[Hugh Nibley remembers Operation Market Garden, the “Bridge Too Far.”]
There were a lot of heroic doings, and I’m afraid many people didn’t get recognized for what they did. I knew many boys that did marvelous things. One of the most striking things happened at two o’clock in the morning. I have a little foxhole right on the edge of the canal covered with a small pup tent, and I would mark the war map there. The general wanted me to make a general map of the front, so I would mark the daily front in my foxhole and then take it over to headquarters. I was fairly cozy there on the bank, and one night I was busily marking the map in the middle of the night, very late, when I heard a terrific lot of shooting just a little ways down the bank. I could hear the British Bren guns going off, then the Tommy guns, and then German Schmeisers, all sorts of things firing away. Everybody was shooting like crazy. I thought, what in heavens name is going on there? And then, finally, silence.
I waited for a while, and then all of a sudden the tent flap parts and the kid dressed in the Dutch farm boy’s outfit bursts through the door of the tent and throws himself down into the straw on the bottom of the foxhole. For a minute or two all he could do was say, “There is a God! There is a God! There is a God! There is a God!” He’s crying, sopping wet. He’d just swum the canal with all those people shooting at him. He was a medic, and he’d been on the other side and had gotten lost and was taken prisoner. Then he escaped from the Germans, and a Dutch farm couple took him in and gave him this outfit, and he dressed as a Dutch peasant boy and pretended to be deaf and dumb. He pointed his mouth wherever he went so he wouldn’t give away his language. When he started to swim the canal to make a crossing over to our lines, everybody started shooting at him. They shot everything they could at him, machine guns, rifles – a whole company shooting at him like crazy mad. But they didn’t hit him, so he got to the other side fell into my foxhole crying, “There is a God! There is a God!”
He’d been taken all over that region and had carefully watched everything that was going on. He’d been very observant; he’d seen what was going on behind the lines, where the Germans were, what they were doing. He told me where he’d been and what need seen. This was priceless information so immediately I got on the horn to General Higgins and said, “Look, we’ve got a guy here who knows everything that’s going on behind the German lines.”
He said, “Well, let’s get him back to Brussels as fast as we can.”
I promised the kid, “Well, with this you’re going to get promoted or something. You’ll at least get a three-day pass for this information.”
They took him to Brussels and I heard a number of intelligence officers got promotions on the strength of the information he had. Then I saw him about four or five months later in Namur. I said, “Did you ever get your three-day pass?”
He said, “I didn’t get a one-day pass. I had to go right back to the line the next day.”
They didn’t care about him; he didn’t get anything. He was caught behind the lines, escaped, pretended to be deaf and dumb, got through enemy lines, swam the canal under heavy fire, and came back with a gold mine of information that caused all sorts of the excitement. You would think he should have gotten at least a three-day pass for giving them all that information. Everything they’d been looking for was just handed to them and got promotions for all these other people. But he didn’t get a medal or even a three-day pass. He was a medic and he had to go right back into the line. That’s the way you get rewarded sometimes in this life. So is this heroic? Can you get sentimental about this? If you get sentimental, you can get bitter.
[Excerpted from Sergeant Nibley PhD: Memories of an Unlikely Screaming Eagle]