A New Arrival
Steven J. Pani
Part I - Office Meeting
January 14, 1943 - Germany
Things could be worse. I could’ve ended up dead.
That was the thought the young man had as the truck he was in made a turn and passed through an opening barb-wire gate. As the truck slowed down, he thought Who am I kidding? I’m going to be a prisoner! That’s worse than being dead. Sighing deeply, the young man, Lieutenant Sam Roberts, took one more look at the people he was riding with. For the past hour he had shared space with a fellow American soldier and two British officers, unmistakable in their blue uniforms and hotdog vendor-like caps. The group didn’t talk much during the ride, so he didn’t know them very well.
Plenty of time to make friends now. Years maybe...
The truck stopped and the short barricade that kept the men from falling out was unlatched and lowered. A heavyset German officer looked at the small group and said “All right, everybody out! Schnell!” Sam and the three other officers obeyed, squinting in the harsh winter sunlight. The truck had stopped in front of a house-sized building. On the building, there was a sign that said KOMMANDANTUR in large red letters.
Guess we’re going in there, Sam thought. Two other German soldiers took up positions behind Sam, rifles in their hands. With the larger officer in front, the small group went up the stairs.
They entered what looked like a reception room in a doctor‘s office. “Line up here”, said the heavyset man, pointing at the wall next to the door they came through. Sam ended up near a desk where a nice-looking woman, her blond hair done in pigtails, was sitting. Looking at her, he realized how terrible he must look, the brown hair under his cap unwashed and beard stubble covering his face. To his surprise, she smiled slightly at him. Blushing, Sam smiled back. Putting down files he was carrying, the large officer said something in German to the woman--Hilda, he called her--and she responded, lifting up the telephone on her desk. She spoke briefly into it and put it down again.
Silently, Sam cursed himself. He wished he understood what they just said, but the only languages he knew were French and Italian. Suddenly, the door facing him and the other prisoners opened. A tall, thin man--about six feet, Sam guessed--came out. He wore a German colonel’s uniform and a monocle in his left eye. He was also bald, except for the back of his head.
The heavyset German officer saluted the colonel and said, “Four new prisoners ready to meet you, herr kommandant.”
“Thank you, Schultz”, the colonel said dismissively. He then looked at the small group, looking somewhat like a vulture inspecting his prey. “I am Colonel Wilhelm Klink”, he began, pacing in front of them. “Welcome to Stalag 13. If any of you are thinking of leaving, I must tell you now that escape is impossible.
“If you try”, he continued, a cruel smile forming on his lips, “let us just say the results will not be...pleasant.” He then walked over and stood in front of Sam. “Your name?” he asked.
The young man looked slightly up at the colonel. “Sam Roberts”, he said calmly, with no hint of fear in his voice. No one was going to see how nervous he really was, no one! The taller man looked at the files that the heavyset man--Schultz--had put on the desk, selected one and put it on top of the others.
“Follow me, please,” he said, walking back into his office with the files. With Schultz behind him, Sam took one last look at the other prisoners and entered the room.
It was an office, all right. There was a wooden desk with a helmet from the First World War on it, a large map of the prison camp behind the desk and a vertical double window to the right of the map. A picture of Adolf Hitler giving a speech hung on the wall next to the door. Behind Sam, there was a large safe on the floor.
“That will be all for now, Schultz,” Klink said. The portly officer saluted and closed the door. The colonel and the lieutenant were now alone. “So,” he said, sitting down in the desk‘s chair. “What brings you here, hmm?”
“Samuel Roberts, Lieutenant. United States Army. Serial number SP26-1978.”
The colonel just stared at him. “If you think I’m impressed, you’re sadly mistaken.” He opened the top file on his desk--my file, thought Sam--and began reading the papers inside. “Hmm...assigned to the 6th Infantry Division, involved in a battle twenty miles east of here, one of only sixteen survivors--”Sam shut his eyes and winced at the memory. All those good people...dead.
“--the other fifteen sent to other camps.” After a moment’s pause Klink said, “A shame to lose all those friends. Did you know them well?” Sam looked hard at the older man and said nothing.
“What’s this?”, the colonel said, sounding surprised. “It says here that you were born on February 24, 1921. That makes you only twenty-one years old right now.” He chuckled softly and said, “You’re barely a man.”
“I’m more of a man than you are,” Sam said angrily.
It happened so fast that Sam didn’t have time to react. The colonel had stood up and slapped him across the face. His cheek began turning red from the blow.
“I will not be insulted by the likes of you,” Klink hissed through clenched teeth, jabbing a finger at the young American.
Sam lightly touched the still-stinging cheek. “I thought as much,” he said quietly, almost to himself.
“You thought what?”
“You resorted to violence. Just like almost everyone else I know does. What’s wrong with just talking?”
“A waste of time,” replied the colonel. “I prefer action.”
Sam was beside himself. “Talking is not a waste of time! It does work. Any superior being would know that,” he said, emphasizing the word superior.
Klink was livid. He slammed both hands on the desktop and drew himself to his full height. Loudly, he said, “I have had enough out of--” Without warning, the office door opened. A man the same height as Klink came in, followed closely by Schultz.
“Morning, sir,” the stranger said cheerfully. “Fine day isn’t it?” He was American, judging by his accent. He wore a high-ranking officer’s cap and fine-looking brown leather jacket. If any word described him, it would be dashing.
“Colonel Hogan!” Schultz said, clenching his teeth. “You know how the kommandant feels about you barging in here all the time!”
Sam’s eyebrows went up. Another colonel? Well, wasn’t this his lucky day!
“Would you relax, Schultz? I’m just being friendly. Aren’t I, sir?” Hogan said to Klink. Klink just glared at him.
No love lost between them, Sam thought.
Turning his attention to Sam, Hogan said, “Oh. I didn’t know you had company. Colonel Hogan, senior POW officer.” He then held out his hand.
Sam ignored the hand and gave Hogan a proper military salute. “Lieutenant Sam Roberts, 6th Infantry Division,” he said proudly.
“In this camp, you will salute me and only me!” Klink warned.
“How’s he supposed to know that? He’s only been here a few minutes,” Hogan countered. To Sam, he said, “By the way, what happened to your face?”
Klink had heard enough. “Schultz!” he shouted. “Take the prisoner to the barracks. Put him in number nine.”
“Jawhol, herr kommandant,” the portly man replied. With that, he led Sam out of the office, back outside, and toward a group of small buildings. A minute later, they arrived at one that said, with no surprise, BARRACKE 9 on it.
Schultz opened the wooden door and ushered Sam inside. “Achtung!” he said, loud enough to get the attention of the men inside. “By order of the kommandant, this man is assigned to your barracks. Make him feel at home, all right?” He then turned and left.
Silence prevailed for a few heartbeats. To Sam, it felt like hundreds of eyes were watching him. “Uhh...hi,” he managed to say. The old saying about the frying pan and the fire was going through his head.
He was definitely in the fire now.
Part II - A Friend
Another beautiful day in the German countryside, Sam thought sarcastically. The wind picked up for a moment, sending a shiver through his body. Just wish it wasn’t so blasted cold!
It was the so-called “recreation period” for the prisoners. All around Sam, men were playing catch, walking (like Sam was doing), and performing simple exercises like stretching and push-ups. And all were under the watchful eyes of numerous soldiers, ready to shoot if there was an escape attempt.
Sam kept walking, hands in his overcoat’s pockets, turning his thoughts inward. He felt slightly better, finally managing to wash up and shave. Even the bruise left from Klink’s slap had faded.
But he was also tired. Frequent roll calls, forced marching and strenuous exercises were starting to take a toll on him. He figured that they were designed to sap his strength so he couldn’t try to escape. Sam also thought that they were made to break his spirit and will as well.
Well, he wasn’t going to let anything break his spirit and will. Not even if he was stuck in this camp until he was as old as his grandfather, and could only get around in a wheel--
“Hey! Watch where you’re going, will ya?”
Sam looked up. He had bumped shoulders with a fellow prisoner. “I-I’m sorry,” he stammered. “I guess I wasn’t paying attention.”
“Well, you should,” the man said. “People can get hurt, you know.” He was young, probably in his late twenties, thin, and only an inch or two taller than Sam. He wore a beat-up, worn leather jacket and an equally worn sheepskin cap. “Say, aren’t you one of the new guys? The ones that came in on Thursday?”
“Yeah, that’s right. Sam Roberts,” Sam replied, holding out a gloved hand. The other man took it and shook it firmly.
“Andrew Carter,” the man introduced himself. “But almost everybody just calls me Carter. You want to sit down and talk?”
“Sure,” Sam said with a smile. “Beats walking around doing nothing.” The two men walked a short distance and sat down on two small, empty crates outside one of the barracks. “Nice jacket,” he said after a moment’s silence.
Carter smiled. “Thanks. Had it for a while now.”
“How long have you been here?” Sam asked.
Carter rubbed his chin thoughtfully. “Almost a year,” he said finally.
Sam’s eyes went wide. A year? “Do you get homesick?”
“Sometimes. Once in a while, I dream I’m back home. It’s summertime and I’m lying in a hammock. Then I wake up and I realize I’m still in this damn place. How about you?”
“A little,” Sam said quietly. “Where are you from?”
“The Midwest”, Carter said. “You?”
Sam smiled, showing his teeth. “New York.”
Carter’s eyes widened. “You mean the‘Big Apple’?” he whispered. “You know, I always wanted to see Times Square.”
Sam chuckled and shook his head. “No, no. Not the city. I’m from the suburbs, a place called Peekskill.
“It’s great,” he continued, “especially in the spring and summer. Fresh air, a great view of the Hudson River, and these huge rolling hills called the Palisades.” He held out his arms for emphasis. “Those things are spectacular.”
“Sounds real nice,” Carter said. He then started patting his jacket and looking down at the outside pockets.
Uh-oh, Sam thought. I think I know what he’s going to say...
“Say, you got a cigarette?”
And he was right. Suppressing a sigh, Sam said “Sorry. I don’t smoke.” Why was it, that when you reach a certain age, people expect you to start smoking? It made no sense!
“That’s okay,” Carter said. “I’ll get one later. So... what do you do for fun?”
“Oh, I like reading, doing jigsaw puzzles, and solving algebra problems. Back in high school, I was called the ‘Algebra King’,” Sam said with obvious pride. That got a laugh from Carter. “I also like to do a little gymnastics, too.”
“Really? Could you show me?” Carter asked.
Sam looked puzzled. “Right here? Now?”
Carter shrugged. “No time like the present,” he said.
“All right. Watch this,” Sam said with a grin. He took off his overcoat and his cap and walked a few paces away from Carter.
He took a deep breath. Let’s see if I can still do this. He then flipped forward once, twice, a third time, curled into a ball in mid-air--
And landed with both feet on the ground. Applause and cheers erupted from Carter and several other prisoners who were watching.
“Hey, that was really something!” Carter exclaimed as Sam put his coat and cap back on. “Think you could show me how to do that?”
“Well...” Sam began. Before he could say anything else, a young German officer, rifle in hand, came up to him and Carter.
“The recreation period is over,” he said in passable English. “Return to your barracks. Move!”
“Well, pal, I guess that’s it,” Carter said, getting up from his makeshift chair. “Nice meeting you.”
“Same here,” Sam agreed. He gripped Carter’s outstretched hand. Suddenly, Carter moved closer to him.
“Which barracks are you in?” he whispered, eyes darting back and forth.
Why was he asking that? “Nine. Why?”
“I know Jack Simmons. When you get back, say to him ‘I want to see the boss’.”
Sam looked utterly confused. “What?”
Carter merely smiled and said, “You’ll find out. See you later.” With that, he started walking back to his barracks. Sam also started walking, his mind buzzing with questions. “I want to see the boss”? What did that mean?
I’ll find out soon enough, Sam thought. He was given a key.
Time to see what it unlocked.
Part III - The Decision
It was relatively quiet in the barracks. The men inside were busy reading, talking quietly, playing cards, and writing letters back home. Sam’s eyes scanned the large room and soon found the person Carter mentioned. He was busy reading a copy of The Time Machine by H.G. Wells. Sam began walking toward him.
“Jack? Jack Simmons?” he said.
Simmons looked up. He was a short man with greasy-looking red hair, a thin nose, and wearing wire-rim glasses. “Yeah?” he responded. “What do you want?”
Sam hesitated and began rubbing his hands together. “I-I talked to Andrew Carter earlier. He said you knew him,” he said at last.
“Yeah, so?” Simmons said, his voice dripping with impatience.
“Well...he told me to say to you--” Sam paused for a moment. This was going to sound totally ridiculous “--‘I want to see the boss’?”
Simmons didn’t laugh. He didn’t ask any questions. All he did was close his book, get up, and started walking toward the sink. Sam quickly followed him.
“Danny, watch the door,” Simmons said to a man seated at the table. Danny got up and opened the door just far enough so he could see outside. Simmons turned his attention back to Sam.
“You tell the ‘krauts’ what you’re going to see,” he warned, “and you’re dead. Literally.”
Sam’s heart seemed to freeze in his chest. Dead? What in God’s name was he getting himself into? Part of him wanted to say “forget it” and step back, but no, he had to see this through. “I understand,” he said.
Simmons took a deep breath and pushed the sink with both hands. It moved smoothly to the left, revealing a ladder--a ladder!?--underneath. Simmons quickly went down it, followed closely by Sam.
It was dark, except for a few dim light bulbs strung on the ceiling. It was also a bit musty. Old childhood visions of castle dungeons and mine shafts floated up from Sam’s memory. With Simmons in the lead, the two men made a left turn, two right ones and another left. They stopped outside what appeared to be a fairly large room.
“Wait right here,” Simmons said, and went into the room. A few moments later he came back and said, “Good luck, buddy. I’ll be right here when you’re done.” He smiled and patted Sam’s shoulder.
All right, thought Sam. Here I go. He squared his shoulders and walked into the room. And there, sitting on a stool next to a slanted desk...
“I was wondering when you’d get here.”
Sam’s eyes looked like they were going to fall out. It was the American colonel, Hogan. The one he met when he arrived. “You!” he exclaimed. “I-I mean, sir! I-I mean...What on earth is going on here?”
The colonel smiled. “Have a seat and I’ll tell you,” he said. Sam walked over and sat down on another stool, still unsure of what was happening.
“It’s like this,” Hogan began. “We get orders from HQ back in London, and we carry them out. Sabotage, rescue missions, undercover work--anything the brass wants done, we do.”
“‘We’?” Sam asked.
“The prisoners, including myself. They’re all in on the operation. Even the resistance cells are in on it.”
“And you get away with this?”
The colonel shrugged. “There’ve been a few close calls, but nothing we couldn’t handle.”
Sam looked hard at the older man. “Sounds very impressive,” he said. “But...what does this have to do with me?”
“You have two choices,” Hogan told him. “The first one is that you stay here and help us out. Carter already told me you’re a good acrobat, and that may come in handy for a cover story. What else can you do?”
“Well, I’m good with tools,” Sam said, “and I can run pretty fast. I’m also good when it comes to self-defense.”
“Hmm. Sounds like I got a mechanic, a fighter, and an amateur athlete all in one day. Talk about your good deals.”
Sam laughed in spite of himself, then became serious again. “What’s the second choice?” he asked.
Hogan looked him straight in the eye and said, “Freedom. My men and I will help you get out and back to Allied territory anyway we can.”
Sam’s throat went dry. “You’d...do that for me?” he managed to say.
The colonel nodded. “So take your pick,” he said. “Either stay here or leave. It’s up to you.”
Sam took a deep breath. He imagined a scale, and on it were his two choices. He could go back home and see his friends and family again, but there was the danger of being recaptured, maybe getting killed. Then again, he could stay at Stalag 13 and help with Colonel Hogan’s operation, no matter how farfetched it seemed. At least he’d be doing his part to end this pointless war.
Sam’s heart beated in time with his thoughts. Should I go or should I stay?
Go or stay?
The scale was beginning to tip...
“All right,” Sam said at last. “I’ll stay.” He then gave Colonel Hogan the firmest handshake of his young adult life. Sam’s father would have been impressed.
Hogan was impressed. The young man had quite a strong grip. “Welcome to the family,” he said, smiling. “Just don’t let me down.”
“I won’t,” Sam promised. He knew, right down to his soul, that he made the right decision.
Well, Sam thought, this should be a very interesting experience. Very interesting indeed.
Text and original characters copyright by Steven J. Pani
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.