Reunion part 2 Christmas story 2011 - 2
After Werner finished eating, the men lit a smoke.
Jim opened the beer bottles with his pocketknife and asked: "How did you actually get to join that club?"
Well at least you survived the war, but how did you do after ?
And that injured sergeant of yours, what was his name again, Schumacher ?".
"Schumann", Werner corrected him. "well Schumann was taken to hospital straight away.
He recovered fairly well, but he kept a limp when walking and after the war he received a small veteran pension and I heard he relocated to Oldenburg or Kloppenburg or so".
Than Werner sighs a deep sigh before he told Jim that it has not been the best of times for him.
After 'Bastogne' he got injured here in the Eiffel area and was taken prisoner.
In itself not unlucky, for it saved him from the 'total war' during the final months of war as well as from the 'eastern front'
After the war he returned to Chemnitz, by then renamed Karl Marx Stadt.
He there re-joined his mother in law and daughter Ilona, the only two survivors.
His wife Anna had gone to her parents in Dresden for Christmas '44 and had stayed there.
But in February '45 Dresden was bombed by the allied and his wife, eldest daughter and father in law had died in the bombing.
Werner cleared his throat, stopped, cleared his throat again. Jim kept silent. He saw the pain in Werner's face.
After a brief interval he continued his account.
The Dresden house was destroyed and Grandma and Ilona moved to his home in Chemnitz.
About a year after Werner returned his mother in law died of grief.
Werner meanwhile had turned back to teaching. It was a time of 'everyone helps everyone' and Ilona was often looked after by the neighbours.
Until one day he met an old girlfriend from university, Christine.
She lost her husband in the war and they decided to go live together; Ilona and he, with Christine and her son Dirk.
After the German Democratic Republic, in short 'GDR' had been founded in 1949, under 'the wings' of the Soviet Union, the real changes started.
And some time after the Berlin Wall was erected in 1961, Ilona and her husband Bernd Bergholz fled to the west.
Werner seemed to remember that he had relatives in the Trier area.
By chance, in 1954, he met his old commandant, Hauptman (captain) Franken.
Franken had already been working in the DKW motorbike factory in Zschopau long before the war, where after the war the MZ Motorbikes were built.
He offered Werner a job in the sport-development department of MZ where he got involved in developing and testing competition bikes.
Later he got a more organizational/commercial job, partly because he could speak English, since there was ever growing interest from Europe. Especially from the UK.
He would normally never be allowed to leave the GDR.
But because they were a few officials short for the competition in December, he got the opportunity to go to Germany.
Although he joined 'the party' - at the advice of Franken, in order to get the job at MZ's - its ideology never appealed to him, and now started to put him off more and more.
Not that he discussed that with Christine or her son; they had become confirmed followers of the GDR-doctrine.
Dirk even volunteered for the 'border security unit' of the GDR and constantly displayed his contempt for Ilona's and Bernd's 'betrayal'.
So in the end there was nothing to keep Werner in the GDR...
And so here he was, in a hunter's shed in the Eifel.
""And you, Jim ? How have you been ?
You speak German now, and we meet just like that in the middle of the Eifel.
And what is you connection with enduro sports ?" Werner asked.
"Well..." Jim said, "a bit bizarre, actually.
I had never expected to find you here, but when I heard that 'the fugitive' could possibly be hiding in this area, I immediately thought of this shed.
You see, I've been here before with a friend of mine who is a bird watcher.
I gathered that you had not been caught yet, and although it was not my business at all, it was as if something made me check out this place.
Very strange actually".
Jim then tells that he lives in this part of Germany.
After the war he stayed in the US army in Germany to help rebuild the country and protect it from opportunistic forces, as he called them.
After a while he had become quartermaster in the army, and when he met a German beauty, Brigitta, he married her.
He then left the army and - with a modest financial support from his dad in the USA - set up a military dump shop.
At first selling used USA army equipment and clothes, later also Biker gear and finally - he could not deny his biker-blood - also motorbikes.
Thanks to his 'contacts' in the 'biker-world' he was asked to be the quartermaster for the USA-team of which his son happens to be a member too.
"Ahaa... "Werner said, "now I get it".
"Huh..?", Jim said wit great question marks in his eyes.
"Yes, I see now. So that's your son..." Werner felt he had to explain a little.
"You see, I saw this young rider of the American team, who reminded me so much of someone, but I just couldn't not think who.
But now It's clear to me, Vernon is your son, your spitting image...".
"Vernon ? Well no, that's not my sons name “, Jim said.
"Not ?", Werner looked surprised, "but the boy who looks so much like you is called 'Vern' by everyone, surely that's short for Vernon ?"
"Ahaa, now I get it", Jim said in turn. "Well, it is not really 'Vern', but 'Wern' with a 'W'.
Of course you hardly hear the difference, but ‘Wern’ is short for Werner, that's his name.
Well, pronounced the English way of course".
"What a coincidence" Werner said laughing "Would that be the name of your wife's father perhaps? Has he been named after him ?".
"Well no", Jim said, "he hasn't been named after anyone. Not family anyway".
Then Jim explained, "In the war I met a bloke called Werner. A German soldier and fellow biker.
Due to circumstances I spent a very memorable Christmas eve and -night with this Werner and his wounded mate.
In the middle of the war. On the battlefield as it were. A really great guy!
But... ", he continued casually. "my son's second name is James of course.
I am not modest enough not to give him my own name too;
Werner James Carpenter, that's his full name. 'Wern' or 'Vern' if you will, to friends".
It slowly dawned on Werner what Jim was actually saying.
"Good God", he almost whispered, "named after me. You named your boy after me.
You have no idea how honoured...". He kept silent.
Jim saw how the news affected his companion so he lit another smoke and kept silent too...
After a while he said, ""You know, that was exactly 25 years ago... Bastogne I mean".
"Indeed it was", Werner replied, "Now that you mention it, that was 25 years to the day that we met, wasn't it? I say that is a true miracle.
Or… no... Hang on. Not to the day... It was Christmas eve back in 1944, the 24-th.
Today is the 23-rd, so that's a miss by one day !
Jim started to grin, "well some miracle that is. These miracles are just not what they used to be back then, are they?" They both started laughing.
"Still", he said, again serious, "it still is as if it was meant to be...
Then and now... to me it does feel a bit mystical...".
The light of the torch had faded somewhat.
Jim told Werner how he saw the GDR crew trying to recover the 500.
He told Werner that it may have been some miles away, and he heard them say that they would continue the search tomorrow because of the dark, but it was about time to leave.
"How is the leg ? Can you walk at all ? The bike is about 2 kilometres from here. You think you can make it ?"
Werner tried to stand up. He looked painful. "I think so, if I can lean on you every now and then.
And it won't go fast".
"OK, easy does it then. Don't overdo it. We still got time. As long as we are back home before daylight", Jim said.
They set off. Werner limping and toddling, Jim supporting Werner as best he can.
After about 2 hours they reached the Triumph. Jim started the engine.
He only has a single seat so Werner had to sit on the little luggage rack.
And here were no footrest for the passenger either.
They didn't go fast, and once or twice they had to get back on the bike after a skid... but in the end they made it safely 'home'. And well before daylight.
Vern woke up by the sound of the Triumph, followed by clunking and thumping at the door.
When he got home he could not find his dad anywhere and he noticed that his bike was gone too.
Because he worried a bit, he took the car and started a search in the area. But it appeared pointless so he went back laid on the bed and fell asleep.
The door swung open and his dad came in, supporting a man of roughly the same age.
When he noticed that their guest could hardly stand on his feet, Vern grabbed a chair and literally shoved it under the man's bum. The man sat down with a sigh.
"Is that him ?", Vern asked in disbelief, "how did you know where...?".
'Yep", his dad said radiating, "but that's not all, just wait till I tell you who this is...
But do check first if all curtains are completely shut so no one can peek in".
The frozen men started to take off their gear.
Vern poked up the little coal-stove to dangerous heights while he made a pot of coffee.
Although the men were not far from exhaustion, they told the whole story to Vern while enjoying a big mug of coffee.
Vern was quite impressed to meet the man that he was named after. He knew how he got his name.
And it was a very special moment for all when his dad sad to Werner sr: "Werner, please meet Werner" and the same to Vern: "Werner, please meet Werner".
Tonight in the big hall there was the Christmas dinner for the whole US-team, plus a lot of German invitees. Relations of Jim himself, relations of Brigitta...
Jim and Werner woke up fairly late and first took off to the nearest police station where Werner reported himself.
The poor duty-officer had no idea how to handle something like this and he called 'here and there' for instructions.
Finally he got through to an inspector at head-office who told the officer what he should take down from Werner, and to keep Werner’s passport.
If anyone could vouch for his accommodation, he could go where he wanted, but he had to report to the inspector at head-office after Christmas.
Of course Jim did vouch for him and so the men returned to the bungalow.
Halfway the dirt-road to the encampment a Wartburg was blocking the way. Jim halted.
A man appeared from behind the car with a pistol in his hand.
"Breitheim the Stasi", Werner said, turning pale, "Oh, and Flack is here too" he added when a second man appeared behind Breitheim. This man's face was black and blue.
"News travels fast", Jim said calmly, "I totally forgot about these clowns".
Breitheim waved his gun, "leave the car", he snapped. They got out.
"I'd say that you just changed your mind, Herr Mayer, you just decided to come along with us, didn't you?".
Werner's face was now 'ash-grey'.
Jim stepped between him and Breitheim and said calmly: "you were not planning to shoot an American citizen, were you?"
Flack nervously stepped back a few paces. Breitheim hesitated for a second, then he aimed the pistol saying: "if need be !".
Jim was considering whether he meant what he said or whether Breitheim was as big a 'bluffer' as he was himself, when a two-stroke engine came alive in the bushes.
And before anyone could blink an eye, a motorbike came 'jumping on its rear-wheel' from an animal's trail of sorts.
It hit Breitheim, who got thrown to the ground, while his pistol flew through the air.
Jim jumped at it, and caught it even before it hit the ground.
Werner could not help laughing.
This was typical for the Jim he knew from Bastogne; ... that 'cat-like' reaction...
Now that the tables had turned, the two Stasi agents disappeared with their tails between their legs.
"How did you know..." Jim asked Vern. It was he who acted as 'interfering cavalry' on his BSA Bantam 175. "They came 'snooping' in our camp, looking for Werner, I suspect.
So I followed them. Did not trust them a bit!".
"Great action son", Jim said "well done !".
The rest of the afternoon Jim was occupied with his tasks, assisted by Werner who helped out with some practical things.
Jim had taken Vern aside, because he did not want Werner to hear, and asked him to do something for him. Vern started to smile and said: "OK, I'll ask a few of my German friends to help me.
It just might work", and he left in the car.
The story had by now reached almost everyone in the US camp, and many came by to congratulate the 'fugitive', an acquaintance of Jim, no less.
At night the hall had been decorated very 'Christmassy"
There were several decorated Christmas trees and other decorations.
Christmas songs sounded from loudspeakers.
When people sat down for the Christmas diner, everybody knew the story of Jim and Werner, including the 'miracle of Bastogne’.
Where normally all that would be talked about at events like this is motorbikes and competition, now talks were mainly about what happened today.
Before dinner was served, Jim tapped his glass, asking for silence.
Werner, who sat opposite Jim, made a gesture to Jim at Vern’s empty chair.
"Vern is not here yet, where is he ?"
"Well", Jim said, "he's doing a little something for me, he'll be here in a minute".
Werner then pointed at some empty chairs to his right, "who else are you expecting still, these chairs are empty too"
"Friends of Vern, they'll be here with him", Jim said, and he added smiling secretly, "you'll see, Werner, you'll see".
He tapped his class again. Though he wasn't really good at speeches, he said some words of welcome and gave a short account of the past 3 days.
Of course, highlight for him personally was the unexpected reunion with Werner.
"But...", he said, "this celebration means nothing as long as these chairs are still empty.
And that's why I invited the following people for the chairs next to Werner".
He pointed at the door which opened, and a young couple came in with a girl of about three years on her father's arm.
Werner stared surprized at the door. Tears came to his eyes...
Jim continued: "Please welcome Werner’s daughter Ilona, his granddaughter Anna and his son in law Bernd".
Cheering and applauding sounded from the 'crowd'.
Everyone felt sympathy for Werner's situation.
Werner greeted his loved ones extensively. Especially his granddaughter, whom he'd never seen before. "Anna", he said clearly moved: "we have an Anna again...".
Vern took his place next to his father, a broad grin on his face.
"So simple Dad... a family name, a phonebook, a few calls here and there and you have a reunion you'll never forget...
Merry Christmas, old man... !
Back to part 1.