The Belgian Tribe

July 24, 2008 at 7:38 PM
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My grandfather served in the European Theater of Operations during WWII, an experience he rarely talks much about. I’ve only managed to coax one story out of him.

He and a low-ranking officer (granddad was an enlisted man) were travelling by jeep somewhere in Belgium with a cache of much-needed ammunition. Taking a wrong turn on an unpaved road they first became lost, then began to run low on fuel. They sought to ask some locals for help, as the Belgians were highly sympathetic to the Allied effort.

They spied a small hamlet, made up of fewer than a dozen thatched huts, and began walking towards it. They were met halfway by a group of three men dressed mostly in animal skins, all of whom spoke angrily in a language neither of them understood (not French, not German, and certainly not English).

Negotiations proved futile, and one of the three drew a small rusty knife. The Lieutenant drew his .45 sidearm in return and killed the man when he rushed at them as if to attack. This act scared the other two off.

Eventually they repaired the jeep themselves and found their way back to base by the next day. A report was filed, but not much made of it. The following winter the Lieutenant was killed in an artillery barrage, making my grandfather the only known living witness to the event.

Now what’s interesting is what reminded him of the story: we were watching a documentary on the development of language, this one specifically about the Saxon tongue, which thousands of years ago developed into languages like German and English. Granddad remarked how much it sounded like the words he’d heard that day.

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