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War Story

Dana Keeton told this story in The Democratic Union of Lawrenceburg, Tennessee:

The sun had just risen on a hot August day in 1944 in the small village of Plelo, in German-occupied France. The 15-year-old boy did not know why he and the other citizens of Plelo had been lined up before a firing squad in the middle of the town square. Perhaps they were being punished for harboring a unit of Marquisards, the French underground freedom fighters. Perhaps they were merely to satisfy the blood lust of the German commanding officer who, the evening before, had routed the small group of Marquisard scouts. All the boy knew was that he was about to die.

As he stood before the firing squad, he remembered the carefree days of his early childhood, before the war, spent roaming the green of the French countryside. He thought about all he would miss by never growing up. Most of all he was terrified of dying. How will the bullets feel ripping through my body? he wondered. He hoped no one could hear the whimperings coming from deep in his throat every time he exhaled.

Suddenly, the boy heard the sound of exploding mortar shells beyond the limits of his little village. Quickly rolling tanks could also be heard. The Germans were forced to abandon the firing squad and face a small unit of U.S. tanks with twenty GI’s led by Bob Hamsley, a corporal in Patton’s Third Army. A Marquisard captain had asked Hamsley for help. After three hours, fifty Nazis were dead, and the other fifty were taken prisoner.

In 1990 the town of Plelo honored Bob Hamsley on the very spot where dozens of the town’s citizens would have died if not for him. The man who initiated the search for Hamsley and the ceremony honoring him was the former mayor of Plelo, that same 15-year-old boy. He had determined to find the man who saved his life and honor him.

It’s hard to forget your savior.

Tim Stafford, Florence, Alabama, quoted in Leadership, Winter Quarter, p. 49

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