Today, the sixth of May 1936, was a special day for Hermann. He was tremendously excited as he explained to Luise and Rudolf that U-26, the boat he had been working on for nine months, was to be commissioned.
“Ah,” Luise said, as she served her husband more steaming coffee. “Now I understand why you are wearing your suit.”
“Opa,” Rudolf asked as he jammed his mouth full of food, “What does ‘commissioned’ mean?”
“It means the U-boat is being formally accepted by the German Navy,” Hermann said. “It is an important ceremony and our country’s flag will be raised for the first time on my beautiful boat, Enkel,” a German term of endearment that Hermann used often when he spoke to Rudolf.
The boy’s intense blue eyes opened wide at his grandfather’s explanation. Then, without warning, he reached out to grab another piece of cold meat with his hand and his grandmother gave him a resounding slap.
“Rudolf!” she scolded. “Use your fork! What has happened to your manners?”
His eyes filled quickly with tears, and Hermann tried to salvage the situation by putting his large arm affectionately around his wife’s shoulders and squeezing her. “He’s a growing boy, Luise. Let him eat what he wants!”
A moment of silence was followed by Luise’s sharp “humph!” Rudolf glanced quickly at her, then at his grandfather, who nodded slightly. The child picked up his fork and jabbed another thick slice of sausage.
“As I was saying,” Hermann continued with a heavy sigh, “during the commission ceremony, the crew will be standing at attention on her deck behind the conning tower and her commander, Kapitänleutnant Werner Hartmann, will be on the wintergarden—the platform—while the German flag is raised. Oh what a glorious moment it will be!
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