It wasn’t much of a bright day today. The sun didn’t show up as it usually did. I was on this truck along with other recruits, about nine boys and three girls. It seems like they’re just like me: drafted. I looked towards the back of the truck to only find myself moving further away from home. It was probably only about three minutes since I got on board, but it felt like an hour already. I can’t help myself but starting wondering about Elsa. However, a short moment later, the boy sitting in front suddenly spoke. I was startled by him. Apparently he was taking a nap as I thought he was sitting there daydreaming like me. I didn’t understand what said with his low voice so I ignored him. The thing is, he was mumbling through the whole trip......I don’t know how long I can handle that.
In about an hour later, we finally exited Anhalt. I supposed it was still far away from our destination so I figured that I rest for a short while, clear my mind until we get there. Before I shut my eyes though, I overheard the driver’s conversation.
“Did you hear the news from yesterday?” (Driver)
“Yeah, they hit Sachson right.” (Soldier)
“Not just that, they actually took out a train too.” (Driver)
“A train? Any casualties?” (Soldier)
“Fifteen dead and more than forty wounded.” (Driver)
“Wow, who knew they’d strike so quickly?”” (Soldier)
“Yeah, those Russians don’t waste any time, especially with the Hoffmans” (Driver)
“What’s with the Hoffmans and the Russians?” (Soldier)
“To be honest with you, I’m not too sure about their history, but I’d advise you to just keep your nose at where it is.” (Driver)
“Alright alright.” (Soldier)
It appears that the Russians took the initiative and struck first. Would I soon be part of the battle? I don’t even want to know, not until I know where I’m headed right now. As I turned my head back, the boy, or rather man in front of suddenly spoke again and it was directed towards me.
“Hey. You’re drafted?” he asked.
“Yes.” I replied.
“Looks like we’re all the same here.” he said as he sat up and let out a sigh. He then raised his right hand towards as he told me his name. “I’m Conner Deagon.”
I met his hand with my own to give him a firm handshake as I replied, “Robert Kastner.”
Apparently, Conner knew quite a few people on board this truck. Sitting next to me on the left was Herrick Fischer, who was toolmaker. On the right was Anna, Anna Holschmidt, a student nurse working at the Hospital of Anhalt. Next to Conner were Heinrich Werner and Gisela Schmid. Heinrich was watchmaker, who worked in his parents’ shop. Gisela was a college student studying at the University of Anhalt, but was unfortunately drafted. It was quite a diverse group people that have ever met in such a short while. They were friendly as we spoke to each other and got along rather quickly. As we chatted, the surroundings passed by unnoticed. Soon, we reached the training camp.
The truck stopped in front of a checkpoint with about six to eight soldiers. After
the soldier in the front finished speaking with the driver, the gates opened and we continued on. The camp was very large in size: there were many buildings in the camp itself. Without much time to take a quick view, the truck stopped and the two soldiers from the front of the truck opened the rear door of the truck to let us off. As we go off, another soldier was waiting, ordering us to stand in line with a total of three rows. I didn’t know what was going on, but I followed the majority of the people, standing in line with the same people I was on board the truck with. I was standing in the front row on the fourth spot on the left next to Herrick and Anna. A soldier soon walked up in front of the lined up recruits.
“Attention!” the soldier yelled. All of the sudden, the people around me stood firm and still; and so I followed. Another soldier walked up next the other soldier and ordered him to leave. He then turned to us, moving his eyes left and right as if he was attempting to recognize every single one of us. After a few seconds, he held up a book, a thin black book and began to call out names. As I observed him, every time he called a name, a response of “Sir!” followed it. And so when my name was called, I gave the same response. He soon finished reading all the names and closed the book. He placed the book down to near his legs and began to speak to us.
“As you all may know that Germany is now in war with Russia and yesterday the Russians attacked Sachson, destroying a civilian train in the process inflicting more than fifty civilian casualties. All of you are brought here today to prepare yourselves for the war. I, Sergeant Schwarze, will be your instructor over the course of these weeks and perhaps even months. Keep one thing in mind at all times: this is the army; your every step will lead to a consequence. Do you understand?”
Suddenly the group began to answer with the response, “Sir, yes sir!”
“Any questions?” (Sgt. Schwarze)
Schwarze scanned the group after he asked the question and no one neither answered nor showed a sign. He then stopped and said, “Good. If that’s the case, let’s begin with a five kilometer run. Let’s get moving!”
I followed the group as it was being led by the Sergeant. We began to run, following the instructor. We ran for about forty five minutes around the camp on a road nearby. Boy was I exhausted. That last time I ran like that was when I was in high school in a track and field tournament. It wasn’t just me, almost everyone around me is on the ground taking a breather and some even collapsed.
“Alright, alright. That’s it for the new meeting, Corporal!” (Sgt. Schwarze)
“Take them into barracks. They’re going to need some rest.” (Sgt. Schwarze)
“Yes, sir.” (Corporal)
Am I glad to hear him say that. We stood up on our feet and followed the Corporal into a building and inside were many bunk beds. We were finally able to settle down.
“Alright, all you boys settle in and assign yourself a bed. The rest follow me.” (Corporal)
The rest of the group consisting of all the girls followed the Corporal to another building. I settled myself down on the fifth bunk, right under Herrick.
My bag wasn’t that heavy, but after that run, I thought I brought rocks with me. I placed my bag beside the bed and lied down on my back. Looking at the bottom of Herrick’s bed, I suddenly started to think about Elsa. I wonder what she’s doing right now. I took a look at my watch and it’s almost noon. Usually at this time I would be cooking, preparing lunch for the both of us. We didn’t have much money to spend on livestock, so I usually made bread and soup with a vegetable base. Her favorite was carrot tomato and potato soup. I’m already missing that feeling. After about ten minutes of resting, the barracks door opened and Schwarze walked in, followed by the Corporal.
“Everyone, settle down your belongings and meet me outside at the yard in five minutes.” (Sgt. Schwarze)
The Corporal then walked towards us, handing a uniform to each of us as Schwarze spoke.
“These are your uniforms. Treat them like your children and stay in it every day. That’s your nationality, your pride and honor for this country.”
When he finished, him and the Corporal left the barracks. I did as he said, settled my belongings and put on the uniform. It was a grayish green uniform with dark green helmet. It fit me well, the uniform. Once I finished tying my boots, I walked out the barracks and headed towards the yard. I stood in line next to Herrick in the front row once again and waited.
The Sergeant was standing there in front of the group waiting for everyone to join. As the last person came and stood in line, Schwarze began to speak.
“You all know what you’re here for right? That’s right, you’re here for war. You’re here to get yourself ready to go out there to either out a bullet or a knife into a Russian or be killed by a Russian. To do that, you’re going need to train your body to handle that situation. Corporal.”
“Alright, everybody listen up! Starting from now, you’re going to get asses down and give me a hundred pushups. What are all waiting for?! Get your asses moving!” (Corporal)
At his order, we all dropped down to ground to a pushup position and began the exercise. For over ten minutes, I was continuously pushing myself up and down, not even counting as the Corporal began to shout again. I turned my head a little towards him, noticing that he was shouting at a recruit who wasn’t keeping up. “Come on! Keep your ass moving! What do you want me do, babysit you?” I only took a quick glimpse as I was focusing on my pushups. For about another thirteen minutes, we were finally finished with one hundred pushups. I was really exhausted. I’ve done so many pushups in one go, especially not long after the five kilometer run. As I picked my head up, I was startled by the fact that the Corporal was right in front of me, watching me as I was taking my breather.
“You tired?” he asked. I nodded my head, though only slightly.
“Good. But we’re not done here. Everyone move to the weapons range northeast of here and meet me there. Come on, let’s move, we ain’t got all day!” (Corporal)
‘When would this ever end? It’s only the first day!’ I thought to myself. I let out a sigh and stood up on my feet ready to move on to the next phase. With the group, we ran to the weapons range. Schwarze and the Corporal were already there, standing next to a table with some long and short guns. As we settled in front of them, Schwarze picked up the long gun and began to speak.
“This is a Karabiner 98 Kurz (Kar 98), one of our primary battle rifles in the German Army. This bolt action rifle can deliver five powerful 7.92 x 57mm Mauser rounds and has an effective firing range of over five hundred meters. It’s light and easy to use; take a cartridge of five Mauser rounds, push it into the receiver, and load the rifle by pushing bolt back in. After you fire, pull the bolt out, cock in a second round and push the bolt in again and you’re ready to fire.”
As he finished demonstrating, he placed the rifle down and picked up a smaller gun.
“This is a Maschinenpistole 40 (MP 40), the submachine gun of the German Army and your best friend. This gun will give thirty-two rounds of 9 x 19mm Parabellum rounds and has an effective range of two hundred meters. Fire it in any way you want, single shots, bursts and automatic. Once you’re dry, pull out the cartridge, replace it with another, pull the bolt back and you’re ready to fire.”
He then placed the gun down after the demonstration called us seven at a time to move up to the range to practice. They each picked up rifle and got down into a prone position. The Corporal called out the commands and they fired. There were people in the back of the targets to call out the score. I was next along with Herrick, Anna and Conner. We picked up the Kar 98 and got down to a prone position. The Corporal again called out the commands, “Aim!” as I placed the iron sight in front of my right eye, seeking the target. A second later, the Corporal shouted “Fire!” and I pulled the trigger. The rifle punched me in the shoulder as I fired along with a loud explosive sound. The people in the back then shouted, “Eight! Nine! Eight! Seven! Eight! Eight! Four!” I scored an eight, Herrick scored a nine, Anna scored an eight and Connor scored a seven. I was surprised that my first shot wasn’t so bad. After the score was called, we got up and stood back in line. The next seven recruits goes. After that came the MP 40s,
After a long afternoon of training, we finally got back into the barracks. I was exhausted, but I was still able to move. It was starting to get dark; I’m assuming it’s about six o’clock right now. I just realized that I was starving after all that training, but who knows when we can eat. The barracks door suddenly opened and the Sergeant walked in.
“Helluva job today for a bunch of clay.” he said, “Settle down quickly and move to the cafeteria. Get yourself fed and ready for tomorrow.”
Once he finished, he walked out of the barracks. I waited for Herrick and Anna as they finish unpacking the rest of their belongings and after they’re done, we went together into the cafeteria. They were serving quite some food: Goulash. There was pork, beef and onions in the combination. I haven’t had meat for about almost four months. As I sat down with my meal with Herrick, Anna, Conner, Heinrich and Gisela, I sat in silence for a moment. Looking into the blurred reflection of my face had I only remember Elsa. The loneliness at home, I could feel the shivers just thinking about. If only I could go home and share such a meal with her. I hesitated for moment to eat. However, I soon overcame my hesitation as I promised her to return home safely; then I must be strong and not let her down.
After a filling meal, I returned to the barracks. I sat on the bed under Herrick and took out a pen and a piece of paper.
My beloved sister, I hope you are well. Do not worry about me, I have arrived at the camp and made many new friends. It is actually quite a home here, but do I long to return to my true home and see you. I will miss you very much.
I folded the letter and put into an envelope. However, there is one problem: how would mail this letter? But before I could think of a solution, Schwarze came into the barracks. I quickly hid the letter under my pillow.
“That was filling meal isn’t?” he asked, “Alright. No time to waste. Lights out!”
I suppose that was the signal to go to bed as everyone began to cuddle up in their bunks. And so I followed, sliding myself under the sheet as the Sergeant turned the lights off. I shut my eyes and thought to myself, ‘It’s the end of the day first day.’