Thursday, January 7, 2010

The Second Death Sentence

The next time my grandfather was sentenced to death was much less dramatic, though no less serious.

“After weeks on the run, with virtually no food or sleep, we were worn down to the point where we'd not only ceased to resemble an army, but barely still invited comparison with human beings. This didn't mean we were left free to recuperate. Although we moved about like shadows, there were still enough officers around to see that outward appearances were maintained. One of these was guard duty.

“A call went out for all noncoms to report to the commandant. I made believe I hadn't heard. …I was ready to lie down and not get up for a month. But before I had a chance…, one of the lieutenants tracked me down. I was told to take ten soldiers and mount guard. I told him I hadn't slept all week, to let me rest at least one night.

“He was not unsympathetic, but explained there was a shortage of noncoms; I must do my duty and help fill the gap.

“It was a beautiful clear night with no more than a mild breeze. Having deployed my ten men and sternly warned them not to close an eye, I was tempted to sit down for a moment. But that, of course, was strictly forbidden, and I knew I would not remember to get up again.

"Nevertheless, my lids kept drooping. To hold them open, I pinched myself, I kicked one foot against the other, and generally struggled like a man about to drown.

“Near midnight, I was awakened roughly by a strange officer and two armed men. The officer demanded to know where my gun was. My heart stopped. I was without a rifle. There was no sign of it anywhere. We were miles from any Japanese. One of our own men must have stolen it.

“Fifteen minutes later, the new commander who, only two days earlier, had lauded my coolness under fire, told me what I didn't need to be told. The penalty for sleeping on guard was the same as that for, losing one's rifle: death. About my only comfort was they couldn't kill me twice.”

His reprieve frightening and humorous at the same time: To be continued

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