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Zielona Góra, Poland
Thursday, October 18, 1635
Captain Casper Havemann of Charlie Company, 20th Battalion, the Hangman Regiment edged a little higher over the debris at the end of the street his company had just cleared. Beyond was open ground. That did not bode good if they had to cross it. He turned to his second in command. "See anything you like?" he asked.
Lieutenant Joachim Schultz shook his head. "It is quiet, Captain. Too quiet."
Casper reached out towards a windowsill for some wood to tap. His hand did not make it before all hell broke loose.
BOOOM! BOOM! BOOOM!
There were, also, rifle rounds intermixed with the Polish cannons that had suddenly opened fire. Casper dropped to the ground, covering his helmeted head with his arms as he lay there.
There was a crash, and the side of the building beside them started to collapse. Several bricks fell onto Casper, and he tried to roll clear. He did not make it.
He regained consciousness to find two men trying to drag him clear of the rubble. The cannons were still firing, as were the snipers.
One of the men trying to help him fell, and Casper found himself nose to nose with the lifeless face of Private Huber. Meanwhile, even as bullets hit the rubble around them, someone else was still trying to pull him free.
"Leave me! Save yourself!" Casper ordered.
"I'm not leaving you, Captain," Private Mattias Amsinck said as he finally hauled Casper free of the rubble that had covered him and dragged him behind cover.
Casper rolled round to look at where he had been. Private Huber's body marked the spot. He could see a foot sticking out of the rubble. It could belong to either Lieutenant Schultz or the signaler, Corporal Neumann. It was not moving. Nothing in the pile of rubble was moving. Just like that, in the twinkling of an eye, three men had died. He looked back down the street his company had just cleared. It appeared deserted, as everyone had taken cover when the Poles opened fire.
There was a shudder as a cannon ball hit the rubble they were hiding behind. Other cannon balls bounced over their position. It was becoming untenable, but there was no way Casper could retreat on his own, and Private Amsinck, for all his courage, would be hard-pressed to carry him to safety.
"Go! Get to safety. That's an order!"
Mattias shook his head. "I'm not leaving you, Captain."
He was so distracted he did not hear anyone approaching until the slap of hobnailed boots on cobblestones changed to a screech as Sergeant John Trelli of the military police patrol that had attached itself to his company slid feet-first right up to them.
He stared in silent amazement as Sergeant Trelli emptied a haversack of grenades and started lobbing them over the rubble they were hiding behind. He realized why Trelli was doing it when the first wisps of dense white smoke drifted over them.
As the smokescreen grew, Sergeant Trelli got to his feet and hauled Casper up across his shoulders. The jarring of his head as Trelli started running was too much for Casper, and he sank into unconsciousness.
Casper glanced over his shoulder as Private Amsinck and Private Kuhn helped lead him and the rest of the wounded back to a better defensive position. What he could see amazed Casper. Sergeant Trelli, a Military Policeman, had taken over effective command of his company. Not just the men, but also the officers were following his orders as he directed a fighting withdrawal.
A few days later
"How are you feeling, Captain?" Corporal Georg Schlegel asked as he dropped a bundle of files onto Casper's bed.
Casper stared at the numerous folders. "I was starting to feel better before you reminded me about real life."
Corporal Schlegel nodded energetically. "Yes. Yes. Captain. I have made some notes for the after-action report you will need to prepare." He handed Casper several sheets of typed notes pinned together.
"Why?" Casper demanded. "I hate writing after action reports." He shuffled further up his bed until he was sitting, resting his head against the wall. "They're a curse upon all real soldiers." Corporal Schlegel was still handing out his notes, so he grabbed them.
"They are only necessary on special occasions, Captain," Corporal Schlegel said.
Casper glared at Corporal Schlegel. "And what was so special about our latest little encounter with the enemy?"
Corporal Schlegel pointed to the papers in Casper's hand. "If you would just read my notes, Captain, all will be revealed."
Casper gave Corporal Schlegel a final glare before settling down to read. Sheet after sheet of paper dropped to the blankets as he read. As he neared the end, he looked up. "Sergeant Trelli really managed to get the company back without additional fatalities?"
"Four carried and eight walking wounded, but still only three dead," Corporal Schlegel confirmed. "It was the most masterly of fighting withdrawals, and a complete shock that an MP sergeant could display such leadership."
Casper whistled. He had feared that the casualty list would be considerably worse.
Corporal Schlegel handed Casper three handwritten letters of condolence. He dropped the last pages of Corporal Schlegel's notes unread as he accepted the letters. They said exactly what he would have said if he had dictated them himself, which was not surprising, because he had, unfortunately, already dictated too many similar letters to Corporal Schlegel in the past. He put them to one side to be signed later and waited for Corporal Schlegel to move onto his next order of business.
Casper winced before he started to read them. He was not sure he approved of giving people medals just for getting wounded. The three men who died when he was injured were there. Private Amsinck was there. Even he was there. But one name he expected to see was missing. "What about Sergeant Trelli?"
"He wasn't injured, Captain."
Casper stared at Corporal Schlegel. "The man charges into a kill zone to rescue me and Private Amsinck, and he emerges without a scratch? How is that possible?"
"I don't know how he managed it, not with the amount of fire the Poles sent into the smokescreen he generated with those grenades, but he did."
Casper nodded, and immediately regretted doing so as his head ached in response. He blinked a few times as he recovered. "Huber deserves at least a Silver Star. Amsinck deserves a kick up the butt for not following orders and clearing out while he had the chance."
"I'll start the process to recommend both of them for the Distinguished Service Cross then," Corporal Schlegel said as he pulled out another sheet of paper for Casper to sign.
Casper glanced over it to check what it said. "What are their chances?" he asked as he added it to the pile accumulating on his bedside table.
"Pretty good," Corporal Schlegel said. "They were certainly acting gallantly, and Private Huber's death while trying to dig you free is clear evidence that they were putting their lives at risk." He nodded. "It would be a harsh decision of the Decorations Review Board to deny them the Distinguished Service Cross."
"What about the Medal of Honor?"
Corporal Schlegel licked his lips before answering. "That would probably be pushing it, Captain."
Casper did his best to shrug, but his bruised and abused body protested, leaving him to grunt before settling back against the wall. "Nothing ventured, nothing gained. Put in a recommendation for both of them."
Corporal Schlegel rolled his eyes. Still, he made a note. "I'll need to collect witness statements to support the nominations."
"You do that." Casper eyed the bundle Corporal Schlegel still carried. "Meanwhile, what's next?"
Corporal Schlegel sorted out several papers from the parent bundle and started handing them to Casper. "Form 8s for Sergeant Trelli and his patrol recommending that they be awarded the Einsatzmedaille Gefecht . . ."
Casper grimaced as he accepted the forms. The new Combat Medal was a contentious compromise between what the up-timers were used to and the realities of war down-time. A lot of old-school officers did not see the point in giving soldiers an award just for being involved in combat. That was, after all, their job. The attempt to introduce the up-time Combat Infantry and Combat Medic badges had been dropped in favor of an all-arms combat medal, to be awarded only to personnel actively engaged in combat, or in the case of soldiers not normally engaging in combat, such as of medics, performing their assigned tasks while battle raged on around them.