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Stories are our businessTM

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I was still reeling, shaking my head, feeling the same glacier-like ice in my veins. And the heat of hatred coexisted with ice. I was a mass of contradictions. Parkie kept squeezing my knee. The pickerel kept nosing the bags, hung up in their own world of silence. Silence extended itself to the whole Earth. The quiet out there, the final and eventual quiet out there, after the war, after realization, was all around us.

“Suddenly,” he continued, “there was nothing. The sand stopped its brushing and grating against the steel of the tank, then diesel noise grew louder, as if it was coming right through us. And powerful thrusts came banging at the tank. I didn’t know what it was. And then we were being shoved and shaken, the whole structure. And I heard curses from outside and a lot of German on the air, and we seemed to be moving away from our hole in the ground. Whatever it was was pushing us. And then it went away and we heard the same banging and grinding and grunting of the engine nearby. Then the blue and white light again as a torch burned around us and the tank heated up, and lots of screaming, but all of it German. And there were more engine noises and more banging and smashing of big bodies of steel. Finally, the turret was opened and we were hauled out and canteens shoved in our faces and the other tanks were being opened up and guys scrambling out, some of them still crying or screaming and cursing everything around them.”

He reached for the last bottle in one of the bags. The bag began to drift away in wavy pieces. The pickerel had gone. The bottle cap snapped off in Parkie's hand. I thought of the turret top being snapped open on his tank, the rush of air filling his lungs, a new light in his eyes.

“Then I saw him,” Parkie said. “The minute I saw him I knew who he was. General Rommel. He was staring at us. He looked me in the eyes, straight and true and bone- steady and no shit at all in it. I didn’t think he was breathing, he was so still. But I read him right off the bat. The whole being of that man was right in his eyes. He shook his head and uttered a cry I can’t repeat. Then he took a pistol from another guy, maybe his driver, a skinny, itchy little guy, and just shot that miserable SS son of a bitch right between the eyes as he stood in front of him. Shot him like he was the high executioner himself; no deliberation, no second thought, no pause in his movement. Bang! One shot heard round the world if you really think about it. He screamed something in German as if tossed at the whole German army itself, each and every man of it, perhaps rising to whatever god he might have believed in because it was so loud, so unearthly. Then he walked off toward a personnel carrier, not looking at us anymore or the SS guy on the ground, a nice-sized hole in his forehead.”

He drained off the last bottle, mouthing the taste of it, wetting his lips a few times, remembering, I thought, the dry sands, the heat, the embarrassed German general walking away on the desert, the ultimate graveyard for so many men, for so many dreams.

“They gave us water and food, the Germans did. One of them brought up one of our own jeeps. It was beat to hell, but it was working. One German major, keeping his head down, his eyes on the sand, not looking at us, pointed off across the sand. We started out, sixteen of us, some walking, some riding, some still crying or whimpering. Some still cursing. The next day we met some Brits. Took us to their headquarters. We were returned to our outfit. Some guys, of course, didn’t get to go back on line, but were sent home as head cases. Can’t blame them for that."