Once Upon a Time: Papa Bear
2006 Papa Bear Awards - Nominated
Mark Bailey shook his head as the familiar bicycle skidded to an abrupt halt mere inches from his feet, spraying a bit of dirty rainwater from the ground onto his newly polished shoes. “You know, Papa, I wish you’d enjoy the privileges of rank once in awhile and use the car from the base. I’m really quite fond of my toes!”
Colonel Robert Hogan grinned as he dismounted. “No way, Bailey. There isn’t enough gas to go around. Besides, I miss my motorcycle. The rush of the ride, the air on my face!”
Bailey grumbled good-naturedly. “Who needs air on his face?”
Hogan laughed. This was part of the normal routine for him and the Lieutenant, and he enjoyed it this morning just as much as any other day. “What’s going on today? Roberts still on the warpath?”
Bailey answered by sticking two fingers up behind his head like feathers and “woo-woo”ing with one hand over his mouth.
“Ah,” Hogan answered sagely. “Maybe I’d better turn the ol’ bike around and head back where I came from.”
“No way!” Bailey replied. “You’re a wanted man. The old man wants to know where you were this morning for the turnout of the greenies.”
Hogan sighed. “It was my morning off, remember? He gave it to me himself for trying to sort out that feud at the beer party the other night.” Hogan shook his head as he remembered the almost naïve way he had stepped in when raised voices from two junior officers started interfering with general conversation at the officers’ club over the weekend. Hoping to be the voice of reason for the men who were normally quite close, he hadn’t actually expected his attempts to bring about conciliation between the warring parties to be rebuffed. But large amounts of alcohol stood between the combatants and clear thinking, and Hogan had been rather unceremoniously, and quite physically, told that his assistance was not required. The men involved had been disciplined, and Hogan had been taken to sick bay to have his cuts and bruises attended to.
Bailey laughed. “More likely to give you a chance to recover,” he said. “As I recall, your ribs took quite a pounding. Not to mention that thick head of yours. At least that pair got along quite well when they were beating you up.”
Hogan smiled wryly, chagrinned. “Thanks a lot. Remind me never to become a mediator in the peace talks. I don’t think I’d survive them. So, where is the old man?”
“Search me.” Bailey looked past Hogan to the large Nissen hut that served as the canteen. “Lunch?”
“Sure.” Hogan sighed as he looked up at the overcast sky. Charcoal clouds that brought in rain last night were threatening a repeat performance today, and Hogan was a sunshine man. He liked nothing more than to be out in the open air, playing football, riding his Harley Davidson Knucklehead, having a picnic and a game of horseshoes, or just lying in an open field. In his mind, all of those things were more enjoyable in warm, clear weather. But the climate at West Raynham Airfield, in Norfolk, rarely cooperated, and Hogan found it depressing.
Hogan had originally been sent to England as part of the Lend Lease Act, in which twenty B-17 bombers were flown from the United States to help the Royal Air Force fend off the threat from Germany. His cool head under pressure and his obvious consideration for the welfare of his men had brought him to the attention of his superiors, and after countless forays, when the Yanks started arriving in force, he was propelled quickly to the position of commander of the 504th Bomber Squadron, where he continued to excel and astound those around him. Hogan seemed to take it all in stride, not changing the loyalties he had with his men, and increasing his ability to plan and execute successful bombing missions over Germany. The latest, over an aircraft factory in Düsseldorf, had been a particularly spectacular event, with the factory completely destroyed, and only two B-17s lost. Hogan’s own plane, dubbed “Goldilocks” by her crew, had suffered heavy damage, including a mangled rudder, a blown number four engine, and a loss of landing gear that forced a precarious and fiery return to the base. Luckily, the ten men aboard had escaped with only minor injuries, and all had been lauded as heroes, especially when the mechanics on the ground found almost as much damage and shrapnel inside the plane as outside. It was just another legend to add to the growing list that followed Hogan around, and his name came up often, on the airfield and in the administrative offices where the brass decided What Happened Where.
A light meal gave Hogan a new outlook, and when he and Bailey emerged from the canteen thirty minutes later, the clouds had started to break up and a bleak sun was doing its best to provide a miniscule bit of warmth to the earth. Getting back on his bicycle, Hogan said, “I’d better track down Roberts and see what all the fuss is about.”
The friends parted company and Hogan made his way to the Group Captain’s administrative office on the other side of the base. Entering, he removed his cap and announced himself to the non-com manning the telephone. “Oh, the Group Captain wants to see you, all right,” he said in reply.
Hogan cleared his throat, uncharacteristically nervous about seeing the man who had gradually become more of a friend than a military superior, then resigned himself to waiting. James Roberts appeared shortly thereafter. “Hogan, please, come into my office.” The dark-haired Englishman gestured for Hogan to precede him into the room. Hogan offered a salute, which Roberts returned sharply. “Sit, Hogan. Please sit.”
Hogan frowned, uncomfortable, but obeyed as Roberts sat behind his desk and leaned forward. “Missed you at this morning’s new recruit meeting, Rob,” he said, immediately falling into the familiarity that their friendship outside military protocol had produced.
Hogan relaxed. “Begging your pardon, Robbie, but I was given this morning off,” he reminded Roberts gently.
Roberts looked at him questioningly, then nodded as his memory kicked in. “Ah, yes, because of…”
Hogan nodded once. “Yeah, because of that,” he said flatly.
Roberts got the message: Hogan wanted to forget all about it. “Very good. I trust all is well now.” Hogan nodded. Roberts moved back into formality; something else was clearly on his mind. “I need to talk with you now, Hogan, about something much more serious than barroom brawls.”
Hogan noticed the change, and resumed military courtesy almost unconsciously. He raised an eyebrow. “Sir?”
“I attended a meeting in London yesterday, Hogan, and I don’t mind telling you that what we discussed could have a very serious impact on you and your men—as a matter of fact, on all the B-17 crews.”
Hogan’s expression asked his questions for him. He said nothing.
“Allied Headquarters is talking about having US planes start daylight bombing raids over Germany.”
“Daylight?” Hogan repeated, disbelieving.
Roberts nodded. “That’s right, Hogan.”
Hogan shook his head. “But we’re traveling without fighter escort now. We’re encountering big problems even at night. What’s supposed to happen when the Krauts can see us coming from a long way off? This has been done before, by the British, and it’s failed miserably!”
Roberts nodded, understanding. “I know. It’s a problem. But we’re just not hitting enough targets to be effective over the long run. The Yanks insist they have to consider daylight raids.”
Hogan tried to process the information. All he could see was the view from the cockpit of his B-17. “When those fighters see us, they’ll be able to come straight into our formation. Flak will increase. Losses will increase. It’ll be a mess.”
“We’re working on improving flying formations. And there’ll be a briefing on this whole issue, probably tomorrow. I expect you to be there. In the meantime, I need you to be considering how to get your men to understand the ‘why’ of this decision.” Roberts paused. “It won’t be easy, Hogan. I’m not going to pretend that it won’t mean anything to our casualty numbers, because it certainly will. But if we’re going to make any real difference in this war, these are the things we have to consider.”
Hogan stood up. “I understand.” Logically, but not emotionally.
“Rob, I don’t have to tell you how sensitive this is. You’ve often been entrusted with our most delicate information; I’m sure I’m not making a mistake discussing this with you now.”
“You’re not, Robbie.” Hogan saluted formally. “Thank you, sir.”
And Hogan took his leave, gulping in fresh air outside as though he had been starved of oxygen for days. He hopped on his bicycle and pedaled. Where he was going he wasn’t quite sure. But if he kept riding, maybe he could forget he had ever talked with Roberts at all, and could put it all down to being a bad dream.
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“As you know, gentlemen, the Eighth Air Force and the RAF have four priority targets: submarine construction facilities; oil refineries; aircraft factories; and ball bearing construction plants. Under cover of darkness, we are not able to guarantee the results of our bombing missions, and clouds and inclement weather can hamper our efforts. As the German forces continue to advance across Europe, we cannot afford to let these targets slip out of our grasp. Therefore, we must consider radical changes in our plans of attack.”
Hogan sat back in his chair in the briefing room, listening to General Alfred Butler explaining the reasoning behind what Hogan considered to be an insane plan to move to daylight bombings. He knew that it would be his job to not only accept the change but promote it enthusiastically to his men, and he found the whole idea distasteful. How could he promote something that he knew would cost more lives? Even in the name of the greater good, it wouldn’t be an easy task.
“Are there any questions?”
Hogan considered waiting for the higher-ups around him to start their queries, but finally decided to speak up about something that had been niggling at him since Roberts first brought this new offensive strategy to his attention. “General Butler, sir? Colonel Robert Hogan, Commander, 504th Bomber Squadron, West Raynham.”
Butler looked Hogan up and down as the American stood up. “Ah, yes, Hogan. I imagine you have a lot to say about this.”
Hogan shifted his feet and fought back the urge to pull on his tie. He didn’t usually mind being in his dress browns, but in a room full of people with more brass on their chests than a four-poster bed, he felt distinctly uncomfortable, and very much on-the-spot. He cleared his throat. “Not a lot, General. Just a question about formation, sir. The B-17s are currently flying without escort, sir, and quite frankly aren’t very good at being defensive units. And although they do take quite a bit of punishment, the men on the inside take that punishment with them. What consideration is being given to the attrition rate, General, when making up the flight plans?”
Butler had nodded all through Hogan’s question, a responsive habit that rarely did anything to make Hogan feel that his superiors were listening. In fact, he usually felt that the answers were already there, prefabricated and waiting to meet resistance. He hoped that this time would be different.
But he was disappointed. “Yes, Hogan, it’s true that the B-17s aren’t very strong on defense. But we are counting on the element of surprise to get us through these bombings. After all, even the Jerries wouldn’t consider daylight drops—well, not any more, anyway,” Butler added with a small smile. Hogan didn’t smile back. Butler continued, “As to formation, we will continue with the ‘stacks’—flying in three packs of six planes. Top, middle, and bottom, as you are intimately familiar with. We are considering other formations, but at this stage we have no plans to make changes.”
“What about assigning us fighter escort?”
“Our fighters haven’t got the range necessary to accompany the bombers. They’ll be on their own.”
The finality of Butler’s words shook Hogan. The element of surprise could—might—only work once. After that it wouldn’t come as so much of a shock to the Germans when the Allied bombers suddenly appeared on the horizon. And without fighter escort, all an enemy flyer had to do was aim for a B-17 with a frontal attack and the “stack” Butler talked about was in tatters. Hogan sat down, feeling cold to his very core.
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“Hogan, may I see you a moment?”
Though phrased as a request, Hogan knew he had no option to refuse. Butler pulled him up as he left the meeting, and so Hogan turned politely to face his superior. “Yes, sir?”
“Hogan I wonder if I might have a word with you, in private.” Butler gestured toward a small room. Hogan nodded and followed. “Colonel Hogan, you have quite a reputation around Headquarters for getting things done.”
Hogan said nothing, preferring to see where this discussion was heading first.
“You have a good relationship with your men, do you not?” Butler asked.
Hogan nodded. Of this he was certain, and proud. “Yes, sir. I have an extraordinary crew.”
“And you no doubt trust them implicitly.”
Hogan frowned, not sure what Butler was driving at. “With my life, General.”
“Hogan,” Butler said, seeming to regroup his thoughts, “I understand that you and your crew once returned to base with your plane almost ready for the scrap heap—missing bits, in flames, and so full of holes it put Swiss cheese to shame.”
“We’ve all done something like that, sir. But Goldilocks held up.”
“That kind of return is due in no small part to the pilot, Hogan. And to the crew that work with him.” Hogan held his breath, waiting. “Hogan, I’d like you and your crew to do the test runs of daylight maneuvers.”
Hogan exhaled. That was what he had been dreading. “General—”
“We’re hoping to start full-scale daylight bombing in August. Before then, we need to see what kind of reaction the Jerries will have. And if we throw just a couple of daylight raids into the mix—while still continuing normal nighttime raids—we might just throw them off enough to make a difference. Hogan, your Goldilocks is the plane to do it.”
“Just one plane?”
“No, no, of course not. You will take some of your squadron. We’ll have a target destination for you within the next couple of days.”
Hogan knew he wasn’t being asked, and so he simply nodded, as words refused to form in his throat.
Butler patted Hogan’s shoulder. “Don’t look so stricken, Hogan; this is a fine opportunity. The Krauts already have reason enough to hate you; they know when they see your plane they’re guaranteed a hell of a fight, and most likely a big loss. You’ve pulled off some of the most daring and, quite frankly, nearly impossible missions to date. Let’s give them something to nurture that hatred with.”
“Sir, the British have done this before. They stopped because it was costing too many lives, adding up too many losses—”
“And we have to try it again. Perhaps the Yanks can succeed where the British failed.” Hogan looked disturbed. Butler changed his approach. “We wouldn’t have chosen you if we didn’t think you were capable of pulling it off, Hogan. You’re one of the best flyers I’ve ever seen.”
“Thank you, sir,” Hogan said hoarsely. He saluted Butler and was dismissed with a promise of contact about this assignment in the next forty-eight hours.
He found he couldn’t join in the light conversation that peppered the air on the way back to base, and sat quietly in his own thoughts, trying not to let his face betray his fears.
Fears for the Future
Hogan tumbled into his bunk, his eyes burning and his ears still ringing from the overwhelming noise of the B-17 he had left about an hour ago. Tonight’s raid over Berlin had been considered a success; Goldilocks had dropped her load pretty much on target, thanks to the bombardier, Billy Martinez, and no planes had been lost, although one came back with damage severe enough to ensure a long term grounding while it was repaired.
Hogan sighed as he tried to flex his cramped muscles and find a comfortable position to sleep in. He made fists to try and warm his fingers, which had been freezing in the plane despite the gloves he wore. Then he turned over, exhausted after the initial adrenalin rush that came with any raid had worn off, his aim to fall asleep as quickly as possible so he could enjoy the longest rest he had had in months. But that was not to be: the black backdrop provided by his closed eyes was invaded by bursts of orange as shells exploded and flak littered the air. The shouting of his men over the intercom system and the noise of the engines and enemy fighter attack provided a symphony of adrenalin and fear that assaulted his ears. He could feel the jerking of Goldilocks as she unloaded her five-hundred pound bombs onto the invisible earth below.
Hogan hadn’t debriefed upon return, a mistake he never let his own boys get away with. But this time, he must have looked shattered, because after making sure no one had been badly injured, he had begged off and somehow been allowed to get away with it himself. “Mission accomplished,” was all he said to those in charge, and he was dismissed with a promise of a proper question and answer session in the morning. Now, he regretted it.
Opening his eyes, Hogan tried to imagine pulling off such a mission during the day. All he could see was carnage and loss, and defeat. He wanted to dismiss those ideas as pure fear, with no basis in reality. But he knew he was wrong, and the knowledge that it was about to become reality, mixed with the experience he had already had that night, kept him awake until dawn, when he got up tiredly to greet the bleak day.
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“How’s she looking today, boys?” asked Hogan, as he watched the ground crew swarming over Goldilocks like bees in a honey-filled hive.
“Lookin’ great, Papa Bear—you’ve pulled it off again!” called one of the men from the wing.
“You can thank Bailey for that one,” Hogan answered. “And the rest of the fellas in the squadron who helped keep her clean!”
The mechanic laughed and turned back to his work. Hogan took a moment to study the plane that was the only thing standing between him and enemy fire. The large white star in the dark circle on the flank of the plane made him proud, and so did the triple row of bombs that was emblazoned on the side in bright yellow paint. But it was the beautiful, buxom blonde near the nose that made him smile the most: Goldilocks. Long hair breezing behind her, even longer legs ended with graceful hands on hips that sat below a tiny waist. And the swimsuit she wore was anything but modest about how well the young lady had been endowed by the obviously-starved-for-female-companionship artist. Her big blue eyes invited men to come to her as she blew with fully puckered, red lips into a steaming bowl of porridge. And come they did, with a wolf whistle that made Hogan laugh whenever he heard it. There was no point in reminding anyone that she wasn’t real; Hogan could hardly believe that himself, and he always winked at Goldilocks as he passed her to climb into the cockpit before a mission, saying, “One more time, girl. Just one more time.”
In the mess hall, Hogan found he couldn’t stomach more than a cup of strong coffee, and he smiled acknowledgement when others in the large room greeted him and congratulated him on his squadron’s success. But he kept by and large to himself, still thinking about what lay ahead.
Soon after, Bailey appeared and sat, uninvited, beside Hogan. “Hey, Papa Bear,” he said in greeting.
Hogan smiled tiredly. “Papa Bear.” Co-Pilot Trevor Montgomery had dubbed him that, shortly after Goldilocks appeared on the B-17, loudly refusing the moniker “Mama Bear” for himself, and somehow the joke had stuck. Hogan didn’t mind; he knew it was all done in good humor, and he was never one to stand on ceremony with his own crew. Insisting on the use of rank when in a life-and-death struggle against the Germans hardly seemed practical. And besides, it would only serve to isolate him from the others in the crew, something that simply could not be allowed to happen if teamwork was to flourish. “G’morning,” Hogan mumbled into his cup.
“Brilliant night last night, eh, Papa?” Bailey said enthusiastically.
Hogan smiled into his coffee. “Yeah, Bailey. Brilliant.” He shrugged. “Everyone got back alive; that’s the important thing.”
Bailey started plowing into the huge meal he had gathered for himself. “So what’s wrong?” he asked through a mouthful of scrambled eggs.
Hogan put down his cup, startled. “Wrong?” he repeated. “Nothing’s wrong.”
“Come on, Papa; I’m not an idiot.” Bailey took a swallow of coffee. “There’s something going on in that head of yours, and you’re not letting the rest of us in on it. What gives?”
Hogan shook his head. “Nothing.”
“You might fool the others, but you can’t fool me.” Some bacon disappeared. “You’re plotting and planning. And worrying.”
Hogan shrugged again. “Maybe I’m just still tired after last night.”
“I don’t doubt it. I’m still pretty beat myself.” Bailey stopped and turned to Hogan. “But it started before then. It was there when you gave us the briefing in the afternoon. It was there at dinner last night, and it’s still there today.”
“Can’t you just mind your own business once in awhile?” Hogan asked, trying to avoid the question with wry humor.
“Nope,” Bailey said. “I’m here to keep you in line.” He paused and looked at Hogan’s eyes, which seemed locked on something Bailey would never see. “What is it, Colonel?” he asked gently.
Hogan shook his head and brought his eyes back to the table. “Nothing. Don’t worry about it. I’m just an idiot, that’s all.” He stood up. “I have some paperwork to fill out. I’ll see you this afternoon after the briefing. We’ll be at it again tonight.”
Bailey watched Hogan leave, not believing a word his commanding officer said, but wishing to God that he could.
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Hogan stood before the men of the 504th Bomber Squadron at four o’clock in the morning, three days later, dreading every word about to come out of his mouth. All had come to attention when he entered the briefing room, drawing their light-hearted, sleepy banter to an immediate close. “At ease, gentlemen,” he said, nodding for them to take their seats.
“We’re trying something different this time, boys,” Hogan said as he took to the stage. The eyes of two dozen flight commanders stared at their squadron leader, ready to take the information he gave them back to their own men, to then pass on to the crews who would be flying the next mission. “You are no doubt wondering about the early call. Normally, I’d have an afternoon briefing for a night time raid. But that’s exactly why I’m calling you now. This won’t be any night time raid. We’re going in, in broad daylight.”
A collective murmur of disbelief passed through the room. Hogan gave it only a few seconds, knowing that the longer the men had to let their fears get to them about this plan, the easier it would be for them to pass those same fears on to their own crews. He immediately launched into his well-rehearsed patter. “We’ve got a job, and it’s a big one, but we’ve got an extreme element of surprise on our side. After all, this hasn’t been tried in quite a long time. The Krauts probably think the Allies wouldn’t dare try it again.” He turned and pulled the curtain on the wall away from the map he had detailed earlier. He knew exactly what the men were focusing on: the string. The string that connected their location on the map to the target destination in Germany. It was always the biggest draw. And he could see all eyes gauging the distance, wondering how many of them would be making it home.
“As you can see, gentlemen, our target is Leipzig. A submarine construction plant on the outskirts of town in an old factory. We’re sending out five stacks: mine will be in the lead as usual, with two others coming up on either side. We leave at noon. The rest of you will be preparing for a nighttime offensive on Willemshaufen. You’ll have back-up from the 379th.” Hogan paused. The looks on the faces of the men staring back at him were daunting. Hogan made sure his composure was intact and continued. “I know the Americans haven’t tried anything like this before; this little foray is just a test to see if a renewed, full-scale daylight offensive is practical.” Now for the clincher: an appeal to their pride. “The 504th has been chosen because we have the highest success rate and the lowest attrition rate around, and they’re counting on us to keep those records intact.” Pause. “I told the General that we wouldn’t have any trouble with that.”
A long silence. Then heads nodding slowly around the room. Hogan said, “Reeve, O’Malley, Walker, Downey. You four will have to meet with me after we break up for details. The rest of you, Group Captain Roberts will be briefing you himself about tonight’s offensive at fifteen hundred hours. I expect I’ll be tied up around that time.” Small, almost nervous laughter. “Any questions?” Hogan held his breath, hoping there would be none. There weren’t. “Dismissed.”
Hogan couldn’t help feeling like he’d just handed down a sentence of execution for the nine hundred men who would be heading out that day.
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“So that’s what it was all about,” Bailey said to Hogan about two hours later. “Why didn’t you tell me?”
“You know why,” Hogan answered, fishing through his footlocker. “I’m not allowed to discuss sensitive military issues, remember?”
“But gee, Papa, daytime bombing? Without fighter escort? Why don’t they just line us up and shoot us?”
Hogan shook his head, still concentrating on his locker. “It might not be that bad,” he replied.
“No?” Bailey’s voice was disbelieving.
“No. The Krauts won’t expect a daylight raid, and by the time they scramble, we’ll have dropped our loads and taken off.”
“Well that might work once, but what about the second time, and the third, and the fourth?”
“We’ll just have to see what happens.”
Bailey shook his head and sat down on Hogan’s bunk. “You don’t like it, do you,” he said.
It wasn’t a question. Hogan knew that Bailey could read his thoughts almost as easily as his own. He paused in his search and sighed. “No,” he admitted. “I don’t like it.”
“You telling Roberts?”
“I have. But orders are orders, and he and I both follow them. And so do you.”
Bailey nodded. “Sometimes I think we’re idiots, you know that?”
Hogan smiled briefly. “Yep. But that’s what war is all about.” He shook his head. “I’ve got some work to do. Meet you and the others as usual?”
“Yeah—a little earlier than normal, but yeah.” Bailey got up, ready to gather the crew of Goldilocks for their ritual coffee and bull session in the canteen before heading out on a mission. “Hey, Papa,” he said, turning as he got to the door. Hogan looked up from his papers. “It’s not your fault. You didn’t ask to send us out there today.”
Hogan paused then nodded slowly. Bailey—christened Hogan’s “Baby Bear.” Somehow he always knew. “Thanks. See you in an hour.”
“Sure. In an hour.”
Hogan sat down on his bunk and looked down at the half-written letter in his hands. He reread what he had already composed, then crumpled it up and tossed it in his locker. Then he started again. He struggled to find the words, but reminded himself that he might not have another chance if things went wrong today. July 5, 1942. Dear Mom and Dad, In case I never get to tell you in person, I want you to know how proud I am of my men….
In the Light of Day
“Raring to go.”
Hogan and his men sat in Goldilocks, running through their routine as they prepared for takeoff. Radio operator Charles Ingram had just switched on the intercom equipment and Hogan was making sure everyone could be heard, at least at the outset. Engineer Frank Simmons sat behind Hogan and Montgomery, checking the state of the aircraft at the moment, and nodding his approval at the work the ground crew had done to whip her back into fighting form. The ball turret gunner, John Anderson—known as “Little John” to the others—was behind Simmons, with the two waist gunners, “Dicky” Doolittle and Peter Weller, in place just ahead of tail gunner George Stuart. The nervous energy was almost a physical presence in the plane, but everyone stuck to their jobs, knowing automatically what needed to be done, and pushing their hearts back out of their throats as often as they forced their way in.
The truck ride over to the dispersal point on the flight line had been quiet, a change from the enforced rowdiness of the men in their ritual meeting in the canteen. Now was the time for them to make their own peace and gather their own strength; there would be no time once they were in the air for anything but duty, and, hopefully, survival. When they jumped out of the truck in their heavy flight suits, they nodded to the ground crew and boarded. Hogan noticed as they took their places that the bomb bay was holding its full load of a dozen five-hundred pound bombs, and he nodded his respect to them, hoping they would have a chance to drop them on their target and still get home.
A green flare burst up into the sky, signaling the time to start engines and prepare for takeoff. “This is it, boys,” Hogan said, and he hit the switches one at a time for the four, twelve-hundred horsepower Wright Cyclone radial engines to roar into life. And roar they did; Goldilocks started her familiar vibrating, and the cockpit pulsated with adrenalin and repressed fear, mixing with the odor of oil and engine exhaust. The waiting was nearly over.
Hogan maneuvered the plane down the taxiway and into position, and soon the next green flare signaling takeoff drew a colorful arc in the sky. “Mission number eighteen about to begin!” Hogan announced, another ritual the men had insisted on. Countdown to home: twenty-five missions in Goldilocks and most of them were headed stateside. He pulled back on the throttle, applying power to the huge engines, and Goldilocks started rolling, moving faster and faster until she was fairly surging down the runway, and then, just as suddenly as she had begun, she was losing contact with the ground and pulling up into the sky. Hogan banked the Flying Fortress to the right, setting up the formation that the other bombers would follow, and they were now officially on their way to face the enemy.
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Over two hours later, the group was about to hit the coast of Germany. The flight had been mainly silent, with each man watching the horizon, and staring at the clouds on what had turned out to be a beautiful day. The bombers had formed their stacks: six planes on the top, six in the middle, six on the bottom. As Goldilocks carried the Commander of the Squadron, she flew in front of the first formation. Two other stacks were following in formation on each side slightly behind. All were flying a bit loose, as there had been as yet no sign of enemy fighters. But every man flying knew that at the first sight of German airpower, they would tighten the formation again, to make it harder for Luftwaffe fighters to infiltrate their group, and bring planes down.
They didn’t have long to wait. “Krauts at twelve o’clock,” Martinez announced.
Hogan’s stomach tightened. He double-checked that his oxygen mask was firmly in place. “Charlie, call the stacks into formation.”
“Right, Colonel.” The radio operator called immediately for the other planes to pull together. Everyone was instantly on the alert, forgetting the cold that came with being twenty-five thousand feet in the air in an unpressurized cabin. Forgetting the wandering thoughts they had had of home. And forgetting that at any other time, the sight of the European coast would be a beautiful thing to behold.
Bursts of orange and black were quick to fill the sky; flak was flying everywhere, and Hogan and Montgomery did their best to avoid it as it came up from the eighty-eight millimeter anti-aircraft guns on the ground below. Bailey kept track of where the Flying Fortress needed to be in order to drop its load, and Martinez made sure everything was ready to go. The radio silence normally maintained during night bombing was not necessary during the day, and Ingram shouted warnings to other planes as they appeared. The cabin was rife with noise, shouting from other planes, noise from enemy fire, shuddering thunder from their own engines, and bursts of fire from their own guns.
“Bandits at six o’clock high!” came the call from Stuart in the rear. He fired as the Messerschmitt closed in fast.
Goldilocks gained some altitude as she continued heading for her target destination. “109s flying in from three o’clock!” Weller added, and his .50 caliber guns started littering the sky with shells as well.
“Holy cow!” shouted Bailey, as a B-17 flying on their left-hand side was hit by gunfire from an enemy plane. Its number three engine exploded in flame, forcing the plane to lose altitude and rocking Goldilocks. Hogan pulled their own plane slightly away from the fray, as Dicky Doolittle’s left flank waist guns took aim for the German plane’s engines. Doolittle’s aim was true, and the left wing of the fighter was suddenly shattered, sending the Messerschmitt into a spin of its own toward the earth.
Hogan kept the plane heading toward its destination. “Charlie, it’s time for Double Jump to move out,” Hogan said, his eyes scanning all around them as he kept his formation aiming for Leipzig.
“Right, Colonel. Papa Bear to Double Jump, it’s time to move out, over,” Ingram radioed, signaling the stack of eighteen planes covering the rear left flank to start their diversion. Only Hogan’s stack of eighteen planes was carrying bombs; the other groups were all along as diversionary cover. The more the Germans were heading for the empty planes, the more chance the Fortresses carrying the bombs had to get to their targets.
Heeding their Squadron Commander’s wishes, group Double Jump started to fall out of the formation it had made with the other planes. Hogan nodded once, acknowledging the group’s response, then immediately turned his attention back to the shouting continuing in his own aircraft.
“Krauts ten o’clock!”
“Bronson’s plane is smoking, Colonel; they’re going to have to break formation!”
Damn! Hogan thought. He turned quickly, as though he would be able to see the plane farthest back in his own stack starting to fall out of line. “What’s their condition?” he called out, distressed. Once on its own, a B-17’s defenses were only as strong as the men at its guns; there was little armor to protect them from attack, and without other planes to shield it, a damaged Flying Fortress was as good as gone.
“Fading fast, Colonel, but Jacobsen’s got some heavy return fire coming up quick!”
“Keep them together; don’t let them end up alone!” Hogan called.
Goldilocks jerked crazily as her right flank was hit. “What the hell was that?” called Montgomery.
“Krauts are upset we didn’t tell them about our little surprise party!” called Anderson. He turned to see big dents but no holes in the flank of the plane. “We’re okay, Colonel!”
“How far to target, Simmons?” called Hogan. He wiped ineffectually at his forehead that was dripping with sweat. Despite the subzero temperatures, he was hot and breathing hard. A battle for their lives never left him feeling the cold.
“About another four minutes, sir!”
“Martinez, you ready with those balloons?”
“You bet, Colonel!” the bombardier called back.
Hogan looked ahead as Goldilocks continued her straight and level flight toward the Leipzig target. Everywhere, he could see bursts of flak and planes on both sides of the conflict trading fire. He worried as the flak seemed to thicken enough to walk across, then tried to forget about the danger of having the position honed in on by the necessity of their steady flight pattern. Danger or not, they had to proceed this way.
“Bandits coming down from two o’clock,” Anderson announced.
“Go get ’em, Little John. We don’t have time to stop and chat!” called Montgomery.
“I’ve already told them they’re not welcome here!” the ball turret gunner replied as he let off another round of machine gun fire.
“They got the rudder!” called Simmons, as Goldilocks shook again. “Flak hit, Colonel!”
“Stuie’s been hit!” shouted Weller from near the rear. Hogan swallowed to control the nausea he felt whenever someone was injured during a mission. “Shrapnel in the leg; it’s not too bad!”
Hogan nodded and tried to focus on their immediate surroundings. “Get some pressure on it! Damage to the tail?”
“We’re going a bit astray,” Montgomery declared. “Simmons, what’s the go?”
“Engines still intact; hold steady!”
“Roger that. Bailey, take us in!” Hogan said.
It was a strange experience being able to see what was happening to the other planes with them on the bombing raid so clearly. It was good, because if they had to, they could help. It was bad, because it was giving the Germans a fantastic chance get the Allies in full view and attack them with as much advance warning as the skies would give them. And while Hogan understood the reasoning behind the daytime raids, he would never get used to the idea of sending planes that weren’t strong on defensive armor out in broad daylight to face enemy planes that were just brimming with offensive ammunition.
Martinez’s voice suddenly came through the noise. “Lord Almighty, there goes Wildfire.”
The stillness in the bombardier’s voice filled Hogan with dread. He looked out and around to see a B-17 falling out of its formation on their right flank and starting to drop into a wild spin, smoke billowing heavily from its left wing, its hull filled with holes from enemy fire. “Parachutes—parachutes!” he called.
“No, damn it. No chutes!” Bailey cried.
“Come on. Parachutes!” Hogan urged, as though willing the men in the plane to be well enough to get out would be enough to make it happen. Time stood still for what seemed like an eternity as the men of the B-17 Goldilocks locked their eyes on the plummeting aircraft that had left England with them. After what seemed like minutes but which was actually only seconds later, two parachutes appeared, and the men in them seemed to shrink to dodge the deadly flak as they made their descent into enemy territory. Into capture.
Into God knew what kind of Hell.
“What about the rest of them?” Doolittle asked desperately, turning his attention away long enough to fire at a Messerschmitt that appeared on Goldilocks’s left. “We need cover, Colonel. We’re not gonna make it!”
“We’ll make it,” Hogan said, forcing himself to turn away from the scene. One more parachute had appeared. Three men out of ten. Seven men lost. He said a split-second silent prayer that those on board were already dead, not trapped in the doomed plane and spending their last few moments in unfathomable terror as they faced the inferno and impact they knew would come. He thought of the letter home that he had written, and rewritten, and written again: whatever he had put on paper to his parents would have to do. He only hoped no one ever had to send it for him. “How much longer, Martinez?”
“We’re there, Colonel. Thirty seconds. Hold her steady and prepare for the drop.”
“Handing over to you,” Hogan answered.
He and Montgomery left control of the bomber to the bombardier, whose job it now was to make sure the plane was in position to accurately drop her load of bombs. Martinez worked fast and sure, and when the bomb bay doors opened, they could all feel the plane shifting position as the three tons of explosives were expelled from the craft. “Bull’s eye!” Martinez called.
Cheers resounded from inside the plane. Hogan took the controls again and banked up and away from the site, all the while trying to take quick glances to see if any more parachutes were floating in the skies around them. He watched as another plane in formation with him also dropped its load. He nodded acknowledgement that their job was finished. “Let’s go home,” he said.
Turning away from the enemy and back toward England, Hogan only hoped they would make it.
“Send up the flares; we’ll need the medical unit as soon as we hit the runway. Stuart needs help right away,” Hogan ordered. After disengaging the enemy and eventually going far enough out of range as not to be of interest to the Germans any longer, Hogan led the remaining bombers across the North Sea and back to England. The adrenalin had worn off, and now he was weary to the bone, a condition he knew was shared by the other men still in the air. Over the course of the trip, he had tried to take stock of the cost of the daring daylight raid; watching the crew of the Wildfire have to bail out in full view of everyone had been a more than sobering experience, and he wondered just how many B-17s wouldn’t be returning home when the final count was done.
On the ground, countless crews and medical personnel were watching for their boys to touch the ground. The wait was always the hardest, with each crew straining hard trying to identify their plane, their machine, hoping upon hope that the work they had done was good enough to sustain the men in battle, that the care they had put into their work would be enough to keep any plane in the air, regardless of the damage.
And it wasn’t just the crews. The brass was usually watching anxiously as well. And they were certainly keeping an eye on the skies today. Today, one clear day out of ten dreary, rainy ones. One beautiful day to fly to death.
Some planes had returned with very little damage. Others were merely limping in, smoke pouring from their engines, riddled with bullet and cannon holes, missing pieces of wings, rudders, entire engines. Medical teams burst into activity, in some cases merely removing the dead from the crafts; in others, attending critically wounded on the spot. Still others simply helped the walking wounded toward waiting ambulances. It was a busy afternoon at West Raynham.
Hogan removed his oxygen mask and headgear and unbuckled himself from his seat. Hopping out quickly as crews moved in, he checked for what seemed like the sixth time on Stuart, who was now being helped out of the plane. Hogan grimaced as he saw the tail gunner’s torn pant leg, the blood soaking through the pressure bandages that had been put on his calf, the look of repressed pain on Stuart’s face. There were too many people around the man to get close enough to help. Hogan shrugged inwardly and supposed it was for the best; Stuart was well looked after. Hogan would visit him when things settled down. He nodded to his crew, who were all disembarking themselves, and turned to look at his lady.
Goldilocks had managed to get home relatively unscathed in comparison to some of the other aircraft: her mangled rudder was a testament to some fine target shooting by an enemy fighter, and the number one engine was actually smoking, though Hogan couldn’t tell if that was from damage or from over-exertion. Almost all parts of the plane had been penetrated by machine gun fire, something Hogan shook his head in amazement at, wondering thankfully how his men had gotten home. He couldn’t remember taking half the hits they had, and he said a silent Thank you, God, before turning away from the plane and heading to the truck that would take him back to offices, where he knew he would be interrogated before being allowed to get some much-needed, much-wanted sleep.
----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- -----
“Congratulations, Colonel. Mission accomplished.” Group Captain Roberts greeted Hogan in his office privately with his hand extended after the crew had been questioned together. Hogan looked at Roberts tiredly and accepted the hand, then saluted. Roberts returned the mark of respect. “Sit down, Hogan. I’d say you’ve earned it today.”
Hogan nodded and sat wearily in the chair.
“Tell me what it was like.”
Hogan considered for a moment laughing out loud. He wondered if Roberts really knew what he was asking. What was it like? It was like staring in the face of Hell, looking death in the face, playing an all-too-real game of good versus evil. Hogan looked down at his flight suit; so anxious were the higher-ups for information that he hadn’t even been given the chance to change, and he could see traces of blood on his suit when he had been in the back of the plane with Stuart. And he could feel any traces of remaining adrenalin pouring out of him. He was tired. This was the last place he wanted to be.
“It was bad.”
Roberts waited for more.
Hogan spoke into the silence. “There were fighters everywhere, flak everywhere. We had no cover. We had to fend for ourselves.”
Roberts nodded. Analyzing a mission was hard at the best of times, and normally he liked to give Hogan and the other Squadron Commanders time to digest everything that had happened before speaking to them; everything was still too close, too personal, this soon after a foray. But there was no time for niceties this time. Allied High Command needed to know now if this experiment was going to work. And the only way to do that was to get data as soon as possible. It was unfortunate for Hogan, thought Roberts, that this time around that meant not having time to come to grips with everything he’d seen and done before having to relive it all for someone else. “How quickly were the Jerries on you?”
Hogan shrugged. “Almost instantly,” he said. “They weren’t expecting us, but they weren’t exactly asleep either. And our positions were pretty easy to ascertain; all they had to do was keep their eyes open.”
Roberts couldn’t miss the edge in Hogan’s voice. “We knew that would be a danger.”
“A danger?” Hogan scoffed. Roberts raised an eyebrow but said nothing. Hogan didn’t notice. “More like a certainty. There were Krauts all over us. We lost some damn good men today.”
Roberts nodded. He understood Hogan’s anger. He remembered himself what it was like flying on raids and coming back with fewer men than he had left with. This was the wrong time to talk. He knew his superiors were waiting for details, but he wasn’t going to get what he needed out of Hogan now, not until the Colonel had had a chance to shower, to eat, to sleep, and possibly to mourn. He nodded toward Hogan’s bloody trousers. “How did your crew fare?” he asked carefully.
“One wounded,” Hogan answered. “We got hit in the tail. Stuart’s being treated; he should be okay.”
“Good,” Roberts said. He stood up. “We’ll finish this later, Hogan. You need to get changed and have a bit of a rest. I’m sure you’ll be in for a lot of strategy sessions in the next few days, and you’ll need all your strength for that.” He offered a small smile.
Hogan nodded and stood up. “Thanks, Robbie,” he said quietly.
“Go on, now, Rob. I’ll see you at oh-seven hundred.”
“Yeah. I mean, yes, sir.”
After exchanging military courtesies, Hogan left the office, weary and hungry but restless and unsettled. The sun was starting to sink below the horizon, casting a purple glow over the sky and turning the planes in the distance into silhouettes. Soon, other men would be heading for the airfields to go out on the regularly scheduled night time raid.
He wished he could have been with them, instead of leading men out to face their deaths in the cold light of day today. He hoped he’d never have to do it again.
----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- -----
Hogan left the infirmary where Stuart was laid up feeling a little better than when he had come. Though the tail gunner’s leg had bled profusely, the actual injuries had indeed not been too bad, and he would be in the air again in two weeks. Hogan was relieved, and made sure he gave Stuart just enough grief to let him know he was missed and worried about. Then Hogan went back to the barracks area to meet Stuart’s replacement.
It wasn’t hard to find him. Walter Kovacs was one of the newer recruits to the 504th. Loud and brash but good-natured and easy to get along with, he was a popular man among the ranks, and Hogan had been pleased when he was told Kovacs would be joining them until Stuart was back on his feet.
Hogan returned the salute Kovacs offered and got right down to business. “Welcome to the team, Kovacs. You ready to come aboard Goldilocks?”
“Absolutely, Colonel,” the young man answered enthusiastically. “I’ve watched her go up; she’s quite a lady.”
“That she is,” Hogan agreed with a touch of pride. “She’s friendly, though. Don’t think you can’t get on her good side. All you need to do is treat her nicely.”
Kovacs grinned. “Dames are all the same.”
Hogan smiled. “Yeah, well this dame bites, especially when she’s in unfriendly territory. See that she doesn’t have reason to take a chomp out of you.”
“She won’t. Believe me!” Kovacs’s smile went away for a moment. “Your other fella—he okay?”
Hogan nodded. “He’ll be fine. Just needs a couple of weeks to get himself back in shape. And Goldilocks will be ready again tomorrow. So it’s a night off for all of us, I guess.”
“Good!” Kovacs said loudly. “I could use the break! Hey, Colonel, can I buy you a beer tonight?”
“Why not? I’ll get all the fellas together; you can meet them properly.”
“‘Properly’ is over a pint,” Kovacs replied. “My shout.”
Hogan nodded. “If you insist—but you haven’t seen how much these boys can drink yet.”
“Don’t worry,” Kovacs answered. “I’m an upstart American—I’m supposed to be loaded, right?”
Kovacs laughed loudly. Hogan couldn’t help but shake his head and smile. “They’ll make you prove that tonight.”
----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- -----
Hogan and his crew arrived back at the English airfield three nights later feeling exhilarated but exhausted. Happiest with a night time bombing mission, the 504th had successfully dropped its load over a secret submarine base at Bremen, destroying nine German subs and coming home with fairly light casualties. It had taken longer than originally thought to repair Goldilocks, and for once the Powers That Be had seen fit to offer Hogan and his men a couple of extra nights of R and R. Hogan’s men liked to think of it as a reward for a job well done over Leipzig; Hogan thought of it more as a way to soften the blow to follow—another daylight bombing raid. He made sure he kept his opinion to himself.
Roberts had been right when he debriefed Hogan after the first experimental attack; the strategic planning sessions that followed had been long and tiring. Hogan had argued strenuously for fighter cover; the brass maintained that fighters could not be assigned to help since they did not have the range to get to and from Germany without refueling. Hogan explained time and again what it was like to be exposed out in the skies over Germany—what it did to the crews to see German Messerschmitts and Focke-Wulfs bearing down on them with little hope of effective retaliation, but rather with only the hope of out-maneuvering or out-distancing the enemy. He tried to point out the increased danger to the brave men involved in the daylight raids, and how that would certainly spread to the rest of the squadron, if a bigger mission was staged now that the Germans knew that the Allies would be bold enough to try such a tactic once again.
But he was outnumbered, out-argued, and in the end, outranked. They appreciated his point of view, they said, but for the good of all in the long run, the daylight raids would more than likely stay. And, apparently oblivious to the salt they were rubbing into the wound, they informed Hogan that the fine record of the 504th ensured that it would be the squadron to lead another experimental raid. Hogan bit his tongue when he felt the urge to tell the brass that the squadron’s record wouldn’t hold up long if the unescorted daylight missions continued; getting himself disciplined for disrespectful behavior wasn’t going to help him or his men.
Hogan left those meetings full of information about plans for the coming months. Allied strategies, ideas on changes in flight formations and attack times, targets and objectives. Projected gains—and projected losses. None of this information he could share with his men. It was all classified, and Hogan did his best to sort it all out without anyone to hash it out with. A daunting task at best, he found it frustrating that he was considered important enough to discuss these issues with—but not important enough to listen to when it came to making the decisions that affected his men. They would happily accept his fresh point of view when it came to making plans of attack and coming up with different ways of befuddling the Germans. And he was praised loudly and often for his efforts, and for the performance of the Bomb Group under his command. But he couldn’t help wishing he could make an even bigger difference somehow. There had to be more he could do to turn the war in favor of the Allies, and get them all home where they belonged.
The dreaded middle of the night call came less than forty-eight hours later. Pulling himself out of bed as sleep tried hopelessly to cling to him, Hogan stumbled into his clothes and, rubbing his eyes, he made his way to Roberts’s office.
Hogan offered a somewhat ill-executed, drowsy salute. Roberts returned it without comment and motioned for Hogan to sit, as he took a seat at his desk to face the Colonel. “Your target today, Colonel, will be Hamburg.”
Hogan blinked, unable to find words. So his arguments had made no impact at all. Being dragged out of bed in the wee hours of the morning, with no other squadron leaders around, told him it was his group alone going out again. One more experiment. One more time for his men to be used as guinea pigs on a wheel that Hogan insisted was broken in its current form. “Today?” he asked.
Roberts nodded grimly. “That’s right.” Hogan said nothing. “Look, Hogan, I know you’re unhappy about it, but we have to try it. We have to see how the squadrons can handle the daylight raids on their own.”
“I’ve already told you how they handle it—badly!” Hogan was wide awake now, and he felt a familiar anger starting his blood boiling. “We need fighter escort, Robbie; it’s as simple as that—and as difficult for the brass to figure out! You send a small group of airplanes out to face fully armed German anti-aircraft guns and a few dozen Kraut fighters and you’ve got a perfect disaster just waiting to happen. You could win the war for the other side, hands down.”
“Easy, easy, Hogan. No one is saying it’s a walk in the park.”
“That’s supposed to make it better?” he retorted.
Roberts shook his head grimly. “No.”
Hogan paused at the quietness of Roberts’s voice.
“No, Colonel Hogan, it’s not better. I understand what you’re saying. You feel like we’re sacrificing your men. In a way I suppose we are. But you can see for yourself where Headquarters is coming from. Regardless of how it seems to you in the air, your mission the other day was considered a success. Target achieved and destroyed. Minimal losses, even with a small group. We have to try again. Our fighters will be busy elsewhere.”
“Minimal?” Hogan echoed. He felt a quiet outrage that burned right through him, as the memory of the Wildfire plunging toward earth with men trapped inside her came into his mind.
Roberts stopped him before he continued. “In war, Hogan, yes… minimal. And though the Krauts may be a bit more on the alert for a daytime raid, with the night time attacks continuing, we are hoping they will still be somewhat off balance for your outing today. If this one is a success, we’ll launch full-scale daylight bombing missions next month: full squadrons, full loads.”
“Sending even more men out on suicide missions. With no fighter escort.”
“Escorts may come with time, Hogan. The planes are already in development. But they’re not ready yet, and we have to try something now. We have to be in as many places as possible if we want to bring the Germans to their knees.”
Hogan stood up. “I can’t help but think we’re bringing the US Army Air Corps to its knees this way,” he said without rancor.
Roberts suddenly got quiet, and informal. “I’m sure you’re right about the fighter cover, Rob. I have no doubts about that. I was one of the ones who called for the RAF to stop its daylight bombing raids.”
Hogan looked at a loss. “Then why are you supporting—?”
Roberts shrugged. “Brass is brass, Rob. They have to try everything else first. And it is wartime. The loss of men is, unfortunately, expected.”
“And ignored,” Hogan said in a flash of anger.
Roberts raised his chin. “You’d best watch that sort of attitude when you talk to the higher-ups, Hogan.”
“I thought they expected it of me by now,” the American answered.
Roberts paused for a moment, then chuckled softly. “I suppose they do,” he answered. “Too bad they don’t consider the wisdom that comes with it.”
The Twentieth Mission
The skies filled quickly with enemy fighters as the B-17s of the 504th approached Hamburg. Hogan tensed, tightening his grip on the throttle and sitting up even straighter in his seat. He had begun to feel the subzero cold of the cockpit, but suddenly that was replaced by the heat of fear and anticipation.
“Here come the Krauts,” he said. “Bandits dead ahead.” Hogan took a couple of deep breaths through his oxygen mask, as he heard Ingham instruct the other stacks to start moving out of their tight formation.
Two fighters came at them suddenly and quickly, bursting out ahead of their own group and taking a close fly-by swipe at Goldilocks. “Whoa!” called Montgomery, as he eased Goldilocks back into formation.
“That was a close one!” Bailey called from in front of them. “Did you know that fella has a mole on his left cheek?”
Hogan smiled automatically, but he was too busy concentrating on their surroundings to be truly amused. “Another pair coming up at two o’clock.”
“Not for long, they won’t!” Weller shouted from the flank. The sound of machine gun fire filled the plane. The noise of the guns, the thunder of the engines, the shouting of the men—by the time they arrived back at base, Hogan’s ears would be ringing, and his hands would be sore from the tight grip he kept on the controls. It was always this way, especially when the encounters with the Germans were uncomfortably close. It was as though his grasp on the stick was the only thing stopping him from turning tail and making tracks back to England before the job was done.
Flak began to fill the air, thicker than Hogan had ever seen before. Some of it was wide of the targets, too high or way too low. But enough of it was accurate to cause trouble, and the stacks started breaking away from their pre-arranged plans in order to avoid the enemy fire.
More fighters came into view. Above, left flank, right flank. And a call from Kovacs told Hogan there were more behind.
“How far off, Martinez?” Hogan called.
“Still too far for an accurate drop, Colonel. Another seven minutes to target.”
Goldilocks shook as her guns started firing, spraying empty cartridges through the cabin. “That one coming in at eleven o’clock is a bit too close, Dicky; what’s happening?” Hogan asked, starting to pull the plane away from the advancing Focke-Wulf.
“We’re frozen, Colonel—guns are frozen!”
“Kovacs, what about yours?”
An experimental round of shots answered them all. “No problems, Colonel!”
Hogan turned the Flying Fortress so she had her tail turned to the aggressive fighter. “Go for it, then, Kovacs!”
Maneuvering Goldilocks that way, though, meant other problems. “Jerry at one o’clock high, and we’re way off target now, Colonel!” called Anderson.
“Roger, Little John, we’ll get her back on track.”
More gunplay. Hogan couldn’t help but notice what seemed like a concentrated attack on Goldilocks. Other planes in the group were being targeted as per normal, but this B-17 seemed to be of particular interest, and it was more than a little unnerving.
“Time to turn her back toward target,” Martinez called. “All bombs primed and ready to drop, Colonel.”
“Right,” Hogan answered. “Trev, let’s get her back in line. Martinez, we’ll be handing down to you in two minutes.”
“Roger, Colonel. Honing in.”
“Correction of flight pattern, Papa, looking at point-two-seven degrees east,” Bailey said.
“Correcting heading now.”
The plane suddenly lurched to the left as a loud explosion roared nearby. “What was that?” Martinez called.
“Off course, twelve degrees!”
“Colonel! Colonel, we’re hit!” called Doolittle. “Weller’s got it in the chest! Guns are out on the right!”
“Bandits, four o’clock!”
Hogan turned to correct the plane’s heading. He wanted desperately to turn back and see how badly off his right waist gunner was, but there was no way he could leave his seat now.
“Avoiding enemy advance,” Montgomery reported, turning the plane so the tail gunner could try to take down the fighter approaching the area that Weller would normally take charge of.
“How is he?” Hogan yelled into the intercom.
“It’s bad, Colonel, the bleeding’s bad!” Ingham answered.
“Pretty damned big hole in the flank, too, Colonel,” Simmons called. “And more coming—Little John, up top!”
No one spoke in the Flying Fortress for what seemed like minutes on end. The cold from the machine gun bullet holes in the side of the plane was starting to penetrate past the crew’s warm flight suits and settle deep into their hands, making movement difficult and sometimes painful. Dicky Doolittle’s guns weren’t the only ones freezing; Anderson reported sporadic failure in the ball turret guns, something that was quite clearly exhibited when yet more enemy ammunition peppered the flank of the B-17.
Hogan fought the gut instinct to pull away from his stack, knowing that it was in formation and in close approximation that the Air Corps planes were able to withstand the most. But he was hearing loud cries of pain from behind him; Weller was suffering, and Hogan had to shake his head to pull his mind away from what he could not change, to focus on what he could.
“It’s yours, Martinez, yours!” Hogan announced what seemed like hours later. The bombardier took over the direction of the plane and aligned their position to drop their bombs over Hamburg’s ball bearing plant. As soon as he heard the familiar clang of the bomb bay doors, and felt the jerking of the plane as it dropped its load, Hogan turned Goldilocks around and headed for home. “On our way now, Weller,” Hogan called, unsure if the gunner could hear him. “We’re on our way now. Hang in there.”
The men had been shaken by this outing, too distracted by their own problems to pay as close attention as they normally would to everyone around them as well. They took stock of their own losses and tried to limp home. Hogan looked around, his head starting to pound with tension, to see several badly damaged planes, some smoking engines, and some holes in what would normally be three neat stacks of six planes. On quick survey, at least two were missing from one stack, and in another stack, two were hanging back out of formation, an invitation to the German fighters that remained to target them first. The weakest do not survive.
Some guns still frozen because of the high altitudes, Goldilocks herself was one of the worst off of the bunch. Hogan listened with something akin to grief when Simmons reported the tip of the left wing missing, and more holes than he could count were making a sieve out of the right side of the plane. Weller’s groans were becoming less pronounced, a sign that worried Hogan, and there were still over two hours to go to get home. He tightened his already iron grip on the throttle, determined to push the Flying Fortress away from German fighters still in hot pursuit over skies still teeming with flak.
“We’ve got company,” Montgomery announced suddenly.
Hogan looked to his right to see two Focke-Wulfs closing in on his stack.
“And more over here!” Doolittle added, worried now that his own guns were acting up.
“They’re not giving up, damn it,” Hogan cursed. “Come on, guys, give us a break; I need to get this baby home!” Hogan took a deep breath. “Okay, fellas, we’ll have to fight and run. What’s working?”
“Not much,” Simmons replied. “We’ve got a tail gun, the right waist guns are history; the others are working when they want to.”
“I told them they didn’t get any time off till next Thursday!” Hogan joked coldly. “No one listens to officers any more.”
“We’ll have to give most of it to Kovacs,” Montgomery said to Hogan.
Hogan nodded. Goldilocks started to bank so she turned tail on the fighters coming toward them. Kovacs started firing, and the other gunners did their best with intermittently functioning weapons to join in the battle. An almighty blast shook the plane, and Hogan could see trouble. Their number one engine had exploded in flame, a perfect hit from accurate flak below. The B-17 started listing. Hogan pulled hard on the controls to bring her back in place, but she was fighting the moves, hard. More gunfire from the fighters nearby left Goldilocks’s rear left flank looking more like a colander than a bomber.
Another cry from behind made Hogan’s stomach turn. “Colonel, another Kraut plane at three o’clock!”
Four—there were four of them now. Hogan could feel the sweat pouring down his temples. His oxygen mask was working but he was feeling deprived of air. “What’s the gun status? What’s going on back there?”
“We’ve lost both waist flank guns now,” Simmons said. “And I think you’re about to lose Kovacs due to frostbite!”
Hogan gasped. This was turning into a nightmare, only it wasn’t the kind he could wake up from and try to forget about. The cold in the plane was always bitter, but the damage to Goldilocks had ensured that the men felt the freezing wind even more strongly. “Someone get back there and help him!” Hogan ordered. “Doolittle, pull into line!”
“Right, sir!” Dicky replied. But it took all his will to move away from Weller, on whose chest he was holding some bandages with as much pressure as he could manage. He brushed Kovacs aside to start firing on the enemy closest to them. Kovacs continued to shiver through his once-warm flight suit, shoving his hands underneath his armpits, and kneading his fingers, desperate to get them warm enough to start working properly as fast as possible.
“We’re losing power, Colonel,” Simmons reported. “Too much drag with one of the engines out.”
“We’ll have to kill number four to correct the balance,” Montgomery said.
Hogan nodded, unable to answer. They would fall out of formation. They couldn’t fall out of formation. How many times had that been drilled into their heads, from the very first day of training? Falling out of line from the others meant isolation.
And isolation meant death.
His flight training kicked in automatically, running roughshod over his fears. “Charlie, radio for help from the others.” He glanced quickly around them. “Kanowski is okay. Get Goldenrod to cover us. Get her now!”
“Right, Colonel. Goldenrod, Goldenrod, this is Goldilocks. Mayday. Mayday. We are under serious enemy attack with weapons systems failing and heavy damage and need urgent assistance. Mayday. Mayday.”
Static was their response. “Damn piece of junk!” Reed spluttered. “Probably been hit by the blasted Jerries, too.”
A loud cry from the rear of the plane as Goldilocks rocked once more. “Oh, my God!” came Anderson’s voice. Hogan couldn’t help but turn around. Little John was looking at what was now a gaping hole in his left leg, as flak exploded on target and blew shrapnel into the B-17 through an opening that it created on impact. “God! God!”
Hogan could hear the man starting to panic. Shock was taking over, and Anderson just looked up at Hogan, unable to move, or even to think. “Take it easy, Little John,” Hogan said calmly. “Grab the medikit.”
“Weller’s using the stuff!”
“There’s enough for you, too. Grab it!”
Hogan watched Anderson’s shaking hands reach for the gauze and dressings, but then had to turn around quickly as Goldilocks shuddered yet again. A cold blast of air hit him in the face, and as he looked toward Montgomery he saw that the plexiglass inches from his face had been penetrated. He felt a sudden urge to vomit as his eyes rested on his co-pilot. The flak that had broken the glass had hit the man full in the head and chest. There was no hope of him being alive.
Hogan turned away, noticing blood on the sleeve of his own bomber jacket, wishing to God it would never have landed there, knowing what he was seeing today would stay with him forever, without needing the man’s blood on himself to remind him. “Oh, God,” he gasped under his breath, “God, just let us get home.”
Despite all his efforts, the plane started to lose altitude. From the nose, Bailey was calling coordinates and trying to warn Hogan of enemy approaches. Hogan told Reed to keep trying the radio, but he knew that it wouldn’t do any good. Martinez called out that another Allied plane was pulling around to come to their aid, but a German counterattack pulled it away from the task, and Goldilocks was on her own again. Four against one. Hogan couldn’t understand the ratio. How badly did someone want them dead?
Another hit. The crew of the Flying Fortress was using whatever means it had left to try and hold off the enemy. But there wasn’t much. One more direct hit, and Hogan fought a losing battle to correct the plane as Goldilocks started spinning. “No. No, damn it!” he cried desperately, his hands aching as he pulled back on the throttle as hard as he could. It made no difference. The old girl wasn’t responding any more, losing heart as more and more gunfire pierced the hull, as yet another engine started spluttering to a stop, as flak laid waste to the solitary plane while her crew fought desperately for their lives, as their comrades in other planes, fighting for their own lives, could only watch helplessly, as Hogan’s men had done so often before.
Hogan cried out as he suddenly felt an overwhelming, explosive pain, and he looked down to see that shrapnel had burst in from the left and was burning in his gut. He momentarily lost hold of the controls as he watched blood roll past the hand he pressed against his wound.
“Colonel! Colonel! Are you all right?” A desperate call as the plane started what appeared to be freefall without anyone at the stick.
Breathing hard, Hogan came back into himself long enough to realize that this mission was over. Four German fighters, one disabled Allied bomber. At least one man dead on board, and two engines out with one faltering. Isolated, out of radio contact, and already starting to turn toward the earth. Please, old girl, please don’t give it up yet, he thought desperately. Pull up… Come on, damn, you, pull up!
“We’ve got a fire starting back here!”
That was the final straw. Hogan made three short hits on the alarm bell, then immediately followed with one long ring, as training had drilled into him automatically. Then he made the call he had hoped never to make. “That’s it, fellas. Bail out. I can’t stop her from heading down. Bail out. Do it now!”
A sense of unreality seemed to descend on the crew. At first reluctant to leave the bomber, they knew that staying in her meant certain death, while jumping out into the sky filled with enemy fire could still mean life below, no matter what type of life it was. And survival is a strong instinct. The uninjured helped the wounded on with parachute packs; no one would consider leaving anyone behind, no matter how badly they were wounded. But Hogan squeezed his eyes shut as he deliberately turned away from Montgomery’s body beside him, and locked himself into his own parachute harness. They were almost out of time, even for themselves; they didn’t have time to take his body with them in the hopes it would be returned to his family.
Even as Goldilocks aimed like an arrow straight for the earth, the Germans wouldn’t leave her alone. Hogan could feel gunfire hitting home on all sides of the aircraft, and he prayed for them to have just long enough to make the jump before Goldilocks exploded in a ball of flame. He worked his way back to the throttle to try and level her out for even a moment, to make the ejection from the plane less complicated for them all. But it wasn’t to be, and the autopilot also failed, so as soon as Hogan saw the bomber was empty except for Montgomery, he, too, made an adrenalin-soaked jump into the sky, leaving the shell of Goldilocks to complete her final mission without him.
The sound of trickling water near his right ear was the first thing Hogan was aware of when he faded back into consciousness. Not opening his eyes, he wrinkled his brow, trying to concentrate on where the noise might be coming from. Where was he, anyway, and why was that was little sound so deafening? There wasn’t a tap near his bunk in the barracks at the base….
Hogan’s other senses swiftly kicked in and flooded his body with pain. Reality set in just as quickly and reminded him that he had jumped out of an airplane at about twenty thousand feet, somewhere over Germany, and he must now be in enemy territory. Both from despair and from agony, Hogan moaned weakly.
He opened his eyes. He had obviously landed on his back. Still-bright sunlight told him he had not lain unconscious for more than an hour at the most, and he closed his eyes again as he tried to cope with increasing pain moving in waves through his body. Gotta take stock of what’s going on… Gotta hide…
Forcing his eyes open again despite the knives driving into his skull, Hogan tried to take in his surroundings. Trees, scrub, and, when he moved his right hand, a shallow creek were his introduction to the Fatherland. He willed himself to move, a difficult and excruciating task. He drew his legs up to prepare to roll over onto his right side, biting his lip and squeezing his eyes shut against the torture that task inflicted on him. Crying softly in pain, he tried to prop himself up on his right elbow, only to collapse as a searing heat stabbed his upper arm and refused to hold him up. Hogan felt a tiny splash of cool water on his cheek, but it did nothing to cool his fiery brow.
He lay still for a moment, just panting, then without opening his eyes he slowly moved his left arm up and up past his head. Yes, the parachute ropes were still there. He was still attached to his harness. Taking in a deep breath, he forced himself up, gasping when fresh agony throbbed through him. He managed somehow to get into a sitting position, swaying drunkenly as the world spun around him. He looked at his right arm to see that the blood he had thought was Montgomery’s was actually his own, and it was soaking onto his torn sleeve from a burning wound near his shoulder. He hadn’t noticed it when they were still in the plane.
With unsteady hands, Hogan fumbled with the harness and managed to get it off. He stopped for breath and considered hiding it. He was starting to feel cold. In the middle of summer, Hogan was still alert enough to realize this was a sign of shock, a result of the absolute trauma of having to jump for his life, and a result of serious injury. In a burst of clear thinking, he reached carefully into a pocket for his army knife and awkwardly hacked into the silk so he could design makeshift bandages. His strength came in small pockets, and he had to stop several times to rest. But when he finally finished, he examined himself and was less than happy with the findings.
The material from his jacket was acting as an ersatz bandage for his right arm, but Hogan knew it would need to be covered. So, using his left hand and his teeth to help tie it, he grunted his way through dressing the wound and hoped it would stay in place. His abdomen was a mass of agony. Though the bleeding had slowed, probably due to shock, the pain had only increased, and Hogan knew that securing that injury was going to be an incredible task. Still, he braced himself and with trembling hands drew the silk around him, ready to tie it at his side as tightly as he could make it. His first instinct was to stay alive, and with a wound as bad as that, leaving it exposed was not an option. He drew in a shaking breath and positioned the material in such a way to give maximum thickness to it over his abdomen. Then, gritting his teeth in anticipation, he started to tighten the knot. Against his will, Hogan screamed, a cry that became an almost soundless sob as he refused to stop until he had accomplished what he set out to do. He slumped forward weakly when he was finished, spent.
Hogan let the water cover his hand, and then he ran that hand across his damp face before he continued his examination. He found another wound on his lower left leg, one more on his forehead above his right eye, and one he could do nothing about made itself known in between his shoulder blades. Allowing himself only a minute to regain his equilibrium, Hogan took handfuls of water to drink, splashed some more water on his face, and then staggered to his feet and toward the shelter of the nearby trees. Safety first, then escape. He would try to head southwest, to get to the border, to get out of Germany. But he didn’t know exactly where he had bailed out, and so had no idea where he was, or how far away safety would be. And right now, it was all he could do to stay awake.
Hogan could feel weakness settling in like an old friend, and he tried hard to resist it. He knew shock and blood loss were dangerous companions, but he could not force them to leave, and so he hobbled along despite their increasing hold on him. The sun was starting to sink in the west, and Hogan turned himself toward it, knowing that if he was to have any chance at all, it would only be with the Allies. It was only then that his mind drifted to the men who had been aboard Goldilocks with him, and he wondered if any of them had made it out alive.
----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- -----
Hogan concentrated with all his might on each stumbling step. Breathing hard from the exertion and shivering from blood loss and shock, he could only think one thing: Keep going. Keep going.
The pain in his gut had passed unbearable and was now just a vague thought in the back of his unfocused mind. He looked down once to see a large red stain spreading easily across his shirt. As he walked, he had slowly stripped himself of everything but the bare necessities: his Colt 1911 pistol, his knife, his outer clothing, his dog tags, extra parachute silk. Everything else was just a burden. He stopped for what must have been the tenth time that hour, leaning his head against a tree, feeling the sweat of fever pouring down his face, resisting the overwhelming urge to sink down to the ground and sleep, or die.
The sun was quickly disappearing, and Hogan knew he had to find a place to stay, sheltered if possible from the elements. But for all his looking, there was no place visible, not even remotely possible, and so he pulled himself away from the tree trunk, and struggled on, groaning with each step that forced more precious blood out of the wound in his leg and left him weaker for the next.
He finally came to a point where he felt he had to stop. The large stump of a fallen tree provided a seat, and he dropped into rather than sat on it. Sleep, I’ve got to sleep, his body demanded. But his mind argued back. Sleep, and you may not get up. You’re not safe; not yet. Desperation won out and so Hogan did his best to keep his eyes open. Pulling out his pistol and shakily holding it with his left hand, he recited Shakespeare, the Bible, popular music lyrics; he challenged his own reasoning over political issues, and counted by sixes to five hundred, then sevens; he tried to find specific constellations in the sky as night fell. But he was losing the battle against his body, and he knew that it was only a matter of time before he succumbed and collapsed.
As he felt the moment closing in, Hogan lurched up from the tree stump and forced himself to continue. “Come on,” he gasped through dry lips. He cleared his throat and staggered from tree to tree, trying to keep himself steady and alert. The task was becoming increasingly difficult, and more than once he stumbled over his own feet, crashing agonizingly to the ground, where he would stay until the paralyzing pain passed and he was able to cope with moving again. He stopped twice more to redress his injuries with the extra parachute silk, but he could feel his body succumbing to the incredible loss of blood and the shock, his leaden steps slowing, his feverish body growing numb and cold, his vision tunneling until everything seemed far away, so far away, from his outstretched arms.
As dawn was just starting to show pink in the sky, Hogan found himself unexpectedly facing the barrel of a German rifle. He had been leaning against a large tree, as he’d done countless times in the last several hours, when he heard a click that made him open his eyes. He hadn’t even heard the soldier approach, and Hogan wasn’t sure whether to resist or simply to be relieved.
He chose to resist, no matter how weakly, and when the German said, “Bewegen Sie sich nicht, oder ich werde Sie schießen,” Hogan tried to straighten up against the tree, and ineffectively moved his arm down toward the gun in his pocket. “Hände hoch!” came the voice harshly. The rifle was pushed closer to Hogan’s body, and Hogan dropped his arms by his side. “Hoch!” the German said, gesturing upwards. Hogan slowly obeyed, looking for some opportunity, any opportunity, to throw the soldier off balance and try to get away. But in the recesses of his mind, he knew it was only a gesture—even if he did manage to escape from the German now, it would be only minutes before he was caught again. Still, he needed to be able to say he tried.
The soldier spoke again. “Walk,” he said in English, motioning the rifle ahead of him. Hogan pulled away from the tree and took the only chance he had. When he noticed the soldier relax just slightly as Hogan seemed to move into place, he grabbed hold of the gun barrel from the side and tried to pull it away. But his grip wasn’t strong, the German hadn’t been fooled, and the only result was a rifle butt pushed into Hogan’s gut, a hit that made the world explode in white before him as he crumpled to the ground, gasping in pain.
The German reached down to Hogan’s pockets, using the rifle to hold the American in place on the ground, and pulled out the pistol and the knife. “Walk.”
Hogan staggered to his feet, still bent double, and, feeling broken, did as he was told. He was dizzy and breathing more and more rapidly to keep up with the shortness of breath he was experiencing. His fever was giving way to a bone-chilling cold, and he found it difficult to shake the blurriness from his vision. What seemed like hours later but could only have been several minutes, Hogan stumbled into a clearing, and saw a wide street that was starting to come to life in the early day. Two other German soldiers were some distance away, guarding three other prisoners. Hogan’s captor prodded him toward the others, and when they approached, the other Germans conversed briefly without regard to the men whose lives they held in their hands.
Hogan looked vaguely at the other prisoners. All in American uniform, he didn’t know any of them. One of them appeared to have some sort of wound on his head, but otherwise, they were fairly intact—dirty, exhausted, and probably starving, but well enough to travel. They looked at Hogan and then at each other, and one of them spoke up to the Germans, who were still talking in low tones. “He needs a truck.” The soldiers turned to the man, surprised. The man gestured toward Hogan then made driving motions with his hands. “Truck. He needs a ride.” He pointed to his own stomach and bent over. “Too sick to walk.”
Hogan wanted to thank the young flyer for trying to help, but he couldn’t raise his eyes to do it, and speaking wasn’t possible either. His breathing was becoming labored, and the world was fading in and out before him.
The soldier that had brought Hogan here shrugged. “Nein.” He gestured around the quiet street. “No truck.” He was right; there was none. He straightened, then the Germans leveled their guns at the prisoners again. “Walk.”
The group turned and started making their way up the street toward God knew where. If he had been able to take notice of anything but his deteriorating condition, Hogan would have seen the people slowly coming out onto the road to watch the passing of the enemy. Someone threw something at them, but Hogan didn’t see what it was or really feel it as it bounced off of him. As his steps slowed and the guards grew impatient, one of the prisoners took Hogan by the left arm and helped support him in their trek, arguing briefly with the soldiers when they protested the close proximity of the two men. It was an insane fight—two men who couldn’t communicate still making it quite clear what their point of contention was. Still, Hogan kept walking, and when he stumbled and someone’s hands stopped him from hitting the ground, no one complained.
Hogan didn’t know how long they’d been walking when the sound of singing reached his ears. “Heute sollen wir in Lied singen, Und trinken schon rotten Wein.” The man on his left turned back to see the soldiers walking time with their music. Their rich voices at any other time would have been a joy to hear. Now, they were just more salt in the wounds of their prisoners. He translated under his breath, his voice taking on a bitter tone. “‘Today we’re going to sing a song, and drink good red wine,’” he muttered. “Nice work if you can get it.”
“Und die Glaser sollen dabei klingen, Weil es muss, es muss gescheiden sein.”
“‘And the glasses will clink together because we have to be parted soon.’”
“Why are they singing?” another prisoner asked.
“Keeps them in step,” answered the translator. “Keeps them motivated. Listen—this next bit says ‘Give me your hand, your white hand, and let us live well, my sweetheart.’ They’re singing to their loved ones about marching off to war.”
“Wenn wir fahren gegen England, ja wohl!”
“Into England, I take it,” piped up the third man.
The Germans continued marching, now laughing heartily and loosely moving their charges along the street. Hogan was starting to lose consciousness, and one faltering step pitched him forward as blackness moved in to claim him. Careful hands stopped him from falling flat on his face. But he was no longer able to stand on his own, or even comprehend what was happening around him. A voice that sounded miles away said, “We’ve got you, sir. A truck’s coming now. Just hang on a little longer.”
Hogan wasn’t listening. For a brief moment he fought the darkness, fearing that with it would come finality. But as all pain and reality started fading away, he embraced oblivion gratefully, making a final prayer that if he did wake up, this would all turn out to have been a nightmare.
“Can you hear me? What is your name?”
Pain. It hurt to breathe. It hurt to think. But the voices wouldn’t leave him alone. Hearing them as though from a distance, Hogan found himself unable to respond. And his arms and legs were so heavy he couldn’t move them. He tried, then tried again. But he was so tired he could have cried from exhaustion. It wasn’t supposed to be like this, he remembered thinking. But that was the only clear thought in his spinning head.
“What is your name?”
Something or someone probed his abdomen, and a white-hot pain made him cry out and try to pull away from the source of the hurt. His mind registered suddenly that he was actually restrained, secured to whatever it was he was lying on. Then the pinpricks of light in front of his eyes faded away.
----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- -----
He wandered aimlessly in a dreamless, twisted netherworld. He could see and hear nothing, feel nothing but the ceaseless pain that filled him and taunted him, probed him and reached out for him, pulling at his most tender of wounds and ripping at them until they screamed for mercy. His terrified mind pleaded with him, begged him to find an escape, telling him that he was on the brink and could take no more. But he could do nothing but suffer in mind and body, knowing deep down somewhere that he had been captured. Captured by the enemy. No one could help him. No one would help him.
What will happen to me now?
Voices were calling him. But he couldn’t hear what they were saying, and he was so tired. He stopped listening and let himself drift fully back into blackness.
----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- -----
“Colonel. Colonel Hogan. Can you hear me?”
Hogan became aware of the pain a few seconds after he was beckoned back into consciousness. A sharp, searing pain in his gut; a duller, pounding pain in his head; an unrelenting, full ache attacking his entire body. He couldn’t focus, could barely open his eyes. But he knew somehow that he was lying on his side, in what seemed to be an entirely too-bright room, and everything was white, so white before him, and his throat was so dry, too dry to form words.
“Colonel Hogan, can you hear me?”
The voice came again. Hogan still couldn’t answer. But he managed a guttural, broken sound, and closed his eyes, until the brightness and the pain went away.
----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- -----
Hogan moaned softly as his awareness of his body increased enough to pull him into reality. Slowly, he realized he was lying on his back. And a strange sensation on his right arm told him he was attached to some sort of intravenous equipment. He didn’t want to open his eyes; he felt dizzy, and everything still seemed so bright. But the touch of a cool, damp cloth running across his very hot forehead tempted him enough to part his eyelids just a bit, an action he regretted when the light pierced his head like a knife. He closed them again with a groan.
“Shh, Herr Colonel,” said a gentle voice. “Go back to sleep.”
Hogan obeyed. It never even occurred to him to wonder where he was.
----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- -----
Hogan’s tongue felt swollen inside his mouth, and his lips were so dry and cracked that they hurt merely to part. But he had to try, as the question “Where am I?” bounced around inside his confused and aching head, and so he did. But he didn’t recognize the sounds as words, and no one answered him, so he concluded that they came out as jumbled as they seemed to his muddled mind.
For the briefest part of a second he maintained his interest in getting an answer. But then that disappeared with any other random, conscious thoughts, and Hogan didn’t know, or care, where they were going.
----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- -----
Hogan suddenly, inexplicably, found himself shuffling like an old man across a cold room, with someone at his arm, apparently propping him up in case he fell over. There was still pain, so much pain, especially in his abdomen, but it was bearable, and he was able to move without doing much more than biting his lip and concentrating on his breathing.
He raised his eyes, still unused to the brightness of the light, to look around him. White walls, signs in a language that he did not recognize as his own, men and women in white coats. A hospital.
Hogan’s eyes dropped to his own body—he was in uniform. His now ragged bomber jacket was draped over shoulders that were wearing a clean Air Corps shirt. Was it his? He didn’t think so. He vaguely registered new trousers, and his shoes, and he could feel the familiar weight of his crush cap on his sore head. So he was dressed for travel, and he couldn’t even remember getting here, wherever “here” was. Where was he going?
A voice spoke suddenly, loudly, in heavily-accented English beside him. “You have done well, Colonel Hogan. Now it is time for the real adventure to begin.”
Hogan considering trying to figure out what that meant. But the darkness was closing in again, and he felt his knees weakening as the fire in his body flared up again and burned with an evil intensity.
----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- -----
Barely conscious and still in great pain, Hogan was pulled out of the black car by the handcuffs and led up the stairs into a building that he vaguely noticed had two large Nazi flags hanging down on either side of the entry doors. He was led down corridors that he took no notice of, deposited carelessly in a chair in a large, ornate office, and left alone. He sagged, hurting and dizzy, and would likely have tumbled forward had someone not entered the room at that time and pushed him back into the seat.
Hogan tried to focus, tried to study the officer in black before him, who was sitting at the desk in a huge, high-backed chair. But he could only take in so much, and after only a brief glance up, Hogan dropped his heavy head back down to his chest and concentrated only on his breathing, and on the wild pain coursing through his body.
“Colonel Biedenbender says you are the scourge of the skies,” the heavily accented voice said in English. “Is this true?”
Hogan said nothing. He was barely registering the words.
“Tell me about the 504th, Colonel.” Again no answer from the prisoner. “Tell me!”
The voice got more insistent, and Hogan found his head suddenly jerked back, stretching his torso. He cried out weakly, eyes squeezed shut, but said nothing. He couldn’t understand what was wanted of him. His head was released with a violent shove, and Hogan slumped forward in the chair. Unable to stop the momentum as his hands were still in restraints, he was propelled to the floor, where he landed with a moan.
No one helped him up. Suddenly Hogan felt the hard toe of a boot pushing at his sore back, and he tried unsuccessfully to pull away from it. “Make it easy on yourself, Colonel Hogan. Talk with us, eh? You have nothing to fear from us if you do the right thing.”
Hogan could not answer.
“Put him in a cell. We will have him fill out the Arrival Report Form later… and then we will talk again.” The voice swimming over his head came close to Hogan’s ear. “You understand, Colonel? We will meet again soon… and you will talk.”
Hogan’s rattling breath was his only reply.
----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- -----
With the restraints finally removed from his wrists, Hogan let the pen hover over the form before him. It was several hours later now, God knew whether it was day or night, and though he felt just as weak as he had before, at least the dizziness had subsided, and he could see past the headache assaulting him to the words on the page. Hogan immediately rejected most of the questions on the paper: those queries about his religion, his family, his pay, his trade. Details about his crew and their fate would be left blank, not only because he knew he would never answer them, but because he truly didn’t know the answers anyway. If he could have found any humor in the situation he was in, he would have laughed out loud at the question requesting his home address. Why did the Krauts want that? So they could brag to his family about his capture? Or so they could tell his family terrible lies—like that he was dead?
A jarring thought suddenly made him go cold. Maybe they wouldn’t be lies.
Hogan immediately brushed that doubt away. They wouldn’t be getting his strength of will, or anything else not required under the Geneva Convention.
Hogan wrote down what was going to become a familiar mantra: Hogan, Robert E., Colonel, US Army Air Corps. Serial number 0876707.
He signed the bottom with a hurting hand, and a breaking heart.
----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- -----
“I see we didn’t get very much information from you, Colonel Hogan.” The German officer whom Hogan had first met when brought here faced him once again across the desk, holding the mostly blank Arrival Report Form. “You didn’t even fill in the date!”
Hogan lowered his eyes. “I don’t know what day it is.”
“Today is the twenty-second of July.”
Hogan shuddered involuntarily. He had started his twentieth mission on the ninth. What had happened to the last two weeks?
The German noticed Hogan’s hesitancy and smiled benignly. “I am Major Boehringer. It is my job to interrogate you and indoctrinate you in the ways of prisoners of war. How do you like the Durschgangslager der Luftwaffe so far?”
So I’m near Frankfurt. This must be the interrogation center at Oberursel. “Your towels aren’t as nice as the ones back in London.” The flippancy of Hogan’s answer surprised himself as much as Boehringer.
The German laughed. “I see! Well, perhaps they aren’t up to your usual standard in the 504th. That was your squadron, was it not?”
Hogan remained silent.
Boehringer nodded. “Very well. Colonel Hogan, there are two ways to do this: easy, and hard. How would you like to proceed?”
Boehringer nodded. “Granted. But we will.”
“You’re going to do most of the talking,” Hogan answered. “I’ve told you everything already.”
“Oh, but you haven’t!” Boehringer replied. “You see, Colonel Biedenbender has told me all about you. He says you have perfected some marvelous tactics that have had the Luftwaffe in an absolute tizzy trying to fight you.” Boehringer’s voice dropped menacingly. “Trying to shoot you down, Hogan. You.” Hogan said nothing as his heart splashed into his stinging gut. Four fighters. There were four fighters gunning for us. So it was personal. “Your squadron has been quite a thorn in our side for some time.” Boehringer relaxed again and smiled gently. “How many missions had you flown when you were finally downed, Colonel?”
“At least one, right?” Hogan answered.
Boehringer smiled again. “I find you very amusing, Colonel Hogan. I am going to enjoy talking with you.”
“I’m so pleased.” A clearly false smile spread across Hogan’s face.
“Tell me, Colonel, I am told you were shot down in a daylight encounter. I find it intriguing that the Allies would send out bombers during the day. Is this something they are going to be doing regularly from now on?”
“I won’t know, will I?” Hogan asked. “I have a feeling I’ll be a little tied up.”
“Surely they made plans that you were aware of.” Hogan clammed up. Boehringer spoke again, this time sounding cross. “Colonel Hogan, you are aware that we can make your life very uncomfortable here.”
Hogan raised an eyebrow. “Can?” he retorted.
Boehringer spoke sharply. “You have not yet seen what we can do here, Colonel. I suggest that you consider your future when answering my questions.”
“With all due respect, Major, I suggest that you stick to worrying about your own. I’m quite capable of looking after myself.”
Boehringer stared Hogan straight in the eye. Hogan wanted to look away, but willed himself not to. “We shall see, Colonel Hogan. We shall see.”
A Prisoner’s Prayer
Major Otto Boehringer sat down at his desk four days later and waited for the Oberursel’s Chief of Interrogation to come in with his morning report. He carefully, almost lovingly, lit a pipe, and took in a slow, savoring breath as the fresh scent of the precious tobacco started curling through the room. He thought about the day ahead—in about thirty minutes, he would be having another session with that American Colonel, Hogan. Boehringer couldn’t help but be impressed by the flyer. So far, despite repeated threats of violence, loss of rations, and other unpleasant consequences, Hogan had held his ground and refused to answer anything that did more than reacquaint the Germans with his name, rank, and serial number. Boehringer was beginning to hear the numbers in his sleep. And it bothered him that he wasn’t making progress.
Boehringer heard a quiet knock, and the door opened, letting Major Junge enter. He put a pile of papers on Boehringer’s desk. “This morning’s reports,” he said in greeting, waving a plume of smoke out of his face. “You know those things will kill you, Otto.”
“Yes, yes,” Boehringer answered, by now used to the familiar chiding from the officer. “And your schnapps will do the same to you.”
“Ah, now there you are wrong,” Junge countered; “that is some of the finest medicine available for ulcers.”
“Curing them? Or causing them?” Boehringer asked. Junge shook his head in answer. Their morning routine would never change. “Tell me about Hogan. He will be here soon.”
“Hogan?” Junge replied. “Hogan remains as stubborn as ever. When you finished with him yesterday, I followed up in his cell. I thought perhaps a little bit of extra pressure while he was still recovering from his session with you might help.” Junge sighed. “But it didn’t. All I got was the usual—a few smart remarks, and name, rank, and serial number.”
“He knows things, Karl. He knows much more than he is telling. We must find out the meaning of those daylight raids he was involved in.”
Junge nodded. “He is uncomfortable when we ask about those. Did you notice? He seems to be remembering something when we bring it up.”
“His defeat and capture, perhaps.”
“Perhaps. But I think there is more to it than that. He is a strong man, Otto, very strong. Make no mistake about that. But even Achilles had one heel unprotected. I think Hogan’s Achilles heel is those daylight missions. Mark my word.”
Boehringer nodded. “I will consider that when I question him. What is his condition?”
“He is tired. He is hungry. He is still unwell.” Junge shrugged. “He is stubborn. Do the best you can.”
----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- -----
Boehringer puffed harder on his pipe as Hogan moved further into the room. The American officer was dirty, dirtier than he had been when he was brought before him in the first place, and his face carried a heavier beard that unsuccessfully covered what was becoming a gaunt face. The smell of dirt and sweat was always unpleasant to the fastidious Boehringer, and he was hoping the cherry wood scent of the pipe would mask some of the odor that always came with long term interrogations.
Hogan glanced at the chair in front of Boehringer’s desk, knowing that he would not be asked to sit down. The small cell he was sharing with two other men did not give much opportunity to stretch or lie down, and he was tired, hot, still hurting and scared. Still, he tried his best to cover up his emotions, and prepared himself for what was becoming a less than comforting routine.
“Colonel Hogan, how are you this morning?” Boehringer asked pleasantly.
Hogan nodded briefly, acknowledging the Major’s presence. “Some days it’s just not worth getting up in the morning,” he answered.
Boehringer smiled. “Colonel Hogan, I will begin this session as I have all the others. I would like you to tell me about your defeat in the air and your capture.”
“Didn’t your fighters take any snapshots?” Hogan asked.
Boehringer let a small smile pass over his lips. More of the same. “You know what I need to know, Colonel Hogan. Why were you out on a bombing mission during the day?”
“One of my men is afraid of the dark.”
“And you felt the need to cure him of this fear over Hamburg?”
“The bombs look prettier when they hit their targets here.”
Boehringer slammed his fist down on the desk. Hogan gave a small start but said nothing and did not try to move away. The German’s voice was full with anger. “You are a murderer of children, Hogan. Do you realize that? Your bombing raids kill innocent people—women, children, families. Is that the brave, honorable work you want to tell your family that you accomplished here?”
Hogan wanted to respond. He wanted desperately to scream at Boehringer that he didn’t want innocents to die. No matter how much he had been trained to think of the targets on the ground, not the people that were near them, part of him always knew that no matter how careful they were, some bombs would fall wide of the mark, and God knew who would end up being hurt, or killed. But he couldn’t say any of that, not to Boehringer. And so he remained silent.
“You are directly responsible for the deaths of hundreds, maybe thousands of people, Hogan. Innocents who work in German factories and on German farms. Children who dream of going to school and marrying their sweethearts and running in the fields with their friends. They will not be able to do that now, Colonel Hogan. And it is all your fault.”
Hogan closed his eyes and ran a mantra in his head while Boehringer was shouting at him. He’s just trying to wear you down. Don’t listen to him. He’ll say anything to get you to break. Don’t listen. Don’t listen! “I was doing my job,” Hogan said quietly, opening his eyes.
This seemed to have some impact on Boehringer. He stood up from his desk and came around menacingly, close to Hogan’s face. “And I shall do mine,” he almost hissed. “Colonel Hogan, if I do not start getting answers from you, today, you are going to find yourself in solitary confinement for an indefinite period of time.”
“Swell,” Hogan replied. “It’s pretty crowded in my room.”
“You will be deprived of your Red Cross food, your blanket, and your cigarettes.”
“I’m trying to give up smoking already, thanks.”
Boehringer exploded. “You are a filthy, useless, failure of an American!” he shouted. “Good for nothing but being shot down and abandoned by your country! Why do you think you owe them some kind of loyalty? You owe them nothing! And now, you remain loyal, and they are offering you nothing in return. No one has asked for your release, Hogan. No one. You are alone. They have abandoned you. And yet you persist in your foolish patriotism and suffer for them.”
“Hogan, Robert E., Colonel, US Army Air Corps. Serial number 0876707.”
Boehringer shook his head, frustrated, and called for the guard outside the door to come in. “Get away from me, Hogan. I will speak with you again later today. Let us see how flippant you are when you’ve had a chance to experience a very different kind of imprisonment here.”
Hogan just lowered his eyes, and allowed himself to be led out of the room.
----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- -----
Boehringer sighed as he went back around to the back of his desk. “Colonel Hogan, why do you persist in putting yourself through this? We could end this all right now.”
I’ll bet, thought Hogan, looking up at the weapons mounted on the wall behind the German. Out of the corner of his eye, he glanced at the Obergefreiter standing beside him, rifle at the ready. Hogan said nothing.
“You are tired, Colonel, yes?” Boehringer asked, noticing Hogan’s less upright than normal stance, and a stoop to his posture that had been becoming more pronounced each day.
Hogan still said nothing, blinking tiredly, certain that he was swaying slightly at the moment but not having the strength to care. He had been held for ten days in solitary confinement, a tiny, dark, damp room that left not enough room to lie down, and not quite enough room to stand up. His muscles were sore from cramping, and the wound that had started to heal on his left leg was sore to the touch. Hogan suspected it was not responding well to his treatment.
In between the wearisome interrogation sessions with Boehringer, Hogan tried hard to remember what had become of those lost days between the start of his mission over Hamburg and his arrival at Oberursel. He remembered bailing out of Goldilocks, and he remembered someone sticking a rifle in his wounded gut and sending him into spasms of agony. But he couldn’t remember much else—how he had gotten the injuries, how he had been fixed up, how he had gotten here. It scared him. But the insistent question-and-answer sessions actually made him feel a little better; if he had told the Germans everything he knew about the plans for the daylight bombing attacks, and every other classified thing he knew, they wouldn’t be asking him now. So at least he must have stuck to the basics: name, rank, serial number.
There had been little chance for Hogan to take stock of his condition. In the times he was left alone, he fairly collapsed from exhaustion or weakness or hunger. The food rations were far from the Red Cross parcels he had been told were standard issue even at this level, and water was not forthcoming as often as his thirsting body craved it. But he didn’t need a proper examination to know that he was hurting. Aside from his leg, his abdomen was still a throbbing mess, and he guessed that even if food were plentiful he wouldn’t be able to eat much of it. His stomach burned, and the dots of red on the bandages around his torso told him all was not as it should be. His arm was clearly still bleeding on occasion, but no one else seemed to take notice when Hogan wiped a trickle of blood away when it made its way down to his hand. And his head still pounded mercilessly, something he grew to accept as normal from here on out, and he simply tried to work around it.
His sporadic and confused dreams often took him home, back to Connecticut and back to his friends and family, and it was always a blow to his spirit when he woke up and found himself still incarcerated in his tiny cell. As part of his interrogation, Boehringer often mentioned “home,” and while not naming people or places specifically, it was quite clear the German was bringing the subject up to break the spirit of his target. It was working, Hogan thought, and he determined not to let it continue. It wasn’t what his family would want anyway.
“Believe it or not, Colonel Hogan, I am tired, too.” Boehringer sat down and clasped his hands together on his desk. “You see, as long as you keep your Allied secrets to yourself, I have to ask you the same questions day after day after day. It’s keeping me up at night, Colonel Hogan, and I don’t like it.”
“Maybe you need a sleeping pill,” Hogan said simply.
Boehringer shook his head. “You never cease to amaze me, Hogan. Do you like that horrid little cell you are in? Do you like the idea of being tortured until you pray for death?”
Hogan stared straight at the Major. “I can’t say that’s ever really appealed to me.”
“It is you who controls your future, Hogan.”
“I doubt that very much.”
“Tell me about the daylight raids, Colonel Hogan. Why were you and a small group of planes out over Hamburg? Why did the Allies risk sending you out in broad daylight?”
Hogan remained stoic. Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name…
“You know these things, Colonel. Do not think I believe otherwise. Your reputation precedes you. Your destruction is well known.”
More concentrated silence. Hogan knew he had to make it through another session with Boehringer, and he was feeling himself weaken. Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven…
“You would like to sit down, Colonel?” Boehringer nodded toward a chair behind Hogan.
The slight menace in Boehringer’s voice told Hogan this was not an invitation, and he stayed still. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our trespasses…
Boehringer’s tone abruptly grew hard. Hogan steeled himself. He was used to this flip-flop of emotions from the German already; just another way to keep an already confused prisoner off balance. “I am tired of your insolence, Hogan. Get down!”
A sudden forceful strike on Hogan’s temple with the Obergefreiter’s rifle sent the Colonel sprawling to the floor. He stayed there, his head exploding, the world spinning, one more feeling of hopelessness being added to the growing collection of doubts in his mind. As we forgive those who trespass against us…
“Now you are down where you belong.” Boehringer seemed to calm down after the spurt of violence. “Stay there, Colonel,” he said with mock gentleness. “You appear to need the rest.”
Hogan fought back the nausea starting to rise within him and got up on his knees, then up to his feet. Boehringer watched him without comment or action. Hogan staggered unsteadily but did not back down, ready to go back to his cell, where at least he could console himself and try to regain his equilibrium.
Boehringer shook his head. “You really are something else, Colonel Hogan. But I’m afraid I have not gotten what I need from you yet. Berlin is most anxious to know what is in your head, and so far all my attempts to be a gracious host to you have been rebuffed. Therefore, I shall not be so gracious any longer.” He stood up. “From today you will be on starvation rations.”
Hogan managed a derisive snort. “You won’t have to change very much to do that,” he retorted. He wanted to lunge at the Major, the man currently responsible for his misery, the man telling him that he was going to make Hogan’s life even more wretched than it was now. But he knew the move would be useless, and probably lead to further injury, something he couldn’t afford in his already precarious state of health. Lead us not into temptation…
Boehringer sneered back at him. “Then you will have very little to worry about.” He looked at the Obergefreiter. “Take him away.”
Hogan stared bold-faced at Boehringer as the Corporal pulled Hogan by the arm. The intensity in Hogan’s eyes both fascinated and unnerved the German.
Hogan let out a loud breath of relief as he was pushed back into solitary confinement; he had survived one more encounter with the enemy. He settled into the crouched position that he had adopted to allow himself to get some rest and finished the prayer he had begun so fervently for strength. Deliver us from evil… Please…
To the Brink
“We must consider releasing Hogan to Wetzlar,” Boehringer said when Junge came to him ten days later. “He is still telling us nothing, and we are getting toward the end of our thirty days with him. This morning he was noticeably slower in his movements, took longer to answer my questions—or not answer them, depending on how you look at it. He is weak in body but strong in mind. I don’t know what to make of him.”
“I find him quite fascinating, Otto,” answered Junge. “And apparently I am not the only one. General Burkhalter from Luftwaffe Headquarters in Berlin has called me more than once about this man. It seems the Fuhrer himself is interested in our Colonel Hogan.”
“He did cause quite a stir when he was in the air, didn’t he?” Boehringer said with a nod of admiration for his adversary. “Do you remember what it was like, Karl?” he asked. “Up there, wreaking havoc on the enemy?”
Junge shook his head. “I can barely remember yesterday. Don’t ask me to remember something I did twenty years ago.”
Boehringer laughed, then got back to business. “We’ve captured a most extraordinary man, Karl. We can’t let him leave here without using every method of persuasion at our disposal.”
“We have not used every method. Not yet.”
“What do you suggest?”
Junge shrugged. “Geheim Staats Polizei.”
Boehringer shuddered. “I can’t say I care for them.”
“Who of us can?” Junge replied. “Give it one more day, Otto. And if our Colonel Hogan won’t answer you questions, then call in the Gestapo.”
----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- -----
“Hogan…Robert E… Colonel… US Army Air Corps… Serial number 087…67…07.”
Hogan spoke slowly, struggling to stay focused on the present. He had had a bad night last night. Nightmares and pain had kept him in a constant state of half-wakefulness, and hunger and thirst were now an overwhelming presence. But the idea of simply telling what he knew never even occurred to him. It wasn’t an option. Period. No matter how long the Krauts kept at it. And according to the scratches he had somehow managed to carve onto his wall, whether he was in a regular cell or solitary, this was now the twenty-sixth day the Germans were asking him the same questions. And it would be the twenty-sixth day they got no answers.
Boehringer came around the desk, this time pulling the chair away from the wall and gently pushing Hogan into it. He snapped his fingers in Hogan’s face to get his attention; the American looked up at him, not speaking. “Colonel Hogan, you are not holding up well in these little sessions we have each day.” Hogan said nothing. “Berlin is still asking questions. I still have no answers. Can’t you see that this cannot continue indefinitely?”
Hogan remained silent. “Colonel Hogan,” Boehringer tried again, “you are leaving me little choice. I am going to have to call in the Gestapo.” He waited, hoping the word would have some impact on the prisoner. It didn’t, at least externally. “Colonel Hogan,” Boehringer said. “Colonel Hogan!”
Hogan did not respond. His eyes were focused on the wall behind Boehringer.
Boehringer brought his face close to Hogan’s. He did not want to bring in the Gestapo if he didn’t have to. Besides it meaning he admitted defeat himself in this interrogation, he also didn’t like most of the tactics the Secret State Police used to extract their information. “Colonel Hogan, give me something. Anything. Something I can use to show that you will be willing to cooperate with us.”
Hogan’s eyes moved to meet Boehringer’s. Then he spoke softly and calmly. “Hogan, Robert E., Colonel, US Army Air Corps. Serial number 0876707…”
Boehringer could have recited it with Hogan. He knew he had no choice now.
----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- -----
“See how you fare with him now. If you still have trouble, call us and we will be more than happy to return.”
With these final words from the Gestapo men still ringing in his ears, Hogan was escorted back to his cell the next evening. Carried was probably a more accurate description: he could not walk on his own, could not see more than a foot in front of him, and he was leaving a trail of blood down the corridor from wounds once sewn up that had reopened during his “interrogation” by the two men sent from Berlin. He was drenched with sweat, his face still dripping as he was tossed into the tiny room, and his body was shaking with exhaustion and exertion. No one spoke to him as they shut the door. No one offered him water to offset the raging thirst within him. No one assured him that this ordeal was nearly over. Day twenty-seven, Hogan thought. One he hoped his mind would mercifully let him forget.
----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- -----
“You knew, didn’t you?”
The enraged face of Boehringer stared down at Hogan as he blinked in the bright beam of the flashlight the German had shining directly in his eyes.
“You knew! And you let me make a complete fool of myself in front of the Gestapo!”
Hogan just looked back, confused, and made no resistance when Boehringer grabbed him angrily by the collar and pulled him out of the cell. He shoved Hogan ahead of him down the hall, pushing him and striking him whenever Hogan stumbled with his still-cramped legs straining to come back to life after a night in his crowded chambers.
“I asked you about the daylight raids. I lowered myself to almost beg you to give me something I could tell Berlin about the bombing mission you were on. You gave me nothing. Nothing! And now news comes about a full-force daytime strike over a railway yard at Rouen yesterday! You knew about the Allied plans all along, and you strung us along like a kite!”
Hogan continued moving down the hall, trying to assimilate everything he was being told. Suddenly he was seized from behind and pushed into another cell. Smaller than the one he had just left, with no light and no windows. He tumbled into it as Boehringer continued his tirade.
“You will learn what happens when you try to make a fool of me, Hogan. This cell is specially constructed. It reaches temperatures of one hundred and thirty degrees during the day, and at night it drops to below freezing. You are going to spend considerable time in here, Hogan. And when I let you out, if you have survived, I will be asking you the same questions. If you don’t answer them, you will find the Gestapo will not be as polite as they were yesterday!”
The door was slammed shut, and Hogan sank as low as the confined space would allow. Still exhausted, aching, and confused, he tried to make sense of Boehringer’s outburst. A daytime raid over Rouen. So the bombing mission Hogan and his men had been shot down in had been considered a success. Hogan shook his head slightly in disbelief, and tried to mentally prepare himself for whatever lay ahead.
----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- -----
Hogan next saw light eleven days later, when the door to the overheated cell was pulled open unexpectedly. He immediately squeezed his eyes shut, unable to take the brightness of the hall, and he tried to breathe in the fresh air as it broke through the wall of heat that enveloped him. He had thought surely at first that there would be at least one opportunity each day to escape the stifling, suffocating heat—when Boehringer questioned him about the daytime missions. But after a couple of days without Boehringer sending for him, Hogan determined that his internment in this torture chamber was a punishment, not merely a means of weakening his resolve, and he lay half-dead during the overwhelmingly hot days, and going past freezing to nearly hypothermia as a result of the blanketless, freezing cold nights. The combination had left him with a raging fever, which in turn did him the favor of occasionally leaving him far away from reality, something he considered a blessing in his darkest hours.
A guard pulled Hogan up by the arm and tried to get him to walk. But he was weak from illness and an almost complete lack of food, and his legs ached from the inability to move them in the cell, and he merely sank to his knees when prodded. Finally the guard in charge slung Hogan’s arm over his own shoulder and half-dragged him down to Boehringer’s office.
The Major was enjoying a pipe when Hogan was deposited on the floor in front of the desk. Wordlessly, he watched Hogan pant painfully and try to cope with the protests from his abused body. Shaking his head, he came to stand above the American. “So, Colonel Hogan, tell me, how are you finding it in your special room? A bit warm?”
Hogan let out a small whimper of pain and managed to croak, “Water… Please… water…” There was no saliva in his mouth with which to wet his parched lips.
“Maybe tomorrow, Colonel; maybe tomorrow. For today, I just wanted to give you one more opportunity to tell me all about the American daylight raids.”
Hogan frowned, but he was not concentrating on Boehringer’s words, or the German’s fixation on the daylight bombing missions. All he needed was something to ease the razor blades in his throat, and something to cool his fevered brow. But Boehringer had just said that was not forthcoming, so Hogan let his mind wander again to the world that his delirium had created for him, one in which there was an endless supply of cool, running water, and friends and family to remind him to remain strong in the face of the enemy. He struggled, almost automatically now, to get out the only words he could allow himself when in the room with Boehringer. “Hogan… Rob—Robert… E… Colonel…Army—U…S… Army… US… Air…Corps…Eight… Zero Eight… Seven… Seven Six…” And he trailed off, confused, and unable to get the numbers right in his head.
Hogan was asked questions but could answer nothing, as he was no longer in the same room, mentally, as his interrogator. Boehringer ordered Hogan back into an ordinary cell for the night. Hogan did not hear the Major inform him that the next day, he would be visited again by the Gestapo.
----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- -----
Hogan was startled awake by the sound of his cell door being opened. Whereas when he had first arrived at the Durschgangslager der Luftwaffe he would react swiftly and strongly to any contact with the Germans, now Hogan was sluggish. He turned his head slowly toward the noise at the cell door, and very carefully considered whether it was worth moving. Any unexpected pull and Hogan would be thrust into a cycle of immediate and excruciating pain. So he was cautious, and untrusting. He tried stretching his sore legs out, but he was given little time to get some feeling back in them before he was hauled to his feet and pulled down the hall to Boehringer’s office.
Hogan was still blinking in the comparatively bright light of the office when Boehringer entered. “Colonel Hogan, good morning,” the German said pleasantly, going behind his desk but not sitting down.
Hogan nodded, still vague and not yet focused.
“You would like some water, yes?” Boehringer asked. He turned to a pitcher behind him and filled a glass. He held his hand out to Hogan to take it. “Here,” he said, almost as a friend, “you must need this. It has been a long journey for you.”
Hogan’s mind vaguely picked up the words. He couldn’t remember going anywhere. Was Boehringer speaking metaphorically? Hogan thought the office looked the same as it had before. Maybe all the offices look alike, he thought with a quick flash of despair. Hogan fought to clear his mind. But it was too hard today, and so he said nothing, and it took another prompt from Boehringer for him to take the glass filled with blessed water. When Hogan did take it, he drank the glassful in one hit.
Boehringer smiled and nodded his head like an approving parent. Hogan was still partly lucid; there was still hope for cooperation. Boehringer was pleased that he had insisted on giving Hogan extra food rations last night; it would help strengthen him, perhaps drive back some of the illness, and give him the motivation to bring an end to this on his own.
“Today, you will be meeting not only with me, but with two guests.” The door opened and two men in black leather coats and trilby hats entered. “Herr Becker,” he said, nodding to the first man, “and Herr Lipke. They are from the Gestapo. They would like to ask you some questions of their own.”
Hogan fought hard to maintain a carefree façade. But it wasn’t easy to come by, and he was sure he was failing, as he could feel his legs starting to shake violently from both his fear and his frailty.
“Gentlemen, if you please,” Boehringer said. “Tell me what you would like Colonel Hogan to do, and we will see to it that he complies.”
“Make him sit down,” said the one identified as Lipke. His voice was rough, his English heavily accented and not very good, Hogan noticed.
Boehringer nodded and gestured for the ever-present Obergefreiter to bring out the chair when Becker grabbed Hogan by the collar and threw him into it. More startled than hurt, Hogan took a moment to gather himself before glaring back up at Becker. “That will do,” Becker said.
Boehringer took note of the sudden flash in Hogan’s eyes and quietly approved. There’s still life in you yet, Hogan. Let’s see what match you are for these two barbarians.
----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- -----
Though it was Boehringer’s responsibility to oversee the questioning of prisoners, once the Gestapo took Hogan down to another interrogation room, he looked in less frequently. He found it hard to face the brutality of the men sent from Berlin, even though he could sometimes see where their hot tempers were coming from. Hogan was still strong enough to throw a few sarcastic comments back at the pair, a talent not well-received by Becker and Lipke. Boehringer himself had at one stage been driven to the extremes of frustration, wondering why in God’s name this man didn’t end the torture he was bringing upon himself, and he backhanded Hogan across the face, an action that Hogan responded to by simply saying through quickly swelling lips, “Temper, temper, Major.”
Now, Boehringer simply made an appearance each morning for show, silently taking stock of the prisoner, then leaving the Gestapo agents to do the work they unfortunately did so well. By order of Herr Lipke, Hogan had been deprived of sleep since their arrival, and now, as the fourth day of Gestapo torture began, Boehringer looked at the American strapped to the chair with something akin to pity. Hogan’s head was dropped against his chest, a heavy beard not quite covering violent bruises on his swollen cheeks. He was dripping with sweat and breathing shallowly, and the Major could see traces of blood on the shackles holding Hogan’s wrists and ankles in place. He looked in just in time to see Becker yank Hogan’s head up from his chest by the hair, and he fought down the urge to bring the obviously suffering man some water to provide him with support and strength. For the briefest second, Hogan’s pain-filled eyes met Boehringer’s, and the Major turned on his heel abruptly and left the room.
He called Junge into his office. “We aren’t going to get anything from Hogan,” Boehringer said angrily. “It’s time to release him.”
Junge nodded thoughtfully. “Our friends from the Gestapo have not been able to break him?”
“Oh, they’ve broken him, all right,” Boehringer said bitterly. “They’ve broken his body in many places, I’m sure. But they haven’t broken his spirit. He’s sticking to name, rank, and serial number. Or whatever he can manage to remember of them in the state he’s in.”
“So what do you suggest?”
“Get him out of here. There’s nothing to be gained by continuing this. Send him to Wetzlar. Get him assigned to a Stalag Luft. Just get him out of my sight.”
Junge looked at his friend. “Hogan bothers you, Otto.”
“You do not want to see him.”
“I don’t want to see any man treated as he is being treated unnecessarily. It is my opinion that we will get no information from him. And in that I have the authority to release him to the transition camp.”
Someone knocked on the door. “Come!” barked Boehringer.
The guard who had been standing out side the Gestapo interrogation chamber entered and saluted. “Herr Major, Herr Becker asks that you organize for Doctor Weinzaphel to be present tomorrow for the American’s interrogation.”
Boehringer and Junge exchanged glances. “What for?”
“He says the doctor must be in attendance for all floggings exceeding thirty strokes.”
Boehringer felt bile rush up into his throat, and he swallowed it, almost glad of the bitter feeling, as it reminded him he was alive. “It will be done,” he said. He dismissed the guard and sat down heavily. “Well, it is out of my hands now, Karl. If they want Weinzaphel, they also believe he will give up no information. I cannot order his release now. But Hogan will not survive a flogging; that much is certain.” He shook his head. “Blasted sadists. Any normal man would simply accept that this enemy cannot be broken and send him on his way. But the Gestapo… they cannot look bad in front of their superiors, and so they will flog him to death, and say that they had to try to get him to talk.” He slammed his hand down on the desk. “It is quite clear even now that he will not tell them anything. From the way he looked when I was in there this morning, I doubt he could even if he wanted to.”
Junge nodded agreement. There was nothing else to be said. Sometimes, this was how it ended. And there was nothing either of them could do about it.
The phone rang, and Boehringer picked it up harshly, still angry at the thought of the unnecessary events to come. “Boehringer,” he snapped. His expression changed abruptly and he toned down his anger. “Jawohl, Herr General. Ja…. Ja. Natürlich, Herr General…. Ja, sofort…. Danke, General. Heil Hitler.”
Boehringer replaced the receiver and moved swiftly around the desk, calling in the guard standing outside the door. “Go tell Herr Becker and Herr Lipke to cease their interrogation of the prisoner at once, and tell them to report to my office immediately.”
The guard accepted his orders and took off down the hall. Junge looked questioningly at his friend as he closed the door once more. “Otto? What’s going on?”
“That was General Beidenbender.” He shook his head slightly. Imagine, being promoted for shooting down one man. But then, they were talking about Hogan…. “He has ordered Hogan to be sent to the Hohemark.”
Junge raised his eyebrows.
“Apparently Berlin believes that a man with a will and a mind like Hogan’s is worth studying. And since he has not given in to our methods of interrogation, they would like to study him instead and see if there is anything to be learned from him scientifically.”
“To be learned from him?” Junge echoed.
“In other words, Karl my friend, to use him as a lab rat, before finally letting him go.”
The Next Trial Begins
Boehringer looked at the twitching mass of pain on the hard bunk and shook his head. How Hogan had managed to survive the last four days at the hands of the Secret State Police was a mystery to him. How he had held out for so long under intensive interrogation was just as much an unknown. This American, this man who was so deliberately set upon for defeat in the air, was indeed someone to be admired, someone worthy of his rank, and worthy of the respect of both his peers and his enemies. Boehringer had learned nothing from Hogan except that he was a Colonel in the US Army Air Corps, and he could recite Hogan’s serial number as if it was his own. The Gestapo, with all their persuasiveness, had learned no more than that. But while to the Gestapo this was something that could justify their anger and their brutality, to Boehringer it was something that could justify—even if only in secret—his admiration for the prisoner.
Hogan was in a state of half-consciousness, filthy and covered in blood and sweat, with violent bruises painting his face and his neck. One of his arms was extended out from the bunk, and Boehringer could see swollen fingers and a raw, red wrist. The other would have to be the same. The sound of labored, painful breaths echoed off the walls. Boehringer had seen it all before, and he had stomached it easily after his initial indoctrination in the ways of the Nazi Party. But seeing Hogan in this fevered state, and remembering the strong personality that persisted in spite of over forty days of less than gracious treatment by the enemy, Boehringer was sickened.
He entered the tiny room, now illuminated by the shaft of light from the corridor, and stood above Hogan. “The Gestapo will not be back, Hogan,” he said. He waited to see if Hogan would respond. He didn’t. “I have ordered them to leave you alone; you are going to be transferred to the hospital at Hohemark tomorrow.” Again no answer. Boehringer crouched down closer to Hogan’s ear. “You are leaving the Dulag Luft. Do you understand?”
Hogan’s eyes opened part way, but they were not focused on Boehringer. A spasm of pain made Hogan groan weakly, and a look of confusion and hurt passed over his face momentarily. Hogan was still somewhere far away from this room, the Major realized.
Boehringer stood up again and called for the guard standing outside the room. “Get him cleaned up, and make sure he has a good meal tonight, if he can stomach it. We have to give him to the Hohemark in a condition conducive to their plans. They will not be pleased if we present our prisoner to them looking like this.”
The guard accepted his orders, and Boehringer left the cell. That is all I can give you, Colonel. Let us hope it gives you enough strength to survive what lies ahead.
----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- -----
Hogan cradled his ribs as he got up from the bunk when ordered the next morning. His eyes vacant, he saw only what was directly in front of him; his peripheral vision seemed to have disappeared, along with his hunger, his thirst, and his sense of self. All that remained was the constant, throbbing pain that spread through his entire body, and the heat of the fever that consumed him. He moved where and when he was told without taking conscious notice of the place or time, and he wondered, confused, where his men were, and his family, and his friends. They had been with him all along, he thought, but now they were nowhere to be seen, and he was alone. He stumbled once and nearly fell over. But the hands that stopped that from happening were not those of his father, as he had expected, and the uniform of his guardian bewildered him. Hogan was lost, and he had no idea how to get home.
----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- -----
With no understanding of how he got there, Hogan woke briefly to find himself in a large, well-lit room, with his pounding head on a soft pillow, his battered body on a firm mattress, with real sheets and a real blanket wrapped around him like a cocoon. He considered trying to focus his thoughts. But the soothing comfort of his current circumstances whispered to him to forget that, and his eyelids were heavy, so heavy, that he allowed the softness and the warmth to lull him back to blackness.
----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- -----
As Hogan’s fever receded, he came more into himself and began to be slightly aware of his surroundings. Though still very ill and suffering from his encounter with the Gestapo, his mind was starting to ask questions, and it was disturbing to him that he had no answers. At some stage he had lost track of time, so he didn’t know what day it was, much less what time of day it was. He could vaguely remember being in a hospital at some time in the past, but he didn’t know how long ago it was, or how he had gotten there, or what had been done to him there. And he didn’t know for sure, although he suspected, that he was in a medical facility now.
He was considering opening his eyes to test the light when he heard the door open and someone entered the room. He heard water trickling into a container and soon felt a damp, cool cloth moving gently across his face, neck, shoulders and arms. He moaned at the relief that brought him, and decided against tempting Fate by trying to see straight while his head was still spinning.
An unseen woman said softly, “Are you awake, Colonel?” in a voice that clearly indicated she had been certain he wasn’t.
Hogan wasn’t strong enough to give a real answer; instead, he let his head loll gently toward the direction of the voice and he moaned again. Oh, how tired…how tired I am….
“You will start to feel better now that your fever is down, Colonel.” The cloth continued to make its way around Hogan’s body. He felt disproportionately grateful for the ministrations, and found himself concentrating on savoring every moment of gentleness and relief. “When you are up to it, you will eat as well.”
Her work done, the faceless voice pulled the blanket back up and brushed back a lock of dark hair from Hogan’s brow. He wondered if he had somehow been traded back to the Allies; no one had been this kind to him in any time he could remember since being shot down.
“Sleep, Herr Colonel,” whispered the voice. “You need to regain your strength.”
Hogan never heard her say it. He had already obeyed.
----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- -----
A sharp pain in his abdomen was what woke Hogan from his dreamless slumber. He gritted his teeth and tried to draw forward in the bed to help ease the hurt, but a hand pushed back firmly on his shoulder. “No, no, Herr Colonel, we are just assessing you. You must stay still.”
Hogan groaned through his teeth and looked at the person speaking. A middle-aged man in a white lab coat was restraining him, and Hogan frowned as he coped with the fireworks the man’s touch had set off. Another probe, this time of a wound higher on his chest; then of his ribs, his back, his once-infected leg. Hogan gasped each time a tender spot was touched, still being stopped from pulling away or doing anything to mitigate the pain except bite his lip. When the short examination was over, Hogan was exhausted and his head was swimming. He wanted to ask questions, but he was certain no one would answer. Aside from that first statement, no one had spoken to him at all; it was like he was a specimen in a lab, not a person. What kind of medical facility was this?
“Still very weak and mildly combative,” the man said.
Hogan’s mind reeled. Combative? You’re the one poking me, he thought, lying back wearily on the pillow and closing his eyes.
“We’re going to need another intravenous drip,” came the voice again. “Get his fluids up. We need him to be strong to begin with.”
This time Hogan fought to speak. “To begin with what?” he tried to ask. It came out as a croak from his dry throat.
Hogan felt a woman’s hand supporting his head as she moved him toward a glass of water she was holding to his lips. “Never mind that now,” the woman said. Hogan tried to open his eyes, but the lids were too heavy. “You just concentrate on getting well.”
Hogan drank. “To begin with what?” he persisted, as though protesting the way his question had been brushed aside.
“Sshh,” the woman soothed, letting Hogan’s head rest on the pillow again and caressing his face with her hand. “Go to sleep.”
In his mind, Hogan was continuing to demand answers. But his body was content with the touch of the woman, and he faded away again, despite his misgivings about the future.
----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- -----
Hogan found it easier to open his eyes the next time he heard someone come into the room. A woman had entered, obviously a nurse, with long brown hair pulled back from her ordinary face. Hogan looked at her, fascinated. She paused as she caught him watching her wheel a tray table over to the bed and smiled.
“Guten abend,” she said. “What are you finding so interesting?”
Hogan continued looking for a moment, then blinked himself into the present and turned away. “Nothing. I mean, it just occurred to me that I can’t remember when I last saw—” He cut himself off, embarrassed as he realized what he was about to say.
The nurse smiled again as she took his wrist carefully to time his pulse rate. “A woman, Herr Colonel?”
Hogan nodded, disoriented. “Sorry.”
The nurse was quiet for a moment, then lay Hogan’s arm gently back on the sheets. “I understand. My name is Ursula. Are you hungry?”
Hogan considered. He hadn’t thought about food before. But now that she mentioned it, there was some gnawing at his stomach that he was sure had nothing to do with his injuries. He nodded. “I think so.”
Ursula smiled. “Good. Then you are getting better.” She unveiled a bowl on the tray table that was holding some kind of soup. Hogan leaned forward and sniffed cautiously. “It is a broth with small bits of vegetable and a little bit of meat. You cannot eat a lot at once, Colonel. You are not so recovered as to eat your big American meals.”
Ursula propped Hogan up in the bed. Hogan nodded absently, concentrating on the bowl. He grabbed a spoon and lifted his hand, only to notice it shaking in such a way that no soup would ever make it to his lips.
Ursula noticed and quickly stepped in. “No, Herr Colonel. You are still too weak to look after yourself. I will feed you.”
Hogan frowned but allowed the girl to spoon the food into his mouth. The first bit of broth went slowly and tantalizingly down his throat, through his body, and smoothly poured into his stomach, where it danced and circled, reminding him of everything he had missed for God knew how long. “It’s good,” he managed.
Ursula just smiled and continued feeding him.
“What time is it?” Hogan asked.
“It’s six thirty in the evening,” Ursula answered.
“How long have I been here?”
Ursula paused. “That’s not important.”
“But it is. I don’t know what day it is. I don’t know what month it is. I don’t even know where I am.” Hogan paused. “Am I in an Allied hospital?”
Ursula shook her head almost sadly as she continued to feed the American. “No, Herr Colonel. You are at the Hohemark. You are in Germany.”
The answer was a blow to Hogan, and Ursula had to prompt him to keep eating. He continued thinking, then asked, “Are you the one who’s been taking care of me?”
Ursula nodded. “Sometimes. You have been very ill. There have been many of us.”
“I remember a man saying I needed to be strong to begin with. What are they planning to do with me?” Ursula finished feeding Hogan in silence. Hogan wanted an answer. “What are they going to do?”
“You have done well, Colonel Hogan,” Ursula said, ignoring Hogan’s question. “The doctor will be pleased with your progress.” She stood up and moved the tray table away, then started expertly straightening Hogan’s blanket and removing the extra pillows she had used to keep Hogan sitting up.
“Ursula, what are they going to do to me?” Hogan started to worry when she avoided answering him.
“Concentrate on getting well, Herr Colonel. Let others worry about the future.” She removed the final extra pillow, took a long look at Hogan, and walked out.
----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- -----
Hogan was starting to find it annoying that no one woke him up before they started poking and probing him like some sort of experimental specimen. The next time he was roused, he was being wheeled down a hallway, with an intravenous drip trailing beside him. He was aware of being cold, but after the fevers he had suffered, he was not unhappy about the change.
Not fully alert, Hogan tried to take in what was happening. He felt hands less-than-gently transferring him from the travel gurney to some sort of table, and he almost panicked when he realized that he was also being secured to it by cuffs on his ankles and wrists. The intravenous drip was removed, and someone’s hands held his head in position as a strap was stretched underneath his armpits, and another across his waist, and someone pulled off the slim hospital gown he had been wearing, leaving him exposed, and vulnerable.
Hogan tried to speak in protest, but the words were oddly stuck in his mouth and he could only make incoherent sounds that no one was listening to. There was a lot of talk going on around him. It seemed like everyone was speaking at once, and hands were moving fast and furious in preparation for something Hogan could only have nightmares about. In spite of himself he could hear his breath quickening as a bright light was pulled into position directly above him. A large camera sitting on a tripod was moved into view, and the clang of metal instruments and murmured instructions were constant background noise. He could see white lab coats flapping as people moved swiftly from one part of the room to the other, and at one stage a face stopped only a few inches from his own, with a frown that indicated careful study. Hogan tried to draw back but found he had no place to go. And besides, someone was holding his shoulders down against the cold table.
Hogan’s fears reached their height as he heard someone say, “All clear? Then we are ready to begin.”
The room went quiet. Sweating profusely and unable to stop his eyes from darting around the room, trying to take in anything that would help make sense of this, he gasped, frightened, “What are you going to do to me?”
No one answered him. Hogan fought against the pressure on his head, but the person who had been given the job of holding him in place was too powerful, and he could do little more than gain a couple of inches of extra sightline on either side. The restraints holding his feet and hands were also strong, and pulling against them only made him grunt in discomfort. All he could do was wait.
Soon, a man holding a syringe approached from Hogan’s left side. “Gentlemen, a preliminary dose of three hundred milligrams. The time is exactly seven thirty-four a.m.”
Hogan started struggling against the restraints, trying desperately and futilely to get away from the syringe that was being lowered toward his arm. But the cuffs and straps held fast, as he had somehow always known they would, and the man’s big hand pressed down on his forearm, holding him still. As Hogan continued to writhe, still gasping from fear and exertion, another man came up and pressed down on Hogan’s torso to keep the rest of his body still. This had the double effect of both achieving the Germans’ goal, and also of causing Hogan considerable pain from his former, still not fully healed injuries. Hogan cried out, then stopped trying to resist, his mind tired of the fight, and of the hurt.
The needle pricked his arm, and a cold fluid was injected into him. Hogan let his rigid body go limp and panted as he tried to regain some control of his breathing. Whatever would happen now was out of his hands.
Hogan fought hard to focus as he twitched involuntarily on the table. Unable to remain completely still, he realized he was not in control of his body at the moment, and could only try to observe what was happening as though he were an outsider looking in. He could hear people talking around him, some in German, some in English, and though he had some understanding of the German language, the words being used were not common, everyday conversation, and so he found himself lost and exposed.
At ten minute intervals someone was taking hold of his arm to check his blood pressure and pulse, and occasionally someone would draw open his eyelids and shine a light into his eyes. He was vaguely aware of a strange, fluttering feeling in his stomach, but at the moment he put it down to anxiety. Someone was monitoring every part of him, and when he was temporarily unstrapped and pushed onto his side so one attendant could take his temperature, Hogan nearly wept.
About an hour after this began, Hogan started to feel queasy. Some of his initial adrenalin had worn off, but he knew through the patient persistence of those around him that there was much more expected of him, and maybe this was it. He was starting to feel very warm, and he found himself breathing more quickly as he could actually hear his blood rushing past his temples. He heaved suddenly when he felt his stomach roll violently, and tried to turn his head in case he vomited. Someone was instantly at his side, checking his vitals, and taking note of the sudden sweat that was pouring off Hogan’s brow. “Die Zeit ist acht zweiundvierzig,” Hogan heard as though from a distance. Taking note of the time. They weren’t going to help him, he thought fleetingly. They were just going to watch him. He was a specimen to be studied. Not a prisoner, not even a man. Just a thing to be used for whatever purposes they had.
As his stomach continued to rebel, Hogan gagged, and someone released the cuffs from his right side and the straps from his body and rolled him onto his left side, where a bucket was being held near the table. One more violent lurch and Hogan emptied the meager contents of his stomach, then waited for relief that didn’t come. The nausea continued, rolling forward in waves that left him feeling weak from the force of its insistent return. There was nothing left to expel, but still the sickness and the dizziness continued for nearly fifteen minutes. Bathed in sweat, Hogan thought the room was unnaturally hot, but no one around him seemed bothered by the temperature. He was starting to feel exhausted, and he slumped onto his back as the queasiness finally subsided, registering somewhere in the recesses of his mind that the straps were being replaced, and the cuffs snapped back onto his wrist and ankle.
Hogan considered sleeping, but when he closed his eyes he started to see bright lights dancing before him, red and gold, exploding and melting away, then coming back to start their display all over again. So he opened his eyes and tried to understand what was happening around him. There was a man with a clipboard standing some distance from the table, who seemed to be furiously taking down notes whenever Hogan’s eyes met his. Another man in deep conversation with the person whose face had come so close to Hogan’s earlier. And in the distance, he was sure he saw Ursula. He tried to call out to her, and although his voice was clear and loud in his head, Hogan had the feeling that he never actually said anything, since no one reacted in any way, not even turning to look at him and then ignore him.
In all, there were at least six people in the room with him. But Hogan had never felt so alone.
Some time later, when one of the assistants came to do a regular blood pressure and pulse check, Hogan looked up to see the man’s face transforming. He was no longer a middle-aged, wrinkled man with a Hitler moustache. Instead, he had long, flowing white hair, and a full beard. His white lab coat was now a red suit trimmed in white fur, and the natural leanness of the man gave way to a plumpness that made Hogan smile. How did Santa Claus get here?
Hogan frowned drunkenly when he considered that this could not be real. And, blinking deliberately, he looked again at the man, and the jolly old elf was gone. “I knew it was too good to be true,” he muttered.
He wasn’t sure whether he spoke out loud or not, but got his answer when the man with the clipboard came closer. “Was sagte er?”
“Er sagte, dass es zu gut war, um wahr zu sein.” Ursula came up to the table and looked at Hogan with a trace of a smile. “Yes, Colonel Hogan? What is too good to be true?”
Hogan couldn’t answer. He was too fascinated by the brightness of her white uniform, and the overpowering blue of her eyes. The colors were so intense that Hogan thought they would light up the room, and he could say nothing.
The man who was apparently in charge said, “Sprechen Sie mit ihm, Ursula. Fragen Sie, was er sieht und hört, und was er fühlt.”
Ursula nodded and bent closer to Hogan’s face. “Herr Doctor wants to know what you are seeing, Colonel Hogan. What do you feel?”
Breathless, Hogan somehow asked, “What are you doing to me?”
“Herr Colonel, listen to me. You need to tell us what you are feeling. What is happening to you?”
Hogan tried to focus his eyes on the man beside the table. The clipboard was moving in his hands, serpentine movements that left Hogan unable to understand how the man could hold it. It was growing, expanding, sliding up and over the man’s shoulder, wrapping itself around his neck and then slithering down around his body till it disappeared out of Hogan’s sight. The man didn’t seem to notice, as he was also changing. The white of his lab coat became a psychedelic cocoon that began encasing him, pinning his arms by his side and hiding his face. The voice of the person beside him morphed into a buzzing noise, and his arm became a stinger as his body changed into a bee, poking and prodding the cocoon, carrying out some strange ritual.
Hogan turned his eyes back toward where he was sure he had seen Ursula. But now instead of the familiar face, he was seeing the face of an Egyptian queen, the makeup heavy and the hair black and long. The queen’s robes were long and bright, so bright, with more colors than Hogan had ever known existed flowing toward him and away from him, moving smoothly and peacefully around her body, a liquid dress that seemed to be able to hold itself in place upon her.
Hogan looked at all these things with wonder, barely recognizing now that they could not possibly be real, lost in this world that his mind was creating around him. The Egyptian queen was speaking, but he could not understand the words. They were neither English nor German, but some other strange gibberish that hurt Hogan’s ears. He turned his head away from her.
Hogan was eventually allowed up from the table, though he was now unaware that he had been restrained. Someone handed him the most colorful pair of shorts that he had ever seen, and with great fascination he regarded them as they came up and encircled his waist. He smiled as the colors joined and then burst apart, coming off the clothes and swaying before him, suspended in the air for him to enjoy.
Someone called him, and he turned to see the Egyptian queen holding out her hand. Hogan walked over and took it, and the two of them sat down on exquisite chairs, covered in velvet and trimmed in gold. She smiled and asked him what he saw. He told her how beautiful everything was, and then he started crying.
“What makes you cry?” she asked softly, only briefly glancing up at the scientists around her. She knew it was important not to break the flow of Hogan’s thoughts.
“Everything here is so beautiful, and outside, the world is such a mess,” Hogan said.
“Where in the world are you coming from, Colonel Hogan? Where are you now?”
“I am in your palace, aren’t I?” Hogan asked. “You have such a beautiful throne room. I don’t understand why you’ve let me in here. Where is Goldilocks?”
“You are always welcome here,” the queen answered. Then a gentle question: “Who is Goldilocks?”
“I had to leave her, I didn’t want to leave her, and I had to leave someone behind.”
“Where did you leave her?”
Hogan stared straight head, into space. “She was burning and I had to get everyone out,” he said sadly, letting the tears run down his face.
“Goldilocks muss sein Flugzeug sein,” said one observer, guessing the true identity of Goldilocks.
“Why were you out during the day, Colonel Hogan? Why were you not bombing at night?”
Hogan lapsed into silence, gently rocking back and forth on the seat.
“Can you tell me why you were in Germany in the daytime?” Still no answer. The Egyptian queen changed tack. “Tell me what you are feeling.”
Hogan struggled to put his chaotic thoughts into words. Everything here was beautiful, so beautiful, and he wanted to stay and appreciate its absolute loveliness and serenity. But he knew outside this room that there was a war on, that people were dying, and that he himself was not free to do as he pleased. For a moment, Hogan saw himself and the Egyptian queen as though he were a third person, and when he realized it, he was frightened. But he continued to feel a sense of peace when he looked at the colorfully dressed woman, and he refused to let his fear get the better of him. “I feel sad.”
The woman waited.
“I want to change the world, but I can’t. I want everyone to be at peace. But they aren’t. And I want to go home…” Hogan paused. “But I’m not sure if anyone would be there.”
“Why not?” asked a gentle voice.
“They were with me when I was at the Dulag, but then they were gone and I haven’t seen anyone since.”
The woman put her hand on Hogan’s, and when he looked up to see her, the Egyptian queen was gone, and a catlike creature had taken her place. Big, emerald green eyes peered out from a ginger face sporting a small pink nose and long, pert whiskers. Hogan couldn’t understand what the creature was trying to say; a series of meows was all he could hear.
Someone took hold of Hogan’s arm. His rational mind knew he was just being monitored, but he was still surprised when the stethoscope being moved toward him also transformed, this time into a cobra. Hogan recoiled and the transformation was aborted, leaving him befuddled for a moment, until he reminded himself that everything around him was not as it seemed.
I’ve been drugged, Hogan thought. A bit late to think of that, he almost laughed. It should have been obvious from the start. But it hadn’t been, and Hogan had had no control. Now that he realized what was happening to him, he still couldn’t stop it, but at least he could remind himself that he wasn’t actually losing his mind.
This kind of experience lasted for a period of time that Hogan couldn’t determine. He was brought some food but declined to eat it; his appetite was nonexistent. Eventually, he was brought back to the table and strapped down to it, this time only with a token protest that he wasn’t even sure was being said to a human being, and he felt another needle inserted in his arm.
“Ow!” Hogan complained like a child. But he was still on the high of the prior injection and found he didn’t have the motivation to protest. He heard someone register a dosage: six hundred milligrams. And then he waited for it all to start again.
This time the nausea was more pronounced, and Hogan was violently ill for almost two hours. It was Ursula who was by his side now, but she only made some sympathetic clucks as he suffered abominably; any interference from her might change the outcome of the tests. “I’m s—so sick,” Hogan moaned after once again retching just a liquidy substance, since he had not eaten that he could remember since this session had begun. His head was pounding and his stomach muscles were sore from vomiting. He longed for a cold cloth for his hot, hot forehead, and he panted as he grasped the side of the table, wishing that he could lie down and forget every indignity that he had suffered. Ursula just patted his hand silently and offered him a glass of water, which he took eagerly to get the foul taste out of his mouth, though he knew the water would also come back up again soon.
“Seine Temperatur ist sehr hoch,” Ursula said.
Hogan was shivering from fever, and suddenly his muscles started spasming uncontrollably. As his mind had been clear until that moment, Hogan found the lack of power over his own body frightening, and uncomfortable. He looked around the room; he could see people clearly but suddenly he found he could not communicate with them, did not know how to speak with them, and could not understand the words coming out of their mouths. It was terrifying and disorientating, but he didn’t know how to stop it. Hogan started repeatedly combing his fingers through his sweat-soaked hair, and though he did not particularly want to do that, he could not stop himself from doing it. His mind started to blur the room and the images around him, and then he could only stare blankly, his eyes fixed on a man madly scribbling in a notebook, his mind not actually registering any thoughts.
After a few minutes of this, the painfully contracting muscles calmed down, and Hogan watched what has happening to him as though from a distance, as the hallucinations that had come the last time were starting to return. People and things were changing, colors were swirling and exploding, and voices were calling for him, but from where he had no idea.
Still his mind this time remained clear. He was aware that what was happening to him was a result of a hallucinogenic drug. He could not make out what drug it was that the Germans were using on him, but he noted with a doped-up irony that whatever it was might do the Germans more good if they took it themselves and saw Hitler in a different light; then they might see him for what he really was, instead of as some great leader, some god, some savior.
Once again he was offered food, and this time Hogan decided to take a small sandwich. But the taste had disappeared and so he stopped, not hungry, and not interested in anything else that was offered to him. One thing Hogan did notice was his extreme reaction to the now overpoweringly beautiful woman sitting across from him. A normal man in all respects, Hogan had always found himself able to behave like a gentleman when near an attractive woman. But now, faced with this goddess, he found himself feeling unnaturally strong cravings for female attention, and he tried to tell himself that he must be under the influence of a drug with aphrodisiacal qualities. He reminded himself that this was only a hallucination, and that it might actually be an old man sitting there. But the visual stimulus was so strong that he could not help but ignore that warning, and he was suddenly consumed with the desire to be with her, if only for a moment. It had been a long time, far too long, since he had been in the arms of a caring, gentle woman, and for a brief second, Hogan thought all the way back to his earliest romances at home, and he could smell the perfume of Donna Marie’s hair and feel the softness of her skin. He was moving through memories at breakneck speed, and it was dizzying.
The visions of his former loves came to an abrupt halt, and Hogan found himself in a room devoid of anything and everything. There were no people, there was no furniture. He was in a sitting position but he was sitting on nothing. Everywhere he looked there was just endless white. He could see no one, hear no one. He wanted to run, but he was afraid if he stood he would simply fall forever, since there seemed to be nothing below him. “It’s not real,” he heard himself say. But as there was no one to answer him, he almost started to doubt his statement.
“What do you see?” came a voice from nowhere.
Hogan only had one answer. “Nothing.”
Two days later, Hogan was released from the drug experiments, and he slept. He slept long and dreamlessly, all the images that had gone through his head while under the influence of the drugs wiped away. His body was fighting now, fighting to recover and fighting to erase all memory of his ordeal.
Occasionally he would hear voices, feel the touch of someone’s hand on his arm or his forehead, but he didn’t open his eyes. It was too much effort, and it was so much easier to just lie still and get lost in the comfort of the pillow and the sheets. So he let words pass over his head, uncertain if he was hearing them in English, or if they were in German and he was simply translating them automatically. Would he be able to do that? he wondered. But continuing even that line of questioning was too much, and he drifted in and out of awareness, unconcerned for the time being about what might be coming next.
“You did well, Herr Colonel,” someone said at one point. Hogan was alert enough to recognize the voice as Ursula’s, but not alert enough to respond. “You will feel strong again soon.”
Hogan felt her soft hand on his cheek and sighed but said nothing.
“I have dinner for you, Colonel Hogan. Do you want to eat?”
Hogan moaned softly. A hand gently propelled his head forward. He pried his eyes open slightly. “Herr Colonel, come, you must eat. It has been too long for you to go without food.”
Hogan looked at Ursula, bleary-eyed and still unfocused. “How long have I been here?” he mumbled.
Ursula stopped fixing the bed so Hogan could sit up and looked him in the face. “You have slept for seventeen hours,” she said simply.
Hogan nodded, but realized that he was still desperately, bone-achingly tired. “I don’t remember anything.”
Ursula observed, “That bothers you.”
Hogan nearly laughed at the absurdity of it all. “Of course it bothers me,” he said. “Wouldn’t it bother you?” He shouldn’t have been surprised, but the bitterness in his voice caught him unawares. “All I remember is…” He stopped as flashes of the drugged sessions played in his mind. The fear, the humiliation, the awe, the disbelief. And words that filtered through the drug-filled haze: “alpha subject,” “mescaline,” “test specimen.” The words chilled him, but he could make no coherent sense of them, and he did not think it would be wise to bring them up. “I can’t remember anything I said.”
“Why are you concerned, Colonel? What could you have said?” Ursula asked.
Hogan didn’t answer the way he knew she wanted him to. He was tired, and sore, and weary of this place, but he wasn’t going to give in. “I might have cussed out loud. And I don’t like to swear in front of women.”
----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- -----
If Hogan held any hopes that his ordeal was finished, they were dashed just a few hours later when two men came into the room the next morning to move him once again. Saying nothing, they approached the bed, one moving a wheelchair close to its side, the other pulling out a set of handcuffs.
“No,” Hogan blurted out, instantly tensing to resist any transfer out of this room. He pressed back against the mattress as hard as he could, but in the end he was simply too weak to hold out, and he was dragged uncomfortably and less than gently out of the bed, continuing to struggle until his wrists were cuffed to the arms of the chair, and they moved down the wide corridor to an area completely devoid of other patients.
Hogan was pushed into another room, this time filled with electronic equipment and panels, but no gurney for him to fear being strapped to. He tried to make sense of what he was seeing, but at this stage could not. He saw a panel with what looked like airplane controls and throttles up near one wall, with a railing running just underneath it and across from one wall to the other, and a small, hard chair in front of it. There was a very large window that ran the length of the room, facing the controls. And, still in only the boxer shorts he was given in the prior experimental sessions, Hogan noticed, shivering, that the room was freezing.
Hogan was left to sit in that room on his own for a long time. At first he tried to keep track of time, but after about two hours, when he was shuddering painfully, he gave up and could only concentrate on the feeling that was starting to leave his hands and his feet, which he noted with some trepidation were starting to turn white from lack of blood circulation.
Some time later, how long Hogan could not tell—minutes? Hours?—two men came back into the room. No one said anything to him as the cuffs were detached from the chair and Hogan was pulled roughly over to the panel. One of the men pushed him down into the hard chair, while the other handcuffed his wrists to the two shackles attached to the railing beneath the electronic equipment. Hogan could not resist testing them just a little, but as he suspected they did not give in to his jerking protests.
One of the pair moved the wheelchair to the corner of the room, and the two of them left as two other men in lab coats entered. One of them approached Hogan and started attaching electrodes to his temples. Hogan writhed and thrashed about in a vain attempt to stop this from happening, but a strong backhand across the face stunned him into stillness, and he submitted quietly, dizzily, as the German continued his work. More leads on his chest. On his back. And, when his shorts were yanked down for the briefest moment, on his groin.
Hogan was too bewildered and frightened to do much more at this stage than try to come to grips with it all. His eyes scanned the room as he was being subjected to this treatment, looking for someone, anyone, who could stop this, or at least explain it. There was, of course, no one, not even Ursula this time, and Hogan tried to focus his thoughts on his family back in Connecticut, who would surely have heard about his bailout by now. He wondered if he had been reported Missing in Action, or if the Germans had bothered to tell his family that he was indeed alive and being held captive by the enemy.
Hogan wondered for a fleeting moment why he was the only one doing this. And he wondered how many other downed flyers had undergone this kind of handling. Some vague clues came to mind, snatches of interrogations he had undergone in the previous weeks, and he began to suspect that he was being singled out. No, that’s paranoia, he berated himself. It’s not just you. Then the argument began, and he had no answer for the rejoinder that came back: They know you know about the daylight bombing plan. They know you were given sensitive information. They had four planes gunning just for your plane, Hogan. They wanted you, they have you, and they’re going to make this an experience you won’t ever forget…unless you’re lucky.
Hogan looked wearily at the leads on his body, and at the panel in front of him, and he waited, his teeth chattering. Shortly after, the second man came forward and started speaking in English to him. “You will take these controls and see how well you can maneuver them,” he said. “You are not to let go or stop the simulation for any reason.”
Hogan looked more closely at the panel before him. “E-Everything is in G-German,” he stuttered. “I c-c-can’t read—”
“You will figure it out,” the man interrupted him. “These are the controls of a German bomber. You are familiar with bombers, yes?” Without waiting for an answer, he continued. “You will receive orders through a speaker in the corner of the room.” The man pointed, and Hogan looked up to see a small box near the ceiling. “You are to obey those instructions as though they are coming from your own American commanders. You understand?” Hogan could not answer, still looking with some incomprehension into the German’s face. “You will do as you are told. It would not be worth it to you to disobey.”
The German turned to leave the room and Hogan looked back at the panel before him. He didn’t understand what the purpose was in trying to get him to fly an enemy plane; he had no intention of joining the Luftwaffe. They could put him front of a firing squad before he would do that. Still, he thought, perhaps if these were accurate representations of German bomber controls, he could get some use out of them. Memorize them and when he was able to communicate with the outside world again, somehow get information to London so they would have a better understanding of the machinery of the enemy. Clutching desperately at this objective, Hogan resolved to see through whatever it was he was about to experience. It was a pipedream, an impossibility, he knew. But it would keep him sane, and maybe keep him alive.
A deep, monotone voice soon came through the speakers. “Start the engines.”
Hogan looked at the panel of lights, buttons and levers before him, unsure what to do. Raising one chained arm, he tentatively reached out toward a small switch sitting near the word “Von”, and shakingly flicked it toward “Auf.” A light humming noise immediately filled the room. Off and on, Hogan figured out. He took a deep breath as he felt some sense of control returning. There has to be more than one engine…. There. He found another switch, and the humming increased. Hogan nodded, pleased, and waited, momentarily forgetting the cold.
“Bring your plane into a formation that reaches a height of ten thousand feet. You will have to bank to the right to get your aircraft in line with the others.”
Hogan scanned the panel for the display that would indicate his altitude, and reached out for the throttle. Gripping it tightly, his mind was suddenly thrust back in time to the start of his final mission in Goldilocks, and he paused. He had not allowed himself to think about the men he had been in the air with on that fateful day, had not allowed himself to replay the horror of their ending. It was a survival instinct. But now every detail came fresh into his mind, like he was living it right this instant. He could hear the men screaming in his ears, smell the fear, see the flames, and he was suddenly paralyzed, devastated, and destroyed.
A sudden painful jolt ran through his body, making him stiffen and gasp, and dragging Hogan away from the scenes in his head and back to the present. He panted as he realized the electrodes had been placed on his body to administer electric shock if he did not obey the orders he was given, and he fought to clear his head and find a way out.
“Bring your plane into a formation that reaches a height of ten thousand feet. You will have to bank to the right to get your aircraft in line with the others,” the accented voice repeated emotionlessly.
Hogan once again forced his stiff, colorless fingers to grip the throttle, and this time pulled back gently. The room was still freezing, he noticed, as a fresh set of goose bumps appeared on his bare skin. Flyers get clothes to wear, he thought, annoyed. He watched the displays before him, trying to blink away the false images starting to appear before him, and made as though banking to the right to join this imaginary squadron. When he reached the right altitude, he released the throttle with difficulty, his mind quickly wearing down despite his intentions to use this strange experiment to his advantage.
“You will prime the bombs and engage them in the bomb bay. Your target is ten miles ahead. When you reach your destination, you will be at twenty thousand feet.”
Hogan looked again at the panel, then glanced up at the large window. Six people were standing there, watching. One had a microphone and was undoubtedly the person feeding him instructions through the speaker. Another was manning a small machine, and still a third and fourth were scribbling madly on paper attached to small clipboards, and nodding brusquely. The other two were wearing military garb, and were simply observing with stern faces that betrayed no emotion whatsoever.
The temperature in the room continued to drop. Where in God’s name would he find the controls to prepare the bombs? Hogan looked carefully at all the switches and lights, his mind wandering in the cold and from the senselessness of the situation. If I could just… get warm, he thought, beginning to shiver more strongly. Find… find the switch. Come on. It has to be here. He pulled back slightly on the throttle to show he was starting to bring the plane to a higher altitude, but continued to scan the panel, unable to make sense of it.
He took too long. A stronger, more painful dosage of electricity shot through his body. “N-gaah!” Hogan cried out, squeezing his eyes shut as he arced away from the chair, unable to let go of the throttle. It stopped as suddenly as it started, and he sank back onto the hard seat, his body throbbing, his muscles contracting erratically. He moaned, exhausted, as he panted his way back to calmness.
“You will prime the bombs and engage them in the bomb bay. Your target is ten miles ahead. When you reach your destination, you will be at twenty thousand feet.”
Hogan heard the instructions come through the speaker again, and sat forward as quickly as he could manage. He couldn’t take another jolt like that; he would simply have to just go with whatever seemed to be the best bet to be the right controls. He felt beads of perspiration forming on his forehead, even though he was shivering from the continually dropping temperature. It had been close to freezing when he had come into the room; now, it was even worse. His small sense of hope was disappearing, and he knew now that all he could do was survive. If he could manage that.
Finally his eyes lit on a small picture of a bomb sitting over a switch near his right hand. One hand still on the throttle, Hogan flicked the switch. He heard an almost hollow, jerking noise, which he presumed would be the equivalent of the bombs dropping into place in the bomb bay. He tensed for a moment, preparing himself for another burst of electricity, but none came, and so Hogan guessed he had done the right thing. As he used the display to jockey the “plane” up to the required altitude, he found himself getting even colder, and his hands were hurting when he tried to grip things. So cold… so cold…
Hogan heard the voice say something to him, but he was starting to have trouble making out the words, and his mind was starting to become totally preoccupied with finding ways to get warm. He had lost track of time; it seemed like mere minutes had passed, though he knew rationally that it had been much, much longer. He looked vaguely, blankly, back through the window to the observers, trembling and bewildered. “Why was your squadron out during the day, Hogan?” he finally heard through the veil of confusion starting to descend upon him. “How long will the daylight campaign last?”
More of that… They aren’t going to let me go…. Hogan shook his head and used one hand to uncurl the fingers of the other off of the throttle. Please… please… I’m so cold.
“You will hone in on your target and release your load of bombs.”
Hogan leaned forward mechanically, facing the panel but not really seeing anything on it. He could not concentrate, could not think about anything but the coldness of his hands, his feet, his body. He was shaking violently now, and when he without thinking grabbed onto the throttle, it jerked back and forth with just as much force. Hogan’s teeth were chattering. He couldn’t focus on anything at the controls, and though he feared the reprisals, he could not obey, and moved a leaden, quivering hand to the board and simply dropped it onto a cluster of switches. He couldn’t make his fingers grip anything so small, but he tried, desperate to avoid the consequences of failure.
Hogan’s breathing was sharp and shallow, and even as his mind wandered, he felt more and more panic building inside him. He couldn’t let this happen again, he couldn’t. And yet he knew he was losing control of his body in this cold and he could not obey. And he was suddenly tired, so very tired, and he longed to lay his head down on the board and just go to sleep. To the devil with whatever they would do to him; let them do all they wanted, as long as he could rest.
Hogan finally admitted defeat, hanging his head down to his chest and letting his hand slip off the throttle. He sat slumped, body shivering and teeth rattling, eyes closed, and waited. This time the jolt that went through him was so strong that he was lifted off the seat, crying out in an agony he had never before experienced. His eyes shot open and his trembling muscles twitched and spasmed all at once, intensely and unbearably. His head exploded in pain as bright colors appeared and then disappeared before his eyes. He felt his heart beating wildly, strangely out of rhythm, and his groin screamed from the excruciating burning racing through him.
Ten seconds later it was over. The chair had been propelled away by Hogan’s writhing body, and the shackles on his arms were gripping him so he was propped grotesquely off the floor. But still shivering violently, and with his muscles clearly still contracting and expanding randomly, Hogan was unconscious. He could do nothing to continue now. Two attendants released him from the chains, poured him carelessly into the wheelchair, and took him out of the room.
----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- -----
The cycle of tests continued. Hogan was warmed up by being immersed in very hot water, and an hour later, barely aware, he was dressed and locked in a much smaller room where he was given an oxygen mask, only to find the oxygen abruptly cut off and the atmospheric pressure changed in the room to simulate a high-altitude parachute jump from a fatally damaged aircraft. But these trials were much shorter than the previous one, since Hogan’s stamina even with full oxygen was no longer something he could take pride in. Time and again, he was revived and then put back to work, and unlike the first test, where he had concocted some unlikely plan to help him get through the ordeal, this time he simply endured it, with nothing in his mind except to continue because that was what he had to do. He gave no thought to the past, or to the future. He was purely locked in the now. And the nightmare of the present blocked out everything else that had been or was to come.
When he stumbled, or faltered, which was now becoming more and more frequent, he was prodded, or more likely struck, back to work, though the blows did nothing to bring back any sense of alertness.
When they continually denied him sleep, Hogan concluded the Germans were now studying the effects of sleeplessness on flyers as well, and after several more hours of work handcuffed to panels of controls, Hogan was released and brought to another room that was outfitted similarly to a gym, and he was told to start walking the treadmill. Hogan did not react either outwardly or inwardly, and simply stepped up to the task. He put his hands on the bars and put one foot in front of the other, slowly making the track at the bottom move. He was sweating profusely and breathing heavily, finding it hard, so hard, to keep going, until finally he simply stopped and lay his head down on his arms across the one of the bars and closed his eyes.
Someone struck his back, and Hogan lifted his head, his vision blurred and distorted, and tried to resume work. A sudden voice behind him surprised him in its clarity. “Rob. Rob, what do you think you’re doing? You were never fit for this kind of thing.”
Momentarily confused, Hogan turned around to see his younger cousin standing there, arms crossed, the familiar smirk that came out during weekend games of horseshoes adorning his face. Hogan shot him a questioning look. “Jim?”
“Yeah, yeah, Rob—trying to pretend you’re in top physical condition!” Jim ribbed.
Hogan shook his head, bewildered. It couldn’t be Jim—not here. But when he blinked, the image wouldn’t go away. “I am in top physical condition!” he answered. “Or I was.” He wiped his eyes with the back of his arm. “What are you doing here?”
“Keeping an eye on you. Somebody has to.” Jim moved in toward Hogan, who just stood, watching. Jim turned serious. “You’ve gotta hold on, Rob. We’re counting on you.”
Hogan nodded tiredly. “It’s hard, Jim. I’m so tired. I hurt so much.”
Jim nodded grimly. “I know. But we’re here, Rob. Just remember we’re here.”
Before Hogan could answer, someone struck him again on the back with a stick, prodding him to get back to work on the treadmill. Hogan jumped, startled more than hurt, and when he turned around, his cousin was gone. Forcing himself to keep going, Hogan tried to focus his mind on survival. But there was a dull throbbing in his skull, and a gnawing fear that the Germans would never let him go back to sleep again, that he would be walking a treadmill or forced to do something else equally inane until he dropped dead. Once when he looked at the bars on either side of the treadmill, he very clearly saw them waving like ropes, and Hogan wondered why his hands seemed to be holding so steadily on something that seemed so fluid. Wait, this can’t be real, Hogan told himself. But no matter how much he tried to make the vision go away, it wouldn’t, and finally he drew his hands away and stepped off the machine.
No one hit Hogan for this; indeed, when a second person approached him, he seemed more interested in why Hogan had reacted this way more than angry about him having done it. Hogan looked at the man, swaying slightly, and shook his head listlessly.
“How long have you been in this room?” the man asked.
Hogan tried to think straight. He had been walking in this room for a long time. But had he been in this room before? Had he actually fallen asleep at any stage? Had he forgotten anything that had happened? “This is the room where… I don’t know if I was… If…” His lack of focus was frightening to him, and he found he couldn’t speak properly. His own voice sounded foreign to him, and he was sure his words were slurring. “I d’know,” he stammered finally.
“Tell me the sum of fifteen plus one hundred and forty-six.”
Hogan tried to place the numbers in order in his head, but he could not. He was at pains to even remember what a six looked like. Anxiety that had been creeping up on him was now making a more aggressive approach with each question he could not answer.
“Tell me the color of your hair.”
Hogan could not reply. He was too confused to make sense of the words, and he shook his head in lack of understanding. “Gefangener denkt zusammenhängend nicht,” the scientist reported to someone standing nearby with a notebook. The other man noted Hogan’s lack of coherence as requested. “Zeit ohne Schlaf: fünfundsechzig Stunden.” If Hogan could have translated, he would have better understood his mental confusion. Time without sleep: sixty-five hours.
Hogan’s eyes stung and his head pounded. His muscles, raw from near-constant use over the last three days and abuse over the past several weeks, were turning to liquid inside him. No matter how much someone wanted him to stay awake and alert, he found he could no longer obey, and when someone grabbed him and put him in a chair to await his future, Hogan immediately fell asleep. The experiment must have been complete; no one bothered waking him up.
The End and the Beginning
It was through a haze that Hogan saw his departure from the hospital at Hohemark. Still exhausted and overwhelmingly sore, he dressed mechanically when ordered, and walked—hobbled, really—to the exit, where a truck was parked outside at the curb, waiting.
Hogan did not turn back and look at the hospital as he left. He wanted to forget this place as quickly as possible, and indeed, he already could not remember some of what had happened there. The overriding emotion was fear; the overriding sensation was pain. If he could blot some of it out forever, he would consider it a prayer answered.
In the back of the truck, he was again shackled to a pole running the length of the cabin, with an armed guard sitting beside him, smoking a cigarette, uninterested in his charge. Hogan leaned back against the wall of the truck with a groan and closed his eyes, wondering somewhere in the back of his mind where he was going, but not concerned enough about it to be able to think past the condition he was in now. He wanted sleep; he needed it. But each pothole in the road jolted him back to wakefulness and antagonized his suffering body.
Still, the time passed mercifully quickly, and when Hogan was roused to disembark from the truck, he wasn’t sure how long they had been traveling. He moved out slowly, like an old man, and was cuffed again with his hands in front of him. He blinked in the bleak light of the day, his eyes still sore from the last few days of sleeplessness, and a guard had to keep hold of Hogan’s arm to stop him from sinking to the dirt beneath them. Hogan looked around, only slightly curious, and saw large, long wooden buildings, guards with rifles, and barbed wire fences.
Barbed wire fences.
Hogan was in prison.
A wave of sadness swept through Hogan as he felt fully for perhaps the first time that his fight was over. He had withstood everything the enemy had thrown at him, and this was his reward: imprisonment. Perhaps now the Germans would leave him alone. But what would he be left with, now that he had been drained of every shred of dignity and pride he had left England with so long ago?
Hogan was yanked back into reality when the guard started pulling him toward a smaller building somewhat separated from the rest of the large structures. No longer completely aware of the protests being lodged by his body, Hogan moved wordlessly along with his keeper, and stepped awkwardly up the two steps to the entrance. Another armed guard opened the door, and Hogan was pushed gently inside an antechamber and then led into a small office, where an officer was hunched over his desk, his eyes intense and focused on whatever paperwork lay spread out before him.
The man looked up when Hogan was thrust before him. The man guarding Hogan offered a salute. “Das ist Hogan?” the officer asked the guard, returning it.
The guard replied, “Ja, Kapitän Zurbrück,” and handed over some papers.
Zurbrück glanced at the papers and nodded. “Entfernen Sie seine Handschellen,” he said.
The guard unlocked Hogan’s handcuffs, and though his wrists were infinitely tender and sore, the American did not move to relieve the ache in them. He stared straight ahead, expressionless, as the Captain continued to review the papers in his hands.
“Wir werden fortsetzen, ihn zu befragen,” Zurbrück remarked. He looked at Hogan and asked in perfect English, “Do you understand, American? We will continue to question you here.”
The final light of hope that Hogan had, unbeknownst even to himself, been holding, was extinguished. His eyes dulled. He said nothing.
“Are you in there, Colonel Hogan?” the Captain asked, half-mocking, and half-serious.
Hogan spoke almost inaudibly. “Hogan, Robert E., Colonel. US Army Air Corps. Serial number 0876707.” Inside, he was weeping. No, oh no, not again…. Oh my God, oh my God, please help me.
----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- -----
Time passed slowly in the transition camp outside Frankfurt. Hogan originally found himself in an extremely large barrack, housing dozens of men from different militaries, all of whom, it seemed, had caused the Germans some sort of trouble, either in their activities before their capture, or during their interrogations. Hogan kept mainly to himself, too stricken to pay more than token attention to anything around him, and too ill to pretend that he cared. Once in awhile a fellow prisoner would come along and try to offer him some conversation, but Hogan’s muddled and feverish mind was finding it difficult to understand the words of even the English prisoners, and eventually the visitors that continued passing through did little more than sit by him, or quietly offer him a cigarette, which he refused after the first time, as the deep inhalation made him dizzy and sore.
When he had time to reflect on it later, Hogan realized that the other men in the camp were doing their very best to make him feel part of a group, so that he would not feel isolated, which led of course to hopelessness. The men had obviously been made aware that Hogan was different from the everyday prisoner brought into Wetzlar. Unlike most of them, he was taken after roll call every day by an armed guard, and was not returned until late that night, if at all, when he would retreat to his thin, scratchy mattress, and curl up into himself, rocking mindlessly until asleep overtook him. And even then, the others could hear him muttering restlessly. Always the same thing: name, rank, and serial number.
Once a week the prisoners were sent into the delousing station, and Hogan became part of the routine of undressing, bundling up his clothes, and passing under a spray that was mixed with carbolic acid. It only took one run under that shower for the men to learn to keep their eyes squeezed shut and their mouths tightly closed. After that session came a trip to an ordinary shower—with water so cold it was almost more of a treat to get out than to get in for a wash. Hogan learned to use the abrasive, ersatz soap on offer, since Red Cross parcels didn’t seem to make it to this camp, and to dry himself with similarly ersatz towels filled with straw that was just as hard and rough as anything found on a farm.
One day about two weeks later, a British non-com approached Hogan as he was lining up with his tin cup for a thin soup of water and rutabagas, and stood silently beside him. At first Hogan thought he had come with the intention of saying something. But the Corporal did not speak, and eventually Hogan felt compelled to ask, “Something I can do for you?”
The Corporal smiled slightly. Hogan’s answer had not been cocky or aggravated, he noticed, just resigned. “Just thought I’d see how you’re bearing up today, Colonel,” he said.
Hogan frowned. “Okay, I suppose,” he said, non-committal.
“They’ve taken quite a shine to you, the Krauts,” the young man continued. Hogan didn’t answer, unsure what the Corporal meant. “Can’t seem to leave you alone. Must be the friendly sort.”
Hogan nodded once. “Friends I could do without,” he said shortly.
“I can tell,” answered the man. “Couldn’t help but notice you seem a bit worse for wear most nights.” Last night he had seen Hogan return to the barracks after two days away, bent almost double, cradling his ribs and biting his lip hard. And when Hogan thought all the others had fallen asleep, the Corporal watched as the Colonel cautiously stretched out a bit on his bunk and moaned softly, and silently sobbed in the darkness. “I’m Greg Cook, by the way, Colonel. Been here about two weeks. They don’t seem to want to give me a permanent home yet. Or you either, from the look of it.”
Hogan shrugged, then wished hadn’t. He winced. “How long do they keep people here?” he asked, turning away.
It was Cook’s turn to shrug. “Don’t know. It depends on what they want out of you.” He fell silent. Hogan didn’t speak. “You don’t have to hide it, sir,” Cook said finally. “We all know the Krauts are roughing you up.” Hogan said nothing. Tentatively, Cook added, “They must be pretty anxious to learn whatever it is you’re not talking about.”
Hogan shook his head. “I just want to forget about it,” he said, his voice catching.
Cook nodded. “Understood,” he acknowledged. “The fellas, they don’t expect you to talk about it. They just come around so you know they’re on your side. The Krauts seem to be doing their best to isolate you—so they can break you. And we good guys have gotta stick together, right? We all have our own horror stories. And it can’t be easy for you; at least our questioning is done. Yours just seems to keep going.”
Hogan nodded vaguely, grateful. “Thanks,” was all he could think of to say.
“Remember, Colonel—the only way to stay standing in this place is to hold each other up.”
Hogan turned back to the Corporal and nodded. In that one instant, his complete hopelessness found itself invaded by one small glimmer of optimism that refused to go away. “Thanks, Cook,” Hogan said. “I’ll do my best to remember that.”
----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- -----
A few more days passed, and Hogan tried to make the most of the wisdom of young Cook, who shortly after disappeared from the barracks, having been given a permanent assignment in a Stalag Luft. Little by little several men had disappeared, only to be replaced by others, who were then also assigned a permanent wartime prison. Hogan, however, remained, and eventually he was pulled away from the company of the others and put into solitary confinement, where his interrogation was renewed with sudden and physical vigor. Finally, after two days of the kind of treatment he had feared receiving when he had arrived, he was brought before Zurbrück.
“Colonel Hogan, this is General Albert Burkhalter.” The Captain introduced the large man standing next to him with an air of marked respect. Hogan glanced at the Luftwaffe General. He had a long scar running down his right cheek, and small, dark eyes peering out from a puffy face. A cigar was hanging out of his large red lips, but still he managed a scowl that made Hogan uneasy.
Hogan said nothing and did not move.
“You will salute a superior officer!” Zurbrück shouted, prompting the guard beside Hogan to strike the American in the back with the side of his rifle. Hogan took the abuse without comment, grimacing but not obeying.
Zurbrück was about to order another strike when Burkhalter himself intervened. “Never mind that, Captain—I would expect no less from this man.” He turned to Hogan. “Your reputation precedes you, Hogan. I am looking forward to getting to know you better.”
Hogan was impressed with the General’s command of English. But he did not answer him.
“I work directly under the Fuhrer, Hogan,” Burkhalter continued, unbothered by Hogan’s silence. “And I must tell you that he is fascinated by your powers of endurance.” Hogan felt a small thrill of fear course through him. “When you were first brought into the hospital after your capture, no one thought you would even survive, much less make interrogation a nightmare for the Luftwaffe and the Gestapo.”
Hogan felt adrenalin race into his bloodstream. He started looking quickly around the room; was anyone there going to bring him back to that nightmare again?
As if he could read Hogan’s thoughts, Burkhalter continued. “Have no fear, Hogan; the Gestapo will not be coming back—not yet. I have decided that the interrogators here at Wetzlar will attempt to loosen your tongue one more time, and then, we will assign you a permanent camp. If you do not require a trip back to the Hohemark first.”
Hogan turned cold at the mere thought of the house of horrors, and felt his breathing turn sharp and shaky. Burkhalter appeared not to notice, and Hogan was dismissed, to endure one final confrontation—winner take all.
----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- -----
The following days took on a hellish form for Hogan. He was at first given the opportunity to simply explain everything he knew about the Allied plans for attack formations, daylight raids, and offensive strategies. But Hogan was used to that routine and gave his standard answers, punctuated with an occasional smart remark that helped him to cope with the tedium and underlying fear of it all, but which earned him a couple of sharp backhands across the mouth.
When the interrogators concluded, as they had suspected from the beginning, that this method of questioning was not going to yield any results, they tried to wear Hogan down in other ways. First they made him stand from sunup to sundown in the interrogation room, not allowing him a chance to sit or change position, even when they almost grudgingly offered him food and water, which was meager at best. Hogan felt his muscles stiffen and cramp, and when he had to give in to their weakness he was pulled back up bodily, and held in place while someone slapped him, or struck him, or spat on him.
Still, Hogan said nothing, and the Germans then advanced to plunging Hogan’s head in a large, deep tub of ice water when he refused to answer their questions, or repeated his name, rank, and serial number, which was often. He gasped and spluttered frantically when this treatment first began, thrashing about as images of himself drowning filled him with great fear. But he quickly learned that the best way to last longer in the water was to hold still and conserve his breath, and after a longer period of stillness, the Germans would think he had already succumbed and pull him out, and he would gulp in as much fresh air as possible, trying to recover before the next immersion, which would be soon, and merciless.
Eventually, the people questioning Hogan reverted to one-on-one physical abuse. They beat him with their fists and with their guns. They dragged him from one side of the room to the other by handcuffs that were already too tight to begin with. They shone bright lights in his burning eyes so he couldn’t see the blows coming at him from behind. They taunted him with food and water that they put so close to his face he could have tasted it if he hadn’t been yanked back by the larger of the guards just as it was offered. Hogan knew they had never had any intention of letting him get it anyway, but it was still an almost unendurable cruelty when he was so in need of water, and food to sustain him through his ordeal.
After five days with very little food, water, or sleep, and with fresh aches and pains to embrace him, Hogan was brought back to the main office of the camp, and presented to the officer in charge. Zurbrück looked at him with distaste, shaking his head at the filthy, sweating, exhausted man before him. Now used to such appraisals, Hogan said nothing, his head bowed and his eyes half shut.
The Captain came around to the front of his desk and encircled Hogan. “Foolish, stubborn American,” he said with a sneer. “Don’t you realize that you gain nothing by your silence?”
Zurbrück pushed Hogan from behind. Hogan closed his eyes and concentrated on stopping himself from falling forward. Still he said nothing.
“We already know about your precious daylight raids,” the Captain continued, mocking. “They are continuing, and the losses are very heavy. Colonel Hogan, don’t you realize you can help save the lives of your own countrymen by cooperating with the Luftwaffe and answering our questions?”
It was nothing Hogan had not heard before. But standing here, dizzy and tired, and knowing deep down that the Germans were right about one thing—that the losses were extremely heavy if the raids were, indeed, ongoing—Hogan wished with all his heart that he could tell Zurbrück everything he knew, everything he thought was coming, and end his own torture, and possibly save some of his own men. But it was not to be: Hogan knew that telling the enemy anything at all, even something that seemed insignificant, could be used against him and against the Allies. And that was something he would not be able to live with, even if it meant possibly saving himself physical torture.
The self-inflicted mental torture would be just as devastating.
One breath. Two breaths. Three breaths. Four… Hogan tried to concentrate on taking one second at a time; one minute at a time seemed too big a task at present. As the Captain continued his self-important attempt to wear Hogan down, the American Colonel started to feel that he was, after all, starting to lose his resolve. He would never tell the Germans anything; of that he was certain. But his determination not to lose hope, not to give up and simply exist, was crumbling around him. Cook had been right: Hogan’s interrogation seemed to go on and on, long after other men had been left alone. Burkhalter had promised Hogan would be assigned a permanent home to sit out the rest of the war once the Wetzlar interrogators were done with him. Yet here was Zurbrück prattling on about Allied losses and how Hogan himself had information that could very well put an end to what would have to be devastating statistics. Wherever he went, Hogan would not be allowed to simply wait out the war. He had been singled out for special treatment, and the Germans were not going to let him go until they had squeezed every ounce of life out of him.
“Did you hear me, Colonel Hogan?” Zurbrück spoke more forcefully.
Hogan slowly moved his eyes to meet the Captain’s. “Sorry?” he asked, almost in a whisper.
“I said the General will be here in mere moments. Go wash up. I don’t want him to see you looking like that.”
Then you shouldn’t have had your goons do this to me in the first place, he thought angrily. The tiny spark of defiance in his mind both surprised him and rekindled a small bit of hope in his soul. The roller coaster of emotions was making him light-headed. He simply nodded and turned to allow his ever-present guard to escort him back to the barracks.
----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- -----
Growing stiffer and sorer by the minute, Hogan stood at attention as demanded when he returned to Zurbrück’s office. Burkhalter had returned, and Zurbrück was insisting in proper protocol, which this time, Burkhalter seemed pleased with. The General looked Hogan up and down, his eyes resting for a moment on an undressed, slightly inflamed cut on Hogan’s forehead, and then looked him straight in the eye. Hogan found himself staring back, sure the General would see a look of pure hatred reflected in his eyes. Burkhalter himself had done nothing to Hogan, yet at that moment he represented everyone that had, and everything that had made Hogan suffer, and Hogan was determined not to look away.
“I am told that your meetings with the camp’s interrogators did not yield any results,” Burkhalter remarked.
Hogan remained quiet, no longer looking at Burkhalter, but staring at the wall behind Zurbrück’s desk.
“I should have expected that much from you,” Burkhalter continued. “Your records from the Durschgangslager der Luftwaffe and the Hohemark already indicated a very strong will. For that reason, Hogan, you will not be placed in the LuftStalag that was originally planned for you. Instead, you will be sent to an enlisted man’s camp down south near Hammelburg, where you will find yourself surrounded by men who are perhaps less… determined… than yourself, and where you will hopefully be deterred from any high-flying ideas about an escape back to the Allies, if you’ll excuse the expression.”
Hogan still said nothing. His mind was far away.
Burkhalter turned to Zurbrück. “We shall leave immediately.”
“We?” Zurbrück echoed.
“Colonel Hogan is a special prisoner. He deserves a special escort. Plus I have business down south that I must attend to, so this will be the perfect opportunity to get to know Hogan better.”
If getting better acquainted with Hogan had been Burkhalter’s true intention, he would have been sorely disappointed. Hogan, handcuffed, said hardly a word on the trip in the back of the shiny black staff car, giving only monotone, monosyllabic answers when it appeared that staying quiet would have sent the General into a rage that included physical release on the prisoner. Burkhalter’s attempts to draw Hogan out eventually petered out, leaving the American to his own thoughts.
Those thoughts were chaotic. Hogan looked blankly out of the car window, watching the countryside whip past as he was transported from Hell to God Knew Where. Another camp. Another chance for some ambitious officer to use me as a way to a promotion. Another round of interrogations?
No. No, Burkhalter said if they couldn’t get me to talk, they’d put me in a camp for the duration…. But he didn’t say they would leave me alone. He didn’t promise there’d be no more of this torture! Oh my God, my God, I don’t think I could take any more of this. Please, God, please let it be over. Let me just sit it out like the others. Let me just sink into nothingness and disappear….
Hogan nearly sobbed as sudden images of Goldilocks burst into his mind, and the faces and voices of his men imposed themselves on him unexpectedly. We’ve lost both waist flank guns…. Oh my God. God! God! … We’ve got a fire starting back here! … Bail out! Do it now! He heard Little John’s panicked voice, saw Montgomery’s bloody, lifeless body in the cockpit, felt the terror of the ten men and the rush of fear that came as he stood poised to leap from the plane. Then there were flashes of the time to follow, blessedly no more than that, as each memory seemed punctuated with pain or fear or illness. And then there was Wetzlar. Most of that was clearer than he wanted it to be, but only time would hopefully obliterate those experiences. Hogan started to retreat, drawing further and further away from the things his mind was forcing upon him, until by the time they reached their destination he was far, far away from Germany.
The car idled as the driver announced the General’s arrival at the camp. Hogan took only a cursory look outside, still not connecting with anything his eyes lit on. Anything except the twelve-foot barbed wire fences. Another prison.
The car rolled slowly toward what looked like a small administration building and a tall, lean, balding man wearing a monocle and with a riding crop stuffed under his left arm came blustering down the stairs. Just get through this, Hogan thought. Take one second at a time…one second at a time…
“This is the end of the road for you, Hogan. Your new home,” Burkhalter said, picking up the bulging file on his prisoner that he no doubt intended to hand over to the officer in charge of this camp. He got out of the car when it was opened for him.
Hogan’s eyes automatically, involuntarily, scanned the compound, taking no special note of anything, or anyone, vaguely noticing two men in the distance leaning against a building labeled “Barracke 2”—a small one with a red scarf and red beret, and a taller one in RAF blues. He was uncomfortably brought back to the present by the face peering in his window—that monocled officer, squinting in his scrutiny—and blinked as though in discomfort as the driver came around and pulled him out of the car.
“You are Colonel Hogan?” asked the unknown officer.
“Of course he is, Klink; I just told you he was Hogan,” Burkhalter said, annoyed.
Klink nodded quickly. “Yes, of course, General, this is Hogan,” he amended.
Hogan said nothing, his eyes staring lifelessly at the ground, his mind running through the rules like a tape on a perpetual loop: Name, rank, serial number. Say nothing. Feel nothing. He once again felt himself uncomfortably close to tears as he repeated the final instruction. Feel nothing. Oh God, please…. I don’t need to be a hero; just let me survive…. Please. Help me find a way to hang on until I get home.
Hogan let Klink’s sugar-sweet voice wash over him without reaction. “Colonel Hogan, welcome to Stalag 13.”
Though some of the treatment and incidents in this story may have seemed extreme, as often as possible I used true to life experiences of Americans who were sent to England to fly B-17s early in the war, and of those who were shot down. The experiences were those of many people; however I used Colonel Hogan to personify them, and though it was not common for a single person to undergo all of those things, it was known to happen, if the prisoner was deemed valuable enough to question and study. The timeline and general outline of events was lifted with permission from M L Breedlove’s fan fiction “Weaving a Web of Freedom: Undoing the Past” (Thanks, Marty!).
Many of the places and people used in this story were real. Major Otto Boehringer, for example, was a real interrogator for the Durschgangslager der Luftwaffe, and prisoners were indeed kept for up to forty-five days in extreme cases, before being sent on to Wetzlar, the transition camp outside of Frankfurt-on-Main.
The German song and its translation in Chapter Six are gently borrowed from the book, “A Touch of Sabotage: 1940-1945” by Jack Goyder. Goyder was ordered by the British to be captured by the Germans so he could commit acts of sabotage against the Nazis, and the book is well worth reading.
Hogan’s experiences at the Hohemark were based on real testing that the Nazis conducted on prisoners when trying to improve their own performance. The “trip” he takes in Chapter Eleven is based on real effects of mescaline, which is a long-used, naturally-occurring drug. And the testing in the freezing room and the oxygen testing were also done to help German soldiers over the long term.
The US Army Air Corps began daylight bombings on 17 August 1942, over a railway yard in Rouen, France. Daylight raids had been trialed by the British and discontinued because of heavy losses. B-17s went out without fighter escort, as no US fighters had the necessary range to fly with them, and suffered extremely heavy losses until they were finally able to get a fighter that could make the trip without having to stop for refueling.
This story leaves off where the beginning of the trilogy that starts with “Welcome to Stalag 13” begins. You can read all four stories independently, or read them from start to finish for continuity.
Thanks to all for your encouragement.
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.