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The Good Soldier

My father did a noble thing in World War II, and it may have saved his life…

A man's hands clasp a rosary
Credit: YourNikonMan

Dad was a storyteller. He spoke often about the experiences he had as a young man in World War II. His favorite story, the one he told most often, was about the time he and some other soldiers captured some German prisoners of war.

Dad was part of George Patton’s Third Army, Sixth Armored division that landed in Normandy on D-Day. A few days after that great battle, Dad and a few members of his unit were on patrol in the French countryside. Walking along the hedgerows, they arrived at a clearing atop a small hill—the same time two German soldiers did. Quickly, Dad and his fellow soldiers raised their guns. Outnumbered, the Germans surrendered their weapons.

“We should kill them right now,” said one member of Dad’s unit. After what he’d seen at Normandy, Dad was inclined to agree. This was war, and these were enemy soldiers.

But Dad hesitated. He ordered the soldiers to empty their pockets. One of the Germans held out a string of beads and a cross. A rosary.

Dad took them from the soldier. The sight of the beads made him think twice. He handed them back to the man. Dad knew how to speak German, so he spoke to the man.

“Pray for the war to be over, so we can all go home,” Dad said.

The German was surprised. “You are not going to kill us?”

Dad shook his head.

“If you are not going to kill us, there are some more of us who want to surrender,” the German said.

Dad and the other American soldiers stood awestruck as German after German came out of their hiding place on the other side of the hill. Thirty-seven in all. They left behind their weapons: machine guns, heavy artillery, loaded and ready for action. If they’d killed the first two men, Dad and his buddies would have been gunned down on the spot.

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