CHAPTER THIRTEEN Heidemann Makes a Hero
8th June 1918
The story spread through the Jasta like wildfire. By the time Stachel came to file his report I already knew all the details.
Three aerostats lined up in a row on the Entente front line. Ground crews spotted the DVII's and started cranking the balloons down. Stachel shot down all three with a viscous low-level pass. As he pulled out a single Spad made a steep slant towards him and Stachel blew it to bits with a single burst. A second Spad came in from the side but Stachel made an aggressive chandelle to gain advantage and the Spad smashed into a tree while running away.
Stachel came straight to my desk from the airfield so I was surprised when I caught a whiff of alcohol on his breath. This explained what the rubber hose Ziegel found under his seat was for.
Later that night in the Officer’s Mess, Urlich was quietly playing chess against himself. He lost his best friend Mueller on that balloon run. Everyone stayed clear of him. Stachel took no notice as he staggered up to the bar and placed himself snuggly between Kettering and Ziegel. He insisted that Kettering spell out something in English for him. Kettering took a pencil and worked it out.
“Well it’s two words, but it’s nasty. The first one is four letters and starts with the letter “F”, the second is three letters……”
Stachel turned to Ziegel, handed him the paper and told him he had the Hauptmann’s approval to have his DVII painted all black, but asked that these English words be painted on the top wing and he needed it done by 10 a.m. the next day. He also insisted that I be there to take a picture. He is such an ass.
The next day, I had an appointment with Stachel on the stone bridge. I took my bike, stashed the bottles in the basket and covered them with a grain sack. When I got to the bridge Stachel was in fine form. He panicked when I told him the supply in town was running low. Then he blew up when I told him I was raising my fee to 25% of the total. I knew he would pay, so I ignored him and headed back down the road. I passed a group of French school kids on my way back.
I laughed out loud wondering how “the Cobra” would deal with them when they reached the bridge. I feared the worst when I heard the splash and the screams. I was sure he had thrown one over the side. I figured I better get back to make sure no one died.
When I got to the bridge, Stachel was nowhere in sight. His coat was thrown to one side and all the children were pointing towards the water. For a few seconds it was silent, but then Stachel burst to the surface gasping for air and pulling the young girl to the edge of the creek. He dropped her there pale and limp while he fell on all fours retching. I dropped my coat on his shoulders and started pounding on her back. She coughed, gulped for air and started to shiver uncontrollably.
As I carried her out, I told Stachel that he surprised me with his bravery. He told me to go to hell and get him some more Cognac while I was in town. I ignored him and carried the young girl back home to her family. Stachel may be an ass to the rest of us, but to this family, he was a hero.
Heidemann had strict orders about informing him when we tangled with the locals. I did not want to mess up my business arrangement with Stachel, so I kept quiet about the event.
Unfortunately, that approach was blown when half the French village showed up at the office the next day to see Heidemann and give the pilot who saved their daughter some flowers. When he realized I was aware of the incident and knew Stachel was involved, Heidemann was irate. Worse than that he made me roust a hungover Stachel to receive the flowers. Once they left, Heidemann asked for a copy of my picture of Stachel in front of his newly painted black aircraft. When he asked me to deliver it along with a letter to a friend of his that was a newspaperman, I knew something was up.
Heidemann was doing his best to make Stachel a hero. It didn’t take long for the story to hit the local papers.