Men Behaving Nobly
A few years back I wrote a series on “Men Behaving Badly.” So it occurs to me I should write a companion series about men behaving nobly. It does happen, not as often as I would like, but it’s a good start. Honestly I think most people’s behaviour is pretty much dependent on their peers and social pressure, so under bad circumstances … normal people do bad things. Some don’t though, and this series is dedicated to people who did the right thing at the wrong time.
And my first example is Friedrich Lengfeld, pictured above. He was a lieutenant in the German army during 1944. This was World War Two, so yes, he was fighting for Hitler and Germany. November 12 of 1944 to be exact. In the Battle of Hurtgen Forest. The Battle of Hurtgen Forest was one of America’s bloodiest and least remembered battles in World War Two. This is because for months the Americans tried to capture this dense forest on the borders of Germany and Belgium. Unit after unit was set in, bloodied, and pulled out, more than 30,000 Americans were killed and wounded. Why is it little remembered? Because it was one of the stupidest battles in history, there was absolutely no reason to take this heavily defended forest from the Germans. I’m not making this up, it was the longest ground battle fought in Germany in World War Two, and the longest battle the US Army has ever fought.
Moving right along, it’s morning in the forest. Lt Lengfeld was a rifle company commander, that’s a hundred guys or more under his command. An American had been injured in a minefield near their position and was calling for help. Lt Lengfeld ordered his men not to shoot when Americans came to help him, but none did, his unit had pulled back and didn’t hear him. The cries for help went on for hours. Finally Lt Lengfeld could listen no longer. He led a party of volunteers out to save the American soldier. He was that kind of leader, he wouldn’t ask his men to do anything he wouldn’t do. He didn’t make it. Before he even got to the American he stepped on a land mine, and eight hours later had died of his wounds. History does not record the fate of the wounded American.
In fact history almost didn’t record the fate of Lt Lengfeld, but one of his men told the story for posterity some years later. So Lt Lengfeld is mildly famous in Germany, at least they have a wikipedia entry about him. And there’s a minor postscript to this story. In 1994 some American veterans of the battle heard Lt Lengfeld’s story, and arranged to set up a memorial to him in the German military cemetery where he is buried. It is the only war memorial for a German soldier set up by Americans in Germany.
And that’s that. Ha. That’s never that. I can certainly admire Lt Lengfeld for his sacrifice, it was a noble thing to do. It’s too bad it was a part of something so ignoble that it defies imagination. (Trust me, aliens find human wars incomprehensible.) One could be unfair and wonder if he would have done the same for a French … or Russian … soldier. That was a much more bitter war, there actually wasn’t much hatred between Americans and Germans during World War Two. Except for the aforementioned caveat about wars in general. Maybe I’ll see if I can find a similar act of compassion on the Russian front. I’m not optimistic, but people can be surprising. Oh, wait, reviewing my memory … I thought of one. Tomorrow, a German soldier tries to stop the slaughter of Russian Jews! Good enough! Peace out!
(I don’t know the copyright status of images taken by Hitler’s regime, but I am going to assume since I’m not using it for profit, and I’m saying good things about Lt Lengfeld and Germans, I’m good. It’s the only picture of him I can find. He kind of looks like my uncle Leonard, but likely just the German look, it runs in the family.)