“Lachendes Feldgrau,” pages 7-9, The Wet Overcoat
It was a stormy day, and the rain poured down, sleeting across the fields. Out in the middle of the storm, a Gefreiter picked his way across a sodden meadow. Hopping over ditches, and going around the mud puddles, he made his way toward the small French factory complex where the 3. Kompanie was billeted.
Standing under the eaves outside the factory gate stood Schütze Bick. He was one of those guys who couldn’t sleep at night unless they’d made 350 little bets during the day. As the Gefreiter approached, Bick called out, “Where are you heading, Kamerad? Bet you want to stop here and get warm first, huh?”
That didn’t sound bad to the Gefreiter. He entered the warmth of headquarters room, and gratefully accepted a cup of hot coffee. Holding his hands in front of the oven to warm them, he learned everything there was to know about the 3. Kompanie. For example, the Kompanie was supposed to move out in fourteen days, the Kompaniechef was a great guy, and they were expecting a new Spieß.
“What’s the name of the new Spieß," asked the Gefreiter.
“Krotzack,” replied Bick, “and with a new like that, bet that he’s a real piece of work? Bet we’ll show him a thing or two?”
The Gefreiter smiled. “So you think you’ll show him some stuff, huh? Like for example, those beer bottles under that cot over there, and all the dust everywhere, and that the coffee pot—well, I don’t even want to think about that!”
“Don’t worry. We have a way of doing things here—a method, if you will. We’ve broken in every Spieß we’ve had. Bet it’ll be the same with this new guy, too?”
“A method, huh?” said the Gefreiter.
“And how,” replied Bick confidently, Then he explained how the system worked in the Kompanie, and how the soldiers, and especially how he—Bick—were going to make things for the new Spieß.
Itching powder? Sawing the slats of the Spieß’s cot? Mice in his room? He’d never heard of such things! This ruffled the Gefreiter’s feathers! Of course, he also didn’t know that Bick was a little to free with creative storytelling either.
The Gefreiter shook the water off of his still-wet overcoat. “So you’re the brains behind all this stuff, huh?
Water drops flew everywhere, hitting Bick in the face. Wiping his face, he grinned. “You bet! Hey, I’ll bet you’re going to take off that wet overcoat, huh?”
The Gefreiter tried to shrug out of his overcoat. But it was too wet and heavy, and a little too small, to boot. Schütze Bick helped pull the sodden coat off, making bets the whole time. For example: “Bet that thing shrunk two sizes in the rain?” “Bet you’re the new radio operator in the comm. platoon?”
But the Gefreiter shook his head. “You lost all those bets there, buddy!” he said, and began laughing so hard that his sides hurt. “That tight overcoat—I just borrowed it before I came over here, and I’m most definitely not the new radio operator.”
“You’re not?” asked Bick nervously.
“Nope,” replied the Gefreiter, finally free of the overcoat with the Winkel on the left sleeve. As the silver rings on his Feldbluse sleeves became visible, the newcomer said cheerfully, “I’m the new Spieß.”