When I was sixteen, I worked on the construction of a very large house. The carpenter and I always sat on the unfinished second floor to eat our lunch. It had a beautiful view of the mountains, the forest and the sea. I always sat far away from the carpenter. He was German and his name was Adolph. My actions were automatic. From the alleyways of Houston, Texas, to the streets of Baton Rouge, Louisiana; my childhood was filled with stereotypes of this vicious enemy. I remember the day Adolph sat next to me. He smiled and his eyes twinkled. I noticed that he had two dimples. One on each cheek. I stared at them. Adolph said he was inducted into the German army when he was eighteen. Adolph awoke in a trench, stretched his body and yawned. A Russian sniper put a bullet through his cheeks. A few millimeters higher or lower and he would have killed Adolph. Adolph's companions abandoned their position and continued to fight in the forest. They were ambushed. Adolph was shot in the leg and his bone was shattered. He said the wind was bitter cold and wolves howled in the forest. The Germans fled back to the trench and abandoned Adolph. A Russian soldier carried him to the German trench. I listened to his story and my heart began to soften. I felt my mind expand. A few years later, I drank a bottle of wine with a Yugoslavian neighbor. I talked about friend, a lady who lived in Poland. I mentioned her town and his eyes became wet. He said he fought the Germans when he was seventeen. In Poland, he was shot in the leg. His companions left him to die. A German soldier carried him to a Polish farm house. He said he was nursed by a young woman whose face he never forgot. A few years later, I was delivering mail and a man called out to me from his house. I went into his yard to talk to him. He said my hat was the same as the one he had in Viet Nam. He took it and shaped it in the military style. He rolled a perfect cigarette for me. He said he was inducted into the army when he was eighteen and sent to Viet Nam. We sat on his patio and talked. A house across the street was being demolished and one of the walls fell. It made a loud bang. My companion threw himself on top of me. We were under the table before the echo died. If we were twenty-five thousand kilometers to the west, thirty years earlier, he would have saved my life. War stories. I mentioned them to introduce the book, Iron Coffins. It was written by a u-boat Commander, who now lives in Florida. It clearly illustrates war. War is a spirit that comes on a wind. A wind that blows across time and tries the souls of men. War is universal. The details of war horrify us and the strategies of war fascinate us. We study the history of war and learn nothing. Individuals hold the real teachings. I chose Werner's book for this reason. His story is clearly written. The viewpoint of the author is unique and valuable. He rhythmically shifts his focus from the sea to the progressive ruin of Europe and the disintegration of Germany. Many war stories attempt to demonstrate the futility of war. Werner accomplishes this with no embellishments. The real story is how the Commander copes with circumstance and responsibility. I think the book is philosophical and emotional. But it is honest and clear. We can learn much from a story like this. Mariners are a special breed. The sailors of the Kriegsmarine were extraordinary mariners.
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