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In the closing months of the Second World War, with the formal surrender of Germany only a few weeks away, the American Armed Forces sent thousands of troops into previously occupied parts of Europe and Germany in an effort to form strongholds all around Berlin, the one of the Nazis’ last remaining centers of strength. In establishing the bases needed to help supply and provide support these troops, soldiers and their families were invited to live on the bases. Many wives helped as secretaries, supply men, or even mechanics.
One of these fine female patriots was my grandmother, Elizabeth Shirley Sousson.
Grandma Lizzie worked in the main logistics office for the Allied base outside Sebnitz, Germany, only a mile or two away from the Czechoslovakian border. When she wasn’t doing her duty helping to push Hitler’s pasty white shit in, she and my Pops, Captain Daniel William Sousson, lived in a small, rustic cottage on the outskirts of Sebnitz just a mile from the main base. A small American flag flew from the windowsill facing the street. Because of the proximity to Berlin and given the all but certain outcome of the war in its final days, reports of desertion and surrender by Nazis had begun to occur as the Allies marched towards the German capital. Allied bases in all of Germany were told to accept these deserters and to hold them until further notice.
On one of her off nights, while at home when Grandpa Dan was busy on the base, Grandma Lizzie was getting the kids ready for bed with the help of her fräulein, Alice. After putting her youngest in the crib, Grandma Lizzie returned to the kitchen to clean the remaining plates from dinner. As it was late into the night, she was expecting Grandpa Dan to be returning home from the base. As she wiped clean the last plate, a rustle in the bushes outside the window startled her. Dan? she thought. Normally, Dan would walk up the gravel driveway, the telltale crunch of the boots on the small rocks informing her of his ascent of the path. Perhaps it was just a small animal? Small rabbits and fowl were known to come from the forests just a few hundred yards away from the house.
Another noise, like steel hitting wood. Grandma Lizzie knew it wasn’t her husband. Fear swept through her like a tidal wave. The panic overtook her as the thought of her kids just upstairs. She raced to the menagerie where Dan’s pistol lay locked in case of emergency. Clicking back the hammer, she bolted up the steps to Alice and the kids and told them to stay in their rooms.
“Alice, call the base.” she exclaimed. “Get Dan here now!”
As she crept slowly back down to the first floor, Grandma Lizzie tried to remain calm. Grandpa Dan had taught her how to shoot just in case, so she was comfortable with the pistol in her hands. She whispered a small prayer as she neared the back door that led to the back garden near the kitchen window and, with a turn of the knob, burst through the back door.
“Nicht bewegen! (Don’t move!)” she cried, pointing the barrel towards the bottom of the window. A small shriek escaped the lips of the intruder, who shot his hands up in the air.
“Bitte, Frau! (Please mam!)” sobbed the man before her. “Nicht schieben! (Don’t shoot!)”
As the man turned, Grandma Lizzie saw the gold buttons glimmer off the moonlight. As he stood, she could make out the various medals and pins on the lapels and breast pocket of the uniform.
Before my grandmother stood a Nazi officer in full regalia. The man shook nervously as he looked into her eyes. “Madam,” he said hesitantly in his broken English, “I am Colonel Johann Ehrlich of the National Socialist German Worker’s Party. I wish to surrender to the highest-ranking American official at this residence.” The colonel reached to his side, untying the sword that hung to his left from his belt. He took the sword in both hands and offered it to Grandma Lizzie as he bowed his head. As she stood their confused ans still a little shocked, Grandma Lizzie watched as Grandpa Dan and several soldiers from the base raced up the driveway. Alice the nursemaid had called the base and reached Dan to tell him of the situation.
“Are you OK?” asked Grandpa Dan, as the other three soldiers surrounded the colonel.
“Yes, but this man didn’t try to hurt me. He wanted to surrender,” explained Grandma Lizzie.
Grandpa Dan turned and questioned the man in German. After a few short minutes of back and forth, he turned to my grandmother. “The colonel is going to offer his sword to you now. Take it.”
Granma Lizzie knew what it meant. She collected herself and stood upright. As the colonel once again stretched out his hands with his blade in its sheath, relinquishing his sword and his claim to his military, she wordlessly took the weapon from his hands. The colonel stood and saluted Grandpa Dan, and with a terse bow to Grandma Lizzie, turned and was led to the car by the other soldiers. With the sound of the gravel crunching under the tires as the car sped back to base, Grandpa Dan looked at my grandmother and began to laugh.
“GOOD WORK BABE!” he bellowed. “Wait till they hear about this back at HQ!”
And so, for the short time that the base remained in Sebnitz, in the office of Captain Daniel William Sousson, a German-made sword hung on the wall behind his desk. All of the other officers on base had cheered and celebrated my grandmother the first chance they had when she returned to work the following day. A letter of commendation was given to her to commemorate the incident. In the following weeks, as other officers were cycled onto the base, some had to report to Captain Sousson at various points. After discussing the operations needed to be completed for the day, every now and then some officer would ask where he acquired the sword. And every now and then, a smile would curl on his lips. “Well it’s a funny story, really…”.
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