Clarification: This post has no relation to the book “The Bridge Across Forever” by Richard Bach. I haven’t even read the said book. This piece was written by me for a creative writing competition in IIT KGP.
July 7, 1944, 2300 h
We had been here for the past two days. Two days after Normandy, where the allied forces had taken the worst beating of the war. After wading through blood and limb on the beach, camping at night in the safety of an abandoned church, and writing by the relative comfort of a candle should have seemed like a walk in Piccadilly Circus.
But we knew it wouldn’t last. You weren’t sent out to war, and told to camp out next to a bridge unless it was vitally important. And you didn’t stand guard by a vital installation and not expect the Germans to attack. They would attack. It was just a question of when.
July 8, 1944, 0200 h
The incessant chatter of the captain’s radio told me all I needed to know. It was time. He looked at me from across the room and mouthed ‘1 hour’. Well, that just about gave us time to do what we needed to do. I raised myself and started preparing my kit. Next to me, Tommy started furiously penning a letter. To his sister? To his fiance? There were just too many people to say goodbye to.
I walked around and watched 19 year olds perform the last human acts they would ever do. They looked up at me as I passed them. I smiled reassuringly. But they knew there was no hope. Not with a division of Panzer tanks waiting to roll over us. They could see it in my eyes.
War was unfair.
The captain was smoking a cigarette outside the church when I found him. “You could get shot, sir”. ” I damn well could, Sargent”. He smiled and passed me the cigarette. I took a long puff and let the smoke fill my lungs.
July 8, 1944, 0300 h
The shelling started promptly at 0300h. The Germans had always been punctual. I admired them for that. At least we didn’t have to wait around anymore.
The first salvo took out a section of the church wall, and with a quarter of my platoon. As I ran past, I saw the letter Tommy had been writing clutched in his now lifeless fingers. I pried it from him, folded it neatly, and put it in my inside pocket. Something for after the war.
I cocked my rifle and ran out.
July 8, 1944, 0320 h
We had held the Germans so far. They hadn’t sent in the Panzers yet, and one-to-one my men were a much better shot. I could see the captain across the road, as I crouched behind a mound of rubble, shouting instructions and organizing what was left of the men. He never seemed to lose it.
I wouldn’t have fought for anyone else.
Two minutes later, as I ran towards him under covering fire, he was shot in the throat.
July 8, 1944, 0330 h
The Germans on the other side of the bridge had been silent for the past minute or two. It was a bad sign. It meant they were rolling out something big.
We didn’t have to wait long to find out what it was. All of us heard the sound of the Panzer rolling onto the bridge almost simultaneously. There is something about the sound of gravel being crushed under the weight of tons of monstrous machinery that’s hard to miss.
For an infantryman, a tank is his worst nightmare. Machine gun nests and mortars can be taken and destroyed. But in an infantryman’s dictionary, a tank is the definition of unsurmountable.
I looked around and saw the men looking at me. I stared back.
Well, better now than never, I said to myself, threw down my rifle, and ran.
I don’t know whether it was the cover of night, or the fact that they didn’t believe anyone was foolish enough to run towards a Panzer in full flight, but they never saw me coming. I pulled out the pins of two grenades as I jumped onto the tank. The hatch was open. I thanked my lucky stars, popped in the grenades and shut the hatch firmly.
As I jumped off, I felt rather than heard the explosion that ripped the tank apart.
Sometime later (it’s hard to keep track of time when you are half dead and under a pile of rubble), I woke, pushed a rock aside from what was left of my leg, and tried to stand. I gave up that thought as soon as the pain shot through me.
I wouldn’t be standing again for a very long time.
The mangled remains of the tank lay beside me, blocking the bridge. My thoughts drifted to the poor souls inside the tank, and then immediately back to my safety as I heard the rumble behind me. The Germans had finally mobilized another tank. I grabbed a pistol from a nearby dead body, and lay in wait.
I heard the first explosions behind me pretty soon. Another wave of pain shot through me and I grew groggier. Maybe I had lost too much blood. Through the mist that was slowly clouding my thoughts, I vaguely made out that something was not right. The rumble behind me was coming up too fast. Or maybe it was just my imagination. Then came the second round of explosions, and that knocked the fight out of me.
The last thing I remember seeing was the plane flying over my head.
It had the Allied insignia on it.
I clutched at my inside pocket. Tommy’s letter was still there.
Something for after the war.
I smiled and passed out.