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The Rex Barton Story Chapter 5

The Rex Barton Story Chapter 5
Chapter 5 
Returning Home

Active Military Duty

Returning home from active military duty in a Cold War military zone March of 1967 should have been a very happy reverie and ending to an army career that you could not give me enough money to repeat, nor would I want to.

How do you look back on all the "What Ifs" of my life?

What If, I had turned right instead of left? Shot the two East German Border Guards at Bravo Check Point canal?

What If, I had not killed the East German Border Guard in the French Allied Sector while attempting to rescue refugees?

What If, all the impoverished, stranded, starving, sick, and tortured refugees had not escaped at all?

The questions go on and on without any answers. Questions that were begging for answers only to be returned void of responses.

I knew in my heart that I did the right thing, but I never learned the outcome of what happened to all the refugees. All those what-if moments of my life routinely haunted me.

Hell, could freeze over tonight, I thought. Will I still get home in time to hold my wife and baby? Is the USS Patch going to stay afloat across the ocean clear to New York? Don't you know she sank three times during the second world war already? Can I get a civilian job right away and start taking care of my wife and daughter? What if the natives found out that it was me who killed that guard?

The nightmares continue to plague me like a fog in a dense forest of grey mist. Every breath labored, selfish, and intense. Ever been there?

The mist is real because it wakes me up and I can't see, plus I am soaking wet. It must have happened for real or the roof leaked above my bed. No, no rain this night and no leaky pipes above my head. You think I haven't checked, but I have.

It is just another nightmare saga of my life, and all the real what-ifs that could have changed me or the world are closing in on me like a wolf pack circling its prey.

We were that close at times. Close enough to live or die. Close enough to have started another World War. A Third World War! It could have happened, but it didn't. What If?

God, please take these insidious blackish nightmares away – please! This is one of the very few times that God has never answered one of my bullet popcorn prayers. You know the kind. You're in a hurry or scared, so you throw up a quick prayer hoping that God will hear and answer right away.

The problem is with popcorn praying, it often misses your mouth on the way back down, thus missing your brain. I am still waiting for that joyous day or night to happen. Hurry God, because I am almost out of laundry soap and I have no more dry towels. I wonder, how many more nights I will drown again in that mist and horror of death, with dying and injured humanity all around me?

Changing the sheets two or three times a week is getting old. The only way to get back in bed is to grab an oversize bath towel and put it over the bottom sheet. Comfy does not come close to being accurate. The idea is, don't wake up all the way. Don't let the nightmares consume me any more than they have already.

I don't care about the end anymore. Let the blindness of the grey mist moving ever so slowly, swirling around the trees and flora fauna gently embrace my body and brain back to sleep. Yes – Oh God, yes. I feel the heaviness of the mist overcoming me. Once again, in due time, the rest finally arrives, and the burdens drift away. The wetness I feel is only the top sheet. As long as my back is dry, I will soak up another couple, hours of sleep.

 

The Long Trip Home

It was hard, leaving the 287th Military Police Battalion, my friends both in uniform and civilians. Four years in a trench with these people and a lifetime journey seems to be coming to an end.

All my documents were in order, for the plane ride home. Up until now, arrival and departures were by ship only. The one thing available to military personnel based in Germany and only if you were in the Air Force was a jet out of town.

Tomorrow I would be leaving Templehoff Air Force Base on Pan American Airways, on my flight home. Then just one day before I was due to leave, a new order was given to me by a punk sergeant who was no friend of mine.

Meet Sergeant John Strodemeyer. He had come to our unit four months earlier by way of Frankfurt, Germany, and a ground-pounding infantry battalion. How the hell he got assigned to a Military Police unit in Berlin, with no MP experience, other than the talent of screwing over people, is beyond my comprehension.

Nobody like this little punk, because he was such an ass. He had no problem kissing up to the brass in our unit. He did it better than anyone else. I guess the brass liked him because he would jump higher and run faster to please them, than the rest of us. Gopher is the appropriate word I think. Butt head, dummkopf is another. My suggestion, hey Sergeant John, go out for a pass and don't ever come back. Ever!

Reading my new orders initiated a horrible Charlie Check Point flashback of East German Civilians trying to escape their country's brutality. At this moment, I didn't care how bad it was. Had we been close to the East German Border and I could have thrown him over the barbed wire fence, I surely would have.

In my hands from his hands were new orders that read, Hawk Barton, would leave by train on February 23rd, 1967 for Bermahaven West Germany and from there, for the second time, aboard the USS Patch, back to New York. I was on the wonder cruise of a lifetime, back to the United States. The same ship as I said, that I came over on and the same boat back in the 1940s that sank three times. Crap! Who had the audacity to change my orders after all that I had done? That is probably what the brass took into account. This skinny little ass sergeant advised the brass that it would be best and save the military money if Hawk were on the last boat leaving Germany. After this departure, all transportation would come and go by air. He is the only soldier leaving the battalion for a month anyway. So let me change his way home.

The hell with it, I am packed and ready to leave, so it takes me a week longer. I miss you, Jenny and baby Jane, I thought to myself. Hang in their honey; I will get home eventually unless the Patch sinks again. I had time, so I took a moment between pool games with the guys, to call home and tell Jenny the latest news.

It was freezing outside, snow and ice on the ground. I lit a cigarette, inhaled the smoke deeply and the frozen rain as well. It cleared my head momentarily, and I realized that this was my last winter in Berlin. I would miss it. As strange as it was, this had been home for four years.

Jenny was crying when I told her the bad news because of the fits my mother had every day about finding baby Janes diapers in the toilet unwashed. Jenny had a bad habit of forgetting to wash them out and take them out of the toilet – immediately. With my mother's constant scrutiny, Jenny felt like she was walking on broken glass. Mind you, that this was a guest bathroom and nobody ever used it. They never had a guest. Jenny was the first guest ever.

Mom told me she didn't like Jenny because of her German/European dialect. Nor did mom like the way she ate with her fork in her left hand and a knife in her right hand. Perfectly normal and very continental to Europeans. Not just the Germans. Little did my parents know and how little they cared.

I can't wait to get home and show my mother my new way of eating. The military taught me how to eat correctly, parents. Now I am looking forward to the good old fights around the dining room table. It should be familiar because it was the way it was when I left.

Jenny honey, it would be easier if you would remember to wash out the diapers right away. Honey, I will be home as soon as possible, and we will have our very own place. Sorry Jenny, try and bend with it ok? I love you, and miss you very much.

Seven days and seven nights of poker later, with would-be hustlers who didn't know a king from a queen. I got to go topside for air.

The Patch was sailing past the Statue of Liberty while entering New York Harbor. What a sight she was. Home at last. Will almost any way. Don't remember Liberty girl seeing you so green when I left? It must have been a long four years for you too, huh, girl? I was so much younger then and knew nothing of the worries of the world I would be facing. Split decisions of life or death that I would have to make. Life was a journey, alright, and I lived it full out.

I reflected once again on my journey in Berlin. Military Policemen, working in all duty divisions. Two seasons of racing Porsches on many sports car tracks in Europe, including the French Grand Prix track. Fun!

My company commander was a race driver and enthusiast who like my brand of guts. I could win under the most challenging circumstances. Finish the race even if on three wheels not four. Take orders and complete the tasks right the first time.

The pyridines in my life reflected that. Wounded or not, I would always find a way to get the job done and not complain.

The flip side of the parodying was this occurred on the race track as well. In one race, when the carter pen broke off of my right rear wheel, it sent the wheel flying by me on a straightway as the hub seared, scared and grooved the pavement, during one of my races. I still finished the race with repairs, of course. Funny feeling occurs in your stomach though when you see a wheel passing you by and know it is from your car going all out at high autobahn speeds.

Temporary CID Investigator, working burglary details day and night. MP Boat Commander. Fluent in German and a lot of reactions from both the Military and the Underground. Yes, I said the underground. Tighten up your belt because this gets interesting.

You see, I was asked one night while working if I would consider helping escaping refugees. Stupid me Sam used to call me. I had accepted the non-existence of such an organization of the Underground Refugee mission. I was to help extract refugees from East Berlin. These were all top-secret missions of course that unfortunately, I can say little about, for obvious reasons. I know nothing, so I don't want any military brass showing up on my doorstep.

The first time the underground community contacted was a night that Peter, my German Police partner and my counterpart, were on our way to a disturbance, at one of the local downtown bars. After breaking up the brawl and arresting four American drunks and two drunk, German civilians and taking them to their respective overnight drunk tanks, did Peter ask me the question?

"Hey Hawk, you are a pretty tough guy. Strong, fast, knowledgeable, and skillful. You can speak German very well, (all most as well as I speak English), and you can think quickly on your feet. We need you, Hawk. What would you think about joining our Underground unit"?

"Oh, sure, Peter. I am going to quit my current day job and help you fight who? Fight what? And for how much? If I am going to be a soldier of fortune, then I got to be paid the big bucks. Right"?

"Hawk, you don't understand. You clearly don't understand what I am talking about"?

"No, I don't so I guess you had better explain it to me, Peter."

" I'm not asking you to quite your post. I am asking if you would join my team in picking up East German Refugees and transporting them to safe houses around town".

"Ok, Peter, keep talking. Tell me what you are really asking of me"? "How, when, and who would be doing this with me"?

"We never know that far in advance when a refugee group will be ready to make a run for the crossings. Usually, the set-up takes months of planning and then depending on weather, readiness, pick-up times, and places, it must all be taken into account. You might be allowed a 24-hour window or even less at times".

"You must also know that these extractions are very dangerous and could cost you your career, or your life. If you are unlucky, you could go to prison if caught. I think being killed would be easier. Peter laughed,".

"Ok Peter, real funny. So if I don't have to cross over into the East territory, what is the danger"?

"Hawk, there is always a danger. Maybe you are holding up a fence for a refugee and get shot by one of the VOPO guards? I don't know? Even get picked-up by your MP patrols, being in the wrong place at the wrong time? Anything can happen, but mostly these extractions go over without incidents".

"How many people at a time are we talking about here, trying to escape East Berlin"?

"Sometimes only one or two and then we have done as many as six. Adults and children alike, Peter commented,".

"Whose vehicles do we use as if I don't already know, I asked"?

"You will provide military vehicles, weapons, and tools. Hawk, I am not lying when I say refugee extraction is hazardous. At the same time, it can be gratifying".

"Peter, just out of curiosity, how many MP's have you enlisted over the past five years, and was anyone ever killed?

"Peter said, probably only three MPs over the years."

"Three, huh? Ok, let me think about it. I will get back with you tomorrow evening. We start at 7, right"? "Yes, Peter said."

Five minutes later as an after-thought, if my ass is going to be on the line, so will your ass, and I'm not getting killed."

For the rest of our shift, we sat mostly in silence. The only noise was the squawk of the radio, dictating directions or call orders for other MP units.

What Peter was asking of me was tempting. Not because I didn't have enough to do already, but the chance to help people is part of my DNA. That and helping sick or dying animals.

Looking ahead and thinking about giving refugees a chance at freedom, that I took so much for granted every day, was tempting. I never even thought about it until I got here to Berlin, a Cold War Zone.

Berlin, a city within a city, with a wall around it. People on both sides locked into horrific border controls. The VOPO's killed innocent people every week here just for fun. Was I made for this extracting business, I thought, silently. Could I do it, Lord? No answer immediately. I did think about that word Freedom and what it meant to me, for the remainder of our shift.

Before the end of our shift, I asked one more question of Peter.

"What happens Peter, if one of your, would-be refugees don't like the way he or she was treated and starts complaining to the wrong people? How much trouble are we in then"?

Peter answered by saying, "Hawk, I wouldn't worry too much about that end of it. Getting shot or killed and then having to explain that, is more trouble than what you are asking". We laughed at the prospect.

"If the worse thing were to happen, our teams would see to it that the incident would be spun around. The incident would read to indicate that you were doing your job, checking the borderlines and was ambushed by the VOPOs. Act of war Hawk. You would have done your job and sacrificed your life in a Cold War time such as this. You would become an overnight hero".

"That's a load of crap Peter. You know it. I thought a second longer".

"Ok, I said. If that is all, there is to worry about then count me in. Why the hell not"?

"Great Hawk. That is fantastic. Don't plan on going anywhere later tonight, because this will be your first underground mission".

"Peter, you set me up like a dog. Who backed out in the last minute"?

"No one, Peter commented. But remember your friend Jimmy, who's apartment you took over when he rotated back to the United States? Jimmy, our last agent. We were sorry when he rotated back. We asked him to stay here in Berlin once he was out of the military".

"That was all you're doing Peter? You got the apartment, so he could be off base on the nights you needed him"?

"Peter said, yes. That way, no one would be asking questions because he was already off base in his apartment. When he would go back to the base in the early morning, he never got hassled".

"Peter, this is unbelievable. You did all this by enlisting the best in the biz to help your refugee transplants. What about all the Playboy Center Folds on the walls of the apartment? You know that I need to change all that out. Right"?

"No Hawk, I really wouldn't do that. Keep everything as is to elevate any questions or suspicions. Just another dumb rank GI apartment".

"Can you pick me up at midnight tonight, at my place, and bring a covered duce, Peter asked"?

I told Peter yes and asked how many are we picking up tonight and where?

Peter told me to wait until tonight for all the directions and information. Just be at his place at Mid-Night.

"Hawk, wear black clothes, hat, and gloves. When you, pick-up the Duce tonight, ask for Sgt. Tim's. See you later,".

"What. How do you know Sgt Tim's anyway"?

"Get some rest, Hawk. See you at my place later".

On the way, back to the barracks, I was somewhat unsettled and panicked at what I was signing up for. Getting caught could ruin my life. Going to the brig was even worse. I figured if anything was going to go wrong, I had better be shot dead than walk away with a limp and jail time.

The most significant weight on my heart since I arrived in Berlin, had been for all the poor people that the East German and Russian guards killed every month for just wanting freedom. I had been called out to Charlie Check Point and Bravo Check Point to many times and watched the innocent victims of war-torn Berlin die feet away from freedom and tyranny. The dictatorship of the Eastern-bloc countries was ruthless, cruel, and sad. Horrific would be a better word.

Many people in East Berlin and East Germany were starving to death. Nightly, families were ripped apart by the VOPO’s. All the while, a wall was erected to keep everyone inside the boundaries separating East from West.

Yes, I had weighed the cost and figured that I could be part of a more significant cause of freedom than just a campaign medal when I left Berlin. It might have been a little late, but I thought it might be a good thing to take a moment and formally ask God what his answer might be.

After dinner in the mess hall, I was asked by a fellow MP, to join them in a big poker game in the rec room. Politely I declined and said that I was tired and needed to get my boots shined up for tomorrow's duty. Then I was going to the apartment and rest.

Corporal Bobby wanted a chance to get some of his money back, from the previous week's losses. Jokingly I said goodnight and told Bobby next week would be better for me.

Going upstairs to my barracks room, I got my dirty fatigue pants, shirt, and jacket out of the bag. It didn't matter if they stank, got wet and muddy or not. Tonight, according to the German news on TV, rain, and fog were expected to last until morning.

I agreed, with the newscaster that we could all pretty much rely on the four seasons. This October was no different, and I could expect colder air, rain, and maybe even some snow tonight. All the trees were dropping the last of their leaves to the ground from the wind. Our missions would start getting more difficult if we had to work in the freezing rain or snow-covered ground.

I took a little nap and got up and dressed an hour later. Just for good luck, I grabbed my 8" hunting knife out of my locker. It was not an Army issue knife; it was my hunting knife and an excellent survival tool. Then I made sure I had my Military ID and a hundred dollars in cash in the event the refugees needed a little something to restart their lives over. Then I headed down the stairs and walked to the motor pool on an already frozen, icy ground.

In my walk to the motor pool, I was wondering what I was going to tell the on-duty sergeant? What do I say at this time of night, why I need a covered duce? Maybe I'm moving furniture out of the apartment in the middle of the night, or just redecorating my apartment? The only time of day available when I am not working? When I reached the garage, having slipped, slid and falling on my ass a couple of times, I looked up at the motor pool door, which read Closed — what the hell. But I had called Sgt Tims earlier and said I was coming at this time. Where the hell did he go? Then I looked through the glass portion of the door and further down through the vehicle stalls I saw a tiny light on in the back office and Sergeant Tim's. He was sitting down drinking coffee or whiskey from a coffee cup and reading a book. As fate would have it, Sergeant Tim was a good friend of Capt. De Michaels and myself. Tim's would frequently help fix and maintain our race cars. Sometimes that required special tools and equipment borrowed from the motor pool and bubble gum and baling wire.

"Hey Sarg, I yelled and knocked on the metal bay door." He looked up and came walking over.

"Hey Hawk, what brings you out on a night like this"?

"Sarg, I need a big favor. I need to use a covered duce tonight for a little while. Have some things to move around tonight".

Sargent Tim's was no dummy, and I didn't want to disrespect him, so I was vague on purpose, leaving gaps in my request.

"Yeah, I suppose so. Just don't stop to pick-up any dumb refugees and take good care of my duce. No girls or campouts tonight either. Don't want to see any bullet holes in the skin either. Understand Specialist"? "Take #20 over there. Keys are on the hook".

"I got it Sarg. No hanky panky tonight. Maybe a quick trip to the East and back for a load of dancing girls, but that's all. Then I laughed". I knew at that moment that he already knew what the hell I was doing. But like the good guy he was, he didn't go any further with the questions.

I breathed a sigh of relief. The gas tank was full, and everything checked out as far as brakes, lights and turn signals. That was something we always had to check before leaving the motor pool. If we saw bullet holes, we were to report them immediately. It frequently happened on our American Army Rights to inspect the East German and Russian Sectors of Berlin. Once on the other side of the Berlin Wall, we were fair game to be shot and killed. No one ever got wounded or killed but our military units sure as hell took a beating. We would return to our sector with many bullet holes in our vehicles. It was called scare tactics which just made our brass jumpy and mad as hell.

As I was driving out of the front gate past the guard shack entrance, I saluted the on-duty MP who waved me on. Another good thing. Donny was an MP from across the hall from my room, and we frequently played ball together. He was a Mississippi southern boy. A good man.

I made it to Peter's apartment a few minutes before midnight, and he was standing on the corner waiting for me. His wife looking out the window waving at us and wishing us good hunting tonight, she said.

Peter told me when he got in, that we could expect up to six refugees tonight, attempting the crossing at the old French east/west bridge. It was not used much since the wall was built and therefore not as carefully guarded.

I prayed that Freedom's ring was truly free tonight. Maybe six refugees were coming home to families that they hadn't seen or spoke to in years.

With the realization of where we were going and in only twenty minutes we would be there, a lump was forming in my throat. With that sensation, I uttered under my breath, "Oh Shit."

I drove the duce up to the French sector and into a part of the Grunewald (forest) very quietly and prayed that we were not heard or noticed by anyone. The time was now twelve forty-five in the early morning hours, and I turned off the engine about seventy-five yards short of the open field and bridge. It was another forty yards of open areas before you came to the first of two barbwire fences.

The road was rough with potholes and very tight spacing for the size of my duce, but we made it.

A new layer of fog and misty rain was creeping its way all around us and the cold winter night was penetrating our clothes. Maybe it was not a night for refugees escaping or being outside for any reason. Better to have stayed inside with a cup of joe or chocolate. But that was the perfect reason why we were here tonight. Who would expect what we were doing out here in the misty rain, half snow, and defiantly icy conditions?

Very quietly, we made our way up to the last stand of trees, and then we ducked down and crawled on all fours to the first barbwire fence. We made occasional stops, only to look through Peter's binoculars at the scenery in front of us. The low trampled grass, the barbwire fences, the perimeter walkways, and the guard towers. We were not close enough yet to see into the buildings or what might have been refugees hiding somewhere. When we reached the first fence, I made a mental note that there were two (2) guard towers, two stories high. Each with a big spotlight on the inside view and a 50-cal. Machine gun on a spinning turret and two guards. It looked as if the guards, in both towers, were asleep. Then on a more extended look at the guard in the far tower, he was sitting down, slumped over, and I noticed a glow of a cigarette. He wasn't paying much attention to anything. Just another icy cold night and why the hell do I have to be here attitude in his head down, back slumped looking posture. I watched him for a minute or two, sucking real hard on the cigarette and saw it glow in the foggy conditions and dissipate in the denseness of the night as he exhaled. Ripples of smoke, entwined with the fog created a living mosaic that filtered into the mist and then fell inside the raindrops.

Two K-9 guards were smoking under the roof of a small outbuilding or office, and the dark, almost black Shepard dogs were laying down at their feet asleep. That probably worried me more than anything. How in the hell would anyone get around those vicious pups? They were trained to tare apart, piece by piece any person they were told to attack. Their sole mission was to seek and destroy. If they killed you before a guard could stop them, then that was ok. Have a good dinner, boy. Watch the bones. Don't choke on their skinny necks, speaking of escaping refugees including children who were the easiest to run down and kill.

Between the first fence which was eight feet tall was a twenty-foot space of ground with a well-worn pathway right down the middle of it. The area between the two barbed wire fences was the guard's only walkway to check the fence lines for breaches. It was a routine every hour. The second fence was a copy of the first. Beyond that, another thirty yards was a line of cement barricades, then an area approximately forty yards in width to a second set of barriers. Incidentally, in between the barricaded part was a minefield.

Luckily for the refugees tonight, making that crossing would be made more accessible by the rain. Everywhere a mine had been buried in the ground there was a small depression or puddle of water on top. Just don't step in the near the pool of water.

Everything was quiet. The calmness was eerie except for the rain gently hitting the ground and the slight breeze whiffing the temporary signs and loose barbwire strands.

Peter and I both crawled side by side the rest of the way to the first fence. When we had reached the first perimeter fence, Peter pulled out the wire cutters, which I brought from the motor pool, and he handed them to me to cut the first wire fence. As he had instructed me, I cut a four-foot-wide by four-foot-tall section of fence wire leaving it attached at the top. This way, the barbwire fence would not look like it had not been cut at all. I placed a small piece of wire attached to the bottom link to keep the opening closed. Peter shook his head and motioned for me to crawl through the fence to the second fence and cut it the same way.

I looked at him, surprised. I wasn't supposed to go inside the enemy zone. What the hell? He motioned to me again with his fingers to go. Go quickly now. Without thinking, I decided it was no big thing. We had been there in the vicinity for at least thirty minutes and had not seen or heard anything.

As Peter lifted the section of the barbwire fence, I made my way through it and crawled to the second fence. The second barbwire section of fence was different in that a trench was being carved out by the continuing downpour of rain. The ditch was running forty yards to the corner. As long as the water was collecting in the ditch so were the weeds growing in it. The six or eight-inch tall grasses were not enough to hide me, but they helped. My body fit perfectly in the width of the trench, and I felt right at home, laying in the mud and water. Laying in an open ditch of muddy water and weeds temporarily reminded me of basic training at Fort Ord, Ca. It seems like the Army enjoyed putting forth the worst nights on record for training exercises. I made my cuts, secured the bottom wire to hold it together, and looked over at Peter. He had been trying to get my attention, I guess by throwing little mud balls at me. I hadn't noticed. He was a typical Soccer player. He knew how to use his feet but to throw a ball or anything was a waste of time. To say he looked like a girl attempting to throw a fastball would be wrong. I remembered how well and how fast Donna Sue could throw a ball. She was better than most guys. Peter was motioning me to look downrange from where I was lying. Straight ahead of me, he indicated with his fingers. When I looked up, I saw to my utter horror a tall thin East German Guard walking toward me. His head was down, probably looking at the ground in front of him and smoking a cigarette. His other hand was in his trench coat, and his rifle was slung over his right shoulder upside down. I could tell he was young, cold, and just wanted to get with his friends on the other side of the field and out of the rain. The soldier was walking in the well-worn path not more than thirty yards ahead of me. I very slowly eased down into the drainage ditch and pulled my hunting knife out from its leather holster. I was now acting solely on survival and instinct mode. It was automatic. Moving or even breathing was out of the question. My eyes were focused entirely on the east German soldier, and every step, he came toward me.

Then I asked God for help. Maybe it's too late Lord, but please don't let the guard look down my way I mimed to myself.

A second later, as he was passing me, I heard the refugees running in my direction. Then within a split second of spotting them, a car horn went off on the bridge itself waking the entire establishment up. The whole encampment came to life. The tower lights went on. The machine guns went spinning around toward the noise on the bridge, and the Shepard guard dogs started barking and straining on their leashes, pulling the guards forward toward the car horn. The young guard that was walking past me at that moment saw the refugees and heard the sounds of car horns and running feet. He reached for his gun sling with his left hand to pull his rifle into a firing position. I made my decision, again through instinct, to jump up and stop him. In one move, I pushed myself up onto both feet, much like I used to do while surfing and was up behind the guard. With both my feet firmly planted on the ground behind the guard, I slipped my left arm over his left shoulder and my left hand over his mouth. As soon as I had secured my advantage and before he could alert his body to react to my attack, I twisted and jerked his head left, and stuck the knife through the lower right side of his back, between the ribs, using my right hand to thrust the blade projection upward. He went limp immediately. No fight, no movement. I quietly laid him face down, flat on the ground and into the ditch. The refugees were nearly at the fence, so I leaned over and lifted the cut fence as I went back down to the ground myself.

The first refugee came sliding into the cut hole and continued crawling toward Peter. All in all, six refugees crawled through the two fences in less than a minute. When the last person went through the opening, I closed and tied the fence shut and got in line behind him. After I crawled through, Peter closed his section of the fence and led the refugee group on a run toward the forest and our duce truck in waiting.

I only stopped once to look back at the soldier lying on the ground. He hadn't moved. I never knew if I had killed him or not. I prayed for his soul anyway. He was just a tall, lanky kid like me doing his duty walking a perimeter fence line one freezing and rainy October night in 1966. I had to remind myself after that; he was the enemy in a broader, more horrific sense that tortured innocent people and killed them for fun. That was my first kill. That was my first extraction of East German refugees. How they jumped over barricades, ran through a mind field without blowing us all up, could only have counted as a miracle and nothing less.

All in all, that night, we rescued six refugees: two young women, one young eight-year-old boy, and three adult men. After getting them loaded into the back of the covered duce, I jumped in the truck, started the engine, and backed slowly out of the forested area. Once on the main road, Peter and I heard singing coming from the back. We were en route to the English sector where waiting cars would transport all six people to safe houses around the city of Berlin.

It was time for me to thank God, for my life and that of everyone else in our little unit. "We made it I exclaimed out loud to Peter. My God, we made it"!

 

"Yes, Hawk, we made it. Thanks mostly to you. Good job with that VOPO guard. I knew you were the best man for the job". "You got guts, man."

"Bull Shit Peter, I was scared to death. You told me I didn't have to go inside the perimeter, remember"?

"Peter replied, I must have forgotten. Good job, anyway. You are a good soldier, my friend. A hero tonight and a warrior". Better than what I initially thought. Thank you, Hawk.

As we pulled the truck onto the designated street, three cars were waiting, engines running but no lights on. You could tell because of the exhaust smoke coming from the tailpipes on a cold, wet and foggy dense night.

We parked and were meant by six men who dropped the tailgate of our duce and helped unload our cargo. Each Refugee, hugged and kissed Peter and I and then waved good-bye as they loaded up into the waiting cars. Even threw the foggy car windows, I could see big smiles and eyes full of tears and joy for their new-found freedom.

Freedom comes with a price like it usually does, and I have had to deal with it all my life — one moment in time. One big "What If." Another nightmare, another night of wet sheets and sleeplessness.

Not anymore. God answered my prayer many years later.

Never knew their names, never got a chance to stay in touch or ask where they were going to, but I know that six people now had an opportunity to be all they could be because of that single wet night in what is now history. I risked it all, and God is good.

As we pulled up to Peter's apartment, we shook hands and saluted each other. Once again, Peter said thanks. Good job tonight Hawk. There were more nights later, just like this one only no more loss of life, and no more me crossing boarders.

In a war-torn country like Berlin, in the late 1950s and through the late 1960s, death happens. It happens on both sides of the Berlin Wall. The oppressors were standing in the way of freedom. Life or death is in everyone's hands at any given moment under the right circumstances. That night, life and death were in my hands for a moment, but I like to think that ultimately God's hand of justice prevailed through a dictatorship of communism on the other side of the Berlin Wall.

After returning the Duce to the motor pool and thanking Sergeant Tim's, I slowly walked back to my barracks, got undressed and out of my wet and muddy clothes. I took a scorching hot shower and finally crawled into bed in time to hear the morning reveille trumpet. The night was gone, welcome the sun, so I got up, dressed for yet another day in Berlin and my regular duties in charge of the Wannsee Lake Military Police Boat Patrol.

The weather hadn't changed much here in New York from Berlin. It was just as cold and frosty out as the day I left more than four years ago. A bit of nippiness to the thrill the winter air. Hawk, I thought to myself, as more memories were freshly unfolding in my mind. Memories of standing in traffic lanes at the American elementary schools dancing and directing traffic for many moms and dads dropping off their children at school. My dancing and hand waving was the only way to keep warm, and it brought many smiles to tired Americans in a different, challenging part of the world.

I remembered how, on some of our annual maneuvers, smack dab in winter, a sergeant or a second lieutenant would suggest we dig into the snowbanks covering our legs to keep warm. I might have believed an Eskimo but not a second lieutenant. What did they ever know? Then I thought back at how I could have been one of those second lieutenants, had I wanted to pursue my military dream.

Receiving an education, worldwide travel adventures, and command one day of my very own unit. Maybe even get back to Washington DC to sit with the brass and decide the future of America's involvement in Vietnam and other ongoing wars? It would have been the right career choice. One I didn't make. "What If"?

Summertime memories were of water skiing between duty calls at our Wannsee Lake MP Office. During the year, I would buy used cars and sell them to the newly arriving officers. I made a lot of extra money, which was spent keeping my racing Porsche running strong and racetrack-ready. My civilian drive was an old used 240 Mercedes Benz. By the time I was finished polishing and cleaning it up, I felt like I was driving a new car. It only had 150,000 miles on the speedo. Grey pinstriped flannel interior and everything worked. When I finally sold it after many trips through the zones and numerous countries on into Spain, that Mercedes brought all the money. Jenny and I were sorry to have let it go. Thought of bringing it home and driving to California in it. The cost to transport it back home was just out of common sense range.

Walking down the ship's gangplank and setting foot on dry land and American soil, was an unbelievable feeling. A tear may have come to my eye. Either that or it could have been a snowflake or just the damn cold air. I forgot that I had left my sunglasses in the duffel bag. I did not need sunglasses on board a boat that stowed me four floors below deck and no windows to look through.

If you were on the top hammock bunk bed, going to Germany or returning home, you were somewhat lucky. The hammocks were stacked eight high. What a joke that was. If you were on the bottom and late getting into bed, you didn't get into bed. There wasn't room enough to crawl into hammock flattened on the floor. If you were on top, you might be stuck with the heating pipes in your face. Or the sewage pipes. Pray it didn't leak. I guess I was lucky. The pipes above my head were mostly quiet most nights.

 

Life as I had only imagined, was slowly beginning to return to my tired bones, and the feeling of holding my beautiful red-haired German wife and baby girl again was warming. More than halfway home now and by this afternoon's plane ride from New York, I would be landing in LAX, where Jenny and baby Jane would be waiting.

At the end of the gangplank, I saw the sign that read ‘All Returning Military Personnel, Stops Here and Sign-In.' The release desk, my paychecks, and plane ticket home would be waiting for me there.

Of course, the Army had more surprises awaiting me. I should have guessed they were not through jerking me around yet. A little scrawny private sitting behind the table tried to inform me in a stuttering voice that my release papers had not arrived yet. What I handed him was only half of my orders. What was I doing here he asked? It's too soon.

The rest of my release papers were to have been sent here to Fort Dix for my honorable discharge. Someone neglected to do that, and I knew who — that damn person was. Sgt. Stodemeyer should have sent them but didn't, so now I was going to be delayed once again. The private was trying to spit out the words to please check into the billeted dorm room, for an overnight stay on base, compliments of Fort Dix and the United States Army.

It was a good thing that I could not reach that far back to choke the hell out of Stodemeyer because I surely would have. Then I heard the private in front of me, telling me to be patient. Patience my ass private, I retorted. I want my money and a plane ticket out of here, or I will beat the crap out of you. Look again, private.

One of several spectacled sergeants almost as big as me came walking over toward us. What's wrong soldier, he asked? Will sergeant, I am not going to pee in my pants but am about ready to explode here and take this punk out.

Hold on, soldier. Just wait a minute. Let me take a look here. This kind of thing happens all the time. He grabbed my folder from the private and opened it up. As he read, his eyes got a little bigger as he read aloud, Hawk Barton, Spec 4, decorated MP from the 287th in Berlin, returning home. It further mentioned that I was part of President Kennedy's special honor guard when he visited the Berlin Wall. I had stood at attention for an hour or more as President Kennedy said in front of thousands of people, "Ich Bin Ein Berliner." Few MPs had that honor or distinction on their records. Further, the sergeant's displeasure that someone back in Berlin didn't do their job right. I felt he knew more than what he was telling me.

I must say, at that moment in time, I was privileged, and it was one of the most memorable moments in my life. Then I thought wow, we were standing directly in the line of fire of the East Germans and Russians. Had they wanted to shoot our President, I would have been first to die. Even the Presidents' security force was better protected than us. We were it. A great bunch of spit shinned MP's you ever saw. We were also the first target, had a reckless VOPO wanted to start another war. Oh, well, I might have been another part of forgotten history?

I did thank God before and after the Presidents role out. I knew deep within; God was doing a work in me, but not sure why. At age 5, as I mentioned earlier, I had invited Jesus into my life, knowing that he was God all Mighty. How that had happened is a story that will be revealed later on in another chapter. As I said, God was making himself present in my life now. He knew in advance the trouble I might be in and would need His help again and again.

Right words forever were spoken. I was sure I had gone through a couple of battered and tattered guardian angels by now.

Not sure what happened soldier, Sergeant Narrows said, but it is not necessary to get so pissed off here at one of my privates. We are trying to help you get home, but we need your orders. I understand you want to get back home and all, but your orders have not arrived yet. I am sure they will be here tomorrow morning. Meanwhile, go over to the mess hall Hawk, and chow down on the Beef Stroganoff. Good stuff. You will be outta here tomorrow morning I guarantee. Come and see me in the morning at 0800 hrs.

Yes, sergeant, thank you, sergeant. I saluted and did an about-face. Under my breath, I murmured – piss off sergeant, your no help to me. This layup is all on account of Stodemeyer. What a little no-account piss ant he turned out to be.

I probably would have been better if I had said it to his face. I would have felt better, but I also realized I could be here for another week eating beef stroganoff for dinners and watered down scrambled eggs for breakfast.

I was just too tired of fighting, so I went to the mess hall and had the beef stroganoff. It wasn't that bad. I must say though how lucky I was to have been at the 287th Military Police Headquarters because the German cooks we had were the best. Our food made fresh every day was superb.

With only a couple of dollars left in my wallet, visiting New York tonight was out. Taxi rides alone would be fifty bucks. I took a look back. Everyone I saw in line was receiving a check and a ticket out of town. It just further reminded me of that little shit Stodemeyer. He had better never set foot in my city, or I will bury his ass there. I couldn't get his face out of my mind.

When I arrived at the mess hall, I picked up a Pan American flight schedule, a train schedule, and even rent a car schedule. Always thought driving home on route 66 would be fun. How about now to get back? No, I decided it would take too long, and Jenny depended on me to get my butt home yesterday.

I never wanted to return home to my parent's house after leaving the military, but when you disregarded your mother's last words when she said to leave it in your pants, look what happens. No kisses or hugs good-by, just a comment, ‘leave it in your pants, from my mother no less. I wasn't laughing now that I needed their help for a week or two. I didn't realize Jenny wasn't taking birth control pills either when we first met. Thought I heard her say she was? I sure as hell wasn't taking any birth control pills.

Once little Jane had arrived, it didn't matter anymore. Baby Jane was perfect in every way. Even with her, one turned in eye. Everything would be perfect once I go home. If my discharge papers and release monies ever arrived.

I must admit being a little surprised though when Jenny chose a black skirt and black jacket outfit with white fur on the end of the sleeve for a wedding dress? Was this a signal of some kind that I didn't know about? Was her decision on wedding clothes the traditional attire for beautiful German girls?

Could she be one of those red-haired descendants of witches they talked so much about in Germany and England back in the 16th, 17th and even the 18th century? She was born in a little German hamlet called Bielefeld. In the center of the town, many of the shops had wood fascia boards with carvings of the witch burnings: names, dates, reasons for the person(s) that committed crimes for witchery. Scary stuff I must admit. My Jenny was just not such a traditionalist bride that felt all white was that chick. She was beautiful either way. Black, white, red, it didn't matter. We were happy, and she was pregnant, and that was that. I had never seen a more beautiful bride in all my life. I had never been married before either.

I did dream that night, my first night back in the United States, of the many trips through Europe we had taken together. The Swiss Alps, France, England, Austria, East, and West Germany and Spain. Of all the countries we traveled, Spain was the most fun because her folks owned a beautiful two-bedroom bath condo across from the beach. The town was called Lorette del Mar. A little fishing village with the friendliest people I ever meant.

The Mediterranean Ocean view from the living room and bedroom were breathtaking. It was and is today a trendy village/city that has come of age.

One time only did Jenny, and I run into a situation, that brought a new meaning to World War II and the Jewish Holocaust Victims. It angered both of us and made us sick to our stomach.

Jenny and I meant a thirtyish Dutch/German gay couple one day, at a small beachside outdoor café. They were having wine and realized that I was an American from our discussion. They asked Jenny and me to go with them to their condo to see the view they had. Most of the condos in the area were brand new, and the closer you got to the Mediterranean Oceanview, the higher the price. These guys were all but in the water. Their condo unit was atop the rock face with an unobstructed view. While sitting there admiring that view, they brought to our attention a couple of small lamps sitting atop tables on either side of chairs.

What do you think of these lamps and the shades we chose? Aren't they unusual, in a broken English/German accent?

Not really, I thought to myself, not understanding. Then both joyously announced they were gay and exploring the world with prejudice. These lampshades were made from the skins of Jews killed in concentration camps. We just picked them up at a little shop down the street. I learned later it was a black- market shop that was illegally operated. If you like, we can get you some. The shades are from Jews who were in the Holocaust. The skins were stretched out and cured especially for lampshades. What do you think? I said I think your both sick.

Jenny and I looked at one another and getting sicker by the moment. Jenny expected me to arrest both of them or at least beat the crap out of them? I did neither of what I wanted to do. Instead, we got up and left. Jenny told them how sick they were in German, as well. We never saw the two of them again. I now feel that these two characters, to put it mildly, were part of the Hitler's Youth group soldiers who got away. I probably should have beat the crap out of them. They deserved it for even purchasing such things on any market. We did tell the authorities when we returned home but have no idea what if anything ever came of it. I feel sorry for that and realize how wrong it was not to have done more. How many more sick mementos like that are there in homes or the market places? The Jewish people as a race have suffered more than any other known to man?

We both awoke the next morning to a beautiful, bright sunny day. After breakfast, it was time to change into bathing suits and relax on the beach.

Walking hand in hand like the love birds we were, the perfect spot, away from the small groups of people and kids, allowed us to spread our blanket and personal items in a basket. I told Jenny that I was going back to the little plaza to get a drink and asked if she wanted anything?

"No, not yet Hawk. I am just going to rest for a moment. It's so beautiful here. The sun feels good on my bones. That was a very long drive from Berlin yesterday".

I walked up to the plaza stand and ordered a rum drink with a little umbrella stuffed in it. It was a tall cup, and I was careful not to spell it. I had to make it last a couple of hours.

Returning to the beach and our blanket I set the drink in a makeshift sand hole, sat down to relax when Jenny asked me to please go swimming with her.

"No babe, I need to rest for a while. I still feel exhausted from that long drive".

"Please Hawk. Pleassse. I don't want to go into the water by myself".

"Honey, I need to rest. Just wade out to your waste and come back in and rest with me. When you come back, we can press the restart button in my brain. But not until I get a little more sleep".

Jenny then pulled a big guilt trip out of her bag of tricks.

"Okay for you Hawk boy. If you aren't going to save me from all those big fish out there, then you don't have any more privileges. There"!

Jenny got up and walked toward the water, and I rolled over to rest with my drink. I thought to myself, why do women always use sex as their answer to everything. Give and take it away. Give and take it away again? Pondering that for a second put me to sleep instantly.

I guess it hadn't been too long after that; I was awakened to screams by kids and adults near the water's edge. Then I distinctly heard Jenny's cries for help.

Hawk, Hawk, help me. HELP!

I woke up partway to realize that Jenny was in real trouble. I jumped up, spilling my rum drink all over the blanket, leaving the little umbrella to blow away in a slight breeze moving over the sand.

Looking out toward the screams, I could see a riptide had come up in the changing tide and carried Jenny all the way out toward a rocky point. The waves were at least three to four feet high and pounding her, one after the other into the rocks and back out again. Jenny was not that good of a swimmer and could not have held on much longer.

I should have known better than leave her alone in the water. Thank God that I was a powerful swimmer, trained lifeguard, and surfer used to big waves and rip tides.

Immediately, I jumped up and ran down to the water's edge, shoving people out of my way as I went. Nobody was willing to risk going into the water to help Jenny. The riptide, the pounding waves, and rocky points were more than anyone could handle.

Jenny had little chance left of survival if I didn't get out to her fast. It wouldn't take many more waves beating her on the rocks to render her unconscious and then she would drown.

Still at a full run and up to my knees in the water, I dove in headfirst and swam as hard and fast as I could. The riptide helped speed me toward the rocky point.

As I neared Jenny, I could see that she had been beaten pretty bad on the rocks and was losing consciousness and struggling to keep her head above the water to breath. One more slam into the rocks and she would be gone.

Jenny, Jenny, I yelled. Hang on! When I was close enough, I grabbed her and turned, putting myself between her and the rocks. We were still slammed hard into the rocks, but at least Jenny wouldn't be hurt anymore. As she tried to put her hands up, she slipped under the surface of the water do to the wave action. At the same moment, I grabbed her and lifted her and held her while treading water. Just before the next big wave hit, I put my legs out, bracing myself against the rocks and using them to kick off, still holding Jenny in my arms. She was panicked but breathing.

Rather than fight the riptide, I allowed it to pull me out and around the rocky point and then took my chance at pulling Jenny toward the beach.

The crowd of people was following our movement yelling something, and then a few of the men jumped into the water finally to help Jenny and me out once we were close enough to the shore.

While the riptide still wanted to pull us back out with each wave, I carried Jenny out and laid her on the sandy beach. I gave a cursory look at Jenny's body to check for any visible broken bones, cuts, and bleeding. I determined that she was alright. Cuts from the rocks and bruised yes from the entire ordeal, but she would live. The main thing was no broken bones. I picked her back up and headed for the blanket.

At least she was breathing. I kissed her and reassured her that she was alright.

Oh, God, I could not have hung on any longer Hawk; I heard her struggle to say. You saved me. You saved me, Hawk.

Quiet, Jenny, don't talk. I got you, honey. Just relax in my arms for now. Relax. You are safe now.

As I laid Jenny down on the blanket, I looked her over again. To my amazement, all the cuts, lacerations and bleeding had nearly stopped. The Mediterranean ocean is so salty that wounds are quickly healed over. No chance in giving sharks a taste with such fast, salty licks of the sea.

It was only then that I noticed the spilled rum drink. Oh well, I thought. I didn't want any alcohol this early in the day anyway. Good riddance. Drink up, sandy beach.

The swarm of people that had been watching the incident and those who assisted in helping us out of the water gathered around the blanket. Everyone excitedly exclaiming how lucky Jenny was. They were slapping me on the back not knowing how much it hurt from the most current thrusts of the ocean waves, slamming me back onto the rocky point.

Yea, yea, thank you. I half pleaded for them to stop hitting me with such kind gestures.

Jenny was still whimpering a little and trying to focus on me but slipped away a couple of times. When she was able to stand, I grabbed her hand and then with my free hand, I gathered up the blanket and basket. We started walking back toward the condo; I gestured a smile and wave of thanks to everyone there. As Jenny, and I continued toward our condo nest, Jenny collapse from shock. I lifted her into my arms and carried her the rest of the way, still holding onto the basket and blanket as well.

Making it to the front door of the condo, I opened the door and pushed it open the rest of the way with my foot, still holding onto Jenny in my arms. Once inside, I closed the door using my foot and carried her to our queen size bed. Laying her down, I removed her wet bikini top and bottoms and began kissing her all over and thanking God for saving her life. I then covered her up. She just needed rest for now, and water and food later, when she was able.

I forgot the long drive down here from Berlin. I forgot about the spilled drink and the riptide. I sat in the living room chair and rested, thinking about the entire incident and Jenny's beautiful body. I fell asleep too and didn't awake for a couple of hours along with Jenny.

The private at the end of the dorm was waking up. Between us, we're about thirty military beds with the mattress rolled up at the head of each bed.

I found out that both of us were waiting for our travel orders. The only difference was this poor guy's orders were taking him to South Korea. Funny thing I thought to myself. I had been given two opportunities recently, one of which was to re-enlist and go to South Korea too. I would have another stripe, big pay raise if I signed up for four more years. Oh, Hell No.

As tempting as that might have been at one time, some soldiers finish one tour of duty they are ready to return to civilian life. I knew that continuing with any underground activities would be the death of me. South Korea? In the middle of winter? No way.

My other option was going back to the United States, Arizona, and attending Rotary Flight School. That would have been a Hugh pay grade increase, and either a position of Second Lieutenant or that of a Warrant Officer.

I took all the tests and passed them with flying colors. There were seven of us in the MP company that enlisted for flight school and passed all the tests. A couple of weeks later, a Captain from the flight school in Arizona came into the mess hall where the seven of us were asked to sit. In unison, we all jumped up to attention in a straight line and saluted. The Captain saluted back. Then he proceeded to congratulate each of us one at a time for making it this far in preparation for flight school. Randy was first in line, and I was last. By the time the Captain got to me, he had looked at me as if shocked. The Captain took a step back to put me into focus. First, he looked at the top of my head then back down to my boots. His remark took me by complete surprise. "How the hell did you pass the physical young man"? "You're too, damn tall. You could never get into one of my birds. Are you Hawk Barton"?

"Yes, sir."

"How tall are you, son"?

I was beginning to resent him calling me son, but I answered his question anyway. "6'-7, sir, and 245 lbs. sir".

"Sorry, Barton, but you don't qualify." "You are too tall for this job. You're dismissed".

My heart was broken. Those were harsh words. "Your DISMISSED." Like someone had put a knife in my chest. Then I had to say good-bye to all my friends that were headed back to the United States. If they graduated flight school, they would then be sent to Vietnam to fight a real war. Jimmy was one of the six-men team leaving for flight school who was my junior private on the Wannsee Lake Boat Patrol. He and I had gone through a lot together, not to mention the Bravo Check Point incident. The incident where the VOPO's shot two young teenagers in a little canoe as well as our military police boat.

Jimmy and I pulled a lot of dead bodies out of the lake together. They were not drowning victims either. Most had been shot, hung, and then tossed into the lake. Mostly from the East German side. Then the wind and water drift would send the bodies our way.

Remember when I said God always knows best? Well, several months later, after being dismissed by the flight school captain from Arizona, my company commander and good friend, Captain De Metrovich with whom I raced with, asked me to come into his office.

"Sit down, Hawk, I have something to tell you. You remember all of our boys that went to Arizona for flight school, right"?

"Yes, sir."

"Well in your group of six, five were shot down and killed within the first four weeks of duty in Vietnam. One came back with no legs and in pretty bad shape. You were fortunate Hawk that you didn't make the cut".

"Who was it, Captain? Who came back"?

The letter read Cannon. Cannon came back shot to hell and may still not make it. Currently, Cannon is receiving treatment at Walter Reed in Washington DC. It took more than a month to get him back stateside and into the VA hospital.

"I am sorry Hawk. Jimmy was one of those that didn't make it and shot down the first week".

"Thank you, Captain. I appreciate you letting me know. I guess you are right when saying I was lucky to have stayed behind".

"Hawk, Capt. De Metrovich said; frankly, I am surprised that they didn't take you. I wouldn't have put it past the Captain from flight school not to return and recruit you for that very same reason. Six good men brought down within four weeks of their campaign in Nam. They need you now more than ever, Hawk, and I hope you say no. You don't need to end up like the others".

"You are right sir. I don't need dead, right now".

I was returning home to the United States of America after 4 1/2 years of military service. That was my mission in life after High School graduation. Returning home feeling like a proud American and Patriot, who had volunteered and honorably served his country. Now I had another mission.

Having a wife that loved me and a baby girl to hold and raise was back in the states was far too important. I had to get home. I was willing to die for the country I loved, and I served with pride. Taking unnecessary chances like Refugee Rescue was one thing, but now that Baby Jane was here, life was all about family.

I bid the private farewell and thanked him for taking my option orders and going to South Korea.

It was time for breakfast and coffee, so I left him packing and went down and ate.

I wasn't sure where Fort Dix got their eggs, but they couldn't have been real. Runny and a putty yellow in color. Maybe this breakfast was why soldiers back home were called dogs because this so-called food was better suited for dogs that were willing to eat this crap.

By 0800 hours, I was down at the personnel tables staring at the sergeant. He looked up at me, sensing the tenseness in my glare.

"Sorry Hawk, your orders still didn't come in. I thought for sure they would be here this morning. Sensing my frustration and disappointment, he quickly followed up his statement with ‘however I can offer you this".

My eyes widened, and my glare was intent on murdering someone. My fists clenched and I was up on my toes, making myself as big and strong as a gorilla. Thankfully I didn't let go of my temper, but stood my ground and listened. When the Sargent was finished talking, I asked him; is that all you have to say to me, nothing?

"I know how bad you want to get home Hawk, and the Army wants you to get there today. I can issue you a ticket too LAX in California, and two hundred dollars in travel money. The Army owes you a lot more, but it is a start. Not sure what happened to all your paperwork and monies, but I promise you one thing the rest of it will be mailed to your home address within two weeks. Hawk, you have my word on that."

My choice was to explode and beat the crap out of him, and probably go to the brig in the process, or, ask to be flown back to Berlin, where I could beat the hell out of Strodemeyer. That made more sense. He must have thought he was pretty smart for screwing me over like this. I thought one day, his number will be up. God help him if he ever showed up in Santa Barbara County.

Getting angry and sending someone innocent to the base hospital and risking charges wasn't worth it. I accepted the sergeant's offer. My only question was, "how soon can we get this done sergeant so I can get on my way home"?

"It will only take me a few minutes and a couple of signatures. Hawk, I promise to look into this further and get your money within a week or two. I will do it, he reassured me".

"Where do I sign sergeant"?

"Right here. Here is your check for $200 and your plane ticket home today on Pan American Airlines. The plane departs at 1300 hrs. Good luck, Hawk. We saluted and shook hands good-bye".

I could see the sweat dripping down the side of his head by his ears. He knew how angry and disappointed I was, and he also gambled that I would take the money and go. He was right!

Finally, I was going home. I would be starting a new career which scared the hell out of me. The Army had been good for me in many ways. I even figured I grew up a little.

I was hoping somehow to have learned more about my real birth father, Captain Tom Barton MD, but that was not to be in this lifetime. Maybe the next. I was sure I thought, that he would have been proud of me and an honorable discharge in a short 4 1/2 year career in the Army.

I got to the airport and gave Jenny a call. She was so excited and said she could hardly wait to see me.

"Hawk darling, I will see you at LAX this evening. Your parents are all ready to go too".

"Yes, babe, I will see you around six o'clock. I love you,"!

 

RETURNING HOME

Returning home from active military duty in a Cold War military zone March of 1967 should have been a very happy, reverie ending to an army career that you could not give me enough money for, nor would I want to repeat it. How do you look back on all the "What Ifs" of my life?

What If, I had turned right instead of left? Shot the two East German Border Guards at Bravo Check Point canal?

What If, I had not killed the East German Border Guard in the French Allied Sector while attempting to rescue refugees?

What If, all the impoverished, stranded, starving sick, tortured refugees had not escaped at all?

The questions go on and on without any answers. Questions that, were begging for answers only to be returned void of responses. I knew in my heart that I did the right thing, but I never learned the outcome, too what happened to all the refugees? The thoughts routinely haunted me daily all the what-ifs of my life. Hell, could freeze over tonight. Will I still get home in time to hold my wife and baby? Is the USS Patch going to stay afloat across the ocean clear to New York? You know she sank three times during the second world war already?

Can I get a civilian job right away and start taking care of my wife and daughter? What if the natives found out that it was me who killed that guard?

The nightmares continue to plague me like a fog in a dense forest of grey mist. Every breath labored, selfish, and intense. Ever been there with me? The mist is real because it wakes me up and I can't see, plus I am soaking wet. It must have happened for real or the roof leaks above my bed. No, no rain this night and no leaky pipes above my head. You think I haven't checked because I have. It is just another nightmare saga of my life, and all the real What Ifs, that could have changed me or the world is closing in on me like a wolf pack circling its prey. We were that close at times. Close enough to live or die. Close enough to have started another World War. A Third World War? It could have happened, but it didn't. "What If"?

God, please take these insidious blackish nightmares away – Please. One of the very few times that God has never answered one of my bullet popcorn prayers. You know the kind. You're in a hurry or scared, so you throw up a quick prayer hoping that God will hear and answer right away. The problem is with popcorn praying, is it often misses your mouth on the way back down, thus missing your brain. I am still waiting for that joyous day or night to happen. Hurry God, because I am almost out of laundry soap. I have no more dry towels.

I wonder, how many more nights I will drown in that mist and horror of death, dying and injured humanity all around me?

Changing the sheets two or three times a week is getting old. The only way back in bed is to grab an oversize bath towel and put it over the bottom sheet. Comfy does not come close too accurate. The idea is, don't wake up all the way. Don't let the nightmares consume me any more than it has already. I don't care about the end anymore. Let the blindness of the grey mist moving ever so slowly, swirling around the trees and flora fauna gently embracing my body and brain back to sleep. Yes – Oh God, yes. I feel the heaviness of the mist overcoming me. Once again, in due time, the rest finally arrives, and the burdens drift away. The wetness I feel is only the top sheet. As long as my back is dry, I will soak up another couple, hours of sleep.

It was hard, leaving the 287th Military Police Battalion, my friends both in uniform and civilians. Four years in a trench with these people and a lifetime journey seems to be coming to an end.

All my documents were in order, for the plane ride home. Up until now, arrival and departures were by ship only. The one thing available to military personnel based in Germany and only if you were in the Air Force was a jet out of town.

Tomorrow I would be leaving Templehoff Air Force Base on Pan American Airways, on my flight home. Then just one day before I was due to leave, a new order was given to me by a punk sergeant who was no friend of mine. Meet Sergeant John Strodemeyer. He had come to our unit four months earlier by way of Frankfurt, Germany, and a ground-pounding infantry battalion. How the hell he got assigned to a Military Police unit in Berlin, with no MP experience, other than the talent of screwing over people, is beyond my comprehension.

Nobody like this little punk, because he was such an ass. He had no problem kissing up to the brass in our unit. He did it better than anyone else. I guess the brass liked him because he would jump higher and run faster to please them, than the rest of us. Gopher is the appropriate word I think. Butt head, dummkopf is another. My suggestion, hey Sergeant John, go out for a pass and don't ever come back. Ever!

Reading my new orders initiated a horrible Charlie Check Point flashback of East German Civilians trying to escape their country's brutality. At this moment, I didn't care how bad it was. Had we been close to the East German Border and I could have thrown him over the barbed wire fence, I surely would have.

In my hands from his hands were new orders that read, Hawk Barton, would leave by train on February 23rd, 1967 for Bermahaven West Germany and from there, for the second time, aboard the USS Patch, back to New York. I was on the wonder cruise of a lifetime, back to the United States. The same ship as I said, that I came over on and the same boat back in the 1940s that sank three times. Crap! Who had the audacity to change my orders after all that I had done? That is probably what the brass took into account. This skinny little ass sergeant advised the brass that it would be best and save the military money if Hawk were on the last boat leaving Germany. After this departure, all transportation would come and go by air. He is the only soldier leaving the battalion for a month anyway. So let me change his way home.

The hell with it, I am packed and ready to leave, so it takes me a week longer. I miss you, Jenny and baby Jane, I thought to myself. Hang in their honey; I will get home eventually unless the Patch sinks again. I had time, so I took a moment between pool games with the guys, to call home and tell Jenny the latest news.

It was freezing outside, snow and ice on the ground. I lit a cigarette, inhaled the smoke deeply and the frozen rain as well. It cleared my head momentarily, and I realized that this was my last winter in Berlin. I would miss it. As strange as it was, this had been home for four years.

Jenny was crying when I told her the bad news because of the fits my mother had every day about finding baby Janes diapers in the toilet unwashed. Jenny had a bad habit of forgetting to wash them out and take them out of the toilet – immediately. With my mother's constant scrutiny, Jenny felt like she was walking on broken glass. Mind you, that this was a guest bathroom and nobody ever used it. They never had a guest. Jenny was the first guest ever.

Mom told me she didn't like Jenny because of her German/European dialect. Nor did mom like the way she ate with her fork in her left hand and a knife in her right hand. Perfectly normal and very continental to Europeans. Not just the Germans. Little did my parents know and how little they cared.

I can't wait to get home and show my mother my new way of eating. The military taught me how to eat correctly, parents. Now I am looking forward to the good old fights around the dining room table. It should be familiar because it was the way it was when I left.

Jenny honey, it would be easier if you would remember to wash out the diapers right away. Honey, I will be home as soon as possible, and we will have our very own place. Sorry Jenny, try and bend with it ok? I love you, and miss you very much.

Seven days and seven nights of poker later, with would-be hustlers who didn't know a king from a queen. I got to go topside for air.

The Patch was sailing past the Statue of Liberty while entering New York Harbor. What a sight she was. Home at last. Will almost any way. Don't remember Liberty girl seeing you so green when I left? It must have been a long four years for you too, huh, girl? I was so much younger then and knew nothing of the worries of the world I would be facing. Split decisions of life or death that I would have to make. Life was a journey, alright, and I lived it full out.

I reflected once again on my journey in Berlin. Military Policemen, working in all duty divisions. Two seasons of racing Porsches on many sports car tracks in Europe, including the French Grand Prix track. Fun!

My company commander was a race driver and enthusiast who like my brand of guts. I could win under the most challenging circumstances. Finish the race even if on three wheels not four. Take orders and complete the tasks right the first time.

The pyridines in my life reflected that. Wounded or not, I would always find a way to get the job done and not complain.

The flip side of the parodying was this occurred on the race track as well. In one race, when the carter pen broke off of my right rear wheel, it sent the wheel flying by me on a straightway as the hub seared, scared and grooved the pavement, during one of my races. I still finished the race with repairs, of course. Funny feeling occurs in your stomach though when you see a wheel passing you by and know it is from your car going all out at high autobahn speeds.

Temporary CID Investigator, working burglary details day and night. MP Boat Commander. Fluent in German and a lot of reactions from both the Military and the Underground. Yes, I said the underground. Tighten up your belt because this gets interesting.

You see, I was asked one night while working if I would consider helping escaping refugees. Stupid me Sam used to call me. I had accepted the non-existence of such an organization of the Underground Refugee mission. I was to help extract refugees from East Berlin. These were all top-secret missions of course that unfortunately, I can say little about, for obvious reasons. I know nothing, so I don't want any military brass showing up on my doorstep.

The first time the underground community contacted was a night that Peter, my German Police partner and my counterpart, were on our way to a disturbance, at one of the local downtown bars. After breaking up the brawl and arresting four American drunks and two drunk, German civilians and taking them to their respective overnight drunk tanks, did Peter ask me the question?

"Hey Hawk, you are a pretty tough guy. Strong, fast, knowledgeable, and skillful. You can speak German very well, (all most as well as I speak English), and you can think quickly on your feet. We need you, Hawk. What would you think about joining our Underground unit"?

"Oh, sure, Peter. I am going to quit my current day job and help you fight who? Fight what? And for how much? If I am going to be a soldier of fortune, then I got to be paid the big bucks. Right"?

"Hawk, you don't understand. You clearly don't understand what I am talking about"?

"No, I don't so I guess you had better explain it to me, Peter."

" I'm not asking you to quite your post. I am asking if you would join my team in picking up East German Refugees and transporting them to safe houses around town".

"Ok, Peter, keep talking. Tell me what you are really asking of me"? "How, when, and who would be doing this with me"?

"We never know that far in advance when a refugee group will be ready to make a run for the crossings. Usually, the set-up takes months of planning and then depending on weather, readiness, pick-up times, and places, it must all be taken into account. You might be allowed a 24-hour window or even less at times".

"You must also know that these extractions are very dangerous and could cost you your career, or your life. If you are unlucky, you could go to prison if caught. I think being killed would be easier. Peter laughed,".

"Ok Peter, real funny. So if I don't have to cross over into the East territory, what is the danger"?

"Hawk, there is always a danger. Maybe you are holding up a fence for a refugee and get shot by one of the VOPO guards? I don't know? Even get picked-up by your MP patrols, being in the wrong place at the wrong time? Anything can happen, but mostly these extractions go over without incidents".

"How many people at a time are we talking about here, trying to escape East Berlin"?

"Sometimes only one or two and then we have done as many as six. Adults and children alike, Peter commented,".

"Whose vehicles do we use as if I don't already know, I asked"?

"You will provide military vehicles, weapons, and tools. Hawk, I am not lying when I say refugee extraction is hazardous. At the same time, it can be gratifying".

"Peter, just out of curiosity, how many MP's have you enlisted over the past five years, and was anyone ever killed?

"Peter said, probably only three MPs over the years."

"Three, huh? Ok, let me think about it. I will get back with you tomorrow evening. We start at 7, right"? "Yes, Peter said."

Five minutes later as an after-thought, if my ass is going to be on the line, so will your ass, and I'm not getting killed."

For the rest of our shift, we sat mostly in silence. The only noise was the squawk of the radio, dictating directions or call orders for other MP units.

What Peter was asking of me was tempting. Not because I didn't have enough to do already, but the chance to help people is part of my DNA. That and helping sick or dying animals.

Looking ahead and thinking about giving refugees a chance at freedom, that I took so much for granted every day, was tempting. I never even thought about it until I got here to Berlin, a Cold War Zone.

Berlin, a city within a city, with a wall around it. People on both sides locked into horrific border controls. The VOPO's killed innocent people every week here just for fun. Was I made for this extracting business, I thought, silently. Could I do it, Lord? No answer immediately. I did think about that word Freedom and what it meant to me, for the remainder of our shift.

Before the end of our shift, I asked one more question of Peter.

"What happens Peter, if one of your, would-be refugees don't like the way he or she was treated and starts complaining to the wrong people? How much trouble are we in then"?

Peter answered by saying, "Hawk, I wouldn't worry too much about that end of it. Getting shot or killed and then having to explain that, is more trouble than what you are asking". We laughed at the prospect.

"If the worse thing were to happen, our teams would see to it that the incident would be spun around. The incident would read to indicate that you were doing your job, checking the borderlines and was ambushed by the VOPOs. Act of war Hawk. You would have done your job and sacrificed your life in a Cold War time such as this. You would become an overnight hero".

"That's a load of crap Peter. You know it. I thought a second longer".

"Ok, I said. If that is all, there is to worry about then count me in. Why the hell not"?

"Great Hawk. That is fantastic. Don't plan on going anywhere later tonight, because this will be your first underground mission".

"Peter, you set me up like a dog. Who backed out in the last minute"?

"No one, Peter commented. But remember your friend Jimmy, who's apartment you took over when he rotated back to the United States? Jimmy, our last agent. We were sorry when he rotated back. We asked him to stay here in Berlin once he was out of the military".

"That was all you're doing Peter? You got the apartment, so he could be off base on the nights you needed him"?

"Peter said, yes. That way, no one would be asking questions because he was already off base in his apartment. When he would go back to the base in the early morning, he never got hassled".

"Peter, this is unbelievable. You did all this by enlisting the best in the biz to help your refugee transplants. What about all the Playboy Center Folds on the walls of the apartment? You know that I need to change all that out. Right"?

"No Hawk, I really wouldn't do that. Keep everything as is to elevate any questions or suspicions. Just another dumb rank GI apartment".

"Can you pick me up at midnight tonight, at my place, and bring a covered duce, Peter asked"?

I told Peter yes and asked how many are we picking up tonight and where?

Peter told me to wait until tonight for all the directions and information. Just be at his place at Mid-Night.

"Hawk, wear black clothes, hat, and gloves. When you, pick-up the Duce tonight, ask for Sgt. Tim's. See you later,".

"What. How do you know Sgt Tim's anyway"?

"Get some rest, Hawk. See you at my place later".

On the way, back to the barracks, I was somewhat unsettled and panicked at what I was signing up for. Getting caught could ruin my life. Going to the brig was even worse. I figured if anything was going to go wrong, I had better be shot dead than walk away with a limp and jail time.

The most significant weight on my heart since I arrived in Berlin, had been for all the poor people that the East German and Russian guards killed every month for just wanting freedom. I had been called out to Charlie Check Point and Bravo Check Point to many times and watched the innocent victims of war-torn Berlin die feet away from freedom and tyranny. The dictatorship of the Eastern-bloc countries was ruthless, cruel, and sad. Horrific would be a better word.

Many people in East Berlin and East Germany were starving to death. Nightly, families were ripped apart by the VOPO’s. All the while, a wall was erected to keep everyone inside the boundaries separating East from West.

Yes, I had weighed the cost and figured that I could be part of a more significant cause of freedom than just a campaign medal when I left Berlin. It might have been a little late, but I thought it might be a good thing to take a moment and formally ask God what his answer might be.

After dinner in the mess hall, I was asked by a fellow MP, to join them in a big poker game in the rec room. Politely I declined and said that I was tired and needed to get my boots shined up for tomorrow's duty. Then I was going to the apartment and rest.

Corporal Bobby wanted a chance to get some of his money back, from the previous week's losses. Jokingly I said goodnight and told Bobby next week would be better for me.

Going upstairs to my barracks room, I got my dirty fatigue pants, shirt, and jacket out of the bag. It didn't matter if they stank, got wet and muddy or not. Tonight, according to the German news on TV, rain, and fog were expected to last until morning.

I agreed, with the newscaster that we could all pretty much rely on the four seasons. This October was no different, and I could expect colder air, rain, and maybe even some snow tonight. All the trees were dropping the last of their leaves to the ground from the wind. Our missions would start getting more difficult if we had to work in the freezing rain or snow-covered ground.

I took a little nap and got up and dressed an hour later. Just for good luck, I grabbed my 8" hunting knife out of my locker. It was not an Army issue knife; it was my hunting knife and an excellent survival tool. Then I made sure I had my Military ID and a hundred dollars in cash in the event the refugees needed a little something to restart their lives over. Then I headed down the stairs and walked to the motor pool on an already frozen, icy ground.

In my walk to the motor pool, I was wondering what I was going to tell the on-duty sergeant? What do I say at this time of night, why I need a covered duce? Maybe I'm moving furniture out of the apartment in the middle of the night, or just redecorating my apartment? The only time of day available when I am not working? When I reached the garage, having slipped, slid and falling on my ass a couple of times, I looked up at the motor pool door, which read Closed — what the hell. But I had called Sgt Tims earlier and said I was coming at this time. Where the hell did he go? Then I looked through the glass portion of the door and further down through the vehicle stalls I saw a tiny light on in the back office and Sergeant Tim's. He was sitting down drinking coffee or whiskey from a coffee cup and reading a book. As fate would have it, Sergeant Tim was a good friend of Capt. De Michaels and myself. Tim's would frequently help fix and maintain our race cars. Sometimes that required special tools and equipment borrowed from the motor pool and bubble gum and baling wire.

"Hey Sarg, I yelled and knocked on the metal bay door." He looked up and came walking over.

"Hey Hawk, what brings you out on a night like this"?

"Sarg, I need a big favor. I need to use a covered duce tonight for a little while. Have some things to move around tonight".

Sargent Tim's was no dummy, and I didn't want to disrespect him, so I was vague on purpose, leaving gaps in my request.

"Yeah, I suppose so. Just don't stop to pick-up any dumb refugees and take good care of my duce. No girls or campouts tonight either. Don't want to see any bullet holes in the skin either. Understand Specialist"? "Take #20 over there. Keys are on the hook".

"I got it Sarg. No hanky panky tonight. Maybe a quick trip to the East and back for a load of dancing girls, but that's all. Then I laughed". I knew at that moment that he already knew what the hell I was doing. But like the good guy he was, he didn't go any further with the questions.

I breathed a sigh of relief. The gas tank was full, and everything checked out as far as brakes, lights and turn signals. That was something we always had to check before leaving the motor pool. If we saw bullet holes, we were to report them immediately. It frequently happened on our American Army Rights to inspect the East German and Russian Sectors of Berlin. Once on the other side of the Berlin Wall, we were fair game to be shot and killed. No one ever got wounded or killed but our military units sure as hell took a beating. We would return to our sector with many bullet holes in our vehicles. It was called scare tactics which just made our brass jumpy and mad as hell.

As I was driving out of the front gate past the guard shack entrance, I saluted the on-duty MP who waved me on. Another good thing. Donny was an MP from across the hall from my room, and we frequently played ball together. He was a Mississippi southern boy. A good man.

I made it to Peter's apartment a few minutes before midnight, and he was standing on the corner waiting for me. His wife looking out the window waving at us and wishing us good hunting tonight, she said.

Peter told me when he got in, that we could expect up to six refugees tonight, attempting the crossing at the old French east/west bridge. It was not used much since the wall was built and therefore not as carefully guarded.

I prayed that Freedom's ring was truly free tonight. Maybe six refugees were coming home to families that they hadn't seen or spoke to in years.

With the realization of where we were going and in only twenty minutes we would be there, a lump was forming in my throat. With that sensation, I uttered under my breath, "Oh Shit."

I drove the duce up to the French sector and into a part of the Grunewald (forest) very quietly and prayed that we were not heard or noticed by anyone. The time was now twelve forty-five in the early morning hours, and I turned off the engine about seventy-five yards short of the open field and bridge. It was another forty yards of open areas before you came to the first of two barbwire fences.

The road was rough with potholes and very tight spacing for the size of my duce, but we made it.

A new layer of fog and misty rain was creeping its way all around us and the cold winter night was penetrating our clothes. Maybe it was not a night for refugees escaping or being outside for any reason. Better to have stayed inside with a cup of joe or chocolate. But that was the perfect reason why we were here tonight. Who would expect what we were doing out here in the misty rain, half snow, and defiantly icy conditions?

Very quietly, we made our way up to the last stand of trees, and then we ducked down and crawled on all fours to the first barbwire fence. We made occasional stops, only to look through Peter's binoculars at the scenery in front of us. The low trampled grass, the barbwire fences, the perimeter walkways, and the guard towers. We were not close enough yet to see into the buildings or what might have been refugees hiding somewhere. When we reached the first fence, I made a mental note that there were two (2) guard towers, two stories high. Each with a big spotlight on the inside view and a 50-cal. Machine gun on a spinning turret and two guards. It looked as if the guards, in both towers, were asleep. Then on a more extended look at the guard in the far tower, he was sitting down, slumped over, and I noticed a glow of a cigarette. He wasn't paying much attention to anything. Just another icy cold night and why the hell do I have to be here attitude in his head down, back slumped looking posture. I watched him for a minute or two, sucking real hard on the cigarette and saw it glow in the foggy conditions and dissipate in the denseness of the night as he exhaled. Ripples of smoke, entwined with the fog created a living mosaic that filtered into the mist and then fell inside the raindrops.

Two K-9 guards were smoking under the roof of a small outbuilding or office, and the dark, almost black Shepard dogs were laying down at their feet asleep. That probably worried me more than anything. How in the hell would anyone get around those vicious pups? They were trained to tare apart, piece by piece any person they were told to attack. Their sole mission was to seek and destroy. If they killed you before a guard could stop them, then that was ok. Have a good dinner, boy. Watch the bones. Don't choke on their skinny necks, speaking of escaping refugees including children who were the easiest to run down and kill.

Between the first fence which was eight feet tall was a twenty-foot space of ground with a well-worn pathway right down the middle of it. The area between the two barbed wire fences was the guard's only walkway to check the fence lines for breaches. It was a routine every hour. The second fence was a copy of the first. Beyond that, another thirty yards was a line of cement barricades, then an area approximately forty yards in width to a second set of barriers. Incidentally, in between the barricaded part was a minefield.

Luckily for the refugees tonight, making that crossing would be made more accessible by the rain. Everywhere a mine had been buried in the ground there was a small depression or puddle of water on top. Just don't step in the near the pool of water.

Everything was quiet. The calmness was eerie except for the rain gently hitting the ground and the slight breeze whiffing the temporary signs and loose barbwire strands.

Peter and I both crawled side by side the rest of the way to the first fence. When we had reached the first perimeter fence, Peter pulled out the wire cutters, which I brought from the motor pool, and he handed them to me to cut the first wire fence. As he had instructed me, I cut a four-foot-wide by four-foot-tall section of fence wire leaving it attached at the top. This way, the barbwire fence would not look like it had not been cut at all. I placed a small piece of wire attached to the bottom link to keep the opening closed. Peter shook his head and motioned for me to crawl through the fence to the second fence and cut it the same way.

I looked at him, surprised. I wasn't supposed to go inside the enemy zone. What the hell? He motioned to me again with his fingers to go. Go quickly now. Without thinking, I decided it was no big thing. We had been there in the vicinity for at least thirty minutes and had not seen or heard anything.

As Peter lifted the section of the barbwire fence, I made my way through it and crawled to the second fence. The second barbwire section of fence was different in that a trench was being carved out by the continuing downpour of rain. The ditch was running forty yards to the corner. As long as the water was collecting in the ditch so were the weeds growing in it. The six or eight-inch tall grasses were not enough to hide me, but they helped. My body fit perfectly in the width of the trench, and I felt right at home, laying in the mud and water. Laying in an open ditch of muddy water and weeds temporarily reminded me of basic training at Fort Ord, Ca. It seems like the Army enjoyed putting forth the worst nights on record for training exercises. I made my cuts, secured the bottom wire to hold it together, and looked over at Peter. He had been trying to get my attention, I guess by throwing little mud balls at me. I hadn't noticed. He was a typical Soccer player. He knew how to use his feet but to throw a ball or anything was a waste of time. To say he looked like a girl attempting to throw a fastball would be wrong. I remembered how well and how fast Donna Sue could throw a ball. She was better than most guys. Peter was motioning me to look downrange from where I was lying. Straight ahead of me, he indicated with his fingers. When I looked up, I saw to my utter horror a tall thin East German Guard walking toward me. His head was down, probably looking at the ground in front of him and smoking a cigarette. His other hand was in his trench coat, and his rifle was slung over his right shoulder upside down. I could tell he was young, cold, and just wanted to get with his friends on the other side of the field and out of the rain. The soldier was walking in the well-worn path not more than thirty yards ahead of me. I very slowly eased down into the drainage ditch and pulled my hunting knife out from its leather holster. I was now acting solely on survival and instinct mode. It was automatic. Moving or even breathing was out of the question. My eyes were focused entirely on the east German soldier, and every step, he came toward me.

Then I asked God for help. Maybe it's too late Lord, but please don't let the guard look down my way I mimed to myself.

A second later, as he was passing me, I heard the refugees running in my direction. Then within a split second of spotting them, a car horn went off on the bridge itself waking the entire establishment up. The whole encampment came to life. The tower lights went on. The machine guns went spinning around toward the noise on the bridge, and the Shepard guard dogs started barking and straining on their leashes, pulling the guards forward toward the car horn. The young guard that was walking past me at that moment saw the refugees and heard the sounds of car horns and running feet. He reached for his gun sling with his left hand to pull his rifle into a firing position. I made my decision, again through instinct, to jump up and stop him. In one move, I pushed myself up onto both feet, much like I used to do while surfing and was up behind the guard. With both my feet firmly planted on the ground behind the guard, I slipped my left arm over his left shoulder and my left hand over his mouth. As soon as I had secured my advantage and before he could alert his body to react to my attack, I twisted and jerked his head left, and stuck the knife through the lower right side of his back, between the ribs, using my right hand to thrust the blade projection upward. He went limp immediately. No fight, no movement. I quietly laid him face down, flat on the ground and into the ditch. The refugees were nearly at the fence, so I leaned over and lifted the cut fence as I went back down to the ground myself.

The first refugee came sliding into the cut hole and continued crawling toward Peter. All in all, six refugees crawled through the two fences in less than a minute. When the last person went through the opening, I closed and tied the fence shut and got in line behind him. After I crawled through, Peter closed his section of the fence and led the refugee group on a run toward the forest and our duce truck in waiting.

I only stopped once to look back at the soldier lying on the ground. He hadn't moved. I never knew if I had killed him or not. I prayed for his soul anyway. He was just a tall, lanky kid like me doing his duty walking a perimeter fence line one freezing and rainy October night in 1966. I had to remind myself after that; he was the enemy in a broader, more horrific sense that tortured innocent people and killed them for fun. That was my first kill. That was my first extraction of East German refugees. How they jumped over barricades, ran through a mind field without blowing us all up, could only have counted as a miracle and nothing less.

All in all, that night, we rescued six refugees: two young women, one young eight-year-old boy, and three adult men. After getting them loaded into the back of the covered duce, I jumped in the truck, started the engine, and backed slowly out of the forested area. Once on the main road, Peter and I heard singing coming from the back. We were en route to the English sector where waiting cars would transport all six people to safe houses around the city of Berlin.

It was time for me to thank God, for my life and that of everyone else in our little unit. "We made it I exclaimed out loud to Peter. My God, we made it"!

 

"Yes, Hawk, we made it. Thanks mostly to you. Good job with that VOPO guard. I knew you were the best man for the job". "You got guts, man."

"Bull Shit Peter, I was scared to death. You told me I didn't have to go inside the perimeter, remember"?

"Peter replied, I must have forgotten. Good job, anyway. You are a good soldier, my friend. A hero tonight and a warrior". Better than what I initially thought. Thank you, Hawk.

As we pulled the truck onto the designated street, three cars were waiting, engines running but no lights on. You could tell because of the exhaust smoke coming from the tailpipes on a cold, wet and foggy dense night.

We parked and were meant by six men who dropped the tailgate of our duce and helped unload our cargo. Each Refugee, hugged and kissed Peter and I and then waved good-bye as they loaded up into the waiting cars. Even threw the foggy car windows, I could see big smiles and eyes full of tears and joy for their new-found freedom.

Freedom comes with a price like it usually does, and I have had to deal with it all my life — one moment in time. One big "What If." Another nightmare, another night of wet sheets and sleeplessness.

Not anymore. God answered my prayer many years later.

Never knew their names, never got a chance to stay in touch or ask where they were going to, but I know that six people now had an opportunity to be all they could be because of that single wet night in what is now history. I risked it all, and God is good.

As we pulled up to Peter's apartment, we shook hands and saluted each other. Once again, Peter said thanks. Good job tonight Hawk. There were more nights later, just like this one only no more loss of life, and no more me crossing boarders.

In a war-torn country like Berlin, in the late 1950s and through the late 1960s, death happens. It happens on both sides of the Berlin Wall. The oppressors were standing in the way of freedom. Life or death is in everyone's hands at any given moment under the right circumstances. That night, life and death were in my hands for a moment, but I like to think that ultimately God's hand of justice prevailed through a dictatorship of communism on the other side of the Berlin Wall.

After returning the Duce to the motor pool and thanking Sergeant Tim's, I slowly walked back to my barracks, got undressed and out of my wet and muddy clothes. I took a scorching hot shower and finally crawled into bed in time to hear the morning reveille trumpet. The night was gone, welcome the sun, so I got up, dressed for yet another day in Berlin and my regular duties in charge of the Wannsee Lake Military Police Boat Patrol.

The weather hadn't changed much here in New York from Berlin. It was just as cold and frosty out as the day I left more than four years ago. A bit of nippiness to the thrill the winter air. Hawk, I thought to myself, as more memories were freshly unfolding in my mind. Memories of standing in traffic lanes at the American elementary schools dancing and directing traffic for many moms and dads dropping off their children at school. My dancing and hand waving was the only way to keep warm, and it brought many smiles to tired Americans in a different, challenging part of the world.

I remembered how, on some of our annual maneuvers, smack dab in winter, a sergeant or a second lieutenant would suggest we dig into the snowbanks covering our legs to keep warm. I might have believed an Eskimo but not a second lieutenant. What did they ever know? Then I thought back at how I could have been one of those second lieutenants, had I wanted to pursue my military dream.

Receiving an education, worldwide travel adventures, and command one day of my very own unit. Maybe even get back to Washington DC to sit with the brass and decide the future of America's involvement in Vietnam and other ongoing wars? It would have been the right career choice. One I didn't make. "What If"?

Summertime memories were of water skiing between duty calls at our Wannsee Lake MP Office. During the year, I would buy used cars and sell them to the newly arriving officers. I made a lot of extra money, which was spent keeping my racing Porsche running strong and racetrack-ready. My civilian drive was an old used 240 Mercedes Benz. By the time I was finished polishing and cleaning it up, I felt like I was driving a new car. It only had 150,000 miles on the speedo. Grey pinstriped flannel interior and everything worked. When I finally sold it after many trips through the zones and numerous countries on into Spain, that Mercedes brought all the money. Jenny and I were sorry to have let it go. Thought of bringing it home and driving to California in it. The cost to transport it back home was just out of common sense range.

Walking down the ship's gangplank and setting foot on dry land and American soil, was an unbelievable feeling. A tear may have come to my eye. Either that or it could have been a snowflake or just the damn cold air. I forgot that I had left my sunglasses in the duffel bag. I did not need sunglasses on board a boat that stowed me four floors below deck and no windows to look through.

If you were on the top hammock bunk bed, going to Germany or returning home, you were somewhat lucky. The hammocks were stacked eight high. What a joke that was. If you were on the bottom and late getting into bed, you didn't get into bed. There wasn't room enough to crawl into hammock flattened on the floor. If you were on top, you might be stuck with the heating pipes in your face. Or the sewage pipes. Pray it didn't leak. I guess I was lucky. The pipes above my head were mostly quiet most nights.

 

Life as I had only imagined, was slowly beginning to return to my tired bones, and the feeling of holding my beautiful red-haired German wife and baby girl again was warming. More than halfway home now and by this afternoon's plane ride from New York, I would be landing in LAX, where Jenny and baby Jane would be waiting.

At the end of the gangplank, I saw the sign that read ‘All Returning Military Personnel, Stops Here and Sign-In.' The release desk, my paychecks, and plane ticket home would be waiting for me there.

Of course, the Army had more surprises awaiting me. I should have guessed they were not through jerking me around yet. A little scrawny private sitting behind the table tried to inform me in a stuttering voice that my release papers had not arrived yet. What I handed him was only half of my orders. What was I doing here he asked? It's too soon.

The rest of my release papers were to have been sent here to Fort Dix for my honorable discharge. Someone neglected to do that, and I knew who — that damn person was. Sgt. Stodemeyer should have sent them but didn't, so now I was going to be delayed once again. The private was trying to spit out the words to please check into the billeted dorm room, for an overnight stay on base, compliments of Fort Dix and the United States Army.

It was a good thing that I could not reach that far back to choke the hell out of Stodemeyer because I surely would have. Then I heard the private in front of me, telling me to be patient. Patience my ass private, I retorted. I want my money and a plane ticket out of here, or I will beat the crap out of you. Look again, private.

One of several spectacled sergeants almost as big as me came walking over toward us. What's wrong soldier, he asked? Will sergeant, I am not going to pee in my pants but am about ready to explode here and take this punk out.

Hold on, soldier. Just wait a minute. Let me take a look here. This kind of thing happens all the time. He grabbed my folder from the private and opened it up. As he read, his eyes got a little bigger as he read aloud, Hawk Barton, Spec 4, decorated MP from the 287th in Berlin, returning home. It further mentioned that I was part of President Kennedy's special honor guard when he visited the Berlin Wall. I had stood at attention for an hour or more as President Kennedy said in front of thousands of people, "Ich Bin Ein Berliner." Few MPs had that honor or distinction on their records. Further, the sergeant's displeasure that someone back in Berlin didn't do their job right. I felt he knew more than what he was telling me.

I must say, at that moment in time, I was privileged, and it was one of the most memorable moments in my life. Then I thought wow, we were standing directly in the line of fire of the East Germans and Russians. Had they wanted to shoot our President, I would have been first to die. Even the Presidents' security force was better protected than us. We were it. A great bunch of spit shinned MP's you ever saw. We were also the first target, had a reckless VOPO wanted to start another war. Oh, well, I might have been another part of forgotten history?

I did thank God before and after the Presidents role out. I knew deep within; God was doing a work in me, but not sure why. At age 5, as I mentioned earlier, I had invited Jesus into my life, knowing that he was God all Mighty. How that had happened is a story that will be revealed later on in another chapter. As I said, God was making himself present in my life now. He knew in advance the trouble I might be in and would need His help again and again.

Right words forever were spoken. I was sure I had gone through a couple of battered and tattered guardian angels by now.

Not sure what happened soldier, Sergeant Narrows said, but it is not necessary to get so pissed off here at one of my privates. We are trying to help you get home, but we need your orders. I understand you want to get back home and all, but your orders have not arrived yet. I am sure they will be here tomorrow morning. Meanwhile, go over to the mess hall Hawk, and chow down on the Beef Stroganoff. Good stuff. You will be outta here tomorrow morning I guarantee. Come and see me in the morning at 0800 hrs.

Yes, sergeant, thank you, sergeant. I saluted and did an about-face. Under my breath, I murmured – piss off sergeant, your no help to me. This layup is all on account of Stodemeyer. What a little no-account piss ant he turned out to be.

I probably would have been better if I had said it to his face. I would have felt better, but I also realized I could be here for another week eating beef stroganoff for dinners and watered down scrambled eggs for breakfast.

I was just too tired of fighting, so I went to the mess hall and had the beef stroganoff. It wasn't that bad. I must say though how lucky I was to have been at the 287th Military Police Headquarters because the German cooks we had were the best. Our food made fresh every day was superb.

With only a couple of dollars left in my wallet, visiting New York tonight was out. Taxi rides alone would be fifty bucks. I took a look back. Everyone I saw in line was receiving a check and a ticket out of town. It just further reminded me of that little shit Stodemeyer. He had better never set foot in my city, or I will bury his ass there. I couldn't get his face out of my mind.

When I arrived at the mess hall, I picked up a Pan American flight schedule, a train schedule, and even rent a car schedule. Always thought driving home on route 66 would be fun. How about now to get back? No, I decided it would take too long, and Jenny depended on me to get my butt home yesterday.

I never wanted to return home to my parent's house after leaving the military, but when you disregarded your mother's last words when she said to leave it in your pants, look what happens. No kisses or hugs good-by, just a comment, ‘leave it in your pants, from my mother no less. I wasn't laughing now that I needed their help for a week or two. I didn't realize Jenny wasn't taking birth control pills either when we first met. Thought I heard her say she was? I sure as hell wasn't taking any birth control pills.

Once little Jane had arrived, it didn't matter anymore. Baby Jane was perfect in every way. Even with her, one turned in eye. Everything would be perfect once I go home. If my discharge papers and release monies ever arrived.

I must admit being a little surprised though when Jenny chose a black skirt and black jacket outfit with white fur on the end of the sleeve for a wedding dress? Was this a signal of some kind that I didn't know about? Was her decision on wedding clothes the traditional attire for beautiful German girls?

Could she be one of those red-haired descendants of witches they talked so much about in Germany and England back in the 16th, 17th and even the 18th century? She was born in a little German hamlet called Bielefeld. In the center of the town, many of the shops had wood fascia boards with carvings of the witch burnings: names, dates, reasons for the person(s) that committed crimes for witchery. Scary stuff I must admit. My Jenny was just not such a traditionalist bride that felt all white was that chick. She was beautiful either way. Black, white, red, it didn't matter. We were happy, and she was pregnant, and that was that. I had never seen a more beautiful bride in all my life. I had never been married before either.

I did dream that night, my first night back in the United States, of the many trips through Europe we had taken together. The Swiss Alps, France, England, Austria, East, and West Germany and Spain. Of all the countries we traveled, Spain was the most fun because her folks owned a beautiful two-bedroom bath condo across from the beach. The town was called Lorette del Mar. A little fishing village with the friendliest people I ever meant.

The Mediterranean Ocean view from the living room and bedroom were breathtaking. It was and is today a trendy village/city that has come of age.

One time only did Jenny, and I run into a situation, that brought a new meaning to World War II and the Jewish Holocaust Victims. It angered both of us and made us sick to our stomach.

Jenny and I meant a thirtyish Dutch/German gay couple one day, at a small beachside outdoor café. They were having wine and realized that I was an American from our discussion. They asked Jenny and me to go with them to their condo to see the view they had. Most of the condos in the area were brand new, and the closer you got to the Mediterranean Oceanview, the higher the price. These guys were all but in the water. Their condo unit was atop the rock face with an unobstructed view. While sitting there admiring that view, they brought to our attention a couple of small lamps sitting atop tables on either side of chairs.

What do you think of these lamps and the shades we chose? Aren't they unusual, in a broken English/German accent?

Not really, I thought to myself, not understanding. Then both joyously announced they were gay and exploring the world with prejudice. These lampshades were made from the skins of Jews killed in concentration camps. We just picked them up at a little shop down the street. I learned later it was a black- market shop that was illegally operated. If you like, we can get you some. The shades are from Jews who were in the Holocaust. The skins were stretched out and cured especially for lampshades. What do you think? I said I think your both sick.

Jenny and I looked at one another and getting sicker by the moment. Jenny expected me to arrest both of them or at least beat the crap out of them? I did neither of what I wanted to do. Instead, we got up and left. Jenny told them how sick they were in German, as well. We never saw the two of them again. I now feel that these two characters, to put it mildly, were part of the Hitler's Youth group soldiers who got away. I probably should have beat the crap out of them. They deserved it for even purchasing such things on any market. We did tell the authorities when we returned home but have no idea what if anything ever came of it. I feel sorry for that and realize how wrong it was not to have done more. How many more sick mementos like that are there in homes or the market places? The Jewish people as a race have suffered more than any other known to man?

We both awoke the next morning to a beautiful, bright sunny day. After breakfast, it was time to change into bathing suits and relax on the beach.

Walking hand in hand like the love birds we were, the perfect spot, away from the small groups of people and kids, allowed us to spread our blanket and personal items in a basket. I told Jenny that I was going back to the little plaza to get a drink and asked if she wanted anything?

"No, not yet Hawk. I am just going to rest for a moment. It's so beautiful here. The sun feels good on my bones. That was a very long drive from Berlin yesterday".

I walked up to the plaza stand and ordered a rum drink with a little umbrella stuffed in it. It was a tall cup, and I was careful not to spell it. I had to make it last a couple of hours.

Returning to the beach and our blanket I set the drink in a makeshift sand hole, sat down to relax when Jenny asked me to please go swimming with her.

"No babe, I need to rest for a while. I still feel exhausted from that long drive".

"Please Hawk. Pleassse. I don't want to go into the water by myself".

"Honey, I need to rest. Just wade out to your waste and come back in and rest with me. When you come back, we can press the restart button in my brain. But not until I get a little more sleep".

Jenny then pulled a big guilt trip out of her bag of tricks.

"Okay for you Hawk boy. If you aren't going to save me from all those big fish out there, then you don't have any more privileges. There"!

Jenny got up and walked toward the water, and I rolled over to rest with my drink. I thought to myself, why do women always use sex as their answer to everything. Give and take it away. Give and take it away again? Pondering that for a second put me to sleep instantly.

I guess it hadn't been too long after that; I was awakened to screams by kids and adults near the water's edge. Then I distinctly heard Jenny's cries for help.

Hawk, Hawk, help me. HELP!

I woke up partway to realize that Jenny was in real trouble. I jumped up, spilling my rum drink all over the blanket, leaving the little umbrella to blow away in a slight breeze moving over the sand.

Looking out toward the screams, I could see a riptide had come up in the changing tide and carried Jenny all the way out toward a rocky point. The waves were at least three to four feet high and pounding her, one after the other into the rocks and back out again. Jenny was not that good of a swimmer and could not have held on much longer.

I should have known better than leave her alone in the water. Thank God that I was a powerful swimmer, trained lifeguard, and surfer used to big waves and rip tides.

Immediately, I jumped up and ran down to the water's edge, shoving people out of my way as I went. Nobody was willing to risk going into the water to help Jenny. The riptide, the pounding waves, and rocky points were more than anyone could handle.

Jenny had little chance left of survival if I didn't get out to her fast. It wouldn't take many more waves beating her on the rocks to render her unconscious and then she would drown.

Still at a full run and up to my knees in the water, I dove in headfirst and swam as hard and fast as I could. The riptide helped speed me toward the rocky point.

As I neared Jenny, I could see that she had been beaten pretty bad on the rocks and was losing consciousness and struggling to keep her head above the water to breath. One more slam into the rocks and she would be gone.

Jenny, Jenny, I yelled. Hang on! When I was close enough, I grabbed her and turned, putting myself between her and the rocks. We were still slammed hard into the rocks, but at least Jenny wouldn't be hurt anymore. As she tried to put her hands up, she slipped under the surface of the water do to the wave action. At the same moment, I grabbed her and lifted her and held her while treading water. Just before the next big wave hit, I put my legs out, bracing myself against the rocks and using them to kick off, still holding Jenny in my arms. She was panicked but breathing.

Rather than fight the riptide, I allowed it to pull me out and around the rocky point and then took my chance at pulling Jenny toward the beach.

The crowd of people was following our movement yelling something, and then a few of the men jumped into the water finally to help Jenny and me out once we were close enough to the shore.

While the riptide still wanted to pull us back out with each wave, I carried Jenny out and laid her on the sandy beach. I gave a cursory look at Jenny's body to check for any visible broken bones, cuts, and bleeding. I determined that she was alright. Cuts from the rocks and bruised yes from the entire ordeal, but she would live. The main thing was no broken bones. I picked her back up and headed for the blanket.

At least she was breathing. I kissed her and reassured her that she was alright.

Oh, God, I could not have hung on any longer Hawk; I heard her struggle to say. You saved me. You saved me, Hawk.

Quiet, Jenny, don't talk. I got you, honey. Just relax in my arms for now. Relax. You are safe now.

As I laid Jenny down on the blanket, I looked her over again. To my amazement, all the cuts, lacerations and bleeding had nearly stopped. The Mediterranean ocean is so salty that wounds are quickly healed over. No chance in giving sharks a taste with such fast, salty licks of the sea.

It was only then that I noticed the spilled rum drink. Oh well, I thought. I didn't want any alcohol this early in the day anyway. Good riddance. Drink up, sandy beach.

The swarm of people that had been watching the incident and those who assisted in helping us out of the water gathered around the blanket. Everyone excitedly exclaiming how lucky Jenny was. They were slapping me on the back not knowing how much it hurt from the most current thrusts of the ocean waves, slamming me back onto the rocky point.

Yea, yea, thank you. I half pleaded for them to stop hitting me with such kind gestures.

Jenny was still whimpering a little and trying to focus on me but slipped away a couple of times. When she was able to stand, I grabbed her hand and then with my free hand, I gathered up the blanket and basket. We started walking back toward the condo; I gestured a smile and wave of thanks to everyone there. As Jenny, and I continued toward our condo nest, Jenny collapse from shock. I lifted her into my arms and carried her the rest of the way, still holding onto the basket and blanket as well.

Making it to the front door of the condo, I opened the door and pushed it open the rest of the way with my foot, still holding onto Jenny in my arms. Once inside, I closed the door using my foot and carried her to our queen size bed. Laying her down, I removed her wet bikini top and bottoms and began kissing her all over and thanking God for saving her life. I then covered her up. She just needed rest for now, and water and food later, when she was able.

I forgot the long drive down here from Berlin. I forgot about the spilled drink and the riptide. I sat in the living room chair and rested, thinking about the entire incident and Jenny's beautiful body. I fell asleep too and didn't awake for a couple of hours along with Jenny.

The private at the end of the dorm was waking up. Between us, we're about thirty military beds with the mattress rolled up at the head of each bed.

I found out that both of us were waiting for our travel orders. The only difference was this poor guy's orders were taking him to South Korea. Funny thing I thought to myself. I had been given two opportunities recently, one of which was to re-enlist and go to South Korea too. I would have another stripe, big pay raise if I signed up for four more years. Oh, Hell No.

As tempting as that might have been at one time, some soldiers finish one tour of duty they are ready to return to civilian life. I knew that continuing with any underground activities would be the death of me. South Korea? In the middle of winter? No way.

My other option was going back to the United States, Arizona, and attending Rotary Flight School. That would have been a Hugh pay grade increase, and either a position of Second Lieutenant or that of a Warrant Officer.

I took all the tests and passed them with flying colors. There were seven of us in the MP company that enlisted for flight school and passed all the tests. A couple of weeks later, a Captain from the flight school in Arizona came into the mess hall where the seven of us were asked to sit. In unison, we all jumped up to attention in a straight line and saluted. The Captain saluted back. Then he proceeded to congratulate each of us one at a time for making it this far in preparation for flight school. Randy was first in line, and I was last. By the time the Captain got to me, he had looked at me as if shocked. The Captain took a step back to put me into focus. First, he looked at the top of my head then back down to my boots. His remark took me by complete surprise. "How the hell did you pass the physical young man"? "You're too, damn tall. You could never get into one of my birds. Are you Hawk Barton"?

"Yes, sir."

"How tall are you, son"?

I was beginning to resent him calling me son, but I answered his question anyway. "6'-7, sir, and 245 lbs. sir".

"Sorry, Barton, but you don't qualify." "You are too tall for this job. You're dismissed".

My heart was broken. Those were harsh words. "Your DISMISSED." Like someone had put a knife in my chest. Then I had to say good-bye to all my friends that were headed back to the United States. If they graduated flight school, they would then be sent to Vietnam to fight a real war. Jimmy was one of the six-men team leaving for flight school who was my junior private on the Wannsee Lake Boat Patrol. He and I had gone through a lot together, not to mention the Bravo Check Point incident. The incident where the VOPO's shot two young teenagers in a little canoe as well as our military police boat.

Jimmy and I pulled a lot of dead bodies out of the lake together. They were not drowning victims either. Most had been shot, hung, and then tossed into the lake. Mostly from the East German side. Then the wind and water drift would send the bodies our way.

Remember when I said God always knows best? Well, several months later, after being dismissed by the flight school captain from Arizona, my company commander and good friend, Captain De Metrovich with whom I raced with, asked me to come into his office.

"Sit down, Hawk, I have something to tell you. You remember all of our boys that went to Arizona for flight school, right"?

"Yes, sir."

"Well in your group of six, five were shot down and killed within the first four weeks of duty in Vietnam. One came back with no legs and in pretty bad shape. You were fortunate Hawk that you didn't make the cut".

"Who was it, Captain? Who came back"?

The letter read Cannon. Cannon came back shot to hell and may still not make it. Currently, Cannon is receiving treatment at Walter Reed in Washington DC. It took more than a month to get him back stateside and into the VA hospital.

"I am sorry Hawk. Jimmy was one of those that didn't make it and shot down the first week".

"Thank you, Captain. I appreciate you letting me know. I guess you are right when saying I was lucky to have stayed behind".

"Hawk, Capt. De Metrovich said; frankly, I am surprised that they didn't take you. I wouldn't have put it past the Captain from flight school not to return and recruit you for that very same reason. Six good men brought down within four weeks of their campaign in Nam. They need you now more than ever, Hawk, and I hope you say no. You don't need to end up like the others".

"You are right sir. I don't need dead, right now".

I was returning home to the United States of America after 4 1/2 years of military service. That was my mission in life after High School graduation. Returning home feeling like a proud American and Patriot, who had volunteered and honorably served his country. Now I had another mission.

Having a wife that loved me and a baby girl to hold and raise was back in the states was far too important. I had to get home. I was willing to die for the country I loved, and I served with pride. Taking unnecessary chances like Refugee Rescue was one thing, but now that Baby Jane was here, life was all about family.

I bid the private farewell and thanked him for taking my option orders and going to South Korea.

It was time for breakfast and coffee, so I left him packing and went down and ate.

I wasn't sure where Fort Dix got their eggs, but they couldn't have been real. Runny and a putty yellow in color. Maybe this breakfast was why soldiers back home were called dogs because this so-called food was better suited for dogs that were willing to eat this crap.

By 0800 hours, I was down at the personnel tables staring at the sergeant. He looked up at me, sensing the tenseness in my glare.

"Sorry Hawk, your orders still didn't come in. I thought for sure they would be here this morning. Sensing my frustration and disappointment, he quickly followed up his statement with ‘however I can offer you this".

My eyes widened, and my glare was intent on murdering someone. My fists clenched and I was up on my toes, making myself as big and strong as a gorilla. Thankfully I didn't let go of my temper, but stood my ground and listened. When the Sargent was finished talking, I asked him; is that all you have to say to me, nothing?

"I know how bad you want to get home Hawk, and the Army wants you to get there today. I can issue you a ticket too LAX in California, and two hundred dollars in travel money. The Army owes you a lot more, but it is a start. Not sure what happened to all your paperwork and monies, but I promise you one thing the rest of it will be mailed to your home address within two weeks. Hawk, you have my word on that."

My choice was to explode and beat the crap out of him, and probably go to the brig in the process, or, ask to be flown back to Berlin, where I could beat the hell out of Strodemeyer. That made more sense. He must have thought he was pretty smart for screwing me over like this. I thought one day, his number will be up. God help him if he ever showed up in Santa Barbara County.

Getting angry and sending someone innocent to the base hospital and risking charges wasn't worth it. I accepted the sergeant's offer. My only question was, "how soon can we get this done sergeant so I can get on my way home"?

"It will only take me a few minutes and a couple of signatures. Hawk, I promise to look into this further and get your money within a week or two. I will do it, he reassured me".

"Where do I sign sergeant"?

"Right here. Here is your check for $200 and your plane ticket home today on Pan American Airlines. The plane departs at 1300 hrs. Good luck, Hawk. We saluted and shook hands good-bye".

I could see the sweat dripping down the side of his head by his ears. He knew how angry and disappointed I was, and he also gambled that I would take the money and go. He was right!

Finally, I was going home. I would be starting a new career which scared the hell out of me. The Army had been good for me in many ways. I even figured I grew up a little.

I was hoping somehow to have learned more about my real birth father, Captain Tom Barton MD, but that was not to be in this lifetime. Maybe the next. I was sure I thought, that he would have been proud of me and an honorable discharge in a short 4 1/2 year career in the Army.

I got to the airport and gave Jenny a call. She was so excited and said she could hardly wait to see me.

"Hawk darling, I will see you at LAX this evening. Your parents are all ready to go too".

"Yes, babe, I will see you around six o'clock. I love you,"!

 

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