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city of ruins
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Author:SupeRc0pKr
IP:cache-mtXXXX
Date: 01/02/05 01:01
Game Type: Starcraft
Labels:Long(1), Text Only(1), Series(1)
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Report Rating: 8.5, # of Ratings: 2, Max: 9, Min: 8
Lifetime Rating for SupeRc0pKr: 8.2353
[life-line] - SOME BRIEF ACTION
[saint lo]
    - [gun fight] - ACTION
    - [city of ruins] - ROMANCE ACTION

[in conclusion] - AUTHOR'S NOTE

[non CSS version]

city of ruins




lifeline

      The 2nd Battalion aidman snuck on hands and knees through the forward positions, and in the still and the silence it seemed to him as though he were the only sign of life in the field. But around him, in foxholes and trenches and ditches, soldiers were leaning on their backs, heads tilted back in a dehydrated daze. They had run out of water by afternoon and in the sunset their voices were dark and dry, they did not have the energy to speak to each other save for the simple, unanswered, "I'd kill for some water about now."
      Throughout the morning they had shelled enemy movement to the north, and their ammunition was depleted now. They had heard a distant gun fight, mainly the artillery bombardment, and croaked to each other that their boys were fighting to reach them. Every half hour a mortar would drop a round or two in their positions, and each time it seemed as though it came from a different direction, a different caliber tube. The Germans did not make a move with an organized assault, but their periodic artillery attacks still inflicted casualties.
      The aidman rolled into a foxhole occupied by three men and, when he was upright, went immediately to work. The mortar shoots pecked away at the battalion, hit one or two men, and he was already over-worked from the previous day's influx of wounded. He did not have enough supplies, and no matter how many men he attended to it seemed as though there was always another casualty, another man bleeding into the grass and waiting to die, waiting for the battalion's relief to take him to an aid station.
      "Put this on him," he told the casualty's buddy. To the other, he said, "Hold his leg up. That's right. Prop it on something if you can find it."
      The other soldiers helped him as much as they could, knowing he was the sole aidman. They had all taken basic first-aid courses but the aidman was not surprised when he went into a ditch and began work and the other soldiers watched him with a certain helplessness and asked, "What can I do?" They were completely lost when one of their own was hit, they could only hold him and tell him, "It's going to be fine, just hang on. We'll get you help." And they sat in quiet and waited for him to come and patch their wounded buddy up.
      Many of these men were more or less proficient in combat tactics and small arms operation. They had working knowledge of what to do as a private, first class in a gun fight, they could use and maintenance a range of weapons, they knew how to move under fire, but when it came to a friend torn open by a bullet or a piece of shrapnel they went blank. The aidman walked them through how to treat their friend for shock, how to staunch a wound or tourniquet a limb that had been damaged beyond repair. They followed his instructions and when he said "just hold tight for now," they nodded and replied "Thanks, Doc."
      The aidman had been trained to do what he did, a wounded man did not have a face to him. He was a casualty and there was something wrong with him, the aidman was trained to fix what he could and send to the rear what he couldn't. Questions of mortality and death had been drummed out of him by textbook lectures and figures outlining the functions of the human body.
      To the soldiers, the casualty had a name. They were disturbed by his state of injury and they didn't like to see him suffer. It reminded them of who they were, and that tomorrow it might be them on their backs with a pool of red expanding out of them. That despite the tactical training, everyone was subject to being in the path of a bullet's trajectory. It did not matter if there was a science to war.
      The aidman was often asked if a casualty was going to make it, if the wounded man would die. It was not always the case that he could give a clear answer, chance was always involved in these things. Despite the science to his methods, the knowledge he had of physiology, there was always an uncertainty to the fate of a man bleeding his bandages red.
      He would answer, "I can't tell. It's too hard to tell right now."
      And because by this time the soldiers were hungry, thirsty, and afraid, they would sometimes snap with some malice, "When the fuck can you tell, Doc? When he's dead?"
      The aidman knew that everyone was stressed, but he had never really learned how to deal with frayed nerves. "That's just how it is," he said flatly. And he would crawl to the next foxhole, his eyes red with fatigue and his hands red, also, with the science of his trade.

*          *           *

      In the end 2nd Battalion would not be hung out to dry.
      In the early morning after the fallschirmjager counter-attack, 3rd Battalion moved forward under cover of darkness, with orders to refrain from firing their weapons and relying instead on grenades and bayonets. The troops were not to directly engage the enemy, as the purpose of this mission was to infiltrate through the enemy lines to reach 2nd Battalion. Once they had made contact, both of the units would continue the assault along Martinville Ridge.
      The push to reach 2nd Battalion was not a relief mission. Every soldier that was not a casualty was expected to move forward in the assault once they had made contact.
      3rd Battalion snuck forward through an unexpected fog. Both the darkness and reduction in visibility aided their advance. There were two German kompanies opposite the battalion, and though they would make contact with a few fire-teams and shoot at them with machine-guns, 3rd Battalion exercised considerable discipline in ignoring the shooting and continuing their advance without holding up. A handful of GIs creeping forward would be startled by incoming MG-42 rounds, and then the gunner would lose sight of them a moment later as they rushed forward with their heads down. The battalion utilized rapid movement, and assaulted only those positions directly in their line of movement. They would sneak on these positions until they could grenade them, then sprint forward with their bayonets. For many it was the first time they had used the blades in combat, and though the fighting in these brief, violent assaults was very personal, very taxing, the NCOs kept the fire-teams moving.
      The soldiers stumbled in the dark, the fog blinding them even from shadows, and when they killed the enemy it was at no more than arm's length, close enough to be bled on.
      "And that," Truttman told the replacement officer, "is what it's about out here, sir. It's not like Basic, it's not like what you probably learned in OCS. What our old CO used to do is have a replacement officer stay with one of our sergeants for a while, before he took over command."
      "I see," the captain answered. "Are there any sergeants that I can speak to?"
      "Actually I don't know, sir."
      "You don't know."
      "I don't know, sir. As you know we were hit pretty bad yesterday, I don't know half the guys of the dozen left of them. Hey, Cook, do we have any sergeants left?"
      Cook rose from the treeline and walked back as he zipped his fly. "No, I don't know, Corporal Truttman. Why don't we ask these boys here, hey, hey, any of you boys rank about E-four?"
      Cook was shouting at the replacements the company had received the night before. Twenty-three of the original A Company roster had survived the panzer assault. The unit had been devastated, its leadership infrastructure - Captain Wayne in particular - had suffered irreplaceable losses. Rifle companies in Normandy were most deficient in junior leaders, the NCOs and lieutenants that directed small-unit actions. They were a crucial component in hedgerow combat and so placed themselves in the pivotal points of the battle, where the action was its hottest and the mortars were at their most accurate. It was the only way to do their jobs correctly and because of this they had a low "life-expectancy," a figure used by battalion intelligence to feed reports to higher headquarters in order to outline the resources the forward units needed most.
      "Don't sweat it, Captain," Cook patted the nineteen year-old officer on the shoulder, "We're the reserve. They won't put us in until the boys up front run into trouble."
      "Who the fuck is this?" The sergeant who had taken up position with Cook had returned from the aid station.
      "I'm the replacement CO." And though the sergeant apologized politely for his language and began to brief him, Truttman did not think the captain had the presence to be A Company's CO. He was a kid who had not been in a fight ever in his life and he was expected to take the old-timers into a hot zone and tell them what to do. He didn't know what the fuck was going on. But because of his rank he had command over all of them, over him, Cook, over the sergeant who had put himself in the open to stop the panzer. He could learn with time, but during that time he would make mistakes, and if he made those mistakes when the decisions mattered they would all be fucked.
      Truttman wasn't as angry about this as he normally would be. He'd come to realize some things in the world. That was just part of being a soldier. That was just part of life.
      It was still morning when A Company heard the distant crashes of an artillery barrage, and everyone had an idea of who was on the receiving end.
      "Third Battalion's eating it about now," a private, first class stamped out his cigarette.
      "Are they going to be all right?" one of the replacements asked, and the private laughed.
      "They've had everybody in the regiment running patrols to reach them since they made contact with Second Battalion," the sergeant said. "Re-supply and getting the wounded out of there."
      "Easy going?"
      "Well, one patrol they sent out on half-tracks."
      The vehicles had been loaded with medical supplies mainly, and they'd been crewed by a dozen rifle infantry. The group had motored out onto the the most accessible trail, a risky operation but 3rd Battalion had made the trip and so it was considered feasible that a small motorized convoy could reproduce the feat. Before they had reached the outskirts of la Madeleine accurate mortar fire dropped on the patrol, tearing a gap in one of the vehicles and spilling plasma across the dirt. The crews and the infantry dis-mounted as the HE continued to bomb the road, and a machine-gun opened fire on them as they crawled across the fluid to cover. They returned to battalion HQ with four wounded men, reporting that their mission had not been completed.
      "What a fucking waste," Cook said.
      "Yeah," the sergeant continued, "so after that our battalion CO grabs a platoon and tells them to set up an outpost a ways out. They tell him that there's a lot of action down there so the old man sends some guys further out to set up another one. They tried getting another convoy through, but they run into a lot of wreckage and when they report this to the engineers they tell them it'll take atleast two days to clear it all."
      The half-tracks had run into the remains of a German supply column, the fallschirmjager had been running their supplies down the underdeveloped roads the vehicles had been using and the patrol had described to the engineers the dead horses and debris that had been left in the wake of a fighter-bomber sortie.
      Ryan Riese's deuce-and-a-half idled at a forward supply depot as its contents were taken down. The crews were particularly interested in the medical supplies, plasma, morphine, sulfanimide, and Riese could see that a large amount of these materials had been stock-piled still in their cases.
      "What's all this?" he asked.
      "Couple hundred men stuck behind the Germans," a quartermaster replied after a moment. "The major's been trying to get some of this through but the Germans have got every route covered. HQ has tried for some air-drop missions but that's all hit-and-miss."
      Riese had been driving through Normandy for nearly two months now. He made several round trips each day, stocking battalion supply dumps with an immeasurable tonnage of material. Even operating at a reduced-strength, as the quartermasters termed the condition of the various units, the battalions consumed vast numbers of supplies, of food and water and disposable necessities, of ammunition and high-explosives and field equipment. Further back, in the supply and logistics network of XIX Corps, there were even more trucks running through the roads of Normandy. Hot-water plumbing, unheard-of in this rural area of France, had been installed in division rear-areas. Ice cream machines could be found near the Omaha beachhead. The military was building the shell of civilization in the middle of no where to fuel the war.
      Each week as the forward supply dumps were moved forward, Riese saw the remains of the materials sent to the battalions. Empty steel parcels and ammunition cases were left behind on the dirt roads. Pliofoam and tin cans were strewn across the open fields where they had been emptied.
      And even with all this consumption, there were men still struggling to simply survive on the frontline.
      War did not waste anything, Riese knew. The military depended on efficiency, it estimated amounts required and allotted only those amounts and sent more only if more was requested, and if it was deemed necessary by whatever officers and intelligence reports had to say. Otherwise Riese's job would be much easier. Food and medical supplies and ammunition were almost completely depleted by the time new stocks reached the rifle companies.
      Riese had driven past lines of German prisoners heading to the rear nearly every day. He had been told that the Germans had no supply lines, that they functioned without regular replenishment. He had heard many soldiers recount their experiences with German prisoners, how they would express disbelief at how much their American captors had - the quantity and quality of the food, the endless ammunition piles they saw at the supply dumps.
      The Germans, Riese figured, had existed in a state of war for years. While they had exhausted many of their supplies, they had also adapted to this exhaustion. Very rarely in any situation did an infantryman, a tanker, an engineer, any soldier have access to everything they needed, but the Germans had almost nothing. And yet they could still fight against everything that Riese and the other drivers brought forward. They had found the ability to make war with whatever was available, to engineer impossible field-repairs, to fight using the terrain in innovative and creative tactics, and to subsist on bread and water. The soldiers opposite them had make-shift cities lying behind them. But from what he heard about the frontline, the fighting was nearly even-sided, soldiers died in large numbers regardless of the uniform they wore, whether their vehicles were well-maintenanced or not, whether they had a full pack of ammunition or a half-empty magazine.
      Riese understood why he was driving so much stuff to the forward battalions, and why the military put such a strenuous effort in bringing technology and other commodities into a rural war-zone. A soldier needed reassurance, he needed a quick break and some comfort to keep fighting. But what he experienced on the frontline did not change, regardless of the lifeline he had behind him.

*           *           *

      It was morning when A Company, still in the process of reorganizing, was asked to secure a corridor to what was called the 29th Division's spearhead, the isolated 2nd and 3rd Battalions fighting for their lives out in front. 3rd Battalion's infiltration maneuver had been executed very well, they had squeezed past the German lines without significant loss, but the enemy had not retreated once they'd been penetrated. Several resupply attempts had been made and it was discovered that the Germans appeared to have no intentions of pulling out.
      It was a 1,200-yard gap that lay between the spearhead and the rest of the division. From the previous day's action it was suspected that this gap would be contested, that there would be considerable German resistance in the area to impede any efforts to open a corridor. A day after Cook had said that the company would not see action very soon, the regimental reserve - 1st Battalion - had been called back into the battle.
      The company deployed in two columns, moving forward along the bordering hedgerows of a field.
      "Maintain visual contact," the sergeant had told the company. "Don't lose sight of the guys on the other side of the field. Don't lose sight of your buddies, either, stick close to them."
      The buddies the sergeant was referring to were the A Company veterans - by definition, "anyone who has been on the line for atleast three days." To organize the replacements, eighty-five of which had come into the unit the previous night, they were distributed among what remained of the original roster. Truttman, hunched low in the cover of the hedgerow, glanced briefly at his charge.
      "You doing OK?"
      "Yeah," the young recruit answered, and Truttman knew he was lying.
      The night they had reached the company lines, the replacements had been hit by an 88mm barrage. They did not hear the reports of gunfire until after the shells had burst, and they had frozen. Three rounds tore into the column, dropped men to their hands and knees as they crawled for cover. In the night the explosions flooded the road with white and orange, then clouded the darkness over with smoke, and through it all the replacements tried to react correctly, to adapt war behaviors. Ten of the replacements had been put out-of-action before they had even reached their destination. Truttman knew it scared the fuck out of them, they didn't want to go out into action like this, but they hadn't experienced the worst of it.
      In the same night, some forty men of 1st Battalion's anti-tank and artillery company had volunteered to contact the forces at la Madeleine during the dark hours. They carried with them the supplies that 2nd Battalion needed. They moved in two patrols, and hedgerow by hedgerow, maneuvering carefully so as to avoid detection, they approached the forward positions of the battalions.
      2nd Battalion had apparently organized outposts after 3rd Battalion had reinforced them, because the leading officers of one of these patrols was shot and killed by friendly-fire, a 2nd Battalion soldier who had assumed that he was in a fight for survival once he caught sight of the carrying parties.
      It was not the first friendly-fire incident in Normandy, and though it was tragic for everyone involved - no one wanted to shoot someone who had fought alongside them, and no one wanted to die because a comrade mistook them for a bad guy - it could only be expected in a combat situation. 2nd and 3rd Battalions were surrounded, for an extended period of time they had been cut off from friendly contact and were in large part locked in a fight simply to stay alive. They were running low on ammunition and life-saving supplies and despite the fact that they had spent a relatively short amount of time isolated from their regiment their situation was desperate in many ways. There was a mindset that overtook the way a soldier thought when he knew he was surrounded, his combat instincts became more acute, he got faster on the trigger.
      And so a rescue party can seem like a foreign assault group, a danger, a threat to the soldier's combat existence.
      Troops who had spent time in combat knew it was shit, but shit happened all the time - the shooter saw someone coming and thought he was going to die, so he fired. And who in this war could blame him for that.
      The patrol had carried their dead officer with them to the 2nd Battalion CP, and they reported to the officer in charge. After they had handed-off the supplies they had on them, they volunteered to stay with the battalion and help them hold their positions. These men had nearly killed them and they elected to help them because they thought they needed it.
      Truttman acted more and more like a soldier everyday but he could not imagine how he would react to another American taking a shot at him. There was an extent to which Truttman had allegiance to the Army, a large part of that organization was still bullshit to him. If a man tried to kill him, regardless of the language he spoke, the fact remained that he had taken aim and tried to shoot him.
      He did not share any of this with the replacements, they would think he was crazy. An American soldier was an American soldier, he was a friend, an ally. To them they were meant to shoot only the enemy, whether that enemy be defined as German or Japanese or whatever nation that the United States Army had been sent to fight. But fighting in Normandy changed a man's perceptions on what it meant to fight to live. Whether the bullet was friendly or enemy fire, a veteran did not want to be on the receiving end.
      A Company had not run into resistance just yet. Isolated snipers had fired at them, but their shooting was not organized, they had not positioned themselves into a network of rifles. The men kept low and they kept moving, and with every field they covered they left behind a handful of men to hold it against enemy action. Ahead, mortar fire began to drop on the men securing the next few fields, and the replacements watched for their experienced guides to make the first move.
      "Just keep your heads down," the veterans told them.
      The columns advanced under a rain of black dirt, and the replacements, their bodies bent as low to the ground as possible, followed the A Company regulars blindly. They were lost in this war, these veterans followed no one, they understood what to do on their own, and they were either not willing or not able to teach the replacements the trade.
      The twenty-three men who had been fighting in A Company for longer than three days knew what the replacements where thinking. Many of them at some point had asked the exact same silent questions. But what separated the men moving in column wasn't just knowledge, there was an unbridgeable difference in their way of thinking.
      A Company would establish a life-line with the division spearhead, that is what the after-action reports would have in text. But what would not be written in text, what every soldier knew, was that there were some life-lines that could not be established between the United States replacements and the soldiers of A Company.


saint lo

      When Meier entered Saint Lo he found that the city, the hub of the German logistics system, was a bombed-out ghost town of concrete fragments and shattered glass. In preparation for the invasion, the Americans had begun tactical bombing in Normandy in May, and by the time they'd reached Martinville Ridge, much of Saint Lo had been leveled. Meier thought of Kast who had remained with the battalion, bleeding in a knife fight for what amounted to a few city roads filled with empty debris.
      Lonely smoke was rising somewhere in the city, a bomb target still smoldering in the daylight, and Meier could see that this transportation crossroads was devoid of any civilian life. The city smelled like ash and various burning substances. The block apartments that characterized French urban environments lay dashed into fractured and cratered streets, knocked over as though steel girders and concrete were mere trifles. Wall posters holding commercial advertisements, news papers, various articles of partial human media flapped limply on the cobblestone, their bold text and exclamation points a strange contrast to the inactive rubble that they were wrapped around.
      There was a street-corner cafe that had miraculously been left relatively unblemished by the bombing, though most of its chairs and tables were now absent, leaving the fenced-off area devoid of any content save for a few up-turned pieces of black furniture. Meier walked into an evacuated city, a vacant block of humanity.
      He could not hear any kind of motor transport but he knew that despite its apparent emptiness there were several headquarters operating in the city. Their staffs were organizing information and orders from higher offices in Paris and what remained of the frontline communications centers, and when they went to report to their commanders they had an abundance of material that told the commanders nothing. Chaos, Meier remembered, insanity, that's what the staff groups were experiencing. Like a combat unit, they had ranks and levels of organization, an operational structure devised through careful planning and assessment, and like a combat unit, that operational structure fell apart as soon as the action started. Not all information could be centrallized to a single rank, not all orders were limited to a specific organization. It was the science of the military falling apart in the face of the nature of war. He had seen a similar scenario when in Russia, a few headquarters groups had begun to move too slowly, and the combat detachments they commanded had retreated past them.
      It was clear that very soon Saint Lo would become the frontline of the war, combat would break out here, establish a presence tentatively at first as patrols engaged other patrols and then explode into the urban environment as their respective battalions deployed against each other. The sentries could hear distant small-arms fire, popping comically somewhere in orchards and treelines. Within a day, within a week, those rifle cracks would be splitting the streets just outside their positions.
      Meier was unconcerned with the defense of Saint Lo. He was no longer military. He was no longer a soldier. He still carried a weapon, and it had not been longer than a day since the last time he'd killed someone, but he had forfeit his participation in the war effort.
      The night Meier had left his lines he could hear soldiers in the draw screaming. An American battalion had attempted to advance alone in full-view of the observation posts on the ridge and it'd been shelled all day, until there wasn't enough light to see. By evening Meier could not have given even a rough estimate of the casualties the artillery had inflicted. All he knew was the battalion had broken-down long before the guns let up. With nightfall came relative quiet, save for solitary reports of rifle fire in the distance, and in that quiet there were American soldiers in the darkness crying out. Meier had risen up from his cover and walked away until he couldn't hear them.
      It had been too much like Russia. The relentless artillery that did not stop even when the soldiers had lain down to die, the screaming of shell-shocked riflemen, it was too much like that final week in Russia, in those desperate battles around Kursk and Kirovograd. It was not so much empathy or compassion or humanity that had made Meier finally stop playing the hero, as the old major had ridiculed, stop being a soldier, but a basic sense of self-preservation. They were images that reminded him of his own mortality, of the fact that one day he might find himself lying down to die and the shooting would not stop, and of the fact that those emotionless screams came from a man dying like an animal. One night that could be him, and the basic truth was he was terrified of that.
      The denizens of the city had left behind objects that had defined their lives. If he had wanted to, Meier could have gone through some of the apartments and found a generous sum of loot, jewelry, artifacts. On the cobblestone a few blocks down there were canvas paintings laying face-down. Middle-class debris littered every layer of the environment. The people who had once possessed that debris were now streaming south, filing haphazardly onto highways and rural roads. They carried with them whatever they could, family heirlooms, precious valuables, whatever would fit onto their backs and in their pockets. Pack animals and carts were loaded down with furniture, whatever parts of their lives they could take with them. But invariably, all that material eventually became simple burdens, as their lives of furniture and decoration were over. They were living to see the next day, now. The outskirts of the city were scattered with suitcases and parcels tied together with rope. The innards of Saint Lo had been strewn throughout its streets and the surrounding countryside, and its people had disappeared.
      This kind of atmosphere wasn't alien to Meier, it was not new to him. He'd been a soldier for two years, most of which he'd spent in Russia. Empty villages, evacuated cities, that was something that a soldier saw a lot of in Russia. Dead gatherings of civilization burning in the summer, smoking black in the winter. And always, always, there was some poet soldier, there was some devout reader of literature that would look at it all and remark, "Such destruction." And they would philosophize on it, they would discourse on how terrible man could be, that he could burn so many homes to the ground, that he could run so many buildings over in tanks and destroy them with bombs.
      "Bullshit," the old major had said contemptuously. "Bullshit, all of it."
      It was the last time Meier would speak with the major. He had received orders to report in France - a new fallschirmjager division was to be organized, centered around a battalion of veterans and wounded but able soldiers who had survived the action at Kirovograd. The major had congratulated him, told him he'd get to be a good soldier, and that night they were drinking again. Meier got the feeling that the old man, after all his service of leading men solely for the purpose of his own survival and well-being, was becoming attached to someone he felt he could identify with.
      "Everytime I overheard something like that from one of my soldiers I'd dig into his pack and tear his fucking journal apart. For his own good. They act like this is all some kind of evil." Meier didn't think the gray major was drunk, he always told stories like this, and while it wasn't necessarily the kind of conversation Meier enjoyed most he wasn't complaining - interpersonal discussion was a luxury in the military. "Those fucking poets seem to think that nature's all about creation. They're in fucking Russia and they're writing about how terrible this war is, about how a goddamn village on fire is a disturbing image to them. How many villages burned down in the years before the war? How many wheat fields caught fire during summer droughts out here? This is as pristine as nature gets. That's what Russia is like, a backwards nation that's just now beginning the industrial revolution. It's just now beginning to catch up with the rest of the world, we're watching it transform while we burn it to the ground. Those fucking poets are missing something. We could be out here on a goddamn stroll with our kids and people would still be dying because of dehydration and heat exhaustion. And they say war is terrible."
      The major's monologue wasn't funny, but Meier was still amused. The old man had a way of expressing disgust that was humorous, as though he enjoyed giving speeches like this and found amusement in it himself.
      "Russia is terrible," the major observed. "Nature is terrible." And after an extensive pause he finally added, "Life is terrible."
      Meier had thought he was joking. "What makes life so bad? What'd you do before you went into service?"
      The gray major had laughed with a sneer and said cryptically, "That's not life."
      And Meier was not willing to ask what life was. He did not think that he wanted to hear the major's definition of it.
      Meier had navigated through barb-wire barriers the night he'd deserted. There'd been very little light, and he had made it a point to keep his profile low so that he wouldn't be silhouetted on the ridgetop. He did not look back once as his stiff gait took him down from Martinville Ridge. He had no friends that he'd confided in since he left Russia, and none of the young, motivated fallschirmjager would have understood why one of the most experienced veterans in the battalion was now walking away from the duties he'd fulfilled with honor for years. They would have called him a traitor and reported him to the CO, who would order him detained.
      He had walked all night once he was free from the German positions on Martinville. By the time the sun started to rise he was in a golden field of wheat, edged by a treeline to one side and a small creek on the other. He could still hear the artillery, that was one sound that was never truly silenced, but he was alone.
      Meier was a deserter. He had committed a crime punishable by death by the rules of society and it was the only way he felt he could stay alive. In the act of standing and walking away from the neutral faces of men watching the faces of other men die he had made himself a traitor to his fellow soldiers, people that had shared the war with him. And he had no regrets.
      There had been a voice on the edge of the field, from the creek, and Meier had frozen in the grass.

*           *           *

      H. Scherer had detained deserters and stragglers before. It was an expected event, there was always an individual who could not be a soldier, who was incapable of fulfilling his military duty. And in an organization that depended in large part on the discipline of individuals and units, there had to be authorities that enforced order.
      Feldwebel Sherer had been serving with the feldgendarmerie, the military police, for years, since before the war. He was an old sergeant, a mainstay of his unit, and like any old sergeant he was perhaps the strongest enforcer of rank-and-file that anyone who came into contact with him would meet.
      M. Kubert, also a feldwebel, had much the same background as his comrade. They were both men driven by order, by control and direction. To them the military was the embodiment of an ideal principle of organization and structure. They believed in the military's essential justice and consistency. It was an organization in which hard work was rewarded, missions had purpose, and efficiency could be achieved in a real sense. In civilian life, these were ideals that were spoken of but never realized. Sherer had seen what Germany had been like after World War I. Honest men who had served in combat returned home hoping to be able to care for their families, but invariably found themselves jobless, penniless. German citizens, citizens who during the Great War had done everything for their country, starved in the after-war years. With many of their industrial areas compromised or confiscated and the nation in general economic ruin, discharged soldiers could not find work. Even if they could, their labor would be fruitless because German currency had dropped dramatically in value. In the stores, in the market, there were lines of consumers that stretched for hours for bread, for food, for middle-class items that had hitherto been thought to be simple necessities of life. Outside of Germany, in France, in Great Britain, recovery was bringing much of Europe back to some state of normality. In America, people were prospering in plenty. All of these nations were guilty of war, they had all spent years slaughtering each other, and yet it was Germany alone that suffered for its sins. To H. Sherer, it wasn't as much patriotism that instilled in him a bitterness for this time as it was a sense of unimaginable injustice. Men in other nations could feed their families, they did not worry about winters in which freezing to death was a possibility because they had electricity and heat, but they had participated in the exact same history that nations like Russia and Germany had. Politics, civilian life, these were existences that fueled a state of inequality, disorder. It was only in the military, in the 100,000-man Reichsheer that Germany was allowed to maintain, that any semblance of justice existed. In that tiny army a man could make a living and support his family, progress in a career with real direction and meaning. While the German military had grown since then, the characteristics and virtues it had been built around remained. But in order for this well-oiled machinery of command and purpose to function properly, directives and laws and codes had to be followed and adhered to.
      This is why H. Sherer hated deserters. They were hold-overs from a world in which there was no God, no sense to things. They came from a world in which thieves and murderers were born. They destroyed the infrastructure of the organization that gave Sherer's life clarity and validation. There was little else in the world that gave him a sense of right than bringing in what H. Sherer saw as a traitor to man.
      Deserters were dealt with brutally in the German military in 1944. They were unfortunate anomalies in the operation of the armed forces, but they were necessary. They served as examples for their comrades when executed. Their punishment as criminals further enforced the law and compliance that defined the effectiveness of the armed forces. Because while the armed forces believed in the essential goodness of man, that he was born to be a part of something greater than himself and accepted that birth-right with open arms, they also knew that good men could sometimes err in judgement. And it was through this ruthlessness, this unyielding enforcement of order, that the armed forces maintained its near-perfect discipline.
      H. Sherer had been assigned to patrol the outskirts of Saint Lo. Feldgendarmerie patrols were generally police duties, with the aim of detaining saboteurs, guerillas, or spies and securing the rear areas of the combat units ahead. Sherer had headed out into the patrol on a Volkswagen motorcycle, driving past another military policeman serving as a traffic director pointing the way for him down an empty road. He knew the way, he'd been operating in the city for some time, but the traffic director was simply sticking to routine. The feldgendarmerie units were operating almost on their own and they chose of their own volition to operate by-the-book.
      They stuck to a consistent route but every so often the military policemen would detour into small hamlets that could serve as potential safe-areas for deserters and stragglers. They took these detours on foot, and they stuck to procedure religiously. No looting or confiscation of property, no fraternization with the natives. But it was on one of these deviations from their standard route that the two feldgendarmerie caught word of a soldier in German uniform wandering the countryside.
      "He was out walking near one of the orchards," an old farmer had told them. "He wasn't on any sort of road, I was leading my cow out to graze, and I saw him out in the middle of the grass, like he was wandering off somewhere." The old man shrugged.
      A deserter, Sherer pinned him, without a doubt. He couldn't be a spy, spies were more methodical. The man out in the pastures was a soldier without direction, stumbling around in the grass like some dumb cow.
      "Where do you think our man is headed for?" M. Kubert asked as they strided away from the hamlet, towards the creek that the farmer had cited as a landmark.
      "Does it matter?" Sherer's contempt for the deserter was unconcealed. He was already dead in Sherer's eyes.
      "You fucking chain-dog!"
      That's what most of the soldiers would spit at him as he cuffed them and shoved them forward at gun-point. Chain-dog - that's what the German military police were known as within the armed forces. Men like H. Sherer were a goddamn symbol of justice and their fellow soldiers ridiculed them. They had no reason to look down on the feldgendarmerie, more than once they'd fought shoulder-to-shoulder when things got hot. H. Sherer had seen plenty of combat, and it wasn't one of his specified duties. He did it because there was a call for assistance and he answered. His CO told his unit that they were needed in a firefight and they'd go out and they'd fight like infantry. And when it was over, after they'd all bled in the street, H. Sherer and his comrades would begin to enforce order again and the same men they'd just helped in their hour of need would curse at them. "Fucking chain-dog bastards."
      The frontline riflemen were complex. Most of them hated combat, it was a stressful event and whenever it broke-out they'd lose all sense of organization. They operated in haphazard twos and threes and fours, not in the squads and fire-teams they'd been assigned to. They often forgot lessons in tactics and communications, they lost sight of comrades and their leaders, from the moment the shooting started every single rifleman plunged into an environment of chaos. H. Sherer and the feldgendarmerie sought to rectify that, they enforced standard operating procedure, they progressed through a checklist of regulations during all of their time in the field. They alleviated the chaos and made some sense out of it. And the frontline infantry saw them as some kind of enemy, an agent of a bumbling bureaucracy.
      Their pace through the roadless fields was slow. Sherer scanned the grass thoroughly, searching for the field gray that would give a German soldier away. They did not have their weapons drawn. Deserters were invariably just scared men, people who could not control themselves under the stress of combat and war existence. They might run, but once they were cornered they gave themselves up fairly easily.
      Broken men, is what those soldiers amounted to, broken men running from everything. Mostly it was the lower ranks that cracked, privates, and that wasn't so bad to the affected unit, but when an NCO or junior officer abandoned their duties - Sherer frowned at the disorder that could inflict. Either way, though, there was usually no violence involved in detaining a man on the run. They had lost faith in any control they possessed over their destinies and they just ran. No direction, no clear purpose - they fled to get away from the war, but where were they headed? They knew the consequences, they knew the impossibility of getting back home to their families, and yet still they persisted. There was no rationality in that, just a blind, desperate fear.
      When H. Sherer caught sight of the wandering soldier he frowned again - the deserter was wearing fallschirmjager dress, he was a professional. German paratroopers were known for their discipline and devotion, they were volunteers. It seemed unlikely that one would leave his unit behind. Sherer re-considered the possibility that the man was a spy, but knew that was unlikely as well, there was no reason for a spy to be out in the middle of no where.
      M. Kubert peered through the brush and grunted. "Parachute trooper." He was thinking the same thing.
      For the first time in his life H. Sherer felt what could have been regret at what he was about to do. The man he was about to detain and take back to hq so that he could be executed had once been a good soldier, he had once been a believer in the military. As a professional he was a level above the standard conscript, and Sherer would have to put him away. But Sherer knew that the man deserved whatever was decided of him, he had betrayed his unit and he had betrayed the armed forces. When he left his post he left behind all of his responsibilities and duties as a soldier, and that damaged the operation of the company, the battalion. He was unaccounted for and until he was the duties of his unit would be complicated by his absence. Sherer steeled himself for his task and stepped through the treeline while Kubert trailed close behind.

*           *           *

      Meier had paused for just an instant, but in that small span of time he had put his life in his own hands. They were feldgendarmerie, he knew that without even looking at them, and they would be coming to detain him. He would be punished under the law of the military, and whether that meant he would be returned to his unit or executed, Meier refused to accept it. He'd been a soldier long enough.
      The two military policemen hesitated when he had started shooting, they had remained motionless while Meier had whirled about, shouldered his rifle, aimed, and pulled the trigger.
      Sherer saw Kubert jerk and hang before he began to fall. The bullet had punched him high through his chest, and it was only this realization that convinced Sherer that the soldier truly was shooting at them. More bullets whined past, closer now, and he fell with Kubert.
      Sherer lie motionless in the grass. A few feet away, he could hear Kubert writhing and moaning, "Jesus Christ he shot me, he shot me, Jesus Christ." And that was exactly what was going through his own head. He had seen combat before, he had shot other men before, but that had been war, that was part of his mission. This, this wasn't war, this was an internal affair. This was an incident between Germans, between men on the same side. That soldier had just shot at him with the intent of killing him and they both spoke the same language.
      H. Sherer drew his submachine-gun from his hip, checked the magazine. "We're Germans, you fucking bastard!"
      Meier had been shooting for suppression. He didn't have speed with the trigger like the other infantry, he hadn't trained as extensively with small-arms as he'd been trained for a different role, but he had good combat skills and they were coming into play. Once his first target went down he fired methodically in and around their position to keep them pinned.
      He heard the second military policeman shout as he loaded a fresh magazine and paused.
      Sherer rose slowly, and when he could see above the grass he saw that the paratrooper was aiming at him - he ducked down as a round buzzed overhead. The fucker meant to kill him, he had made it a point to end Sherer's life.
      "You son of a bitch," Sherer spoke, now to himself, "You fucking murderer." This man was insane, there was no way he could have been a paratrooper, a soldier. Soldiers had codes, they adhered to laws. This man was trying to kill him. This man was trying to kill him and they shared the same uniform. He was a killer, he didn't follow orders, he killed of his own accord.
      Meier began to sidestep towards the treeline, keeping his rifle trained at where he thought the feldgendarmer was hiding.
      "Sherer," Kubert was wheezing, "Sherer, you've got to get me out of here."
      The other military policeman heard him but ignored him. This was survival now, this wasn't a firefight or a battle, this was survival. H. Sherer didn't have the luxury to care about another person's life, he wasn't a hero. If he tried to help M. Kubert limp along they'd both be shot.
      Meier flinched, kneeled down as Sherer sprung from cover again, this time with an MP-40 spraying across the field. The fire was inaccurate, it was high and uncontrolled, but Meier had been surprised. The feldgendarmer broke into a sprint, then dropped in a stiff spin as Meier's shot pierced his shoulder. Meier heard the cry of a man who'd been injured and pushed forward in a run, closing the distance between himself and the soldier.
      When Sherer came up again to fire he stayed low, on his knee, but Meier still had line-of-sight and he snapped the rifle up and point-shot almost in mid-step, and Sherer went down, taking the bullet in the sternum.
      Kubert, barely conscious now, heard only the blood pounding in his ears, though the field was now silent. Meier was waiting with his rifle shouldered, and it was only after what could have been a minute that he began to step forward tentatively. He wasn't waiting for Sherer, though, he wanted to check if the first man was still alive. When he saw that he was he shot him in the forehead.
      Why leave a living witness.
      And though it appeared that the second feldgendarmer was already dead, he shot him, too.
      When a second patrol had arrived to investigate the reports of small-arms fire, they found both bodies in the grass, no attempt had been made at concealment. They'd been left where they'd fallen. The patrol returned to their unit with the bodies, and shortly after the local hamlets were subjected to an intense interrogation in regards to the local resistance.

*           *           *

      After he'd walked away from the dead feldgendarmerie Meier felt an uncomfortable familiarity with the old major's laugh. "That's not life."
      He'd just murdered two men in order to ensure his own survival and it was only then that Meier felt he completely understood the major and his ambiguous language.
      "You fucking murderer," the military policeman had accused him. He was right, Meier was a killer, that was undeniable. But if he hadn't, that same military policeman would have bound his hands and taken him to stand before a firing squad. Meier killed because he wanted to live, that feldgendarmer would have watched him die because he had orders, and what was the difference between them. They were both killers in the end.
      Maybe that was what the major saw in the world. No matter where a man stood, what he believed in, he could become a killer. At the squeeze of a trigger, he could become a killer.
      He entered the cafe, glancing at the empty courtyard through the broken windows, and as he saw various paintings and pieces of art hanging unevenly from the walls and dropped on the tile Meier wondered what the artists and writers of the latest movement had to do to escape the city.

*           *           *

      During the last days of the battle on Martinville Ridge, the 29th Division had organized from its reserves Task Force C, the battle group that would seize Saint Lo.
      Intelligence did not believe that there was a strong German presence in the city, and so urban combat would not be a dominant issue regarding its capture. For this reason Task Force C was comprised pre-dominantly of motorized units, a few tanks and tank-destroyers centered around the 29th Reconaissance Troop. The battle group had been named after its commanding officer, a very forceful general whom the soldiers admired for his strength of character and apparent lack of fear.
      The capture of Saint Lo was seen as a momentous event in the war effort. Six major highways ran into the city, and it was the capital of the departement of Manche. The city was over a thousand years old, had appeared in the texts of history in several wars, and had been a center of the Protestant Movement. It was a city rich in culture and historical significance. High-ranking officers adopted the battle call "Let's go to Saint Lo!" in an effort to rouse the fighting spirits of their units.
      When Truttman and A Company entered Saint Lo a day after its capture they knew immediately that any significance the city had was merely in name. Even after a day's work, the engineers had not been able to clear very much and under the broken church spires the city was a sea of rubble and concrete. Many streets and sidewalks had ceased exist, save for the few sign posts that leaned in the debris and did little to help navigation. The city's churches had been bombed-out, and their spires had apparently been struck by artillery shells. All of Saint Lo's history had been pulverised into dust and ruin and all that remained were smoking pyres from the German artillery that still shelled the tattered buildings and apartments.
      "Hold it," someone up front said, and the company waited.
      In the street in front of them, a Sherman elevated its gun and fired, tearing a black chunk from the ruins of a street-side cellar and spilling wood and stone and glass into the street.
      "All right," came the voice, "it's clear."
      The soldiers continued to move forward in short intervals of small groups, so as to defend against sniper fire and the mortars that dropped their munitions from the high ground to the south.
      "We bagged that fucking city," A Company had been told by soldiers moving to the rear.
      There were wounded in the rubble-flooded street, casualties from the constant bursts of artillery that scattered through out the broken ruins. Their comrades were pulling them to cover over shattered glass and concrete chunks, and stretcher-bearers were rushing past them with their litters splotched with red.
      Officers were telling the soldiers in the city to keep moving. The longer they stayed in one spot, the easier it'd be for the Germans to drop one on them. They needed to get through the city, and they needed to be careful of snipers while they were at it.
      "Spread out," one told A Company. "That's it. Don't bunch together or you'll all get hit."
      Jeeps were running through the rubble, some of them carrying wounded, others mounted by war correspondents with cameras. There were a few photographers who would run from a building, pause to get a picture, then run back to cover. A few of them had soldiers smile and wave. Around them a city had been destroyed, and they wanted pictures to send home to illustrate the war's latest victory.
      "Halt," the column was stopped again, and the men kneeled in the debris, their helmets tilted down to cover them from the falling of metal and rubble. Soldiers ran forward over dead bodies and destroyed guns one-by-one, and Truttman went after them.
      When he had reached the next building, which was miraculously still standing, he heard the unmistakeable whistle of an incoming mortar round.
      "Out of the street," someone called, "Incoming!"
      Truttman staggered into the nearest shelter, the building with an open courtyard, and leaned into the corner as the shell exploded with a deafening, echoing pop through the concrete slabs. Shrapnel and stone came through the window, hidden in a plume of dust, and Truttman could hear soldiers outside shouting if everyone was all right.
      He had taken cover in some sort of cafe, the room he was in was missing some furniture but what was there appeared to have served some sort of dining purpose. And lying next to a toppled chair and table there was a body that filled the building with the unmistakeable stench of a corpse.
      Truttman approached the body and stood over it. The bastard had been fallschirmjager, and he had an observation scope on him, he could have been a sniper or an artillery observer. It was odd that he'd been killed in the middle of a cafe and not in some vantage point, but Truttman didn't put much thought to it, what did it matter. He was dead and that was the end of the story.
      He knelt down to read the German identification tags and read over the foreign text.
      Meier, Johanne, 3. Fallschirmjager.

*           *           *

      Meier had heard the Americans coming long before they reached the bridge that led into the city. The day before, the headquarters groups in the cities had evacuated, leaving behind a token infantry force bolstered by the artillery that remained to the south. Seventh Army was under a general order to hold their ground but that had been an order that had largely been ignored in the face of unyielding pressure and mounting casualties. Now, the small force that had been left to delay the Americans were preparing for their arrival. Just outside the city Meier heard an anti-tank gun fire. A firefight had begun, very audible now, and Meier knew there would be no contest in this battle. A moment later the anti-tank gun was silenced by a barrage of smaller-caliber weapons, and the steady rumble of the armored column had not idled.
      As he sat in the cafe waiting for the Americans to enter Saint Lo Meier felt little shame over what he was about to do. For years he had been afraid of dying for a country, and had done his job as a soldier as best he could because of that fear. He had once believed in order, had believed that if an organization worked together for a common goal it could succeed - the individuals of that organization could succeed - but after witnessing so much combat Meier realized that in the end there was no order. There would always be something or someone to defeat that order, an event that prevented cooperation or a soldier who did not obey directions.
      For the first time since he had entered the service Meier felt that he saw his future with clarity. He would surrender to the Americans and become a prisoner of war, and when it was all over he might come home. He did not know what would happen to him once he was in American hands but he knew that his chances of survival as a prisoner were much greater than as a soldier. And in the end, when he had lost everything, that's all that mattered. Any obligation he had once held to his unit was gone, all the familiar faces had been left in Russia. Any sense of duty had been beaten out of him after watching men give everything for an order with no purpose. They were told to keep fighting the war when everyone from OKW down to the rifle kompanies knew that they were dying for nothing.
      Outside, the 29th Reconaissance Troop took casualties as they rushed over the bridge leading into Saint Lo from the west. German heavy artillery had pre-sighted their weapons on that point, anticipating the bottle neck to delay the assault. The guns fired in heavy, brief barrages in intervals of two minutes, but the column did not halt.
      The infantry were mounted on armored cars and Shermans, and soon encountered sporadic rifle fire as they motored into the destroyed streets. They returned fire on the run, spraying .50 Browning rounds from their vehicles as the officers in the lead pointed out targets.
      "Straight ahead!"
      A mortar team was repositioning, attempting to dash through across the fallen rubble, and was immediately cut down. They fell into the concrete debris, a line of machine gun tracers sweeping over them, and the column roared past them.
      The severity of the destruction of Saint Lo and the amount of harassing artillery fire that was coming down on the reconaissance battalion were a disorienting experience for the soldiers. They were rolling past buildings that had been shoved into the street, and German vehicles and guns and dead bodies lie smoking or silent where ever they looked. In windows, behind walls, on the steps of churches, what had once been the quiet existence of what passed for urban life in France was now a planescape of everything the soldiers had experienced in Normandy.
      The column, some dozen vehicles which had now filtered through into separate routes, all carrying infantry which fired while mounted as though they were some cavalry unit sweeping through enemy lines, roared past the cafe. Machine-guns and rifles peppered the second stories of every building with unrestrained fire, and chips of stone and glass tinkered to the ground. Behind the motorized spearhead, Meier could see the street-fighting elements of the American assault moving over the bridge. Dis-mounted infantry were on foot, moving after a large number of tanks that were receiving attention from the German batteries.
      At the head of the thrust into the city, several armored cars had been ground to a halt in the rubble.
      "That's it," the drivers told the infantry. "We're not getting any farther."
      "Dismount," the infantry lieutenants said. "We get to our objectives on foot, if we hold up now they're going to bring down their guns on us."
      The aim of Task Force C was to seize key strongpoints in the city before the Germans could muster and focus their artillery. Speed had been emphasized to the soldiers and they disregarded to a very large extent their personal safety to obtain this speed.
      115th Regiment's 1st Battalion could see some of the reconaissance troops ahead of them maneuvering through the ruins while the incoming mortar rounds boiled the stone beneath their feet.
      A colonel stood in the street ahead of the infantry and the tanks with his staff. A radio operator was kneeling next to a building and the colonel stood over him, waving at the soldiers that had crossed the bridge.
      "I want one fire-team attached to each Sherman, I'm sending outpost groups into this city." He directed the tanks and tank-destroyers into different areas of the city, and grabbed sergeants and told them to follow these separate vehicles and seize a crossroad or a bridge or a potential observation point.
      "Watch for snipers," the colonel shouted at the men. "When you go down a street you have men on either side covering the opposite side. If you see a standing building you clear it out before you move past it. An urban environment like this is a sniper's shooting range. You clean them out as fast as you can, don't let them hold you up."
      Every soldier was in a sprint. A command post had already been set up in a town square, into which an 88mm gun down the road was sending its outgoing rounds. Casualties were mounting in this square, and though the infantry had made very little visual contact with very little of the enemy, they felt that this hot zone was as desperately contested as a hedgerow. They were organized in ad hoc teams, and though they had communication with each other, the armor and infantry were alone in their frantic haste.
      "I've got an FO, I've got an FO," a private called to his sergeant.
      "Pin him down, I'll get the Sherman."
      Rifle fire erupted, and a soldier tapped into the Sherman's radio net. "FO in the building with the ladder, we've got a target in the building with the ladder."
      "Where's he at," the gunner droned in his monotone.
      "Building with the ladder."
      "I see him."
      And the building with the ladder was gutted by a 75mm round, the forward observer inside of it disabled or killed.
      "He's gone," the private who had seen him called.
      An infantry column was moving past the cafe, silhouetted against the clear-day sunlight, and Meier considered stepping outside with his hands up. But before he could stand from his chair the door was slammed open and Meier was staring into the eyes of an American with his rifle shouldered and trained on him.
      There was a slight pause, what could have been a second, and Meier was about to open his mouth to speak when the American shot him low in the chest. As he was falling from the chair, his body twisting so that his legs knocked the table beside him over, the soldier fired again and Meier felt another round hit him, a dull thwock as he hit the tile.
      Meier's face was pressed against the floor, bits of glass were cutting into him, but he was unaware of it. He was also unaware of the soldier muttering "shit" in regret, because the soldier had panicked, had shot because he was following combat instincts. He hadn't seen a weapon on Meier but the situation in Saint Lo was very hot, and he had responded as a soldier should have. He had been afraid to die and so he did what was natural and squeezed the trigger.
      "Are we clear?" someone asked.
      "Yeah," the shooter shouted back. "We're clear."
      He and his comrade, who had ignored the incident because he was checking the stairs, took a last glance at the German and left to join their fire-team.
      As Meier lay dying he did not feel wronged, he did not harbor any anger against what had happened or who had made it happen. He had been shot and that was all there was to it. He had been struggling for a long time to stay alive and now that was something that he didn't have to worry about. After a while survival had just become a function to him, he felt no great loss as he realized with quiet resignation that he would not live to see another day, and as his hearing faded into white noise and his vision left him, went gray, Meier wished he could curse the major for telling him the truth.

*           *         *

      "Hey," the sergeant called from the doorway.
      "Yeah," Truttman responded. He let the German's ID tags fall from his hands and stood. He knew this man's full name and it meant nothing to him.
      "Are we clear?"
      "Yeah. We're clear."
      "Then stop fucking around and get moving."
      There was no harsh respite from Truttman, who stepped out into the city that smelled like burning ash and rejoined the company without a word. He was a veteran, he knew that it was just soldier's language.
      An incoming round fell farther up ahead, and Truttman saw it crash into what remained of a church spire, showering stone onto what remained of neighboring structures. The gunners did not care about the spiritual rammifications of what they did, they knew that they were in circumstances in which spirituality was shunned by simple pragmatics. And though some of the replacements commented on it, Truttman did not bother to tell them the facts of combat behind it. They were soldiers of the United States Army, moving through this city of human significance to liberate a nation under foreign rule, and as they waged war under this banner of order and politics, they existed in what amounted to a brutal state of nature.



In their eyes as they pass is not hatred, not excitement, not despair, not the tonic of their victory - there is just the simple expression of being here as though they had been here doing this forever, and nothing else.
- Ernie Pyle
You hear that? That's the sound of a 2-year project reaching completion.

A lot of the overall plot, the historical parts of it, came from an
online publication from the War Department of the United States Army and Beyond the Beachhead (Balkoski, Joseph). Balkoski's book was 30% bullshit because of the commentary but the internet documents have some good material encompassing a wide variety of campaigns, most people would probably enjoy reading it. Some books that helped me to get a feel for the environment that the soldiers and officers were in and gain some insight into the time and the place and the situation, were Britannica Online, D-Day (Ambrose, Stephen), Knight's Cross (Fraser, David), OVERLORD (Hastings, Max), and Caen, Anvil of Victory (McKee, Alexander). Some information from FeldGrau.com came in handy when tracing German unit histories.

Information for the segments and chapters dealing with Russia came primarily from When Titans Clashed (Glantz, David). It's like the worst title ever used but the material is presented very well and professionally and the guy's analysis is really strong. The Fall of Berlin 1945 (Beevor, Antony), Stalingrad (Beevor, Antony), and Enemy at the Gates (Craig, William) all provided insights into the war in Russia. (The Jude Law movie "Enemy at the Gates" and Craig's "Enemy at the Gates" are unrelated.)

What probably helped the most out of all this were the veteran accounts, there are some very well-documented interviews in all the books.

I've tried to stick pretty close to A Company's action in Normandy but the characters are fictional, and the personalities that are mentioned but never named are also intended to be fictional.

Yeah, though, this is the end.

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