My Grandpa Killed Hitler, Part Four – Retribution
Part Four: Retribution
The next morning, John Pelham was awoken to the sound of commotion outside his tent. He sat up and couldn’t decide if it was the growing noise outside or the throbbing pain in his right leg that had woken him. He pulled back the blanket and looked to see his swollen leg with the mule hoof-print bruised into his flesh. He swung his legs out, which was painful, but he was able to get dressed with only occasional, unbearable streaks of pain shooting through his leg.
When he exited his tent, he could see that a small group had gathered outside the paddock. Gossip was in the air. My grandfather took a deep breath, knowing that he would have to face the music. At that point, the fat lady had definitely stopped singing John Pelham’s tune. He limp-walked his way into the middle of the camp and over toward the paddock, past several of his fellow soldiers, who grew quiet whilst he walked past. Everyone knew that John Pelham was the one who had fed Hitler the previous night.
My grandfather could hardly walk any farther by the time he reached the men surrounding the paddock. It was made apparent to the men by my grandfather’s staggered pace that he had newly acquired a serious injury. John walked right up to the fence surrounding the mule’s turf, saluted the men, but was silent. The paddock behind the group of soldiers was EMPTY.
Finally a voice from the ever growing crowd broke the silence:
“Where’s Herr Hitler?”
A deep breath came from my grandfather, and he began speaking softly.
“Well…I came out here to feed him last night after dinner.”
John Pelham spoke quickly, obviously getting nervous as to the reaction of his story’s reveal.
“And, well, I fed him. As you men know, he’s taken out more of our boys than the enemy himself.”
“I got sick of seeing our men in the medic tent week after week. And, as I told many of you before: If that goddamned donkey ever did so much as bite at me…that it’d be the last goddamned thing it did. Excuse my French.” My grandfather cleared his throat and without blinking, he surveyed all the men standing before him. He said firmly:
“Hitler fell off the cliff without his pack! He’s dead.”
“Last night, I went to feed him, and I turned my back and he did this to me (he showed them his leg). So I made sure Hitler will never be coming back! He’s…he’s gone. Hitler the Mule will never bother us again. He fell over the cliff without his pack.”
This was significant because the gun and pack were worth more money than the damn mule! There was a muted gasp from one of the soldiers who overheard. Otherwise, no one flinched. For what seemed like minutes, my grandfather didn’t even breathe. Crazy thoughts suddenly entered his head: I just destroyed US government property! And Will I be punished? And Could I be charged for killing a fellow soldier? And Will I be on latrine duty for the rest of the war?
Still, no one moved. What will my men think of me? he wondered.
All of a sudden, the men burst into spontaneous applause, and all began rushing toward John. They hugged him and congratulated him on a job well done! They sang “For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow” and meant it. They even hoisted him up on their shoulders and paraded him around like a prince. My grandfather had ended the mule’s terrible abuse, and the men could rest at ease knowing that they would never have to deal with Hitler again. Well, not that Hitler.
My grandfather never made it clear exactly what happened to Hitler the Mule, other than what he had told the troops: that Hitler “fell over the cliff”. Later, he would admit that it took four guys to accomplish this, but he kept the details to a minimum. Obviously, John Pelham found more than one way to skin a mule!
Not only was my grandfather promoted shortly after that, he was given a nickname that would last well after the war. A nickname that would even later become his piloting and sailing name: MULESKINNER.
And that’s how John Pelham, my grandpa—great-great-great-grandnephew of the Civil War hero John Pelham—was the man responsible for killing Adolf Hitler.
Hitler the Mule, that is.
Photograph by Patryk Sobczak