FROM BERLIN TO BAGHDAD, THE GENERATIONS SPEAK
by 1st Lt. Gabriel Scheinbaum
American Reporter Special Correspondent
Editor's Note: Gabe Scheinbaum considers his late grandfather, Louis Scheinbaum, a Normandy invasion veteran who was highly decorated as both infantryman and later combat medic, one of his life's great influences.
Now, as a young executive officers of a U.S. Army Cavalry Troop at an undisclosed location in Northwestern Iraq, he often reflects on his grandfather and the heroes of that "greatest generation." His father, longtime American Reporter Correspondent Mark Scheinbaum, received this letter, written Dec. 9, in his mailbox on Christmas Eve.
It was presented to his grandmother, Rhoda Scheinbaum, of Boca Raton, Fla. the next day, the day of both Christmas and the start of Chanukah.
Dad, I've had many days to sit over here in Iraq and wonder what Grandpa was thinking during WWII. I wonder what he and his buddies did to pass the time? What they bitched and moaned about, and what they got excited about? So, I thought I would write this short story as if I were him. I'm sorry he isn't around so we can compare stories, share stories, and such. So, I'll do my best with what I've been through to estimate... .
The setting is a cold base camp somewhere in Germany. The time is not really important, so don't get caught up on historical error. If you don't want to read it, don't. The point is, I'm just trying to bridge a gap. It's my way of being a little closer.
Dear Rhoda, the last four weeks have been a mix of hell on earth and tired boredom.
There seems to be no in between. And if there is an end to the war, I hope it comes soon. The guys have seen more blood than one should, and I wonder if I have the skills required to save more lives. I'm tired.
We crossed the Rhine last week and lost seven more men. Conway from South Jersey was the worst. A shell split him into three pieces and there was nothing anyone could do. Only God could recognize him. Our platoon leader lost his right arm. They say he will live, but he was screaming when the ambulance came. There was no blood because the shrapnel had cauterized his wounds. He was an All-American pitcher at Cornell and had hoped to play for the Yankees. Now that dream is over.
As for my dreams, I have stopped dreaming all together. I'm scared, like most, and don't want to waste my time dreaming. Dreams mean I'm asleep, and we don't have much time for that. I spend the precious moments I have to myself looking at your picture and trying to think of a day when we could be together. How have you been? Are the dodgers winning?
We got mail six days ago but I didn't get a letter from you. My mother sent some stale cookies, which we ate, and I got an Archie comic from Smiley. He doesn't read too good.
They say we might head back to France soon. The shelling here has slowed and the winter takes the fight out of everyone, Yanks and Krauts alike. I wouldn't mind going back to France; warm beds, wine, and cheese, and friendly people. Do you have enough money? I won some shooting dice. I know you told me not to gamble, but I see every day here as the luck of the draw, so why not?
A young guy, maybe 17, came to join us today. He looks so fresh, and scared. His name is Walter Kreiger. He is a German Jew and speaks Kraut. His father came to the States after the First War and the kid wanted to come here. He's so young. I'm not old, but we don't seem that young. Maybe he can speak to the prisoners or something.
Tommy Malone, from Reading, Pa., made the kid do a hundred push-ups before he could eat. He stripped him down to his undershorts, too, in the snow. It was a laugh riot.
I have lost about 10 pounds, I think. The rations are scarce here, but the Luckies are plentiful. No smoking for me when I get back. Those damned Nazis left and the Germans here gave up. We smoke with them but I don't know what they are saying. Maybe the new guy can help. These Germans are just like us. Scared.
When you get this I may be in France, I may be in England, I don't know. I will try to write more but my hands are often stained with blood and dirt and getting them clean is a chore. I will try and do better.
Tell my mother and father I'm doing well and I'm strong. Tell them I love them and I'm all recovered from the shrapnel in my foot. It hurts like hell in the morning though.
Okay, my dear. I need to get back to the aid station. I'm not needed immediately, but I could be. Supper is soon too.
One last thing, and don't forget it. I love you
Peeps, here it is - the end of the month report from Rawah, Iraq. Merry Christmas and Happy Chanukkah.
First, I am alive and we are all back safe.
Yesterday we had four soldiers get hurt. Two were returned to duty, but I stood in the aid station as the doctors and medics did a phenomenal job at caring for our guys. They were both evacuated to a hospital; one may return to us in a few weeks, but one is out of the fight.
One Soldier was shot through the calf, not a C Trooper, but a U.S. guy nonetheless. He will be okay. One good day for the Troop. A good day for me. I got shot at, very close. The ricochets sound like the movies, a little, but the bullet hitting the walls next to my head will be the most memorable. F-cking terrorists, I tell ya! So I had to resort to my old days' prior service [as an enlisted man, Gabe was in counterintelligence, prior to officer's school].
I interrogated a f-cker who originally just said he was a laborer - aren't they all? I broke him, got him to confess everything; he told me where IEDs were buried, weapons caches, that he was a foreign fighter, and then I got him to stand up in front of 200 others and ID six other foreign fighters. I win. We kicked ass today... .
It has been an interesting four and a half months, and December has been no different than the preceeding weeks here in the sand. The Crazyhorse troopers have been oustanding. The vehicles have proven effective, safe, and worthy of the money spent on them. And I have been honored to serve with these guys.
Yesterday we had a pretty big mission to a town where we ended up detaining close to 60 mf's (that is for motherf--kers, i.e., undesirables). I got shot at for the first time in my life, save for the time when my brother Ross shot me with a BB gun while I was roller skating at my Dad's friend Willis' house in Tampa when I was eight. I fell and scraped my knees and cried. I was eight - cut me some slack! Anyway, yesterday was not like that time. My guys did great.
So far my Troop has had about five injured soldiers, and only one will come back to us here. We have had some other minor injuries, and to be sure we have been lucky, but we haven't been perfect. One of our guys is fighting everyday to prove his doctors wrong and win back a life he had stolen from him.
One of my guys would have bled out if it were not for the quick reactions of one of the young specialists in the Troop. He saved that soldier's life, a phenomenal achievement under duress by a scout. It has just been ups and downs here, but mostly ups, and I will never forget my experience here.
As for me, I have been stressed out I guess, or rather, burned out. I will be leaving my current job and taking over as a Company XO by May. I can use the change, though I will miss the guys in C Troop very much.
I won't write much else. We have been overwhelmed by the generosity of the people who have sent us so many packages and on behalf of my guys I want to say thank you for the donations of stuff that I have shared with all my men.
Anyway, I hope this email finds you all well, safe, and together with those you love this Holiday season. Til next month, or by individual email basis, later.
Okay, I'm not [historian and author Stephen] Ambrose, and I never read anything Grandpa wrote, but it's the stuff I think about daily. Another time, another place. Your Dad, my Grandpa. And we still find ourselves thousands of miles from those we love.
Dad, I love you. I'm well. I've lost maybe ten pounds. The food is good, but I don't eat much. Tell Mom I love her. I don't dream much when I sleep, but my daily thoughts are grand and far from here. We got a new kid in. He's from Southern California. He's Christian. My guys are safe... . I'm sitting here ... wishing for this to end. Rumor has it that my troop might be swapped with another, but you never know. I've got to go. I'm not needed immediately, but I could be.
I love you,
First Lieut. Gabriel Scheinbaum is on the front lines in Iraq with the U.S. Army.