Early during the week, I sat down for my reheated cheese omelet. Many people don’t find reheated eggs that appealing, but it is one of the few comforts I can attest to. I had been blessed to have a freshly cooked cheese omelet for breakfast on the ship, the eggs always were to order. (A huge perk for you showing up on time, before work starts). The eggs weren’t what I had intended on talking or thinking about during that cool, dark morning but the eggs are what reminded me of something important, a soldier’s toughest decisions.
It was more than if you wanted your eggs over easy, scrambled, or what have you omelet. I had a few decisions of more pressing matters when I was in the service, one or two of them were to shape my life. Because of a rough start in my first year, I had been given the opportunity to piss my time in the service away. A sailor on my ship had done the same thing, his career wasn’t appealing, and his life was going to shit. He chose to get kicked out for alcoholism. It hurt and I didn’t want people to talk shit about me either. It helped push me in the right decision. It took me a while after my drug & alcohol counselor cornered me to clean up. But it was one of the hardest decisions, it would have been easier to roll my other three years and get shit faced all the time.
I reflected these strange sentiments to a friend. The irony is that it wasn’t that tough of a decision. The successful chose better. It was the smart choice. I read often about smarter men than I, the ones that have had harder challenges. I knew of one that dared to throw a proverbial “f*ck all” to the wind:
This man was named Josef “Sepp” Gangl, a major in the German Army, who served his country with distinction during WWII.
I know many people would question why I would pick him. He spent six years in the German military, during which he saw service in combat. This included heavy combat against the Allies at various locations in France and Eastern Europe. A man that cast his lot at a relatively young age and saw the horrors of his side.
But it was a specific set of orders that didn’t make sense to him, the defense of the Alpenfestung, or the Alpine Redoubt. (The redoubt was supposed to be an area that Germany could operate the military in the event that the main military central locations failed. I used West Virginia’s Greenbriar or Cheyenne Mountain complex as an equivalent).
I had reason to believe that he had saw the folly in this, especially after seeing the losses in previous battles. Gangl saw the end of the war coming and I could imagine that he didn’t have a blind zeal for a guerilla war. One of the most important things that I had heard from a favorite Sabaton History video I include below, is that the SS had already started a campaign to punish Austrian civilians that were showing white flags or signs of Austrian leanings. Gangl kept his troops in the area to try to protect local residents.
Gangl, who had been in contact with the Austrian resistance, was contacted by a Czech cook from a prison (Schloss Itter) with some of the strangest news one could hear: A castle, with war prisoner VIPs, were in danger of being killed by SS troops. The prison administration had run or capitulated days before.
Knowing that his troops and he would most likely be overwhelmed; he sought the help from a most likely source; his old enemies.
Without telling you how things ended up, he made a myriad of choices. None of those choices were easy. The easiest choices were selling out people and hoping that the SS didn’t know his turn of heart.
Major Gangl, a professional soldier, made some tough decisions. Many people involved had their lives saved and the end of the war was able to arrive in an orderly fashion.
In this instance, he chose between a few not so great options, and received history’s amnesia years later. I salute him, for he stayed a professional soldier to the end.
Additional notes: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Josef_Gangl)