The Retiree: May 21, 2014


Memorial Day usually prompts me to get serious. I'm a benefactor of the actions of those who didn't make it through battle, having been in the National Guard during peacetime. But I've heard a number of stories from survivors that hold me in awe, and I'd like to pass on one I heard from Veronika, a friend who permitted me to write her story for my book of that name.
Siegfried was Veronika's father. He'd been in the Latvian Army when the family lived there before World War II. When Veronika was small, they moved to Poland to avoid the Russians who had taken over Latvia. Siegfried expected to be exempt from service in any other army. When Germany took Poland, things changed. Siegfried was drafted into Hitler's army. Because of his experience in languages, he was given a post monitoring radio broadcasts. He was eventually assigned to a Romanian town with another soldier, to report what they heard.
Veronika had an uncle Julius, who was also conscripted. He was captured by the Russians and sent to a prison camp. At the end of the war, Russia simply let the prisoners go. Julius remarkably made his way back to the family's relatives in Schweinfurt, Germany. He was suffering mentally from his experiences in the war, as many were. Somehow he located the family, and spent half a year simply sitting and staring out of the window. Eventually he recovered enough to return to civilian life and work again, but his recovery was slow and who knows what went through his tortured mind during that time.
Russia convinced the King of Romania that his country was on the wrong side of history. Romania had been an ally of Germany, and allowed their troops access to places such as the post Siegfried and his fellow soldier occupied. There they were, Germans in what suddenly had become Russian territory. They had to run for their lives, and head for the border.
On their hurried way, Siegfried remembered equipment the two had left behind. He knew that it should have been destroyed, to keep it out of the hands of the enemy. He went back to town to complete the mission by destroying their equipment. His partner kept going, and presumably got out of the country before Russian troops took over.
Siegfried didn't make it. On his return to the town, he was captured. His captors realized the job the two had been doing amounted to spying.
Spies were shot.
We remember those who fell in defense of our country on Memorial Day. Let's do that. But let's also give a thought to those who became soldiers not by choice, but were conscripted; who—right or wrong—fell defending their homeland; who did what they had to do.
Veronika has childhood memories and a single emblem from a Latvian army uniform. She has nothing else to remind her of her father.