THE GERMAN INTERPRETER, THE WHITE RUSSIAN SOLDIER, AND ME
The room I was in contained only the three of us: the German interpreter in the bed to my left, a White Russian soldier on my right and me. The White-Russian had enlisted in the German army to fight against Red Russia. He had been working on machinery when a piece of metal had fallen on his hand and fractured it.
The room had been a regular hotel room, so it had a window. There was also a lavatory and a bidet.
I was paid as though I were a German officer of the same rank. We were paid weekly in German marks. I didn't smoke, so I gave the cigarettes as favors to anyone who came to visit me. It was sort of a rarity to have an American flyer in the hospital and I was something of a celebrity.
With the money I had after a couple of weeks, I decided I needed to have my teeth cleaned. Through the interpreter I asked the French maid if she could get me toothbrush and toothpaste. I gave her the money and she brought back a brush that was about 3/4" wide (like we would use for a fingernail brush) and a pumice type concoction in a tube. The German male nurse stood over me while I brushed my teeth to see that I didn't swallow any of the fluid because my intestines had been so badly shot up, I could have nothing in them until they healed.
The White Russian soldier obviously had never seen anybody brush his or her teeth before. When I finished, he asked me if he could do that. I gave him the brush and the toothpaste and told him to keep them both.
I hadn't had a bowel movement since I don't remember when, but it had been a long time. They wanted to give me a laxative, but I didn't want to take it. They asked me if I liked brandy and I said sure. They brought me a glass, but there was what looked like little globules of oil at the bottom of the cup. So I drank the brandy and left the laxative in the glass. This worked to my disadvantage. Later, the male nurse came in, and put a finger cot on, and physically reached in to remove the feces--very painful.
Other than that, the treatment I received in the hospital was just fabulous. They treated me as though I were Hitler himself.
Probably the one thing that I remember most as an inconvenience was not being allowed to have any food or fluids for the longest time. One day I talked this Russian soldier into getting me a drink out of the lavatory that was in the room. This was a no-no for two reasons. The French water was not potable as it came from the tap, and my guts wouldn't take it. I had severe pain and he got a hell of a tongue-lashing from the doctor.
The German Catholic sister who was a nurse asked me if I wanted anything special to eat. I told her I wanted biscuits, gravy, and fried eggs. She knew about biscuits and eggs, but not gravy. I told her how to make white gravy. She brought it to me, but it was like a bride's cooking --hardly palatable. However, I told her it was the best I ever had.
The food they gave me was the very best they had to give. I was served first. I got white bread, butter, vegetables, and whatever foods my body would accept as it healed.
The two German soldiers on either side of me were served after my dishes had been removed. Their meal consisted only of black bread and soup. I found out later there was another officer (German) in the hospital. I asked him why I was getting better treatment than they were giving the German soldiers.
He answered, "You are an officer".
I said, "But I am an enemy officer."
"To a German, an officer is an officer," he responded.
As I grew better, they began to let me walk the halls with one arm around the interpreter the other around the male nurse, because I still had the cast on my left leg and my right leg was still paralyzed. This is how I got around to the other rooms to visit the other wounded in the hospital.
I got to talk to a German officer who I thought of as an elderly man at the time. I was 21 and he must have been 35 or 40. He told me that they had just brought in a German flyer and if I would like to talk to him. I said "yes." As best I can figure, it probably was the German who shot me down. He had been out on the same day slow-timing an engine. He had seen and attacked the formation. In the hospital we were friends. He was there because of illness, not because he had been shot down.
I got tired of using the urinal duck and told the guard and the interpreter that I would like to go to the bathroom. They walked me to the bathroom. I told them I didn't need their help--I could do it myself. They left, closing the door. And as I was standing there urinating I passed out.
They came in, picked me up off the floor, carried me back to bed, and laughed at me. This set my therapy to learn how to walk again back about a month because I was now afraid to walk--even with my arms around their shoulders.
I got a chance to look at my bed sheets one day while they were changing the gauze. My sheets had not been changed and there were fecal smears all up and down the sheet and bloodstains mixed in as well. They changed the bed linen as often as they could, but I was sure surprised to see this.
One day, after my wounds had healed sufficiently I wanted a bath. They walked me down to the bathtub, which was a long slab of granite hollowed out to form a huge bathtub. When I was submerged, the water came to my armpits and the tub was probably two feet beyond my feet. I still had a cast on my leg. They placed a kitchen chair in the tub, put my cast on the chair, filled the tub with water, and I got to take my first bath.Back Next