Cameraman for Courage
By: Markus Weinzinger
Tall triangles dotted the sea of green and brown below. Muddy lanes covered the broad landscape, but were overwhelmed in some places where the triangles towered over. Then, a gray vessel appeared to the north, and I swooped in for a closer look. I steadied my camera and pressed the shutter when at a low fifty feet. Grey-colored beings gazed up in alarm and anger, and the sound of loud repetition suddenly filled the air. Lead slammed into the fuselage of my small plane, when I realized my time was up…
I decided to join a small band of sky spies, people who flew planes to get aerial intelligence of the enemy. Ally command awarded us depending on the value of our catch. I flew with a wingman, his name was Jacques. His most prized possession was a picture of his family, slain by the Nazi’s coolly efficient Blitzkrieg attacks. The man wanted revenge on the Nazis for his family and for invading his homeland. I could not agree more, Hitler’s threat and conquest was spreading like a wildfire.
The first mission was rather easy, snapping photographs of possible landing zones in preparation for an imminent invasion of Great Britain. Despite their efforts, no foe made landfall. Instead, multitudes of German Luftwaffe fighters and bombers unleashed chaos on London. While foolhardily escaping a pair of fighters, Jacques’ plane flew over the Channel and caught a wave. I never saw the rebel again.
Throughout the war, I continued in my position, presenting the Allies with tantalizing intelligence. The war was gradually turning in the freedom’s favor, how I wanted it to end so badly. From my superiors, I heard of an invasion of Europe, code-named Operation Overlord. My mission was to locate and capture images of the Atlantic Wall, the largest defensive complex I had ever seen. The goal was to find the safest place possible for Allied troops to land on the beaches of Normandy.
On the night of June 3, 1944, I took off with a squadron of spy planes for a date with destiny. It was cloudy, an advantage to evade enemy aircraft, but a downfall when taking photos. Without warning, the sky lit up like a Christmas tree, fireballs bursting only a few yards from my plane. One poor soul in the formation took a hit to the wing, billowing smoke. His parachute opened as he drifted into the waiting hands of the Germans. Facing superior fire, the squadron leader announced we were to turn around to home in England. Reluctantly, I obeyed orders.
The high command was disappointed with the outcome of the mission, and ordered a return flight the next morning. Seeing an opportunity of redemption, I rushed to my plane and awaited my comrades. Once again, all planes lined up for takeoff. Over the radio, a familiar voice piped up: “Hey, are you ready for round two?” I turned around and nearly hit my head on the canopy. Jacques had come back from the dead!
Five planes roared through the air in search of bunkers, troops, and airfields. A green landscape dotted by evergreens and crisscrossed with muddy lanes greeted the aviators. I was overjoyed at the return of my friend, but had to focus, for we were now in enemy territory. I spotted a bunker below, and swooped low to snap a picture. Immediately after the action, the sky was filled with loud bangs and puffs of smoke. “Evasive action!” cried the squadron leader. Unfortunately, all the planes scattered in different directions. My plane got hit, and I felt the presence of the earth coming close, blurred by vertigo.
Upon impact with the ground, Jacques and I scrambled away from the burning wreck to safety. The enemy came after us, like a shark smelling blood in the water. For days we escaped and evaded the Nazis, relentless in their search. Our friends were some miles away, and it would take a miracle to get there. When night came, an avenue of freedom had presented itself. After a tiring run, I gazed before me, when I caught a flag fluttering in the breeze. The Allies were advancing! Hope and home seemed so close…
Suddenly, flashes of light and an unforgettable ratatatatatatat lit up the scene. We were caught in a firefight! Ducking to make ourselves smaller targets, Jacques and I rushed to friendly lines. We came so close to the lines that we could see British troops working their rifles. Jacques jumped and waved to the men, when a soldier turned and fired. My friend collapsed to the ground, wounded and paralyzed from the waist down. Two other British troops rushed to flank the enemy, when they saw us. Noticing my American accent, and the Frenchman in my arms, they did not hesitate to assist. Rushing as fast as we could, friendly lines swept beneath our feet. Safety still seemed far away…
At that moment, a tank pulled up and began blasting the enemy into submission. Allied forces pressed forward and seized the Nazi trench and bunker system. Jacques and I were driven to the closest base by a Willy’s Jeep. I experienced fatigue, hunger, and sorrow. The jeep halted and Jacques was carried away in a medical litter to a makeshift hospital. The sun had risen, and its warming sensation crept over my body. Then, the condition of Jacques hit me like a ton of bricks. Jacques, my lone friend, had passed away from his wounds.
Stricken with grief, I fell down from my seat on the Jeep. To me, the world had ended. I would quit and return home, oblivious to the consequences. I effectively deemed myself useless. Then, the field surgeon came out of the hole-ridden tent. “Sir, the patient wanted me to give you this,” he said as he handed me the item. My heart warmed and I gasped in wonder. He had left me with the very same picture of his family. On the back, he had jotted down: “Through sailing winds and fire through night, let hope and courage your soul delight”. I never knew he was a poet.