Where We All Belong
“A prisoner of war is someone who was trying to kill you, but then asks you not to kill him.”
13 May 1943
Tunisia, North Africa
“The first five minutes of a POW’s captivity determines whether he lives or dies.”
German Wehrmacht Korporal Noah Becker stood in the North African sun surrounded by a half circle of grim-faced American soldiers. Slowly lowering his weapon to the ground, he raised his hands as he was prodded along with five other prisoners.
Noah limped due to grenade shrapnel in his left leg. The grenade had killed two of his comrades and wounded the others. He was the only one who could walk.
An officer approached the American GIs, giving a series of commands in English. A tall, sunburned GI motioned to them, “Move, Jerry,” as they were marched behind a nearby sand dune.
Noah knew the fear of death, but this was different. He was no longer a soldier but a prisoner of war. Killing him would not result in any great victory for the Allies.
As Noah awaited his fate, another squad of GIs approached. The two groups had a heated discussion. Finally, the tall GI waved to the prisoners, and they joined a long line of Afrika Korps POWs filing into a large, barbed-wire cage.
Noah was relieved at being spared but had no idea what awaited him.
One thing he knew for sure: The War was over for him.
Sisters Emma and Maggie Loewer stood on the depot platform in Crowley, Louisiana, waiting for the afternoon train. They were there to pick up a thresher part for their family’s rice farm.
The passenger train arrived, screeching to a halt, and the sisters walked to the freight car. This New Orleans-bound train was scheduled for a thirty-minute stop, just enough time for passengers to stretch, smoke, or grab a bite to eat.
A passenger door opened, and five laughing GIs, dressed in crisp uniforms, stepped off the train.
Maggie whispered. “I’ve never seen Colored soldiers before.”
The GIs walked to a nearby cafe, stopping in front of a sign over the entrance: Whites Only.
Maggie and Emma were close enough to gauge their reaction. The largest soldier, obviously the leader, took one last drag on his cigarette, stubbing it out on the sidewalk. “We’re on our way to fight a war for our country, and we’re still not welcome in an American café.”
He spoke it as a statement, not a question.
A soldier beside him said, “What are we fighting for if that’s how they’re going to treat us down South? I’m going in there. . . .”
Their leader said, “Cool it, man. No use making a scene. You know we’ll lose.”
The five GIs climbed back on the train.
Just then, another passenger door slid open, and the sisters watched an armed GI lead three soldiers in field gray uniforms onto the platform. Maggie and Emma drew back. They had never seen a German soldier.
The three German officers arrogantly surveyed the crowd.
“Those are German POWs,” Emma said.
“They look like they think they’ve won The War,” Maggie said.
The American guard stuck his head inside the cafe before waving the Germans in.
Emma and Maggie watched as the Germans stepped into the cafe.
“This is a mixed-up world,” Maggie said. “This just ain’t right.”
Maggie jerked away from her sister Emma’s grip and strode to the “Whites Only” sign, tearing it down and flinging it on the ground.
Maggie turned to see the Colored soldiers’ faces pressed against their window.
A fat man in a Jax Beer apron stormed out of the cafe, “Hey, what do you think you’re doing?”
Maggie picked up her package before winking at Emma. “Oh, pay us no mind. We’re just doing our part on the homefront for the land of the free [PC12] [SI13] and the home of the brave.”