"I gotta tell ya," said the old guy as I took my stoolhe was talking to another gentleman to his right. "I keep telling ya, I had it made over there."
"You keep saying that," said the other old guy, who like the first old guy was in his seventies, wearing decent if outmoded casual wear, the smell of a few hours worth of cigarette smoke hanging off of them. "You never give up on that,"
"But those were really good days," the first old guy said, louder now. "Not like today with all the crap we have to do. I mean, I was making real good back in Germany, like a bandit."
"Yeah, Germany," the other guy agreed.
"I mean, in the 50s, now that was a time, I tell you. I really made out over there."
"So what unit were you stationed with?" I asked the first old guy.
The shock that went through his face, seeing a new person there hed never spoken to, asking him something he was sure hed never told me; I live for such moments.
"Howhowd you know I was in the Army?" he asked.
I proceeded to explain. "An American in Germany in the 1950sthe chance of your being there with anyone but the United States Army is rather small, no greater than fifteen percent, really."
"Damn!" He slapped his hand down on the bar. He asked Mike the bartender for another and told him my next round was on him. The bennies of cold hard logic .
"So which unit did you serve with?" I asked him again.
"Well, young man," he said as he brought his head up from a stoop to a pitched yawl, "I was actually with the MPs over there, so I was pretty much throughout the American sector. Didnt see a lot of Berlin, but I was all over, Munich, Frankfort, a lot of places."
I just nodded as Mike gave me my pint and I let the old guy go on.
"Boy, I tell you," he went on, "it was a gold mine back then. And the stuff I got to do . I did a lot of things then, just raising hell and getting my kicks."
"A lot of hell," said the other guy, bored from having heard this too many times.
"You must have done some good, too," I said.
"What do you mean, some good?" the first guy asked.
"I mean, was it all just fun and games? There must have been something you did that was important." If theres anything I hate to see, its an old man getting progressively drunk in so sloppy a manner as he was; I thought a little sense of duty might prop him up a bit before he got really ribald.
He nodded slowly. "There were the Jungenbunders," he said with a cold stare.
I nearly spilled my pint. "The Jungenbunders," I repeated.
"Thats the weird part, yeah, but I went up against em."
The other guy started to realize through the haze of his earlier beers what had just been said and challenged, "But you said, you said you were in Germany in the 50s. The goddamned war was over by then."
The first guy nodded. "Yeah, thats what I thought, and except for them the rest of the Germans knew we kicked their asses good. But these guys didnt know to just stay the hell down."
"Do tell," I noted as I took another swig.
"You look too smart to be agreeing with him," said the other guy to me. "Youre just humoring him, right?"
"Hey, it was the truth," said the first guy. "I remember it like it was yesterday. April 19, 1953, midnight. I was in Munich, in rotation down in Southern. We used to"
"Wait, wait," said the other guy. "Do you even know what a Jungenbunder is?" he asked me.
"Hey," he said to the other guy, "my story, mine, all right, goddammit? Anyway," he turned back to me, "April of 53, and it was a real bad night then. We was doing all the stuff we were sent to do, and that included making sure there was no fraternization with the locals in an unbecoming way." He gave an exaggerated wink that by this time in his life looked a little pathetic.
I just smiled with a sneer and let him go on.
"Anyway, we got word that there was an off-base party going on at a beer garden, and that there was going to be a little too much action. Now, we used to have it back then, if you were going to drop trow off base, you didnt let the COs get wind of it unless they were invited, which was stupid because enlisted never liked COs, so who was going to invite them? But when they found out about it, and because thered been no invitation, they just called us in to keep em off the locals. Me, if I got there and it wasnt all that bad, I mightve given em a warning and say they walked away before we got there, if there was something in it for me, yknow, cause thats how it was the way to make it over there."
"So you said earlier," I agreed as I hit the half point on my pint.
"So we get there, the rest of my squad, a good bunch of guys, and its too late. I dont know why, maybe the frauleins got bored with them, maybe we got the wrong address, who knows. But the place is quiet, and theres no one there when we come in. Lights are all out and no ones singing. Only thing thats there are a few guys in the corner, so we go over to make sure it aint the GIs we were sent to get."
He paused long enough for Mike to get him another while I got a second pint.
"So we get closer to them, and what do I see but all these young guys, almost kids they were so young, with close haircuts and brown shirts. I see they all got those damn red armbands with swastikas on em, and theres one of them at the head of the table there, and hes going off in German with like, Habt der Geist fur die Kampf? and all that other running around, and I said, standing up tall, So what are you doing here, closing down the beer hall? and that didnt go so well."
"Hey," said the other guy, "like, you were going to what, arrest them?"
"Back then, the Germans didnt mind it that much, because if we did some of it for them it was one less dirty job they had to do themselves. I used to run in drunks if I was on patrol, and the German cops would thank me, offer a few things in trade. Got a lot of beer and marzipan that way; did I tell you about how I got a Mauser from one policeman?"
"The guys in the beer garden," I reminded the old guy.
"Yeah, sorry, yeah, the beer garden. So they get up and start shouting German at me, and I just stand there waiting to let them finish, and when they do, I bark out the one real German phrase I know well, Essen Sheit du Erschopfen! and I barked it real good to get them to scatter."
"Which they dont," I nudge him along.
"Hell no. One of then goes for the bench and lifts it and starts swinging, and a few of them start getting up and hitting us. They had us outnumbered about three to one, the bastards, but we had our edge, because we were carrying. Even today, they dont really carry over there, and we had Colts, a good heavy feel when they kicked back."
"Aw, Jesus, you just pulled and fired?" asked the other guy.
"We didnt do that at first, cause we were whacking them pretty good ourselves, and we got them into a corner, pushing them back, right into the shadows. But these kids, they just got nastier when their backs were to the wall, and they started to come harder on us. We had our nightsticks out then, and we just whaled on em, making their heads go splat like melons, because thats part of what we had to do then, you know? It was still illegal to have people doing shit like that in Germany, and the Allies could make the Germans stop it and round them up for it."
"Which the Germans still do to themselves," I said. "Been against the law ever since 1955 to bring back the bad old days over there."
"Good, good for them," the old guy said as he raised a glass in half-toast before he continued. "So the Jungenbunders, they get beat up, they go back into the shadows, and we think its time to really give it to them, and they just come back out of the shadows trying harder than before. One of them even lifted a whole damn table over his head and started using it like a club, and thats when I pulled and fired."
I just nodded as I sipped, watching his eyes get far away briefly as he recalled the recoil of his gun.
"We got one of them, and he was bleeding pretty bad, but the rest of them just ran back into the shadows. They just blended in to the darkness, and damned if I knew how they got out of the corner of that beer garden, because we went over it again and again and couldnt find any way out of there."
"Just disappeared into the shadows," I noted.
"You talk like you know something about the Jungenbunders," the other guy said to me. "What do you know about them?"
"Special corps of the Hitler Youth," I replied as I looked at what was left of my pint. "Particularly fanatical, special part of the ceremonies every year at Nuremberg party rallies, first come to prominence during Krystalnacht, served at last line defenders on German soil during 45. Nasty little deluded brats."
"Hey, the man knows," said the first old guy. "You must really know and study all about the past, right? Youre what, a historian?"
"All happened in the past," said the other guy. "Bunch of kids, following all that evil crap. The past just doesnt die for some people."
"Certainly not," I said as I pulled out from my bag that days Times. "They just keep coming back, again and again." I showed them an article, a piece in the international section about right-wingers in Dresden protesting the arrest of neo-Nazis held for murder after a Turkish family was firebombed in their home. "Miserable little"
"Hey, hey!" said the first old guy with a little tremble. He pointed to the picture with the article, that showed some kids protesting. "Thats them!"
"What, who?" asked the other guy.
"I know him! I shot that son of a bitch the first time! I swear its him!"
"Cant be," said the other guy. "Germans must all look alike, right? Blonde, funny noses, maybe its his relative, yknow?" He turned to me and said, "Whats the chances its the same guy, right? Thatd be nuts."
In response, I pulled from my bag a book on the Nazis I had gotten from the library earlier, riffed through it to a picture I remembered. April 20, 1945, and Hitler is pinning medals on the chests of members of the Jungenbunders that had been defending Berlin. Third one from the left had the same face as the kid in the Times picture waving the Kriegsmarine flag.
I put the two pictures side by side on the bar. The other guy gave a low whistle, and the first old guy started getting those really hard shakes you get from bad news and sudden revelations.
It was my turn to buy the round; it was the least I could do for him after that.
James Ryan has been on the verge of actually being recognized as a writer in the past; who knows, someday it may happen.... His work has appeared in such places as Dragon magazine, Lacunae, the Urbanite, the New York Times, and some of the better men's room walls across the state of New York. Until he gets the chance to follow the program for disenfranchised neurotic writers, he's doing the regular job and grad school schtick. His wife Susan and son Jamie just nod and smile when he starts to rant, which, all said, makes things that much easier.