By Edgar Valderrama

I was footslogging up another steep muddy hill in Luxembourg or maybe Germany when I met Shell escorting a teenage prisoner downhill.

Shell was not a great warrior type in my estimation. His outstanding accomplishment had been to fry spuds the time another outfit had pushed a bunch of Germans on top of us and we – peace loving Company Headquarters – were forced to fight them off. I always figured he’d done that to avoid being shot at. I ate his fries, though. He brought a festive atmosphere to combat.

Maybe you know by now that I was no great warrior either. Shooting and getting shot at was not my idea of how to employ my time on Earth.

We paused a moment on the steep slimy hill while facing each other and I pulled out a pack of cigarettes. (that and some writing paper is all I ever saw of the Red Cross) I offered one to Shell, and having been brought up properly, I gave one to the German, who seemed happy the war was over for him and that he hadn’t been shot while being taken captive. He accepted it gratefully. Not being one to leave things unfinished, I offered them both a light from my trusty Zippo lighter. Once you had surrendered and been taken prisoner – you had it made. The war was over and you had survived.

Little Shell (he was a short blonde hillbilly) took things (like the war) more seriously than I did. He saw an enemy combatant fortunate in having survived being taken prisoner, but primarily he saw an enemy soldier. All I saw was a grateful kid and didn’t give a thought to the circumstances. If I write an autobiography I’ll have to call it “Clueless.”

My generosity was appreciated by the prisoner but little Shell took it otherwise: He knocked the cigarette out of the kid’s mouth with his rifle butt and admonished me by declaring: “why don’t you give him your rifle, too?!”

I considered that an overreaction, but then I never felt there was anything “real’ about my situation. In fact; I still don’t. I guess Shell was more invested in things than I was.