Alpha Omega M.D. – Episode #195
…When the shelling stops, I will provide you an escort to Paris,” orders General Henri Philippe Petain. “It appears the Germans are determined to take this position and we’re not in the mood to give it up…
War slows down in the winter. Much of the energy necessary to carry on armed conflicts is wasted on trying to keep warm and in a war where progress is measured in yards, things do not move fast, even in warmer weather. Shells misfire, feet and hands freeze, the general will to fight disappears with the sinking angle of the sun. It makes you wonder why Russia is ever contested over.
But answers to these and many other questions are more easily obtained; just ask the shivering staff of the Pearson-Eastman Journal. Access to officers and conscripted alike accelerates with the thickening of engine oil and the congealing of diesel fuel. More stories are exchanged between comrades than gunfire with the enemy. There are general objectives to be achieved, but Mother Nature calls most of the shots.
Sometimes the cold causes brain cramps. Emboldened by the lack of fighting, fighting the urge to trade the field for a crackling hearth in Rochester USA, Harv and Judith take their crew to the city of Verdun France, an ancient fortress town, one of the country’s oldest. It turns into a sightseeing tour. In the area called the “Heights”, there are buildings that date back to when North America was just a gleam in a Viking’s eye. For all its obvious history, it continues to be what it was designed to be, a topographical stronghold, not easily breached by land.
In the days of the Roman Empire, when it was known as Virodunum, it represented stability, a constant in time of conquering, so no matter what country controlled the countryside, the Heights remain unchanged. Treaties are signed here, Europe parceled and re-parceled and still armies are forced to stay away.
Germany managed to do the impossible in the 10th century, the border with France drifting back and forth with the winds of time, and have once again targeted Verdun as the gateway to Paris.
On 21 February 1916, after a week of lens reflex and reticence, Pearson and Eastman-Pearson are shocked out of their beds before dawn. They had been staying in the rectory of the Notre Dame Cathedral, residence to the current Roman Catholic bishop, feeling quite at home.
For the next 24 hours, there is not a minute that does not contain the whistle of 40 mm artillery shells and the crater creating explosions. Ground troops, led by one of the junior Wilhelms, are 8 miles to the rear, pushing hard against a French Army wall 20 miles long. But there is no stopping the formidable ammunition from arching onto the unattainable Heights at Fort Douaumont.
“When the shelling stops, I will provide you an escort to Paris,” orders General Henri Philippe Petain. “It appears the Germans are determined to take this position and we’re not in the mood to give it up.”
His message is clear, if understanding his thick French accent isn’t.
“We need to contact Bologna, General. We would like get to England before we head back to the States. Could you help us?” asks Harv hopefully.
“Oui, at our Paris headquarters, you may speak to anyone in the world. And while you are at it, tell your Woodrow Wilson that we could use his help, tout suite.”
“If he has been reading our magazine, he is already contemplating it. If he doesn’t, I am sure our readers may have something to say about it. The pictures of war can be a powerful thing. The very thought of a Europe under German control is unthinkable.”
“I hope you are right, Mon Amie!”
“Arrevoire, General and hold that line,” he points to the east.
“They shall not pass!” Petaine states with a leader’s conviction.