My Grandpa Killed Hitler, Part Two – Hitler’s Reign of Terror
Part Two – Hitler’s Reign of Terror
By the time my grandfather arrived in Colorado, he had heard about Adolf Hitler for years at this point in the news, and more recently, as a part of being in the army. Defeating Hitler was a constant topic in every soldier’s conversation. Every one of those troops would have been honored to have pulled the trigger that ended the Führer’s Reich. John Pelham felt the same and he had said that he would be happy to help end the war sooner, too. My grandfather thought he had heard all the atrocities of Adolf, but then he got to Colorado.
His mule-led training unit was meager at best. Their mission (should they’ve chosen to accept it, which they had, Mr. Phelps) was to move supplies up and over the Rocky Mountains in simulation of an attack up and over the Alps. The troops, sleeping at night in tents, worked their way up into the mountains to test the agility of the mules but to also determine whether or not the entire concept would be a worthwhile venture or not.
One of the first things John noticed about his new assignment in the Rockies was the makeshift tent that was set up as the troop hospital and how filled it was with injured troops—at least ten wounded soldiers. He wondered: Jesus, did they all fall off a cliff? Was there an avalanche? One of the makeshift medics saw my grandfather peering in at the out-of-commission soldiers. He looked at John and said,
“Steer clear of that Hitler. The last thing I need is more men with broken bones or wounds to the head.”
When I first heard my grandfather telling this story, I thought to myself at the time, Why would it have made any sense to have flown soldiers, wounded by Hitler’s Nazis, all the way from Germany to a tent 250 miles from Boulder, Colorado? Or: Why would the military ever have done something that absurd? My grandfather said he was dumbfounded in the same way.
John walked away and soon found his friend Nottingham. Seeing the perplexed look on his face, Nottingham asked John what was wrong.
“Well, either my ears are full of cotton, or that soldier is crazier than a loony bin.” John Pelham said.
“Why’s that?” Nottingham asked, looking puzzled.
“Well, didn’t you hear?” My grandfather asked. “The medic says all those men up there were beat up by the dark prince himself! He said Hitler’s responsible! How could the “Natzies” have done this?”
That’s when a voice behind them spoke up. Nottingham and my grandfather turned to see who was talking. Another soldier had been listening to their conversation and laughed.
“That’s Because Hitler AIN’T Hitler. Because Hitler is a goddamned MULE! And the goddamned meanest sonofabitch MULE you will ever meet!”
My grandfather and his friend grinned at each other. The stranger continued with this advice:
“Ya’ll stay clear of that bastard, or he’ll kick you off the mountain or bite you to your bones! They say that goddamned mule’s done more damage to the US military than the Führer himself! That’s why his name’s Hitler!”
The soldier snorted and walked away. And he was right.
John Pelham, who had been raised resourcefully in poor Anniston, Alabama, didn’t really fear a four-legged, oversized-dog of a mule. But, he did heed those words of the strange soldier. My grandfather said that during his time in Colorado, he rarely even saw Hitler the Mule, because of how irregular and vicious the animal could be.
What my grandfather did see was this: Day after day, week after week, a new soldier or new handler would be in the medic tent wrapped for a broken arm or a bite wound that bled. Yes, Hitler the Mule was certainly living up to his reputation, and John decided not to have anything to do with it. Every day, someone would come back saying Hitler had nipped at his butt. Or they were pissed, hampered, and scared because the mule was just simply vicious, and frankly, he was evil.
The problem was that Hitler was the strongest mule their unit had, so the military didn’t want to retire him just yet. Hence, the training exercises were continued with Hitler reporting for duty. John always said that if Hitler ever crossed him, it would be the last thing Hitler ever did. Just a month later, Hitler had disappeared. Gone. Missing in action, and I hardly doubt it was due to a drunkard night down at the mule saloon. Nope. Mysteriously, Hitler never made it to his next assignment.
Photograph by Ales Kricev