Armistist Day

Even though I had lost my license to drive a government vehicle, I was not prevented from working aboard an ambulance or taking the extra seat on a helicopter when there was a need for an extra set of medical hands. It was a bother to the Captain though, who was constantly on the lookout for a chance to ride me or Barney for one reason or other.

That’s how we ended up getting an extra detail assigned. The Captain simply volunteered them since he was in charge of their work schedules.

One of those extra details came three days before Veteran’s Day.

“How’d we get stuck with this?” I asked.

My voice registered a slight complaint as he looked over at the staff sergeant. He looked back and smiled as he hand me the flags.

They were American flags, rubber banded together and in brown paper bags. Barney and I were given the duty of placing a flag on each grave near each head stone in the old cemetery on base before Veteran’s Day.

I looked at Barney and said, “I’m sorry.”

I knew that Barney was being dragged into the extra detail because of his association with him.  Barney just shrugged his shoulders and took another sip of coffee.

The following day, Barney came into the office and said, “I want to ask your opinion on something.”

“Okay,” I responded, “shoot.”

“Remember when we did that research on the base history and we found those eight German prisoner of war headstones?” Barney asked.

“Yeah,” I answered.

“Would they fall under being veteran’s on Veteran’s Day?” Barney followed up.

I leaned back in my chair and looked up towards the ceiling.

After about 30 seconds I answered, “Yes, because a Vet is a Vet on Veteran’s Day and German is an original signer of the original armistice.”

“But we can’t put American flags on a German grave,” Barney retorted, sounding almost horrified.

“No,” I answered,” but we can use West Germany’s flag.”

It took the pair nearly three hours to track down a shop in Denver that sold miniature flags from West Germany. Fortunately eight of the little flags were on hand for purchase.

Barney arranged for the shop owner to deliver the flags to the nearby Army post and to have them flown up to the Air Guard in Cheyenne.  By that late that afternoon, we had our flags.

We had already set about placing American flags next to the headstones in the long unused cemetery. And it was long after night-time had fallen before we completed our assigned task.

All that remained to put in place were the eight flags next to the German POW’s who had died while in the custody of the U.S. Army during World War II. Each stone had a name, a rank and each had been members of the Luftwaffe, the German Air Force.

Quietly me and Barney placed the West German flags in the ground next to the headstones. Then they left for the night.

Come the following morning, the Captain was pounding wildly on my barracks door demanding that I open it up. I did as the officer asked.

The Captain was standing in the hallway with Barney just behind him. He had all eight West German flags in his hand and his face was extremely red.

He screamed, “You were given a simple job and you screw it up like this?!”

The Captain waved the miniature flags in my face.

“”Obviously, you don’t know your history very well,” I responded.

“Don’t you give me that crap, mister,” the officer yelled, adding  “Veteran’s day is for Americans, not Nazi fliers!”

“No!” I shouted back, “Veteran’s day is where American’s honor those veteran’s who have sacrified everything for their country, first started as Armistice Day, November eleventh at the eleventh hour to end hostilities of World War I!”

The Captain looked dumbstruck for a moment. He opened his mouth and started to say something then closed his mouth.

I took advantage of the situation and calmly said, “So I recommend you get your ass back down there and return those flags to those veteran’s headstones.”

I paused to take a breath and added, “Removing a flag from a vet’s grave is very dishonorable, Captain.”

Not wanting to be out argued, the officer responded, “How dare you put West German flags in an American cemetery!”

Barney surprised him by saying, “Those eight pilots are resting outside the cemetery walls, sir.”

I held out my hand and said, “If you don’t have the balls to return those flags, we will.”

The Captain looked down at the flags then at my hand and turned away. Instead he gave the flags to Barney and stomped away.

As soon as we were dressed, we headed for the cemetery. We walked around the outside to the back of the cemetery where the German pilots were resting and replanted the West German flags and left, feeling we had done the right thing.

The day following Veteran’s Day, we were directed to report to the Hospital Commander’s office. The Captain met us in the hallway.

He muttered, “You’re both screwed,” as Barney held the door open so all three of us could enter the admin office leading to the commander’s office.

Once inside the Commander’s office, we were met by another officer, who worked for the Office of Special Investigation. It was the Air Forces version of the Navy’s Investigative Service’s or the Army’s Criminal Investigation Division.

Both Barney and I were suddenly struck the gravity of the situation.

The Investigator asked, “Did you guys put West German flags inside the base cemetery?”

“No, sir,” we both answered.

“Where, then, did you place them?” the Investigator asked.

“We put them on the German graves outside the cemetery walls,” was our response.

The Captain interrupted, “Liars!”

The Investigative officer turned and looked at the officer, calmly asking, “Do you have proof of this?”

“I certainly do,” the Captain answered.

As he answered he pulled a packet of photographs from inside his uniform jacket and handed them to the Investigator. The officer quickly thumbed through them.

Then he turned to the hospital commander and asked, “With your permission. can these two be dismissed?

He was talking about Barney and me.

Then he added, “However, I’d like to sit and have a chat with the Captain.”

The Commander nodded his head and both Barney and I disappeared as quickly as we could. However Barney couldn’t help but point out the irony in the fact that it was about a minute after eleven in the morning.

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