by Owen Ngeow
Amazing Grace by Aaron Fong, THG Alumnus on violin and guitar
Sergeant Pyotr Ivanovich Kuznetsov
The Germans attacked us on Tuesday morning with tanks, and broke through the first layer of defences. They did not look like the Wehrmacht we were used to fighting. They wore different uniforms, and they fought differently – more brutal, cold, like they did not care about any life, whether the enemy’s or their own. Alexei said that they were the infamous SS. My division was ordered to retreat from the trench.
As I ran, I glanced over my shoulder. I was feeling rather nonchalant about the entire command to fall back. I did not think that a stronger enemy could make the hell of Kursk worse than it already was. But then, even among the dozens of soldiers around me, I saw a soldier raise his gun. Tracing where the barrel pointed, I saw Alexei running forward, totally oblivious to the danger he was in. My eyes flicked back to the German, and widened as he squeezed the trigger.
Everything happened very quickly. One moment Alexei was standing there, the next he was on the ground, clutching his stomach. I pulled the trigger and fired a spray of bullets, barely even looking to see if they hit the murderer.
I wanted to run to Alexei right then, but a comrade with a flamethrower blocked my way. With each second of the smell of roasting flesh and the sound of men’s screams, my uniform soaked more with cold sweat. Despite all the banter and arguments in our past, Alexei was my best friend and I was worried for him. After what seemed like forever, the flamethrower ran out of fuel and I sprinted over to Alexei as fast as my heavy equipment would let me. Dozens of fleeing soldiers slammed into me as I rushed across the distance, until I reached his slumped body. He had managed to crawl to the burnt-out shell of a tank to take cover, and had tried to stop the bleeding with a ripped sleeve. He tried to speak, but I interrupted.
“How heavy are you?”
“How heavy are you?” He closed his eyes for a few moments, recalling the obscure figure. “Sixty- four kilograms,” he replied weakly.
“I don’t think I can carry you back.” I grabbed his arms and tried to drag him across the dirt, but he gasped in pain and I let him down carefully.
I surveyed the horizon, thinking of possibilities to get Alexei to safety. I did not care about the overwhelming number of enemy troops I saw, nor about the danger I would be in if I met them, outnumbered and weighed down by Alexei’s body. I did not remember the stories I had heard about what they did to prisoners. Most of all, it did not cross my mind to leave Alexei and escape with the rest of the troops. I only thought about Alexei’s life. A glint of silver caught my eye, and I realised it was the Senior Lieutenant. I ran towards him, yelling, “Lieutenant! We need help!”
“Yes, Sergeant?” He stopped walking and turned to face me.
I stopped to catch my breath. “Alexei – uh, Efreitor Khrushchev is hurt. I need help to move him.” “Leave him! Our unit is retreating now!”
I stood there, stunned by his heartless words. The Lieutenant seemed already to have forgotten about us, and I watched him draw his pistol and fire a few rounds at German soldiers, before continuing to run back with the other troops. He looked young; maybe younger than me, and I was sure he had been a new, inexperienced soldier rushed through training and hastily promoted for lack of manpower. The way he strolled, callous and uncaring, sparked a bit of anger in me. He did not care about the lives and safety of the men under his responsibility, and his lack of alertness seemed that he was not particularly inclined to preserving his own. Or maybe it was merely that he did not even know what to do. Either way, he seemed to me not much better than the SS we fought against.
Some time later, I regained my senses and briskly walked back to Alexei. “What did the Lieutenant say?” he questioned. I ignored him. “Pyotr?” Breathing hard, I took off all my equipment, except my pistol, and dumped it on the ground. I took a deep breath, and lifted Alexei to my shoulder. I half carried, half dragged him across the battlefield, with my pistol in the other hand. However, I did not need to fire a single shot. Germans and Russians dashed past, but neither paid attention to us nor fired.
Suddenly, the earth shook and an ear-splitting explosion rang through the air. “Artillery!” he gasped. An artillery shell hit the ground and exploded not far from us, drowning out the screams of those hit by it, and I knew we had to take cover or we would end up like those unfortunate soldiers. I trudged over to a crater and lay down on the slope.
After an hour of lying and waiting I was deafened, disoriented and exhausted. I had no idea if there any Soviet troops were still here. But a shell interrupted my thoughts by landing in front of us, and seemed to glare at me for a split second before exploding.
The next thing I knew was waking up on a bed. I sat up and saw the Senior Lieutenant walking into the room. He informed me that a rescue team had evacuated me to a bunker further back in the defence line. “Where is Alexei?” I demanded. I felt sure that I already knew the answer. He sighed insincerely. “I did tell you to leave him.” It took me a second to register his words, and confirm my suspicions. I slumped back down onto the bed, not knowing what to think. I did not feel as much grief as I had expected. When I looked to where he had been standing, he was gone.
I have nobody left here. I was nearly unscathed from the explosion, and could return to battle immediately. The war will not end quickly, and I have no hope of either surviving or returning home. Going AWOL would not end well. I don’t know how I can continue fighting in this war. A German occupation doesn’t seem that bad now.
Efreitor Alexei Vasilyevich Khrushchev
My entire body ached, especially my stomach. But I saw troops approaching in the distance, and knew I had to do something. I unholstered my pistol and rolled over. As I moved, the gun hit my stomach, and I tensed up in pain, but remained silent. After recovering, I wriggled up to the mouth of the crater, careful not to rub the wound on the ground.
Fifteen minutes later, the first wave of opponents began, all of whom I shot successively. After using up all my bullets, I crawled over to Pyotr’s unconscious form and slid his pistol from the holster on his hip.
After I ran out of ammunition, I threw grenades. When my supply of grenades depleted, I sank back down into the crater, and stabbed soldiers who ventured past. But at last they realised where their assailant was hiding and fired a barrage of shots which hit the ground, narrowly missing my head.
I glanced at Pyotr, checking that he was alright, but when I looked back, I found myself staring down the barrel of a submachine gun. The German man holding the gun did not seem like a very bad or evil person to me. He looked just like many fresh recruits I had seen fighting alongside me: excited and nervous at the same time, their expectations of what battle was like shattered by the things they saw on the front lines. The soldier and I stood in a cold confrontation for a few seconds, then he pulled the trigger.
I found myself lying on the slope of the crater, unable to move, breathe, or hear anything. I didn’t feel any pain. The last thing I saw was troops walking by where Pyotr and I lay. They probably thought he was dead. He had risked his life for me, and I had given mine for him. Over the years, I had many friends who abandoned and hurt me. Pyotr was the only one to enlist with me, and he was posted to the same division as me. I knew he was a true friend. I did not care that he may never know what I did as he lay unconscious on the slope of the crater. I was convinced he was safe, and, contented, I closed my eyes.
“Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friend.” John 15:13