Blast from the Past: I Didn’t Shoot Him
Editor’s note: At the initiative of ALBA board member Chris Brooks, who maintains the online biographical database of US volunteers in Spain, the ALBA blog will be regularly posting interesting articles from historical issues of The Volunteer, annotated by Chris. For this next installment, here is Maury Colow’s reflection on a decision made through rifle-sights which ran in July 1985.
I Didn’t Shoot Him
By Maury Colow
[Originally published in The Volunteer, Volume 7, No. 2, July 1985.]
War evokes memories. If you live, you remember. Now that almost half a century has passed, memories come back as though it all happened yesterday.
I have a story to tell that I’ve kept hidden all these years. I had a conflict relating it … mixed feelings, guilt feelings, no matter, now it’s time.
My Company 2 of the Mac-Paps was advancing through the barrancas approaching Gandesa during the final crossing of the Ebro. I was a scout and had a trusting relationship with my Company Commander, Henry Mack. We had crossed the Ebro without casualty. However on the enemy side, we were hit by heavy artillery and took many casualties. In addition, we were practically out of ammunition, machine guns and food. After a heavy mortar barrage, Henry Mack asked me to scout ahead; to note where the enemy was and to gather information. I was only to fire in self-defense.
The terrain was lush. Rolling hills full of flowers and deep green grass. I had that morbid feeling that always seemed to occur to me in these circumstances. What a beautiful and strange place to die. I moved out in full daylight. The countryside was quiet. Off in the distance I could hear the rat-ta-tat of a machine gun and muffled artillery fire. I hugged whatever shadow I could find and silently moved forward. I made sure my steps did not snap twigs and dry leaves (a dead giveaway of my position). I approached a large meadow with a rise of hills behind. I headed for a clump of bushes knowing they were good cover as well as an observation point. It was pastoral and peaceful with a delightful end-of-summer smell. I felt at peace with the world.
Suddenly with my ear close to the earth, I heard footsteps. Within a minute I saw a soldier some 100 feet away. He turned toward the bush and my finger moved on the trigger. I was never a great marksman but with the hairline telescopic sight of my Mauser, I wasn’t bad. I could see him so clearly. I saw every pimple on his face. He was shabby, needed a shave and he had bags under his red eyes. He looked worn out and haggard. His clothes were torn. He had a frightened and sad look about him. I zeroed in on his head and I thought, as my heart pounded, if he comes a few steps closer, I’ll fire. It was as though I held his life in my hands. I waited. He didn’t move any closer and I couldn’t shoot him, yet I was in conflict, another part of me said shoot, shoot.
I watched him as he walked away and noted where he entered his lines. Afterwards, my rationale was that Henry Mack wanted the information and perhaps that was why I didn’t fire. After all these years, I remember that afternoon near Gandesa and I’m glad I didn’t shoot that poor bastard.