An Island


The icy gusts from the mountains struck the loose powdery snow that covered the flatlands to the west of the city and swirled great clouds along the highway, through the dingy suburban hamlets, through the pine forests at the border control point, across the military landing strip, and across the parade ground of the Gebirgsjägerkasemen, a complex of gray stucco three-story barracks built for Adolf Hitler's mountain troops. The Gebirgsjäger themselves were gone -lying in mostly unmarked graves from Narvik to Monte Cassino to the Caucasus Mountains, working in Siberian prison camps, washing dishes and scrounging cigarettes in American army kitchens all over Bavaria and Austria, a few of the lucky ones back in the alpine cowbarns from which they had come- but their Kasernen were still full of soldiers, and at 0800 hours on this particular morning, three days after New Year's in the coldest winter anybody could remember, the windowpanes vibrated to the rattle of snare drums.

The First Battalion Twenty-seventh U.S. Infantry was standing to for parade, because it was moving out; moving from Salzburg, the city of churches, the city of Mozart, the ancient seat of the most powerful archbishops in central Europe, drab and dirty in the wash of defeat but mostly undamaged, easygoing, and Austrian; moving three hundred miles to the north, to an ocean of rubble and starving people, to the impacted fortress: Berlin.

The advance party had gone just before Christmas; now the rest of the battalion was to follow. The field packs and duffel bags were already in the trucks, and the trucks were parked in the courtyard between the barracks.

Headquarters Company was in motion, parading across the front, their flags flying, the band playing "California, Here I Come," the marching ranks looking pretty well aligned but various people nevertheless screaming, as always, "Dress it up! Dress it up, for Christ's sweet sake, One . . . Last . . . Time!" and the Neolite soles of their combat boots crumping steadily on the hard-packed snow, moving toward the reviewing stand, where the commanding general and a cluster of colonels from the Area Command, most of them completely masked in parkas and sunglasses, waited to take the salute.

I stood in my place, on point in front of the extreme right end of Charlie Company, trying to hold my guidon steady in the wind. The little green flag with the crossed rifles and the C snapped and fluttered above my head. I was eighteen years old. I didn't give a damn if we were in Salzburg or Berlin. After twelve years of school and one of college, the army was a vacation. I liked it: the crowded confusion of the reception center, where we marched, rumpled and awkward, past jeering veterans waiting in line for their discharges. all of them in freshly pressed suntans, bedecked with ribbons and Combat Infantry Badges; the dusty summer of basic training, drill sergeants chanting cadence. range officers' slow monotonous voices booming through the hot Kentucky afternoons: "The flag is up. . . The flag is waving . . . The flag is down . . ."; trains, truck convoys, the troopship wallowing across the slate-gray Atlantic, men sleeping in six-tiered bunks, men vomiting all over the latrines and the mess halls and even the galleys; the little tugboats at Bremerhaven belching coal smoke as the icy air of central Europe blew out across the harbor; hearing German spoken by natives for the first time in ten years and being suddenly flooded with memories of my father; the night in the echoing seaplane hangars of the Kriegsmarine; the night crammed into the luggage net of a wagon-lit compartment, rolling through the desolate moonscape of blasted cities, sliding slowly past station platforms packed solid with shabby hollow-eyed people; in the morning, the blinding, breathtaking beauty of the mountains; even, at first, the mindless routine of the peacetime infantry, with its petty squabbles and duty rosters, its nights awash in beer and blowsy pathetically eager girls, its days of drill and guard mounts and dusty route marches through the cool pine forests of the Salzkammergut, where the mountains rose straight up from bottomless green lakes. . . .

I didn't like the raids, though. The last one had been a nightmare, a painting by Hieronymus Bosch. Formation at three o'clock in the morning, live ammunition, Military Government officers. Military Police, Austrian Gendarmerie, trucks roaring into one of the UNRRA (United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration) camps for Displaced Persons. Everybody off the trucks, running. Splashing through the muddy streets, smashing into the wooden barracks, into the stink of tight-packed sleeping people and coal smoke and laundry drying from the rafters, children crying with fear, cursing unshaved men rising in the darkness, flashlight beams, a toothless old woman shrieking, another door burst open and a flock of chickens, suddenly awakened, cackling and thrashing their wings and hopping on the beds, more flashlight beams, an Austrian policeman rolling on the floor, his arms around a squeaking little pig, the pig slithering out of his grasp and zipping under the beds and through the broken door, me through the door after it into what seemed to be a stable, the heavy smell of manure, suddenly face to face with a white-haired American major who was holding a flashlight: "Take a look at this, Corporal. They've got a regular stock farm back here," but then howling men and women in the doorway, in front a giant with a shaved head, deep-set eyes, a mouth full of gold teeth.

"Du hier 'raus gehenl" he shouted, brandishing a coal shovel. "Wir waren im Ka-Zett! Du lassen unsere Tiere!"

"Work your bolt," said the Major quietly, and I clicked a shell into my chamber. The Poles stood still, but the big man continued to shout. "Ka-Zett Dachau, Du verstehen? Nicht geben unsere Tiere zu Nazis!"

"Sir, he says he was in Dachau--"

"I know what he said. Keep your shirt on and aim that piece at the ceiling." The Major pointed back toward the stalls, where the pigs and sheep and goats were kicking and grunting in the darkness. "Nix gut! Verboten! How do you say 'animals stolen7'

"Die Tiere sind gestohlen," I told him.

"Tiere gestohlen," said the Major sternly. "Alles gestohlen."

"Nein, nein, nicht gestohlen," shouted the man, raising the coal shovel over his head, and behind him the women, screaming in Polish and German, began pushing forward.

"One round through the roof," snapped the Major. I pressed off the safety and squeezed: the rifle jumped, a deafening explosion, a savage kick in the ribs, a shower of straw and wood from the ragged hole blown out of the ceiling. The Poles climbed over each other scrambling back through the door, and when my ears stopped ringing I could hear the animals screaming and kicking their stalls. My heart was beating wildly and my hands were slippery with sweat, but I tried not to show it. The Major was watching me quietly. There was a splintering crash at the other end of the stable, the gate opened from the outside and in came a squad from Baker Company, with fixed bayonets.

"Who fired that round?" yelled their lieutenant, and the Major told him. The men took positions around the stable, and then Austrian workmen in white smocks began to open the stalls and drag out the protesting animals, which were then wrestled up into a truck from the Salzburg abattoir.

I turned to the Major. "Sir, why are we taking their--"

"Because the people in the town haven't got anything to eat, and these Poles are being fed by the army. Not exactly what you get, but darrned near, and so they don't need to poach on the farmers. We can't help it if they were in Dachau, we've just got to do our best to keep everything running somehow, keep people from starving to death around here." He suddenly looked tired. "You understand German?"

"Yes, sir."

"College boy?"

"Yes, sir.


"Harvard College."

"Hmm. You keep a cool stool, Corporal. What's your name?"

"Cump Neee!" Next door, Baker Company was now in motion. They did a right-face, the band swung into "Good-bye, My Coney Island Baby, Farewell My Own True Love" and two . . . four . . . six . . . eight, their guidon went up and they stepped out, their captain strutting in front like a little rooster as they made the turn toward the reviewing stand. Baker Company paraded not only their little green guidon, but also the regimental flag, which had been -so they said- at Bull Run and Gettysburg and the Utah Beachhead. Baker Company won all the baseball games and sharpshooting contests, had nobody in the stockade, and marched like the Germans.

I didn't give a damn if we were in Salzburg or Berlin, but I didn't want Charlie Company to foul up this formation. Out of the corner of my eye I watched Mastrangeli, our First Sergeant. We were parading without officers today. The Captain had been sent ahead to Berlin, and Lieutenant McDermott was lying in one of the weapons carriers, drunk. He was in love with a Polish girl in one of the camps and married to another Polish girl back m Detroit. He didn't want to leave Salzburg. Mastrangeli had spent the night searching for him, had only returned ten minutes before. We had been covering up for McDermott as best we could, but a parade with no officers? It wasn't my job; if we could just get him to Berlin . . .

"C Company!"

Mastrangeli's voice was echoed by the other sergeants calling the platoons to attention.

"Rightshouldaaaah . . ."

Behind me, with a good tight rattle-crack-CRACK! two hundred and fifty Garands came up, we did a right-face so that I could see forward, I listened to the kettledrum, counting two . . . four . . . six. "In Dixie land I'll take my stand, to live and die in Dixie . . . "

"Forwaaard," bellowed Mastrangeli, I pushed the guidon up into the wind, and on the next syllable Charlie Company stepped off.



The courtyard echoed to the roar of revved-up engines. A procession of cloth-covered GMC Six-by-Sixes, their lights turned on for convoy formation. ground out through the gate and down to the highway, where a winterized jeep with a red flag was waiting. The sun was high now, and everybody was wearing sunglasses against the glare of the snow.

The Lieutenant was lying on the floor of the weapons carrier, wrapped into a sleeping bag. He had two days' growth of beard, and his eyes were closed. I put the rolled-up guidon into the truck and turned around to find Mastrangeli behind me. He carried a wastebasket filled with miscellaneous objects, the last junk from the orderly room: a stack of morning report forms, a coffeepot, a portable radio, a paperback copy of God's Little Acre. He put this into the truck.

"You want me to drive, Sergeant?"

Mastrangeli looked at me. The sunglasses masked his expression. "You didn't know nothing about this?"

"About what?"

"You're not going to Berlin. You're staying here."

"Here?" I looked around at the empty windows.

"Nah. In town. I didn't know nothing about it, he kept it in his drawer all week. I guess it pissed him off, with his girl and all." Mastrangeli reached up into the wastebasket and pulled out a sheaf of papers, which began to flutter in the wind. He fumbled with them and then extracted one and handed it to me. It was a blurred mimeographed list of promotion and transfer orders. One of them was circled with a red pencil.

Following EM (1) Tfd inG. FROM CO. C 1stBn 27 Inf APO 54I TO 7753 Mil Gov Det USFA APO 54I (Land Salzburg) Lv 4 Jan 47 Arr 4 Jan 47 (Transp: None)
ANDERS G. CPL RA 13242563
"What's this mean, Sergeant?"

"Can't you read? Means you're too good for the infantry. They want you at the MG, where you can have breakfast in bed and goose secretaries all day. I already told them to throw your gear outa the truck, it's on the walk over there-- "

A jeep stopped beside us. "Mastrangeli, what's this weapons carrier doing here? You're supposed to he down on the Landstrasse. Where the hell is MeDermott?"

"Morning, Major Hotchkiss. We're all set to go, sir. The Lieutenant's upstairs, relieving himself. Looks like we got a nice day for the trip."

"Well, go up and tell him we're moving out. The convoy rolls in seven minutesl"

The radio in the jeep began to squawk: "Fox Forward to Fox Leader, we got a fanbelt off on one of the Six- bys . . ." The Major turned to his driver and the jeep disappeared in a blast of exhaust and spattered snow.

"Never noticed," said Mastrangeli, fastening the tarpaulin at the back of the truck. "Company parades without officers, he never noticed. Some exec." He pulled on his gloves and walked to the front. "Well, take care of yourself, college boy. I guess you can take the bus into town."

"Say good-bye to the guys for me. And good luck in Berlin."

"Yeah. Thanks. Well, we'll see you." Mastrangeli spat reflectively into the snow. A pause. "You done all right in the infantry," he said, not looking at me, then scrambled up into the driver's seat and started the motor. He allowed the last of the big GMCs to pass and then, without a backward glance, he swung the weapons carrier across the courtyard and out through the gate.

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1961 - A Point of View
[1] The annual meeting of the stockholders of the Boatwright Corporation
[2] What are you going to do about Boatwright and what are you going to do about yourself?
[3] Have we learned anything this evening, Doctor?
[4] Producing results?
[5] Alexander's Feast
[6] How'd you like to go over to Salzburg for a month with me?

1947 - An Island
>[7] You're not going to Berlin. You're staying here.
[8] All right, we're the Military Government.
[9] The Americans are teaching us to be democratic instead of fascistic.
[10] Well, this is Fasching.
[11] Letters after Ash Wednesday
[12] Say Boris is at Schloss Fyrmian.
[13] THE AMERICAN ACADEMY IN EUROPE - Prospectus for the First Session
[14] Learn to think of people as individuals.
[15] Parlez-moi d'amour, redites-moi des choses tendres.
[16] Not one thing left to show that you've ever been on earth? - "Sources of Soviet Conduct"
[17] A Countess, a Prussian Officer and a Ländler
[18] Now this part of your life is over and I'm sending you home.
[19] A father who's too busy to watch his son die. - The Spring of 1961
[20] I cannot sell Schloss Fyrmian to the Academy.

1961 - A Change of Air
[21] The first thing I saw was the Festung Hohensalzburg far in the distance, silhouetted against the shadowy curtain of the high mountains.
[22] Next day at the Academy we got to work - Graham, you know what Fleischer did?
[23] Im weißen Rößl am Wolfgangsee
[24] Brockaw writing a thesis on Austrian baroque architecture? - Boatwright Corporation and Boris Fleischer, plaintiffs
[25] You know there a Mr. Devereaux? Mr. Armistead Devereaux?
[26] I think always of Peter Devereaux.
[27] It sounds like an act of desperation, and it won't hold up in court.
[28] In those Oklahoma Hills WHERE AH WAS BOW-AHHHN!
[29] ... that we should meet again like this . . . I think perhaps there is a reason.
[30] "Is there here an American by name of Brockaw?"
[31] This is Boris Fleischer!
[32] "Does Hans work for Gehlen?" Paola shook her head. "More the other way around."
[33] Won't you please come home? Everybody needs you, I most of all.
[34] With this Waffenstillstand you have time now.
[35] You're going to regret this for the rest of your life!
[36] We Europeans would not do it. None of us. - People think you need medical attention.
[37] Will they trust you?
[38] Some things about the U.S.A. are perhaps rather important, and to us impressive.
[39] You're going to need a good lawyer.

version: March 2, 2004
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Arthur R.G. Solmssen, Joachim Gruber