An American Hero This work is considered exceptional by our editorial staff.

November 1, 2010
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Ouch! I thought. I looked down at my thin, tattered boots. They were already worn after days walking. The fall season had already come; and winter would soon arrive in Germany, I thought; and my coat would suffice for any winter in Chicago. This winter was supposed to be one of the coldest and snowiest Belgium had seen in a while.

“What do you mean they’re running late?! “ General Bradley cursed. “The Germans will be here any day now!” His face had an expression of worry that I had never seen. And I could feel it spreading to all the other men.

General Bradley was a very good man, and I knew each and every one of his men would do anything for him. “All right men,” Bradley began, “Patton’s troops are running late. This means we are going to have to modify our plan; instead of having a line of men standing close to one another, we will have to spread out. “Don’t worry, though, just make smart choices.” He finished, wiped his brow and, walked away.

Figures, I thought, I had never liked General Patton. He was truly a harsh and mean man and seemed to care about no one but himself.

Unlike what General Bradley said, everything did not turn out all right. At least a dozen men, including myself, were captured by the Germans on the first day of the battle.

I was stationed and set with my rifle loaded to fire when I heard the harsh German world behind me and felt a rifle on the back of my neck. This is it, I thought. I would never go home again, never feel my mother’s embrace and never see the warm and caring smiles of my brothers and sisters. I bent my head down, not knowing what to expect. Then, I heard more German being screamed at me. I did not understand German, but I turned around to see Peter Cavanaugh a fellow platoon member of mine who understood German. “Stand up, Mark,” he mouthed at me. My heart raced as I stood from the snow and turned towards the Germans.

I looked at the German soldier; he had eyes that were a cold blue and a childish face which reminded me of my kid brother, John’s. He pointed at the American soldiers lined up behind him. I walked into the end of the line and followed the other soldiers as we walked behind the Germans.

After what seemed like hours, the Germans led us into a barn and crowded all of us Americans up against a wall. The barn smelled of cow manure and chicken feed, but I knew this wasn’t any ordinary barn. Immediately, the Germans started to bad-mouth the U.S.

Peter, who was kneeling beside me, lifted his chin and joked about Germany in his German. Left only to imagine what he said, the other men and I chuckled. Angered by this, one of the Germans turned his rifle and hit me in the mouth with the butt of it. I could taste the salty blood as the German soldier cursed and turned. I spat the blood out and with it came three of my teeth. My gums felt naked and my mouth burned with pain.

That night, I had a dream that I was home in Chicago. I dreamt of my mom’s cooking, a glass of cold water, and hours of laughter with my siblings. My mind was filled with fear that I would never go home again. I knew that the Geneva Convention stated that you were not allowed to kill prisoners of war; but then again, these Germans gave me the feeling that they were not going to follow any rules.

“Mark!” I awoke to find Peter shaking me and whispering in my. “Mark, listen we have to get out of here,” he explained. “I overheard the Germans talking and,” his face looked distraught and his dirty forehead had deep worry-lines, “They’re going to kill us.. So, you and I, we have to leave now.”

My heart pounded. I turned towards the other men; I had began to think of these men as family. How could I just leave them? My head turned towards Peter. His hazel eyes were filled with determination. “Listen,” he whispered, “if I could I would save all of these guys; they’re like my family, but I can’t. I have to get out of here; I have a family waiting for me and I have to be smart. I have no chance of saving all these guys without ending up with a bullet in my head. I can’t save them, but I want you to come with me; but again, it is your choice. Do you want to stay and seal your fate or leave with me and have a chance at survival?”

I nodded; he was right. I stealthily sat up and turned towards him. Peter’s serious face managed to form a smile. “All right, so do you see that window up there” he pointed as I nodded. “Okay, well, those geniuses over there,” he said motioning towards the Germans, “have a huge pile of wood piled right outside the window. If we climb out the window onto the wood, we can get away.”

We both shook hands and without another word climbed towards the window. I pushed Peter onto the window sill then pulled myself up. Then we slid off the wood to get on the ground.

Once we were on the ground, I turned towards Peter. He had a sad face because we both understood what we had to do next. Two men would get spotted much more easily than just one man. We had to split up. There was no doubt in my mind that I would miss him; we had been friends since training at Fort Hood. I whispered in his ear, “It has been an honor knowing you.” Peter blinked, nodded, and wrapped me in a hug.

The snow was falling all around us so we did not know which way was which. I crawled on my hands and knees in one direction then turned and saw that Peter was already gone.

I crawled for days, not knowing whether I was crossing back into enemy lines or going towards the Americans. Everything around me looked the same; my clothes were soaking wet and freezing cold, and it felt as though my feet were frozen solid. During the day, I only crawled on my stomach to prevent the Germans from seeing me. I did this for two days. On the third day, I reached civilization. Part of me wanted to run to the two men and tell them my story, but I waited. Finally, after what felt like forever, the two men spoke. My eyes filled with tears. They spoke English; they were Americans and the building behind him was an American field hospital.

I crawled as fast as I could towards the men. My eyes fought off tears as I listened to their beautiful words. The two men saw me from a distance and ran towards me. I kept crawling, ignoring the pain in my knees and my freezing jacket just as I had done for the past days.

Once the men reached me, they saw my condition and picked me off the ground. Swallowing my pride, I allowed them to carry me up the stairs and place me on a bed.

Another woman rushed over. She had a white hat on with a red “T”, and she held a razor blade. Gingerly but quickly, she dug the razor blade into my shoe and cut it open.

My feet were deformed and discolored from the cold. I cringed and tried to look away. Finally, a man with a pad and paper came to my bed. “We need your name, sir,” he said without as much as a blink of an eye.
I turned with sudden relief and said, “It’s Mark – Mark Patrick.”
I stayed in the hospital for a couple weeks before I was sent back to a hospital in Iowa. I thought of Peter often. Did he ever get home? Was he with his family? Was he happy? He had saved me that night in the barn. The German soldiers had shot and killed all of the other men in the barn with us. Sure, I had experienced my own problems. Crawling on my stomach on those cold and snowy days gave me frostbite and damaged my pleural lining in my lungs, but I was lucky. And I would never take my life for granted again.

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