Saturday, April 4, 2009
Chalottesville Downtown Mall Story
The "bag lady" and the other silhouettes on the Charlottesville Mall have stayed put during the recent re-bricking. Things look pretty grim in the above photo, but today it was sunny, warm, and the City had paid a good jazz band to play. So, in spite of the unfinished spots, there was quite a bit of activity.
The following story happened about a month back;
It was about the first warm day and it was sunny at the end of the Downtown Mall, by the Bus station. The Vendors were there with their gear, but it was, for the most part, wool caps and other winter items. I had taken the afternoon off from work and had secured a Washington Post, and found a spot on one of the small benches in front of the City Building.
It wasn’t long before an older man sat down on the bench to the left of mine. He started up a conversation, asking me how old I was. I was having some trouble understanding him, and had to ask him to repeat what he said. His voice was gravelly and weak, but I had decided to hear him out so I kept asking him to repeat things when I hadn’t heard them.
He had been conscripted into the army during the last part of senior high school, as World War II had gone on for a while, and the army was short of fresh troops. He went directly into a rushed basic training. The food at the camp was being cooked by German POW’s, as many had been brought to the U.S. to take on jobs that would normally be done by our own troops. It was the troop shortage problem again.
He was put on a boat, but it took a number of months to make it to France. This was a time when the German submarines were far too effective in attacks on vessels. So, the soldiers were anxious to go ashore. He said that by the time his platoon arrived, the war was being waged elsewhere. By that point the Germans were decimated, and soldiers had tried to blend in and run. All he did was guard duty, night after night.
Towards 4 a.m. on a guard duty, on a very cold night, he was startled when he heard a distinct “click” right behind him. He turned around to see a German, in uniform, pointing his gun towards the ground. The sound was his uncocking the gun. He turned and simply walked away. The story teller said he had plenty of time to shoot him if he had wanted to, since the German was making his way across a muddy open field. But, he saw no point in it.
It was interesting. Since this had sort of cropped up at the end of a longer, wandering narrative, I instinctively felt that it was a true story.