For months I’ve been telling you about all of the projects Ken and I started after the first of the year. We were blessed with wonderfully talented people who did a great job with our kitchen, utility room, and of course, the Taj Garage. The last piece of the picture was completed on Wednesday of this week. The landscaping of a portion of the backyard is done. All I have to do is water the grass seed and plants.
Early in the year I bought one of those new fangled hoses that are light weight. I knew 50 feet wasn’t quite long enough to reach the farthest place I needed to water, but I thought if I increased the water pressure, I might be able to get by.
I stretched the hose as far as it would go which resulted in a geyser right in the middle of the hose.
I couldn’t repair the leak, so I headed off to hardware store to purchase a new hose. I hoped I could find a 100 ft. light-weight hose, but that would be too easy. The store didn’t possess any length longer than 50 ft. and they hoses couldn’t be put together. So, I grabbed the heavy 100 ft. hose and new nozzle. I headed home, hooked up the disappointing hose to the water supply and began an hour and half of wrestling with this long snake that came alive. It twisted and kinked whenever I pulled on it to reach the places that needed water. After I finally watered all of the planted areas, I went into the house hot, sweaty, and thirsty.
And just think — the landscaper said I should water twice a day. That’s kind of like a doctor telling you to take a vile medicine twice a day.
But the universe stepped in with an inch or two of rain during the night. And today, a light rain is falling, so my watering chores won’t come around tomorrow.
I think I’ll lift weights in the meantime, so when I wrestle with the beast tomorrow, I’ll be ready for a good battle.
APPLE PIE AND STRUDEL GIRLS – BOOK 6 (CONTINUED)
Naples, Italy, February—The hospital in Naples sat on the Mostra Fairgrounds at Bagnoli, some three or four miles from the heart of the city. The site offered numerous spacious stone buildings in fairly good shape. The location provided everything a hospital operation needed—running water, sewage facilities, and an electric power plant. Good highways and a rail connection provided easy transport for patients. Several buildings had suffered damage from bombings, and the retreating Germans destroyed several more, but the location offered far more advantages than drawbacks.
As Josie settled into her new surroundings, she heard a story of enemy planes hitting this hospital several weeks ago. Eleven people died in the attack and another fifty-five suffered serious wounds, but the medical staff continued to function without interruption. The story shook Josie because she hadn’t fully recovered from Nettuno, so she dreamed of the day when she could tell Donna that show business wasn’t the only profession where “the show must go on.”
Naples kept Josie out of the line of fire, but she suffered nightmares and debilitating fatigue. Instead of jumping out of bed looking forward to the day, she dragged herself from hour to hour. She became indecisive. Her reaction time in the Operating Room slowed. She lost the ability to prioritize tasks. All of the talents she possessed which made her a superior manager seemed to vanish. At times she even felt disconnected from everyone and everything at the Naples Hospital.
During her two years of service in the nursing corps, she handled daily deaths of the soldiers, but seeing her innocent colleagues mowed down by unprovoked enemy fire proved to be too heavy for her. She needed help, but her pride held her back. The day she froze in surgery and needed to be replaced by another nurse, she reported to her CO to discuss her problems.
“Sir, I realize my transfer request is coming at a horrible time, but I need some help.” Josie lowered her head and looked down at her boots. She held her tears back by biting her cheek. Admitting her inadequacy shamed her.
The Colonel touched the back of his neck before he leaned into the desk. “I will not transfer you, Josie; but I will put you on leave for a month or as long as you need. Your peers are concerned about you. I didn’t want to believe the surgeons because of your exemplary record.”
“I’m sorry to let you down, sir.”
“There’s nothing to be sorry about. You endured too much war. You’re human, Josie. We all get tired when work gets too hard. I need you, but I think you need time to take care of yourself.”
“Please don’t send me to a mental hospital sir.”
He looked her directly in the eye. “I want you to visit my friend, Dr. Jacobsen. He’s a great guy to talk to.”
“The shrink? Really? I need a shrink?”
The Captain stood, walked around the desk and sat in a chair next to Josie. “Lieutenant, you are a dynamo. Even in this state, you’re still one of my best nurses. This is not weakness in your character. Consulting with Dr. Jacobsen is not a punishment. Hell, I talk with him myself in tough times. Believe me when I tell you working with him will make a world of difference.” He smiled.
Josie mustered a weak smile. “Is that an order, sir?”
The Captain stared at her. “Do you want it to be?”
“No, sir. Thank you, sir.”
“Stop by tomorrow. My assistant will handle the arrangements for you.”
“Is that all sir?”
The Captain patted her hand and stood. “I want you to take yourself off the operating team and concentrate on yourself. Get well, Josie. I need you back in tip-top shape. Only God knows how much longer this war will go on, and we need excellent nurses to take care of our boys.”
Josie stood, saluted him, and turned on her heel to leave. No matter what the Captain said, Josie walked away with a sense of failure.
Every afternoon for over a week, Josie kept her appointment with the hospital psychiatrist to learn how to accept the events keeping her awake at night. Dr. Jacobsen also prescribed a mild sedative to help her sleep. Josie didn’t understand how talking about that awful afternoon would help cure anything, but within two weeks she slept through the night without a nightmare.
Being exiled from the operating room turned out to be the worst part of Josie’s rehabilitation. She loved the work, but she admitted the extra hours of sleep helped her recover. Every day the debilitating fatigue lessened. Slowly, the heavy load she carried lifted.
A couple of weeks after her treatment began, Josie went back to work in the convalescent hospital. She wanted to return to surgery, but the Dr. Jacobsen said she needed more time away from the pressures of the operating room.
Josie found a different satisfaction working with patients recovering from their war wounds. Most days just a smile or a simple touch seemed to bring them comfort. She wondered how many of them she met in the OR.
One day as she went through bed checks in a new ward, someone made a “wolf” whistle. She looked for its source and Mario grinned at her. “Hi doll.”
“Mario! My God! What are you doing in here?”
“I got hit at Anzio.”
She grabbed his chart which hung from the foot of his bed. “You appear to be doing well.”
“I’m better now. You’re a sight for sore eyes, kid.” Mario grinned like he just had been given the best gift in his entire life.
Josie blushed. “How are you getting along?”
“I got an infection after I got here, but I think things are turning around. That new penicillin stuff works wonders. What about you?”
“After the Krauts bombed my hospital, I got deported and ended up here.”
“You were at Nettuno? Jesus God!”
She put her hand on his. “I’m fine Mario. No Kraut bomb is going to get me down. After the attack I kind of went a little nuts, but the doctor says eventually the nightmares will go away. They gave me some time off, and I finally caught up on my sleep. I’m feeling much better.”
“Always the soldier.” Mario reached for her hand. “You’re an amazing girl, Josie; I hope you realize how special you are.”
“Just doing my job like everybody else.” She smiled and checked his pulse.
“After you finish your rounds, do you think you might come back and play a game of checkers with a poor wounded GI?”
“Not ready to dance yet, huh?” Josie smiled.
He belly laughed. “Oh, no, don’t do that!”
“Make me laugh. It hurts!”
She laughed. “Does crying make you hurt too?”
“I don’t cry.” Mario sad with macho confidence.
“That remains to be seen.” Josie teased. “After I beat you at checkers, I bet you’ll weep like a baby.”
Mario laughed hard again and grabbed his ribs. He didn’t mind the pain because he finally got his first date with Josie.
Switzerland – February—As one of the first peace-time draftees, Danny learned quickly he hated the Army; being a “grunt” for a year stateside made a miserable existence. He returned home and discovered everything in Lacrosse changed. His buddies enlisted or got drafted, and he now carried a sense of guilt. He needed to be more involved to end the war.
He tried factory work, but the hot, dirty, smelly environment became too dreary to carry on for more than two years. Finally, he decided to enlist in the Air Corps. He always wanted to fly and the thought of jumping into a fast fighter seemed like the perfect job; at least he wouldn’t be tramping through some swamp or hiking through snowy mountains. Danny thought becoming a pilot would be the best—he’d drop a few bombs, head back to base, and down a beer afterward.
On March 12, 1944 he strapped himself into his B-17 bomber to attack German targets along the Swiss border. Once over the target, the bombardier released the bomb payload, and Danny made a sharp right turn to get out of the German line of anti-aircraft fire. After a loud cracking sound, he realized he found some trouble. The huge plane’s altitude dropped, and he and his crew found themselves alone in the sky.
Two Swiss fighters came out of nowhere and signaled Danny to follow them by waggling their wings. Two German ME-109s joined the party and led him to a landing field in Dubendorf near Zurich. Landing a B-17 on such a short runway would be dicey, but he needed to land the plane before it crashed. Danny skidded off the runway and ended up plowing through a small wheat field. When the plane came to a stop, a truck full of Swiss soldiers with rifles surrounded the American crew. Danny and his crew lived through the attack and a perilous landing only to become prisoners of war. The crew raised their hands in defeat and Danny glanced back at the bullet riddled B-17. The plane suffered substantial damage to both the fuselage and both wings. Their uneventful landing appeared to be a miracle. Such damage should have caused the plane to dive or crash.
The Swiss Captain spoke in perfect English. “Welcome to Switzerland, gentlemen. Follow me.”
The American crew followed the Swiss soldiers with their hands up. They marched to a military barracks and for the first time during the war, Danny felt fear. Piloting a bomber was hazardous duty, but at least he was in control. As a POW, he relinquished control to his captors. The Swiss confiscated the airmen’s escape kits and then led them to another building. They ate a good meal and took a cold shower before they went to sleep on cots in a barracks.
The next morning interrogations began. Laying awake all night, Danny mentally prepared himself to endure torture and only give his name, rank, and serial number. To his surprise, the Swiss asked a few questions which really didn’t matter. He didn’t believe they dismissed him so easily.
Within a week, the Swiss sent the crew away. As an officer, Danny took a train destined for Neuchatel—a section of Switzerland bordering France. After he got off the train, he boarded a cable car to the top of a heavily wooded mountain. Four guards with rifles led Danny and two other officers to a large chalet-style lodge.
A guard named Schnell said, “This will be your quarters for the next few weeks while you are quarantined. “You will not be confined. You are free to explore the grounds, if you wish.” Danny and the other prisoners gazed in disbelief. They all believed they would face guard towers and barbed wire to keep them in prison.
On Sunday, the prisoners went down the mountain in the cable car to attend church services. Danny wandered through the woods during the day, and he laughed to himself as he tried to picture explaining his “confinement” to other guys held captive in harsh enemy prison camps. He spent a pleasant two weeks at Neuchatel. The only hardship he endured during his time there turned out to be boredom.
When their quarantine expired, the prisoners traveled by train through Bern where the train skirted the Aare River. Danny stared out the window enjoying some of the most beautiful scenery he ever saw. At the end of the trip, the prisoners found themselves lodged at the Palace Hotel directly across the street from the German embassy. A German eagle and swastika hung over the front door, and Danny wanted to rip the damn insignia off the building.
The atmosphere at the Palace seemed to be more like a hotel instead of a prison. Danny and the others ate in a dining room where a waiter named Otto served them. He and his fifteen year old assistant Fritz wore formal attire along.. The captive officers enjoyed the good food consisting of brown bread with butter, seasonal vegetables, Swiss cheese, and a small portion of meat at every meal. Danny actually liked the coffee substitute called Ersatz coffee, which was made from roasted acorns, chicory or some other grain. Prisoners even enjoyed beer with their meals. A local brewery provided two types of the brew–a dark beer called Dunkel and a light beer called Hell. Danny preferred the light colored beer, but he learned to limit himself to one tankard per meal because the Swiss beer contained more alcohol than any beer at home.
During the day, prisoners explored the nearby town, The only rule they must follow was to be present for bed check at nine o’clock. If absent, they would be transferred to a more restrictive prison in Germany. Prisoners even attended concerts and plays during their stay in Switzerland. They enjoyed many comforts and liberties, but the Swiss guards constantly reminded them of their prisoner of war status.
Danny searched for ways to escape because the army expected every man held by the enemy to make an attempt to get back to his unit. On his hikes into town, Danny collected second-hand civilian clothing he hid under his prisoner’s uniform. He stored the clothes under a loose floorboard in the barracks. He hid the contraband from Ken his roommate because the man had a tendency to engage in gossip. Other prisoners bet Ken worked as snitch, alerting the guards of any suspicious behavior. Possessing forbidden contraband would result in a transfer to a work camp deep into Germany.
Danny worked on his escape plan in his mind. He put most of it together, but he needed to understand the procedures passengers used to board a train. Every evening after diner, Danny took an evening stroll, but instead of heading back to the barracks, he made his way to the train station where he spied from the shadows. A guard stood at the train entrance checking identification papers of the passengers. Danny uncovered the one element he didn’t count on. After his surveillance, he returned to the barracks and lay awake trying to solve this unexpected problem. The answer came to him in a dream, and when he woke, he decided today he would make his escape.
Danny completed his civilian disguise, but now he needed a way to buy a train ticket. He might not be able to forge identity papers, but he could sweet-talk his favorite waitress at the cafe to purchase a ticket for him.
Danny packed a duffle bag after the guards sat down for their morning card game. Most of the prisoners left the property, and they wouldn’t return until mealtime, so Danny stayed out of the line of sight and headed for the woods. He changed into his civilian clothes and headed for the train station. He made his move as the trained pulled away. He jumped aboard the moving train to avoid having to show any papers to a conductor. Two Swiss soldiers witnessed his escape attempt and ran to pluck him from the train. The older one caught hold of his sleeve, but Danny yanked his arm away and the soldier lost his grip and fell backward. Danny moved to a crowded car and took a seat. So far so good. He intended to get off the train in Zurich.
Danny blended with a sea of people as he left the train. He learned from the waitress about an underground organization in Zurich which helped American and British pilots get back to their outfits in France. He headed to the library because the librarian led the resistance group in the city.
He opened the old over-sized wooden door to the building and approached a woman sitting behind the information desk. He cleared his throat before he spoke. “I am Danny. I understand you reserved a book for me.”
She scowled and said under her breath. “I told them not to send me any more “evades.”
Danny remained silent and his face dropped.
The woman wrote a name and address a on a small piece of paper and slipped it into book. She whispered. “Follow the instructions.”
Danny nodded, sat down at a table and pretended to read. When he thought no one carried about his presence, he slipped the note into his pants pocket, and left the library.
Zurich, Switzerland, March—Danny walked out of town and quickly found the address and name the librarian scribbled on the small piece of paper. The house turned out to be nothing more than a small shack compared to other dwellings in downtown Zurich.
Heidi got a message by courier to expect an American pilot needing safe passage into France. She held vigil for him at the one window facing the street. She spotted the American in an instant. The Brits walked with a rigid posture whereas Americans strolled. The man stepped on the porch and rang the bell.
Heidi waited a few seconds before opening the door. At first Danny thought he went to the wrong address because the female who answered appeared to be a teenager.
He said. “I am looking for frauline Heidi Schiller. The librarian sent me.”
“You found her.” The girl spoke perfect English. “Please come in.”
Danny stepped into a sparsely furnished living room.
“Why do you want to see me?” The petite girl stared at him without blinking.
“My name is Lt. Daniel Peterson. I need to get back to France. Can you help me?”
“I can.” She paused, “When do you want to leave?”
Danny replied. “As soon as possible. I got shot down in February and lived in a Swiss prison since.”
Heidi learned about pilots the Swiss held, but this man turned out to be the first one who wanted to escape. “I am fluent in French, English and German.” She said with confidence. “I can get you through to Geneva where we will make contact with the Marquis.”
“They are the French resistance group who will take you to France.”
“Okay.” He smiled. “What do I need to do?”
Heidi spoke very businesslike. “Hide. You will need papers and a new identity which takes a few days. The price is one hundred American dollars.”
Danny wondered whether he should trust this woman-child because she presented herself so methodically. Her businesslike demeanor almost seemed false. “That’s a lot of money.” He said.
“I need to feed three children. That is my price.” She wore a determined look on her face. “How do you Americans say? Take it or leave it?”
Danny smiled at the spunky girl. “Well, if that’s the price, that’s the price. I will need to go to the bank on Monday.” Danny smiled.
“Very well.” Heidi returned his smile. She thought this American possessed a kind face. “I’ll take you to your room.”
“Yes. You need a place to sleep until Monday, correct?”
“Yes ma’am, but-
She cut him off. “Just follow me.”
The Spartan upstairs bedroom she offered Danny was clean. The single bed looked inviting because he didn’t get any sleep for the past thirty-six hours. “Thank you.”
“You are welcome. Supper will be at six o’clock.” She turned and shut the door.
Danny shouted “thank you” before he dropped onto the bed and went right to sleep. He didn’t wake until nine o’clock that evening. He wandered downstairs and found Heidi sitting in a rocking chair in the living room.
“Lt. Peterson. You missed supper.”
“I’m sorry ma’am. I guess I needed sleep more than I thought. The bed is very comfortable. May I please get something to eat?”
“Of course,” she paused, “but next time you are late for supper, you will need to make your own meal.” She stood and Danny followed her into the kitchen like a lost puppy.
Heidi took out a loaf of brown crusty bread from the cupboard, and a wheel of cheddar cheese from the ice box. She spread butter on both sides of the bread, laid a slab of cheese between the bread and toasted the sandwich to a golden brown in a heavy iron skillet. The warm, fresh cheese aroma wafted through the kitchen, and Danny thought about his mother making grilled cheese sandwiches at home. The only thing missing was the Campbell’s tomato soup.
Heidi put the sandwich and a dill pickle in front of him along with a cold glass of milk. “A simple meal.”
“Thank you, Miss Heidi.” He bit into the melted cheese and savored the flavor. “This is the best sandwich I ever ate.”
She smiled. “That is what you all say.”
Danny wondered how many other Americans she rescued.
The Monday following his arrival at Heidi’s house, Danny went to the Zurich bank and withdrew a hundred dollars from the account he established when he joined the Air Force. During the two days he lived in Heidi’s house, he grew curious about her; her husband must be Swiss or German so why did she help allied pilots escape? Did he just walk into some trap? He returned to the house with the money and handed her the one hundred dollars.
She counted the money. “Thank you. We will leave as soon as I get instructions from the Marquis.”
“Heidi?” he said. “I don’t want to be nosy, but where is your husband?”
“I am not married.”
“The children are not my blood. I decided to care for them when their parents died.” She showed no emotion.
Danny stared at this strong girl. “You are very kind, Heidi.”
“Thank you.” She blushed, and he recognized her sharp exterior hid a kind soul.
“Can I help you in any way while we wait for the Marquis?”
“I thought you wanted to get back to your unit as quickly as possible.”
“I do, but perhaps you need some help too? One hundred dollars is not enough money to be putting your life in jeopardy.”
“I do this resistance work to feed my children. Other work would take me away from them. I am sure you understand.”
“Well, not exactly.”
“My choices are to work at the resort as a waitress or a maid cleaning rooms, but I then I would not be home with my children. The work I do is dangerous, but I get what I need.”
“I’m willing to help, if I can.” Danny said.
“Well,” She pondered. “My car is getting older, and I do not believe the vehicle can take another long journey. Can you fix cars?”
“Sure. I worked as a car mechanic in the States.”
“Wonderful! If you can get my car running, then I can escape again if necessary.”
“The story is a long one.”
“Perhaps someday you will tell me what happened to you.”
Danny sensed Heidi didn’t want to reveal more of her personal story, so he changed the subject. “I really enjoy being here with you and your kids. Staying here gives me an idea of what family life is like.”
“Is that something you want, Mr. Danny?”
“Sure. Doesn’t everyone?”
“I do not think about being without the children. My present family just happened. One day I am a single nanny, and the next day I acquire three children who depend on me.”
“And no husband.”
She smiled, “And no husband.”
“That’s not fair.”
“War is not fair, Mr. Danny.”