The Deserters

by Nick Gallup

“Major, we can hold,” Lappy insisted.

Major Nelson was shaking, either from the cold or the Germans.

“Goddamit, Lieutenant, the Krauts broke through all around us. We’re gonna be surrounded if we stay here. I’m giving you an order. Get your company together. We’re pulling back.”

Lappy gave the order to pull back. There wasn’t much left of his company, maybe ninety men. The rest were dead, lying in their foxholes with piles of German dead stacked in front of them. Even though it was dark he could still discern the smoldering remains of the three Tiger tanks they’d knocked out. That’d been earlier in the day, and then they’d beaten back wave after wave of German soldiers.  

His depleted company followed him as they merged with hundreds of others from their division as they headed towards St. Vith, Belgium. The dirt road was hard and icy, and guys kept slipping and falling. It was bitter cold, and they wrapped their green scarfs around their faces and pulled their wool overcoats tight against their bodies to ward off the furious winds whipping them with snow and sleet. Many of the men they met up with had either lost or abandoned their weapons, and they just slumped forward into the wind, walking as fast as they could to escape. Lappy couldn’t see their faces, but he could read the defeat and despair in their owl-sized eyes.

It was December 18, 1944, and, just a few days before, they’d all been excitedly talking about a warm and merry Christmas in Paris. Then, 200,000 German troops had come storming out of the Ardennes Forest supported by hundreds of the big Tigers and squashed any thoughts of anything warm and merry. Santa had other plans. The Americans were in full retreat, and it was strictly survival. The Battle of the Bulge had been joined.

They trudged on for hours. They’d outdistanced the German advance, and all sounds of firing were now behind them. They approached a crossroads, and Lappy could see trucks stopping and disembarking American soldiers. It was an odd assemblage of soldiers, though. They had no winter coats, just field jackets. As he drew closer to them he could see the muted “Screaming Eagles” patch of the 101st Airborne. What the hell were American paratroopers doing there with no winter clothing? Parachuted in to help hold back the Germans? It got even more puzzling when he reached them, and the paratroopers descended on him and his company and asked them if they had any extra ammo or warm clothing. What the fuck?

“Where’s your C/O?” Lappy asked.

A paratrooper pointed to a jeep about fifty yards away. Lappy waved his company to the side of the road. “Wait here,” he ordered.

He walked to the jeep. A tall, lean captain dressed in baggy paratrooper pants and cradling a Thompson submachine gun was casually leaning against the jeep. Lappy saluted him.

The captain kind of waved a hand back. “Help you, Lieutenant?”

“What’s going on, sir?”

“Looks to me like you’re pulling back.”

“What about you?”

“We’ve been ordered to hold Bastogne. Vital crossroads, they tell me.”

“Where’s your winter gear?”

“Said they’d send it along later.”

“You know your men are bumming ammo?”

“Told ‘em to.”

“They sent you up here with no ammo?”

“Said they’d send that along later, too.”

“Captain, I don’t think you know—”

He waved Lappy silent. “We’ve been in combat since D-Day, Lieutenant. They finally decided we needed some R&R and took us off the line. Figured the Krauts had shot their wad. War was over. So, ‘bout twelve hours ago I was sitting in a little bar getting drunk. Two MP’s came in and told me the 101st was being ordered back on the line because the Krauts were coming through the Ardennes like piss rolling downhill. Said you guys couldn’t hold the line, and we had to come down here and do it for you. Said your mommies were worried about you. ”

“Fuck you, Captain.”

“Looks like I hit a sensitive spot.”

“Back in a minute.”

“I can’t wait.”

Lappy returned to his men. He motioned them to gather round.

“Major Nelson ordered me to pull the company back. Said the Krauts had broken through and we’d be surrounded if we stayed. I get that, but what I don’t get is while we’re hauling ass out of here they pull the 101st out of R&R and send them down to fight for us. They don’t have any winter clothing and are low on ammo. How’s that grab you?”

No one wanted to answer. They knew a cluster-fuck when they saw one. Lappy was the only officer left in the company. He had three sergeants left. One of them spoke up.

“They know paratroopers will hold,” Delray said.

“Doesn’t say much for us, does it?”

“Sure don’t. So, what’re your orders, Lappy?”

“You guys do what Nelson said.”

“What’re you gonna do?”

“I’m joining up with those paratroopers.”

“Why?”

“I don’t like somebody else doing my job. Tell Nelson I’ll see him at my court-martial.”

Lappy walked back to the jeep.

The captain glared at him. “You better be back here to apologize.”

“I apologize.”

“Apology accepted. Now get out of my face.”

“Can’t.”

“Why not?”

“I’m joining your company.”

“Nobody asked you. And who the fuck are these guys?”

Lappy turned. Delray and his company were walking towards the jeep.

“What’s this, Del?”

“We decided to join up, too, Lappy. Got a condition, though.”

 “What?”

“You gotta order us to stay.”

“Why?”

“That way you’re the only one Nelson can court-martial.”

Lappy laughed. “Consider yourself so ordered.”

He turned back to the captain, snapped to formal Attention, and crisply saluted. “First Lieutenant James Lapperman reporting for duty with ninety men as ordered, SIR!” He shouted out in his best parade-ground voice.

“Ordered? Ordered by fucking who?”

“By our mommies, sir.”

The surly captain of paratroops grinned.

XXXXXXX

Nick Gallup has appeared multiple times at New Pop Lit. His most recent story for us was “Just Another Silly Love Song.”

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