Biographical Non-Fiction posted December 3, 2021

This work has reached the exceptional level
An army buddy teaches me a lesson in dramatic fashion


by Captain Jack

The author has placed a warning on this post for language.

I joined the U.S. Army in 1978 when I was eighteen years old, and after boot camp was sent to Germany. World War II had ended thirty years previously, but when I got to Germany, I looked around and thought, I bet there are still some unrepentant Nazis around here. And I wondered what I’d do were I to encounter a real, hard-core fascist. I mean, what do you say to those idiots?

Shortly after I arrived, another new guy was stationed in our barracks. His name was Rubenstein, but we all called him Rube. Rube was the smallest, quietest guy in the platoon, but he and I really hit it off and became best buddies. Rube was also the only Jewish guy in our unit. Feeling protective of my soft-spoken new friend, I once took him aside and said, “Rube, if any of these Germans ever give you any crap about being Jewish, you come to me. I’ll back you up one hundred percent.”

As time went on, I got out into German society a great deal. I met hundreds of Germans, and they appeared to be very tolerant people. Apparently, they’d come to grips with their past and had eradicated all traces of Nazism. So I eventually regarded the Nazi issue as irrelevant and ceased to think about it.

One summer, after I’d been stationed there for two years, they sent Rube and me, along with about half of our platoon, on an air mission to Bavaria in southern Germany. When the mission was completed, they cut us loose in the nearest town to blow off a little steam. Rube and I were walking through this town and, coming across a little back street pub, decided to stop in for a beer. We were wearing our army field jackets so everyone could see we were American GIs, which was no big deal at the time. But we had our name tags on our jackets: “Heen,” a Norwegian name, and “Rubenstein”—obviously not a Norwegian name.

Rube and I sat talking and drinking our beers when three rowdy-looking German guys came in and sat at a nearby table. One of these guys caught my attention, lifted his beer mug high, and, loud enough for half the bar to hear, said, “Here’s to America!”

I looked at Rube, and, even though I had a bad feeling about these guys, we tacitly agreed it was an acceptable toast. So Rube and I lifted our beer mugs up and calmly said, “Here’s to America,” then took a swig.

After a short while, one of those other three Germans lifted his mug and said, “And here’s to Germany!” Then he stared right at Rube and, lowering his voice, said, “And here’s to the pure German blood.”

As the bar fell silent, that old question came back to me: What do you say to these idiots? But, having regarded the issue as unimportant for so long, my mind went blank. I didn’t want any trouble with these jerks. So, abandoning my vow to back Rube up, I turned to him and mumbled, “Rube, let’s get out of this place.”

But to my surprise, Rube again lifted his beer mug up to these guys. I grabbed his arm and whispered, “Rube, what the hell are you doing? Can't you see what these guys are?”

Shaking me off, Rube rose to his feet, took a step toward the Germans, and stood before them looking eight feet tall. He thrust his beer mug to within a foot of their faces and said, “Mazel Tov, motherfuckers!”

That German guy just mumbled something and turned away. I was heartened to see other Germans in the bar were cheering Rube on. And as I watched my friend, still thrusting that beer mug toward those guys’ faces, I thought, Yeah, that’s what you say to those idiots.

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