I had a friend in Frankfurt back in the sixties who had been in his youth a member of the Hitlerjugend. Hey, he was fourteen! Give him a break. Near the end of the war, they were incorporated into the army, and soon afterwards when the Americans ripped through his area, he found himself uncaptured but a couple hundred kilometers from home. So he hid in the woods with the idea of traveling by night and resting, hidden, during the day.

This didn’t work. Food became an issue. To put it bluntly, he was starving. So he cautiously observed a farm house for a number of hours until he was reassured that it wasn’t infested with Americans and then went to the house for food. The woman there fed him, but was no more interested in his remaining there than he was, so after a brief negotiation, he exchanged his uniform and gear for a set of her son’s clothes, which came real close to fitting. She couldn’t give him much food since she had so little herself, but at least he would now be able to travel by day.

And so, taking an unobtrusive route on country lanes, he set out for home, seventeen but desperately trying to look fifteen and out for a fresh air hike in his own neighborhood.

He had not got very far at all before he was spotted by a couple of American soldiers discreetly watching the little path he was on. He was practically on them before he saw them, but he immediately noticed that they were pointing their rifles at him. One spoke in English.

Hans-Joachim had studied English in school but decided this would be a good time not to understand. Unfortunately, the Americans knew sign language, and one used the universal beckoning forefinger to indicate that he was to approach more closely.

He did so with alacrity and was taken to a local building where there was an American who spoke some German, not perfect German by any means, but sufficiently good to explain to Hans-Joachim that German soldiers whose uniforms and weapons had been stolen by bandits were nevertheless accepted as prisoners of war upon their giving their names, ranks, and serial numbers. After which, they were fed and housed and that sort of thing. German spies, on the other hand, were just taken off behind the building and shot.

Hans-Joachim was able to recall his military data almost immediately.

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