CHAPTER TWENTY - The Yanks and the Lucky break
21st September 1918
The crossing at Riqueval Bridge gets more difficult every day. There are rumors that a combined force of Australian, English and American troops are preparing an attack to get across the canal.
In the past the American “threat” has not meant much, but now they are really here. America brings what feels like an unlimited supply of weapons, men and optimism and it is turning the tide against us in this endless war.
A few weeks ago the Americans had their first major test when they attacked St. Mihiel not too far south of here. We heard they failed but while scavenging a crash site I found a French newspaper that told a very different story.
The inexperienced American soldier had been the least of our worries….until now.
My “lucky break” finally came yesterday. All week we had been relocating our dressing station further east, anticipating the possibility that Nauroy would be overrun in the attack. I got called back to the Tunnel towards the end of the day. An enemy two seater had crashed close to the south entrance just across from the Riqueval bridge. My Hauptmann thought it was time for some entertainment.
“Rupp, why don’t you head over there and see what you can find. Some good crash photos might improve the moral of the troops.”
It was madness to approach the site in daylight, a sure way to get killed but I believe that might be what my Hauptmann had in mind.
It was a French Breguet two seater set up for doing recon work and it was a bizarre scene. Both men were dead. The pilot was a mangled mess of flesh, wood and canvas while the navigator was thrown clear lying peacefully untouched on the ground. He was about my size and wore the French uniform, but he had a Lafayette Flying Corps pin. He was an American! Most of them flew with the LaFayette Escadrille, but a few who came here early chose to stay with their French squadrons. I found his ID and identity tag. His name was Jack Nichols and he was from California. I stripped him and packed up the gear. I dragged his body to the canal edge and rolled him in.
This “kill” would be recorded as one dead and one missing-in-action.
I was able to salvage some of the recon film for my Hauptmann so he would be satisfied that I was doing my job. It also gave me an excuse to head straight to the dark room when I got back and lock the door behind me.
I put on the uniform and took a suitably sour looking self-portrait. Once the picture was developed it was not a big trick to replace the photo on the id. Next to pornography, forgery was one of my best talents. I packed it all together with the uniform of the unfortunate American and carefully wrapped it in a burlap sack.
Just before dawn, I dropped the films off and headed over to Nauroy. With the dressing station moved, the old church was deserted. I climbed the rickety metal stair and stashed the package in what was left of the belfry.
Now all I needed was for the Americans to do their part.