The car stopped at the end of the rutted road. In front of us lay the field where Company F of the 507th Parachute Infantry Regiment had jumped on March 24, 1945. My husband, with his yellowed military field map in hand, stared at the landscape with unbelieving eyes.
Nothing has changed over half a century. The landing field remained untouched, the same few houses lining the northern edge. The grove of trees ahead remained timeless.
Over the many years of our marriage he had never shared a word of his World War II experiences of that historic jump over the Rhine. And here I was, amazingly, standing by his side, walking through those memories of his jump into Germany.
His eyes glazed over, and I barely existed. Slowly we walked through the field. He relived vivid memories as if they had happened yesterday. Memories of landing in a shell hole while his buddies crash-landed all around him with rifle, machine gun and canon fire bursting overhead. Not all survived. He recalls the mad dash, with bullet whizzing in all directions, reaching the company rendezvous just inside the grove of trees.
We reached the edge of the woods. His military map marked out trails, now used by equestrians, leaving their signature. We slowly made our way to the hedgerow lining the back of the woods.
He suddenly stopped, bowed his head, looked up and pointed, “There! There! Over that hedgerow! That’s where the Germans took us on! We fell to the ground and inched forward on our bellies. A quick glance to my right and I discovered my buddy had been hit! I dragged his body, crawling through the dirt, down past the hedgerow to our first-aid station in the old farmhouse. Before I could get him there, he died!”
My husband again bowed his head and relived the pain, the grief and the sorrow as he gazed upon the dead body of his comrade. “If only I had crawled faster!”
We slowly walked along the hedgerow and I could hear the bullets whizzing pat my ears and Nazi helmets moving in the hedgerow. Now I was confronted with the awesome thought of how, after so many years of not knowing, could I be possibly be experiencing this same battle? But I was!
We reached the edge of the hedgerow and came into sight of the old farmhouse, now a gasthaus. We sat drinking a glass of wein, barely able to comprehend what we both had individually just experienced. We retraced our steps back to the car, hand-in-hand, both realizing the awesome gift we were given in being able to step back into history.