know. RAF. And he could come up with anything you needed, any time. Heck, once he even knew where to find someone who could break into a safe that we didn’t think anyone could get into! And a card shark, that was Newkirk. Usually played with a card stuck to his forehead facing out. I’m still not sure why, but he almost always won anyway, except when he was playing with me, and I could never actually catch him cheating, even though everyone said he did.
Louis Le Beau was our chef. He was French. You know, as you’d expect with a name like Le Beau. He was really passionate about everything, especially France and women. And he was really loyal to us, especially to the Colonel. He understood how all of us thought. And he was the best cook ever, even though once in awhile he came up with some really strange concoctions that I couldn’t swallow. But he used his cooking to help confuse the Germans, and that was great. We always knew we could count on Louis.
Kinch was our radio operator. I don’t think he looked forward to sitting in front of the equipment all the time, but he was great at it, and besides, it was really hard for him to pretend to be a German when we were doing jobs because he was black, and there aren’t a lot of black Germans. At least there weren’t at the time.
And the Colonel—well, I’ve already explained him. He was one of a kind. He trusted all of us with his life, and we trusted him, too. He put a lot of faith in us, and let me tell you, not one of us ever wanted to let him down. No, siree, boy, he was the best.
CM: What about the Nazis?
AC: At the Stalag?
AC: The Stalags were run by the Luftwaffe, and they weren’t automatically Nazis. The Sergeant of the Guard, Sergeant Schultz, well, he was hardly even German! I mean you could almost think of Schultz as a friend. I sometimes wonder how he is. And Colonel Klink—he was the Kommandant of the camp—well, he was kind of a marshmallow. But he tried to act tough when the big boys were around—Generals, or the Gestapo. Especially the Gestapo. Everyone was afraid of them.
CM: You, too?
AC: Oh, sure. We’d seen first hand what they could do. They’d dragged the Colonel out more than once. Major Hochstetter, he was a maniac. Anything he wanted to say, he used his fists and whatever other weapons of torture were at his disposal to say it for him. One time, right at the end… well, we were lucky to get the Colonel back alive.
CM: You still sound upset about it.
AC (pauses): Yeah.
CM: Do you ever see these men?
AC: The fellas? Sure. I mean once in awhile. I don’t get to travel as much as I’d like. It’s not the same as it was back then, of course—and none of us are in the service any more. Not even the Colonel. And I can’t stop calling him Colonel Hogan, even though he was promoted when we got home. And when he told me to start calling him Rob, I still couldn’t do it. Some things are just ingrained.
CM: Tell me how you ended up as a POW.
AC: Typical stuff, I’m afraid. I mean nothing very exciting. I was just unlucky enough to get shot down over Germany.
CM: What was that like?
AC: It was scary. It was night time, and I don’t mind night time except that when you’re in enemy territory and you’ve got nothing but yourself and your parachute, you can’t tell what’s around you or where you are and you feel really vulnerable.
CM: Can you tell me what happened?
AC: It was really, really dark the night I was shot down. I remember being pretty happy because my parachute worked. That was one thing I was a little worried about, to be honest. Because aside from the training sessions, I hadn’t spent much time in the air, and I wasn’t really graceful in parachute training. It wasn’t something I wanted to do or anything, but it was where my draft board put me. I was in a C-47 Skytrain—we called it a Gooney Bird. Even though it was used to carry paratroopers and other personnel to combat positions, it was also used in reconnaissance, and that was my job. I took the pictures. I always did love cameras, and I sure had a lot of use for that hobby while I was a prisoner. In camp, once in awhile things went wrong—the film was exposed, or I forgot to put it in the camera altogether. But that didn’t happen when I was in the air, boy. Everything went smooth as silk, till the Germans shot us down, that is.
CM: The C-47. Aren’t they using those planes now, in Vietnam?
AC: I think so. Brilliant aircraft, if you like that sort of thing. Been through three wars now. There must be something good about it. Either that or we just can’t keep our noses out of war.
CM: So what happened—you bailed out and then what?
AC: Well like I said, I was happy about my parachute, but that was about it. The sky around me was loaded with flak—that’s shrapnel from shells exploding in the air, shot up from Ack-Ack guns—you know, anti-aircraft guns. And a fella could get killed hopping out in the middle of it. But it was either jump and take a chance on dying or stay in a useless plane and guarantee it. So I wished the other fellas onboard good luck and we all beat it out of there—fast.
CM: Did they survive the war, too?
AC: All but one. Alan Pretty died in a camp. He got some kind of infection and they didn’t have enough antibiotics to go around. (Pause) We were lucky. We could usually get what we needed from London. Colonel Hogan made sure we were well supplied as often as possible.
CM: From London—you mean the Red Cross?
AC: No, Allied High Command. Colonel Hogan would have Kinch radio London and tell them what we needed.
CM: Okay, I’m going to have to get off track here, Mr. Carter, because you’re saying things that I don’t understand. You’ve mentioned camera, radios, London—what was going on there? I thought all that wasn’t allowed.
AC: It wasn’t. We did it all in secret. Most POWs were involved in one sort of clandestine activity or another—building tunnels, getting radios, whatever. We just did more than most.
CM: But radios—requests for medicine—it all sounds too wild.
AC: Okay, let me spell it out. Colonel Hogan was in charge of a sabotage and intelligence operation that we ran out of the tunnels under the camp. The way I was told, after he was shot down, London thought it would be great to have a man on the inside, working against the Nazis and feeding information back when possible. Colonel Hogan agreed. And that’s how it started. I got to camp a few months later.
CM: So Colonel Hogan was Papa Bear! And so you spent the war…
AC: Blowing up bridges, getting escaped prisoners and other fellas out of Germany, gathering information for the Allies to help in the war effort…
CM: You were a spy?
AC (laughs): I’m no James Bond. But we did our fair share of intelligence work.
CM: Did you ever nearly get caught?
AC: All the time. But it was part of the job, and Colonel Hogan was really smart; he could talk or scheme us out of almost anything.
CM: What’s the most dangerous thing you ever did?
AC: Join Colonel Hogan in the first place (laughs). Well, gee, I don’t know. I think it might have been the times I had to dress up in German uniform and go into Gestapo Headquarters.
AC: Or maybe it was more dangerous pretending to be Hitler. (laughs) Don’t get that look on your face; I was only pretending. (Brushes hair forward and lays finger under his nose) “I hate Generals! Zey are all incompetent fools!” (laughs) I haven’t done that in a long time. Kinch always did the best Hitler, though, if we were only imitating his voice. Oh, and once I had to join the German Army.
CM: This is unbelievable, Mr. Carter!
AC: I never felt like I was in danger when I was working with my explosives, though.
AC: We had a lab under the barracks, and Colonel Hogan left me in charge whenever we needed to blow something up, or create a diversion with smoke bombs, or something like that.
CM: Oh, man.
AC: He trusted me. I’ll never be able to thank him enough for that. I was such a greenhorn when I got to camp. I didn’t feel confident in anything, especially myself. Colonel Hogan was a great commander, though. He gave me the chance to prove myself. I’ll never forget it.
CM: So you weren’t always sure of yourself when you were doing this stuff.
AC: Oh, no, not at all. I was just a kid when I got shot down. Left my girl waiting for me back home, and just naïve enough to think maybe I’d serve for a few months and it would all be over.
CM: Your girl—is that Mrs. Carter?
AC: Elise? No. She came after I got home. Not a lot of relationships can go for two and a half years with no contact except letters full of holes. But it turned out for the better—I’d have never gotten Elise if Mary Jane had been faithful.
CM: I guess so. You were all pretty young, I suppose.
AC: Yeah. I was just an innocent abroad. But the Colonel and the others—they looked after me. Like I said before, we all looked after each other. We were a family.
CM: It sounds like you came and went as you pleased, and yet you said the Germans wouldn’t allow that. How did you do it?
AC: It wasn’t that easy. Remember, to everyone but us, we were just normal prisoners of war. We had to go to roll calls and get deloused every week, and all that. But when we went out, most of the time we used tunnels. And a few other ingenious ways, like hiding in the back of German staff cars and bailing out when the time was right.
CM: But you always came back. Why didn’t you escape, too?
AC: It was our job. That was our assignment. We volunteered to stay. One time I almost went, though…
CM: What stopped you?
AC (pause): I guess I knew what I was doing was the right thing. And the Colonel was counting on me.
CM: Did he ever order you to stay?
AC: No. He knew we were all doing dangerous work. He never would have left himself, even though I know he was tempted, but he never forced us to stay. He said we were volunteers and we could leave whenever we wanted to, as long as it wouldn’t endanger the others. He used to give us the chance to back out of really dangerous assignments, too, without losing our dignity or his respect.
CM: And did you?
AC: I sure wanted to sometimes… but no.
CM: What was it? Pride? Thought you’d lose face anyway?
AC: No, I think it was loyalty. And pride, but not the way you mean it. If the Colonel needed a demolition man, it was going to be me. Maybe I didn’t want the fellas’ lives in anyone else’s hands if incendiaries were involved.
CM: This is all so… bizarre, Mr. Carter.
AC: Sorry, I’m making a shambles of your research. You probably expected more mundane stories.
CM: No, no, Mr. Carter. I might just change my focus: prisoners who kept fighting after they were captured. Do you think your Colonel Hogan and the others would talk to me?
AC: I don’t know. I know the Colonel—the General—Rob—doesn’t brag about what we did, even though he has every right to. I know it sounds funny, but it was all a really personal experience for us. They might.
CM: That’d be great. But okay, let’s get back to the night you were shot down. At that time you said you were just an innocent.
AC: Yep. I tried desperately to avoid it, but I actually landed on the roof of a barn. I couldn’t see a thing, but the impact was loud, and not as soft as I would have liked. I heard a cow start moo-ing and I knew I was in trouble. But when I got up I realized I’d really hurt my arm. So it was really hard to get my parachute harness off so I could hide it, and by the time I managed, there was a ladder propped up against the side of the barn and a pretty fierce-looking pitchfork advancing toward me from below. The only German I knew at the time was bitte, danke, and strudel, so I said, “Bitte, bitte,” in my most pathetic voice and tried to show them my useless arm. I wanted to say “friend” but I wasn’t sure how, and I didn’t think they’d believe me in my uniform, and besides, most friends don’t come to visit by landing on your barn roof in the middle of the night.
CM: No, I guess they don’t. So what happened?
AC: Well, gee, I thought I had to be the luckiest guy alive, because when that farmer’s face appeared over the top of the ladder, it went from really angry, to really relieved! He got this huge smile on his face, and he kept saying, “Amerikaner, Amerikaner!” over and over again and nodding a lot. Someone down on the ground kept “shush”-ing him. I felt like the Prodigal Son come home, you know?
Anyway, the fella must have been in his fifties or sixties, and he climbed all the way up to help me with my parachute. By now I wasn’t so scared any more, so I relaxed a little, but my arm was hurting pretty badly, and I wasn’t sure I’d be able to hold onto a ladder, not to mention my legs were shaking after all the excitement of bailing out of the Gooney Bird, and I wasn’t even sure about being able to stand without falling over.
The farmer was saying things I didn’t understand, but he gestured a lot, so eventually we had some sort of communication going. He wanted my parachute, so I pushed it over to him and he dropped it over the side of the barn. By the time I got down, it had disappeared and I never saw it again, so someone must have hidden it for me. Then the man started poking me right there on the roof, like he was making sure I wasn’t hurt. But when he squeezed my arm it hurt a lot, so I yelped and he let go. He shook his head like old Doctor North used to when you’d stood outside in the rain without your galoshes, and then checked out the rest of me just by sight.
I must have passed his test because he grunted and nodded, and then pointed to the ladder and raised his eyebrows. I shrugged to tell him I didn’t know if I could make it down on my own. But he nodded and smiled a little and held out his arm, so I could use it to steady myself. As it turned out, I could stand okay, and I managed to get down using just my good arm.
CM: Weren’t you scared that these people might turn you in, Mr. Carter?
AC: I suppose that was in the back of my mind somewhere. I mean we’d all heard stories of how German civilians sometimes treated Allied flyers even worse than the soldiers did. But I think I was just too scared of the whole situation to worry about these people specifically. I mean it all seemed so surreal. When it’s happening, you don’t have time to think about it. You’re in a plane; you’re being shot at; you’re jumping out into the night sky thousands of feet up; you’re on some fella’s barn roof… you just go with the flow. I think God makes us just be numb while it’s all happening, because if we actually thought about it while we were in the middle of it we’d go crazy.
CM: So what happened when you got down?
AC: The man led me into a nice, warm house, and it was only then that I realized how cold I was. There was no snow on the ground, but it was freezing out and I’d lost all feeling in my fingers. When we got inside they started tingling again. I was glad because that meant no frostbite.
AC: The lady, who turned out to be the farmer’s wife, put a hot drink in front of me while the man started stripping off my jacket and shirt and all that. I didn’t really think about it; I just let him do whatever he wanted, since he seemed to have a plan. Anyway, he sat me down and grabbed my arm again, and I called out “Ow!” really loudly, but this time he just shook his head and kept moving it around. Eventually he stopped and said something to his wife, who came around behind me and patted me on the back sympathetically. Then she disappeared and came back with some material that she used to dress my arm. When she was done, she stood in front of me and made a cracking noise while pretending to break something in half with her hands. “Nein,” she said. “Nein.” Now I got it—she was trying to tell me that my arm wasn’t broken. I felt a lot better after that.
CM: Wow. Were those people part of the Resistance?
AC: I don’t think so. I think they were just tired of the war, and they didn’t like what Hitler was doing, so they fought back in their own way. A lot of people did that.
CM: So if they helped you, how did you end up in a prison camp?
AC: Well, not everyone is equally helpful, and even I knew that, so the next morning I tried to ask for someplace I could hide, and I think they understood. They drew me a little map that led to a house and barn a few miles away, and after filling me up with water, bread and cheese, and giving me a bit to take with me, they let me go. They were really great. I never saw them again, but I sure wish I could have told them “thanks,” once I could speak their language a lot better that I could at the time.
CM: How did you feel when you left?
AC: A lot better than when I arrived! But I was scared to death, and I didn’t know anybody now, which was also frightening because I never knew if the next person I met was going to call the Nazis to come and get me.
The farmer had given me a real heavy sweater and an extra pair of socks, and boy, they sure came in handy. It was cold, I mean really bitter cold. I thought it was too cold to snow, but before I got to the place on the map we had a good snowfall, and I stumbled into the barn soaking wet and shivering.
No one ever told me but I think I was expected because there was a blanket and a flask with hot coffee in it in the corner where I was told to hide. I could tell by where it was that it wasn’t intended for the person who normally looked after the animals.
After about an hour, I started getting really nervous. I thought someone was going to meet me here and then lead me to some people who could get me out of Germany. But then I wondered if I had misunderstood the farmer and his wife, since we were only moderately successful at best when we were trying to communicate. Anyway, I decided to stay put, and it wasn’t long after that that I heard the barn door open and someone whispered, “Amerikaner?”
CM: Geez, Mr. Carter, what did you do?
AC: I didn’t do anything. I had no way of knowing if the person was on my side or not. He came closer, and I tried to hide under the blanket but I only succeeded in making it look like there was a person hiding under a blanket. In the end it didn’t matter, because next he said “Friend” in English, and since he knew I was there, it was either trust him or don’t, so I came out from under the blanket and he shook my hand.
He told me his name was Fritz—his English was pretty bad, but my German wasn’t any better, so we just made the most of it. He asked if I was hungry, and I sure was, since I’d gone through the bread and cheese hours ago. Then he told me to take off my wet jacket and he gave me his, and he pulled some food out of a sack he’d brought with him and gave me that, too. I can’t remember what it was but it didn’t matter because I was so hungry I would have eaten the bag and thanked him for the wonderful meal!
CM: It sounds like everyone was really nice. Hard to believe that’s the same country that came up with concentration camps.
AC: We didn’t know anything about that then. I know I sure didn’t.
CM: So did he help you get out?
AC: He sure tried. He told me that the people who lived in the house were connected with the Underground and would send me through a network into France and then back to England. I was really excited about that and asked him how long it would be. He said the people had gone away but would be back in a couple of days, and if I could hold out, they would be able to help me for sure. I agreed, of course, even though it meant hanging around, and he told me where there was food hidden and how to get into the house if I needed to, but I would be safer staying in the barn. Then he said goodbye, and I was alone.
CM: I don’t know if I could stay hidden for that long, even if I knew there was help on the way. What did you do to keep yourself occupied?
AC: Well I was actually pretty tired, so once I made sure I was hidden from view I hunkered down and got a lot of sleep. I still had my watch so I could keep some sense of time, and I slept for about nine hours once Fritz left, and I only woke up twice during that time. Both times I had to remind myself where I was. It was a really strange feeling.
After that I ate the some of the food he’d left me. It was pretty much eat and sleep. I didn’t feel comfortable going out, so I tried to amuse myself by doing other things—singing songs, making animals out of the straw—heck, at one stage I got so bored I studied all the hems on the clothes I was wearing and made mental notes that I memorized about what would need to be fixed up once I finally got back to England.
CM: That sounds pretty desperate.
AC: It was! Eventually, I ran out of food, though, and the people hadn’t come home yet, so I figured it was time to go check out the house and see what I could find in there.
CM: So what did you do?
AC: I kept watch outside all day through a little hole I’d made in the barn wall with my pocket knife, and after it was dark I snuck outside and made my way over to the house. That was my mistake.
CM: Your mistake?
AC: Yep. I should have gone hungry for another day or two. The Krauts were waiting for me.
CM: Oh, no, Mr. Carter!
AC (laughs): Well you had to know I’d get captured eventually, otherwise you wouldn’t be here talking to me now!
CM: Well, yeah, I know, but—Fritz said these people were safe!
AC: It had nothing to do with the people who owned the house. The Krauts were on patrol and I was still too new to it all to realize that I should have checked out both sides of the house before approaching—not just the side I could see from the barn. I didn’t even have out my gun, just my pocket knife. I was so green… so innocent… Well, let’s just say I learned my lesson.
CM: How many Germans were there?
AC: Four. So you can imagine how useless resisting would have been. Still, when they called out “Halt!” I turned around and started rambling in English about how they must have the wrong guy, and I was only here because the people who lived here were family, and all that sort of stuff that made no sense to them because they only spoke German, and didn’t make any sense even to me, and I spoke English! Anyway, I kind of waved my knife in front of them, like that was going to help, and they just raised their rifles. That was the end of that!
CM: Oh, wow!
AC: They marched me over to the truck that must have brought them to the area, and funny thing was the thought that stood out in my mind was that I hadn’t managed to get something to eat first. Maybe I knew I’d be captured after all, but I hadn’t thought of it consciously, and I was still hungry!
We drove for a long time until we got to what I found out later was the Dulag Luft.
CM: What’s that?
AC: It’s an interrogation center at Obrerusal, outside Frankfurt, where they used to process downed flyers before shipping them off to a transition camp and then a permanent home in a prison camp for the duration.
CM: Were you scared?
AC: Well sure, sort of. I mean, once I knew where I was, I knew at least what the process was supposed to be: interrogation, transport, assignment. Period. That was a lot better than being all at odds waiting to see what was going to happen. In a strange way, it was almost comforting.
CM: That’s weird.
AC: No, not really, Charlie. I mean look at it this way: you’re sitting in a barn, scared all the time, wondering where your next meal is coming from, or if someone is going to turn you in, or if you’re going to be spotted and shot on sight, or if the civilians are going to discover you and beat the living daylights out of you. You don’t know where you’re safe, or where to sleep, or when to move. Then along comes a German patrol, and all of a sudden you’re told what to do and when to do it, and you’re given food and a place to lie down. Structure. It’s a bizarre kind of thing, psychologically. I’m not saying I wasn’t scared that the Krauts were going to drag me out of my cell and question me or beat me or anything like that—I’m just saying that at the end of a day, when they pushed you back into your cell, you felt a sort of relief that it was all over, and you could regroup for the next day.
CM: I hadn’t thought of it that way. But the human mind does respond well to structure and routine, especially when everything else is really chaotic.
AC: Not knowing was worse than knowing. Anyway, I was at the Dulag for about a week. They asked me a lot of questions that I didn’t answer, but they sure got sick of hearing my name, rank and serial number!
CM: What was the routine there?
AC: Well it depended on whether you talked or not. I didn’t, so I don’t know what it was like for anyone that did, but for me, it was get dragged out of a cell I shared with three other guys just before sunrise, I think, get taken down to a big room with only a couple of chairs in it, get asked the same questions over and over again, once in awhile get slapped around for not answering, and then get brought back to my cell.
CM: What did they ask you?
AC: Where were you shot down? What kind of mission were you on? What unit were you in? Who helped you to hide? That kind of thing. But all I ever said was, “Carter, Andrew J., Sergeant, US Army Air Corps,” and my serial number. They didn’t like that very much, but they seemed to expect it.
CM: You said they slapped you around. Was that a regular thing?
AC: Well, I had a bruise on the inside of my mouth for about three weeks after I left, because they really seemed to like giving me a good whack on the side of my face. It wasn’t usually too bad, but there was this one goon who gave me a pretty good hit with the butt of his rifle and I thought he was gonna knock my teeth out. I got used to the taste of my own blood. But it wasn’t really too bad, considering what some of the other people got. Some days they didn’t hit me at all; they just asked the questions, nodded when I gave them my usual answers—or non-answers, depending on how you look at it—and then let me go back to my cell.
CM: What about food?
AC: They gave me stuff from the Red Cross, and I got real used to eating bread, if that’s what you could call it. Not everything was going real well for the Krauts by then so they were running low on some stuff and they didn’t have a lot of things that would make food taste really good. I tell ya, I really appreciated Louis’s cooking by the time I made it to my Stalag. I ate a lot of bread and cheese while I was in Germany; I don’t like it so much any more.
CM: What happened after you left the Dulag?
AC: They sent me to the Wetzlar transition camp after that. It’s not meant for long term accommodation, just long enough for someone to assign you a permanent home. The Captain in charge there was really scary, though; I almost wished I was back at the Dulag. He made us do strange, senseless things, like stand outside for two or three hours while they counted us over and over again. He would stand out there in his nice heavy overcoat and lecture us about the uselessness of resistance by us and the Allies, while we nearly froze to death. He didn’t seem to feel the cold.
CM: How long were you there?
AC: Two weeks I think, maybe a little more. They didn’t ask me a lot of questions there, but I met some real nice people. We didn’t get to know each other really well, though. It was kind of a defense mechanism—you didn’t know if you’d ever see these people again after you left Wetzlar. Or if they got shot doing something stupid you didn’t want to be emotionally attached. It was too hard to disassociate, since you’d all at least had the same thought of trying to escape, for instance, yourself.
CM: I had no idea it was like this, Mr. Carter.
AC: If you wanted to survive being in your enemy’s country and under his control, Charlie, you had to do all sorts of things that you wouldn’t normally do.
CM: And that’s why you became a spy?
AC: I don’t know—I guess I just did that because it was a chance to fight back. I saw what Colonel Hogan was doing, and I’d heard the stories about him from before I got to camp, and I thought, “I’ve gotta help him. I’ve gotta do that, too.” Both because of him, and because it was a good chance to fight the Germans doing something I was good at.
CM: Blowing things up.
AC: Yeah. And playing German officers, I learned later.
CM: What was the next step?
AC: Movement to a permanent camp. I was hauled out one morning and told I was being sent to my new home for the rest of the war.
The transcript ended there; the conversation had gone right off track after that, as Carter had regaled Charlie with impersonations and explanations of everyone he’d known and worked with in Germany. Carter nodded thoughtfully and took off the reading glasses he had retrieved part way through reading. He sat for a moment, memories flooding back through him as they had so often since this conversation had taken place, and he sighed as he turned back to the note the young man had sent with the pages.
Thanks so much for taking the time to talk to me. I know I sure wouldn’t have gotten this information from any textbook! And I won’t tell all your secrets, like I promised. You’ll be listed in my paper as “Mr. C.,” which could be anyone. If you think any of your friends from back then would talk to me, just let me know. I don’t want to push, Mr. Carter, but that would sure be fantastic.
Carter stood up and put the letter on the table next to him, then went over to his telephone table, where he pulled out a small address book that had been buried under another pile of papers and books. He opened it and looked through the pages, his eyes finally alighting on the name he had not even realized he had been looking for. He picked up the phone, dialed carefully, and waited.
“Uh, hello. May I please speak with Colonel—I mean, with Rob? This is Andrew Carter from Stalag 13.”
Text and original characters copyright 2005 by Linda Groundwater
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.