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RU Nick’s Forces of Good

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Updated: June 17, 2009

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Forces of Good

By

Nick

About 48 hours ago, I hopped onto a train from Koln, Germany to Frankfurt, Germany preparing to fly back to the good ol’ US of A after having a phenomenal time at UFC 99. It was one of those trips that people talk about for years, and certainly the kind of trip fight fans dream about. My buddy Reed and I basically spent 96 hours partying and having a good time hanging out with celebrities, fighters, UFC executives, and beautiful women (including Suzy here, who has the trifecta of being hot, a fighter, and exponentially smarter than I am). These were not the moments that an ordinary infantryman like me ever expects to be a part of, and I was reliving them all in my head on that train as I thought about the first story I was going to write for the Ranger Up fans.

That’s when she walked in.

No, not a Maxim centerfold – a woman in her seventies trudged up the stairs into the packed train car. Her legs weren’t working all that well and you could tell that she had a hard time standing. She was with four other women and one man – all about her age. There were four seats left in the train car. She and the gentleman were left standing. I was sure that someone near her would offer her their seat as it was obvious she could barely stand, but it didn’t happen – cultural differences, I guess. I asked her in German if she would like to sit down and she smiled an enormous smile and took me up on my offer. I sat on the ground in front of her, as there was nowhere else to go.

As I sat down, she began thanking me profusely in very broken German. Of course, I told her it was no problem at all and was about to go back to thinking about my awesome trip of excess when she looked at me oddly and said, “Sie sind nicht Deutsch, stimmt?” which is a rough way of asking me if I was German. I told her that I was not, and she responded that she could tell. She asked where I came from. When I responded “America” her eyes lit up. She asked if I was a soldier. I told her that I had been one, but was not any longer.

“Can I practice English?” she asked.

“Of course!” I responded.

Moments later I learned that she was a Polish concentration camp survivor. The German government paid her to come here once a year and speak to schoolchildren and let them know what she had experienced.

I have read about the Holocaust. I have watched the videos. I have seen the museum. Nothing I have experienced came close to generating the emotion I felt when I looked into this woman’s eyes and heard her recount her trials and tribulations. We spoke for two hours, but the first story she told encapsulated the abject horror of that place and time unlike any I have heard. In her words (slightly altered for proper English and to the best of my recollection):

“I was a teenager when my family was taken. There were six of us, including my parents. Very early during my time there, the Nazis started killing us. They would play games and pick a different number every day. If they picked three, they would shoot every third person. By the end of three months, I was the only one of my family that was left alive. I had watched them kill every person in my life that mattered to me. I didn’t know why this was happening, why they hated us so much, but there was nothing I could do to stop it. They just killed them all and laughed about it. I knew I was going to die soon. I was afraid. I was always very afraid.”

“One day they pulled us out of bed and lined us up like they always did. The number of the day was ten. They told us they were going to put a bullet in the head of the tenth person in line. They started counting. I was number eight. The man next to me, number 9, was “Father” Maximilian, a clergyman. The Nazi soldier counted number ten – it was a man who had just been brought into the camp. He had five little children. His wife had already been killed. The Nazi pulled him out and kept walking down the line. Number ten took one step out and Father Maximilian stepped in front of him and pushed him back. When the Nazis were done counting, they lined them up in front of us and shot them, slowly, one at a time in the head.”

“The next day was the greatest day of my life – a day I will never forget. U.S. and British troops stormed the compound and rescued us – they saved our lives. They were very kind and gave us food and warmth. They let us know it would be all right. I have loved American and British soldiers every day since then. I also always think of Father Maximilian. If it was not for him, those children would have been alone in a terrible world. He was very brave.”

When she was done, I had to dab the tears out of my eyes. I could see on her face that every time she told the story, she relived it. Her eyes went black, like she was looking inside herself. For a split second I could envision myself in that situation with my brother, with my family, with my friends, and emotions coursed through my veins.

As she took a break from conversation to eat some German sandwiches and look out the train window to take photos, one other feeling grew inside me – that of pride. Our troops had fought through immeasurable challenges to save those people – losing many of their brothers in arms along the way. What would have happened without them – without their sacrifice – without their compassion? I shuddered to consider the answer.

The American and British militaries, regardless of public sentiment day-to-day, are a force of good, as they were during World War II. We are imperfect, of course, but the soldiers that carry the flags for Uncle Sam and Tom Bull put their lives on the line, not with the intent to conquer, dominate, and pillage, but to make the world a better place – to provide people the opportunity to live their lives on their own terms.

Our soldiers make decisions in combat that put their lives at risk so that they may protect civilians. Our soldiers see an Iraqi or Afghani child and they see a life that they must protect – not a future enemy that must be destroyed. Our soldiers know that genocide and cruelty are not characteristics limited to the past and they do everything in their power to stop it.

Our soldiers fight so that men and women like Father Maximilian will never have to make that noble sacrifice again.

My new friend began to doze and I sat and watched her for a while and thought about what she had been through. My pride subsided a little. I thought about the soldiers that finally stormed into the camps and freed her. I could envision their horror and their guilt – guilt for not being faster – for not saving more people – for not saving everyone. I’m reminded of the things I’ve seen – of the evil that people do to each other. I’m reminded of the stories my friends still serving have imparted to me in those dark moments at the end of long nights that start with fun and drinks and end with confessions and hope for atonement – not for doing harm, but for not doing enough good.

Our soldiers walk into hell, every single day, and absorb its horrors – not because they enjoy it – but so that we don’t have to.

Comments

comments

29 Comments

  1. Kriste

    June 17, 2009 at 9:22 am

    “You make me cry too, OKAY?”

    Well done my friend.

  2. John

    June 17, 2009 at 9:41 am

    THIS. Should be required reading for those that just don’t get the military. Made me cry too. Dammit – I’m at work!

    Great Job!

  3. Karl

    June 17, 2009 at 10:15 am

    Very well put, and yes I had the water works too. My Dad was one of those Soldiers of yester year. He served with the Canadian and US First Special Forces Group duing WWII. It’s really something to talk with a person from that time period. You learn tidbits of history not normally writen.

    Retired Army…

  4. Red

    June 17, 2009 at 10:55 am

    Awesome story… thanks for posting it. And yes, I too am crying

  5. Joe

    June 17, 2009 at 12:54 pm

    Well said brother, well said.

  6. htom

    June 17, 2009 at 2:20 pm

    Oh my. Very well done, and well posted. May she live to tell her story many many more times, and you to carry it on.

  7. madeleine7

    June 17, 2009 at 3:19 pm

    The priest´s name is Father Maximilian Kolbe . He was a Roman Catholic priest . I believe he has now been made a Saint by the Church . May God bless his memory , and, bless and protect every American soldier and members of the Armed Forces .

  8. andrew

    June 17, 2009 at 4:59 pm

    Well said sir, well said.

  9. RPL

    June 17, 2009 at 5:02 pm

    I’m tearing up. Thanks, Nick.

    RPL Soldiers Angels

  10. A1C Corvus

    June 17, 2009 at 5:02 pm

    All these neo-hippie assclowns who think we go over there to “murder and kill innocent people for fun and oil” should be forced to read that.

  11. Jim

    June 17, 2009 at 5:29 pm

    Nick,

    I just read about Saint Max. http://www.fatherkolbe.com/
    The lady speaks the truth. I know you didn’t need me to tell you that.

    My dad was with the 89th at Ordruf.

    Jim

  12. Federale

    June 17, 2009 at 6:19 pm

    Sorry, but US and British forces did not liberate any of the camps where Eastern Europeans were held. All those camps were in Poland. The camps liberated by US and British forces were located in western and southern Germany and held only German and western European political prisoners, Catholic and Protestant clergy, and German Jews. I think she was pulling one over on you. If she was in a camp, she got liberated by the Russkies.

  13. Curt

    June 17, 2009 at 7:17 pm

    Federale,

    Father Kolbe was at Auschwitz, which was indeed liberated by the Germans, but there were only a few people there at the time. Right before it fell, the German’s put the remaining prisoners into a death march to a camp in Bergen-Belsen, where they were liberated by western forces.

    Now that I’ve gotten that out of my system, thanks for making me cry too Nick. My dad was in Eastern Theatre during WWII in the submarine Corp. (Occupied Japan, Bikini Atoll, and after the war, mapping the coast of China and Russia) And while the stories come few and far between, that living history carries so much more color than any history book can ever portray.

    May your new friend live to tell her story for many years to come, and may all who read it here tell it again, long after she has passed on.

    Thank you.

  14. Curt

    June 17, 2009 at 7:18 pm

    Drat, darn lack of an editor…the last post should have read…”indeed liberated by the Ruskies”

  15. Maggie45

    June 18, 2009 at 1:29 am

    St. Maximilian Kolbe died by lethal injection at Auschwitz after three weeks of starvation/dehydration in 1941. As soon as I read “Father Maximilian” I got out the holy card I have of him. You can read his story at Wikipedia. He did take the place of another man, but he was not shot.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maximilian_Kolbe

    A remarkable man.

  16. SatinPatriot

    June 18, 2009 at 5:01 pm

    It makes a difference to know why you’re doing what you do. Thank you for sharing.

    Much love.
    L~

  17. Stu Clark

    June 19, 2009 at 2:55 am

    Possible shirt idea in there somewhere….

    I served in Germany from 88-92; saw first hand the border areas (I flew over it almost every day for a year), and saw East Berlin 1 month before its’ fall). Visited Dachau 3 different times with 3 different family members. Never got old, and got the chills, literally, every time i walked through the gates.

    I will never forget that freedom isn’t free. If that is the only thing i can impart upon my kids, it is that.

    Good story; thanks for sharing.

  18. Rulen

    June 19, 2009 at 3:59 pm

    We aren’t done yet, we’re still busy liberating Iraq from people who would wilfuly oppress it’s people, Afghanistan too, and we’ve got a lot left to do, either with the military or with diplomacy (preferably with diplomacy, I deploy enough already).

    Cambodia’s sex slaves, the starving people in N. Korea, those living in fear in Somolia, Mexico, and the S.American countries where kidnapping is a way of life…they’re all awaiting liberty and freedom from fear.

    There will be stories told to the next and the next generation about this one, will it be the freed Cambodian woman who tells of the torture she underwent as an 8 year old but was rescued from by the appearance of a representative of the West, or will it be the story of the pedophile who raped her for money? Will our children and grandchildren tear up at the story of the Mexican family saved from execution by drug-running gangsters by the Mexican army we supported, or will they be too busy and too doped smoking weed run by the children and grandchildren of the gangsters to even care?

  19. Greta Perry

    June 23, 2009 at 12:49 pm

    You were meant to meet her that day. Thank you for this post.

  20. Mes'

    June 23, 2009 at 5:46 pm

    Excellent post brother! You made this Ranger, of Polish descent ,tear up.

    Big YES on Suzy too!!!

  21. Steve Hughes

    June 23, 2009 at 11:36 pm

    I truly enjoyed reading this. The Eastern Front was such a critical part of the war in Europe, but it has never received the historical attention it desires. The people of Poland suffered with the occupation of both Germany & the USSR. What happened there is almost incomprehensible. One source of info on the war in the east is Norman Davies’ NO SIMPLE VICTORY. Freedom has always been paid for by the blood of patriots. I salute all who serve.

  22. mindy1

    July 27, 2009 at 8:37 pm

    :'( amazing story

  23. SGT.JOEY

    February 17, 2010 at 4:59 pm

    Beautiful!My father(Sgt.) served in World War11 in Europe,Italy and the Balkans.He told me how the villagers would search thru the soldier’s garbage for scraps of food and discarded cigarettes.He would give all the kids his candy bars and what ever food his squad had left over. They had nothing but the clothes on their back.He said people there had tears in their eyes when they gave them their rations.They called the American soldiers saviours of the people.Makes me feel guilty on how much we waste here and take things for granted.,me included!God Bless the American soldier!

  24. Tim

    March 8, 2010 at 10:55 am

    Nick,

    Every now and then I see something stupid that makes me wonder why I am a Soldier. i.e. Berkley banning recruiters, anything out of Nancy Pelosi’s mouth etc etc. Your story reminds me of why we are Soldiers, your story touched me! Thanks

  25. Philip

    March 12, 2010 at 7:34 pm

    People like you all make me love this crappy job more and more, thanks for the support

  26. Skiver

    October 23, 2010 at 8:26 am

    wow truely amazing story! I welled up with tears reading this. I pray no one ever goes through something like that again.

  27. David Hack

    October 1, 2011 at 2:36 pm

    I knew a lady that worked bingo games at a Jewish school in Indianapolis, and one night I noticed a tatoo on her arm. She survived Auschwitz.

  28. Logan

    October 6, 2011 at 9:46 pm

    Thank you so much for sharing this story. It’s ones like this that make me glad that I am choosing to serve in the military instead of doing a job here in the states that would probably make me alot more money. Thank you so much. God bless this woman and grant her many more years to tell and retell her story over and over and over again.

  29. Thanks

    December 2, 2012 at 8:04 am

    Thanks From Afghanaland….

    Thank you, I needed that. I am in Afghanistan, between the dirt and day to day bull shit sometimes I forget all of the feelings I felt the day I swore to defend the Constitution. Thanks for reminding me.

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