An Iraq war problem

Published 12:00 am Sunday, November 17, 2002

Now, for the first time in many years, all three are playing on the same page, House, Senate and White House, with enough combined power to convince the United Nations that we are through fooling around with these silly inspections of Iraq. The silliness is to believe we can go through Iraq with a fine-toothed comb without interruptions long enough for him to move a jump ahead of us. So we are more than ever apt to go to war. You will remember that the last time George Sr. took on Sadamn, one of the major problems was what to do with thousands of prisoners. When the end was in sight they were surrendering in droves, submitting to anyone or anything that appeared to represent the American military. When any war is ending, one side gives up to the other and so it was after the world conflict in Europe back in May of 1945.

When we first invaded France the Germans were gung-ho to push us back into the sea and for a day or so there were no prisoners for us to take. But by day five we had a few hundred penned up on the beaches. They were badly damaged and we put them on the same boats our wounded were on going back to England; the war was over for them. But once into France it was a rare event to take a prisoner. Even when the fighting was fierce the wounded were recovered by their own medical units. It remained that way for months unless for one reason or another they could not rescue and transport their soldiers back to territory held by them. We were fortunate and able to close on the Rhine River in a matter of days as opposition retreated. The Germans had destroyed nearly all Rhine River bridges to slow our advance. When we approached the eastern dikes of the river we came upon thousands of wounded Germans who had died on their stretchers during the cold March nights. They had to be sacrificed for lack of time; their wounds and exposure had killed every one of them. It was a surreal scene and we did not cheer.

When we finally bridged and crossed the Rhine we took many prisoners who had remain-ed to keep us from gaining that far shore. We were shocked at how young they were, and how cocky their attitude. Too young to understand the predicament they were in. But we learned quickly they had no intention of helping us with the work at hand even with rifles pointed at them. Hours before they had been shooting at us, but even weaponless and told they would get no food unless they &uot;arbited&uot; they refused. There were those who wanted to shoot them on the spot but common sense and Geneva morality prevailed. These kids were near 14, smaller than their uniforms and obviously placed there to die. We did not accommodate them and they seemed to resent it. MPs escorted them past our miles of assembled military equipment and troops waiting to cross the bridges. I’m convinced they were glad they were prisoners and had a chance to live to fight another day.

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Sometime in April we neared their Mecca, Berlin, and events moved rapidly. We had survived the Battle of the Bulge where many of us were taken prisoner and even though General Patton cut off that last ditch attack and trapped the Germans, we never found or recovered any of our army units. We figured they had been moved back toward Berlin. We knew the war would end soon because we kept hearing that the Russians would meet us from the west in a matter of weeks. Then German soldiers began showing up unannounced, more and more daily, rifles dragging on the ground and white flags tied every-where. They didn’t want us to miss seeing them and they didn’t want the Russians to steal their rifles. It was May and no one wants to die in the spring. Nearly 11 months had passed since we had come ashore in France.

Soon unarmed German trucks arrived, and clattering tanks with white banners on the antennas. There was nothing we could do except set up barbed wire pens and place manned gun towers on the corners. We soon had thousands of prisoners and no means to provide them with shelter or food. It took days to sort out the SS from the regular army and the regular army helped us to do it. Many SS were killed before we could separate them and none of us minded. We were thankful when the International Red Cross took over and we went back to celebrating and awaiting the vodka bearing Russians. I can see the United States Military having the same problem a week after the war in Iraq starts.

Robert Pocklington is a resident of Suffolk and a regular columnist for the Suffolk News-Herald.