WRONG WAY

Strange things happen in war. No matter how well
organized a military unit is, or how well led, no matter how clear
the army manuals are, or how well trained the troops, many
unauthorized things happen.

Take looting for example. I doubt that there was a GI in
Germany who didn't carry something in his pocket or pack that
represented the spoils of war. A watch taken from a dead Gerry,
a swastika ring, a German officer's pistol. Lugers were the
favorite. There were regulations against this sort of thing, but
we didn't pay much attention.

My buddy Frank and I were particularly lucky the day we
broke into an abandoned factory near Eisenstadt. We were
rummaging around, not looking for anything in particular, when I
spied two big crates in a dark corner under a staircase. Without
a minute's hesitation, we pried open one of the crates and, to
our amazement, discovered a shiny new BMW motorcycle. At
that time in Germany almost nothing was new, which made this
find particularly enticing. Of course we opened the second
crate, and there was another brand new BMW bike.

Now the question was what to do with them --just leave
them or ---"Aha, let's ask Lieutenant Butler". That we did, and
got another surprise. The lieutenant said "We can use them to
run messages to the front." Seemed like a good idea to Frank
and me, so we got some gas, fired up the bikes, and became
message runners.

Some of my rides were pure pleasure. It was spring, and the
fruit trees in southern Germany were blooming. I still recall
the fragrance and beauty of the apple orchards along both sides
of the road. Nothing compares to a motorcycle ride for getting
the smells, uninterrupted view, and feel of the countryside.

This happy duty went on for a few days when our sergeant
gave me a message to deliver that I'll never forget. His verbal
directions were a bit complicated. Something like: "Go down
this paved road two kilometers, turn right onto a dirt road. Three
kilometers down that road you'll come to a barn, where you
turn left, go two more kilometers to a Y", and so on. I repeated
the plan and took off with a sealed envelope in my pack.
Everything went OK until I came to woods the sergeant
hadn't mentioned. By that time the sun was going down and I
did not relish the prospect of making the return trip in the dark,
especially through a forest.

In another kilometer or two I smelled wood burning, then
something like meat cooking. I slowed down, looked left through
the trees and saw several small fires burning along a slope.
"Ah ha - the guys are cooking supper" I thought.
"But wait, we don't cook over open fires. We're not
allowed to make fires".

Slowing down, I was able to make out, through the trees, men in
not khaki but blue-grey uniforms.

"Oh my god" I thought, "these are Gerries. I'm behind the
German lines".

As quietly as I could, I turned the BMW around and headed
back, driving slowly and quietly in order to not attract attention.
I hoped that any Gerries who heard my motorcycle would think it
was German, which it was, except that it was being driven by
one scared American GI.

It was a minor miracle that I made all the correct turns, in
the dark no less, all the way back to my outfit, but I did.
I parked the bike and walked straight to the sergeant's tent.
As I handed him the still sealed envelope, the conversation went
something like:
"Sergeant, I don't know whether you gave me bad
directions or I screwed up, but I wound up several kilometers
behind the German lines. Here are the keys to the BMW. I think
you'd better find somebody else to run messages."
I expected him to give me hell, but he didn't, probably
because he didn't want to risk having our company commander
learn that one of his men darned near got captured. I don't
know whether or how the message ever got delivered, but I do
know that that was my last ride on a motorcycle until the war
was over.

It may seem odd that I, a lowly PFC, told a Staff Sergeant
that I wasn't going to run any more messages. It was unusual,
but as I said, strange things happen in war.

Ren Renshaw. November 2, 2006