I mentioned our parties with the Germans in my first book, The Red Circle.
Two parties were especially worth noting, and the first of those occurred shortly after our snowshoe trek up to the Ahmed Kheyl cave complex.
By the time we got there on the night of this particular shindig, the Germans had already been hitting it pretty hard. As you’ve no doubt gathered by now, SEALs tend to be a pretty high-voltage, hard-partying bunch. But those KSK guys? They could drink.
We arrived to find they had already set up a little tent where they were serving beer. The stereo was turned up loud, and they were singing and marching in circles to the music. Something interesting was going on, but we weren’t sure quite what. We stood there watching them. We couldn’t understand the music’s lyrics and had no idea what the context was.
Major Mike spotted us and headed in our direction. He had heard about our showdown with an angry Afghan mob, and as a result, we had a special standing with these guys and Major Mike in particular. He came over next to me, put his arm around my shoulder, and said, “Hey, please do not be offended by this, I just want you guys to know what this is all about.”
He proceeded to tell me that a lot of his guys had grandfathers who had served in World War II, and they were very proud of the fact that their ancestors had fought to the death. During those final war years, quite a few soldiers in the German army had “gone missing” —in other words, they had deserted and fled. Most of these KSK guys had family members who had never quit and had fought to the end and they were proud of them.
As he was explaining this we realized what it was we were listening to. These were patriotic World War II German songs. This was their war music. JESUS! Hitler marching music!
By that time all the Americans had gathered around the two of us, listening to what Major Mike was telling me, while all these Germans were singing and marching to their World War II songs. It was hypnotic.
“Listen,” said Major Mike, “if you find any of this in poor taste, please let us know. But we’re proud of our heritage. Please understand, we are not at all proud of the Nazi story. The atrocities, it was terrible, all of that should never have happened. Our ancestors, though, all they wanted was to be good soldiers, to fight for their country, to be men of honor — no different than other soldiers.”
I explained that I had Jewish relatives and the room got very quiet, which was my intention. I let the tension build over at least 15 seconds, which must have seemed like hours to the Germans who were waiting to see what would happen next. Fight? Screaming? Pistols drawn?
Then I smiled and told Mike I understood. There were a few, “Prosts!” in the background. Mike went on to explain.
“In Germany today,” he went on quietly, “you can be arrested for drawing a swastika. It is quite taboo. You do not say the word ‘Nazi’ in public. We all know how horrendous it was, the same as you. But our grandfathers were our grandfathers, and we are proud of them.”
It was a bizarre scene. From what I know, none of my ancestors had fought in WWII. But you know, they could have had. Any one of us there could have had ancestors who’d fought. And if we had, how would the scene have hit us? I glanced around at my guys watching our German brothers singing and marching. These were good men; men we’d fought with side by side. None of them had even been born yet when World War II took place.
Walking back to my camp at the Kandahar base I hit the tripwire. I snagged my pants and took me down with the aggressiveness of a female lioness biting a gazelle’s neck on the African plains. My mistake was accepting an offer of German medical-grade snuff, on top of the beers I’d had. As a result, my head was spinning. It must have taken me 10 minutes to untangle myself but it seemed like hours. There I was, having a cage match on the ground against military-grade razor wire and the wire was kicking my ass. Somehow I managed to stumble back to camp and crash. The night watch looked at my torn trousers and I mumbled, “don’t ask.”
We’ve all been there! What a great night. One for the memory books.
When was the last time German Special Ops had hosted American Special Ops? Never up to that point, I think. And there was a good chance our grandfathers had sat on opposite sides of a machine gun nest in WWII.
War is a strange thing. Men of honor, fighting for their country. We see ourselves as the good guys, fighting for a just cause. I know I certainly believed we were the good guys there in Afghanistan. I still do today. Then again, the Germans’ grandfathers had thought they were the good guys, too.
I suppose we are all the heroes of our own story.
This article was originally published in December 2020.
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