I Met My Brother In France
I was in the Navy and was stationed in Cherbourg. I got a call from the Red Cross. My soldier brother was on a hospital ship which was anchored in the bay. It would not leave until morning. I reported to the small boat squadron and requested transportation which they gladly provided. I stayed with him all night. He had trenchfoot. It is similar to gangrene. His feet were propped up on pillows. All his toes were deep blue and swollen. Luckily he did not need amputation. He was hospitalized for months-
I cannot describe accurately what I saw on that deck. Every inch of space was occupied by a beds. Arms and legs were missing. Traction and bandages were everywhere and the odor of antiseptic was evident.
Bernard insisted on wispering.
He handed me a soldiers belt and on the buckle was, in German, Gott Mit Uns. I asked him what he was afraid of and he answered that there were wounded German prisoners on board and he was afraid for his life.
He was a combat platoon sergeant. He and his men crawled on their bellies, through freezing terrain to toss grenades into pillboxes. I can see why his imagination ran wild. He wasn't all there.
He described his injuries and explained what happened.
No one warned him about trench-foot. It is a condition where cold feet, wet socks and tight boots caused circulation to stop. He told me that he had to walk through a freezing shallow stream after which he couldn't feel his feet anymore. It was like walking on stumps. It was so painful we wished a bullet would hit him and end his misery. He finally called a medic. When his boot was removed his foot swelled to almost twice its size. The medic put a tag on him and he was evacuated. The rest was history.
He told me that one pillbox he helped destroy was manned by Polish prisoners with a single German soldier pointing a pistol at their heads. They had to shoot to kill or the German soldier would execute them. Only the German wore shoes. A sad state of affairs indeed-
I'm glad to say that Bernard lived a full life. He died in his sleep at age 86. 1 was his baby brother and I celebrated my 78th birthday July 24.
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