Helmut took the small Bible from Rudolf, and rubbed it lovingly with his fingertips. “You know, my U-boat badge was given to me after my first two war patrols when I served on U-17. One of the interrogators at Fort Hunt threatened to keep the badge if I didn’t tell him what U-893 was doing off the coast of that place…South Carolina, I think. I felt lucky then not to be an officer or work in the control room. What did I know, I told him. I was just a lowly machinist stuck in the bowels of the boat. I must have convinced him because he did not bother me after that.”
Rudolf nodded in confirmation to Helmut’s remark. “Yes, I felt the same way. I was glad not to be the chief radio operator. My interrogator plied me with beer and cigarettes, but when he figured I was on the boat only three months, he left me alone.”
Helmut, Rudolf knew, was older than most of the men on U-893. The two men shared the same barrack, their cots close to one another, and Rudolf often heard Helmut speak about his wife and two daughters. Whenever there was news on the camp’s stolen radio about Allied bombing of German cities, a look of heaviness would descend over Helmut, changing his normal friendly visage to one with deep apprehension. Often, in the stillness of the desert night, when the two men lay thinking of home, Rudolf and Helmut would commiserate softly with one another about their fate and their worry about their families.
“My family considers it lucky I was captured by the Americans,” Helmut said, tucking his Bible safely into his pocket. “My wife, Helga, says she doesn’t worry about me now like she did when I was a U-boat machinist.” Then he laughed. “She knows I’m being fed three meals a day and I’m not going to die here!”
Werner Carl made a noise deep in his throat. “Dying of boredom is what we need to be afraid of!”
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