I n combat, so the saying went, you only get to make one mistake. And that’s if you’re lucky.
Well, Moe had made his one mistake, and it was a doozy.
His first five days as a combat soldier were a blur of images and confusion: reporting to this officer, being sent to that officer, contradictory orders and instructions, a sense of urgency bordering on panic in every office and army base. The Allied forces were clearly in shock — 30 completely unexpected German divisions were hurling themselves against their troops — and they were also in transit, as Ike sent every available man to fight in the counteroffensive.
Moe crossed the Channel in the company of thousands of other G.I.'s. He wound up in France and finally found his posting — a command post a few miles behind the front line near the Belgian city of Bastogne. From there he was sent to POW cages throughout the area, to help interrogate the German prisoners. His experience in Station X was invaluable and in the space of a few days, in addition to translating, he was called upon to help his CO analyze the information they received.
It was good work, important and sometimes even satisfying — like the time he interrogated an officer of Hitler’s Waffen SS, making absolutely certain that the prisoner, who wore his Aryan arrogance like a military uniform, knew his captor was a Jew. And yet, thinking of men fighting on the line just a few miles away, living in holes in the ground while he was comfortably billeted in a large farmhouse, he couldn’t help but feel that he still wasn’t doing what he’d been aching to do since Pearl Harbor: fight the enemy, Japs or Nazis. Still, he was closer to the action than he’d been in Bletchley, and a lot less comfortable. That counted for something.
On the morning of his fourth day in Belgium, he awoke to the sight of white flakes dancing down from a leaden sky. He was given a map, compass, and his orders for the day — find a POW pen some two miles east, and help the interrogators there question several officers whom they’d bagged the night before. There was a shortage of jeeps — under these siege conditions, there was a shortage of just about everything — so he’d be hoofing it. With a snappy salute to his CO, he started off.
And that was his mistake.
The wind shrieked like a woman wailing in sorrow over her son fallen in battle; the dancing flakes turned into tiny whips slashing at his unprotected cheeks. Walking at his usual brisk pace Moe should have reached the POW pen in much less than an hour, but as he slipped and slid on the fresh white carpet he realized it would take at least twice the time.
An hour passed. Two, three... and now the forest track petered out. Around him was the magnificent solitude of a snow-covered forest. He was lost. Completely, hopelessly lost. (Excerpted from Family First, Issue 538)