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The Encounter

(A True Story)

By

Alexander Jefferson

It was a warm–sunny day on the twelfth of August, 1944, when I, Lieutenant Jefferson, a member of the 332nd Fighter Group, climbed aboard my Red–tailed P–51 Mustang and soared into the wild blue yonder to attack German Radar Stations along the coast of France. On one of my strafing passes, at fifty feet above the ground, I flew right into a hail of 20mm shells. There was a loud explosion and immediately the cockpit filled with hot oil and smoke. Realizing that I was on fire and too low to bail out, I horsed back on the stick and used my remaining air–speed to gain as much altitude as possible. When I reached approximately eight–hundred feet, my aircraft shuddered violently, stalled, then rolled onto its back. At that point, I took a deep breath and ejected, snatching my rip cord the moment I was clear. Helplessly, I watched as my aircraft, my steed, my ride back home crashed in flames into an open filed. With a silent prayer, I tightened my grip on my risers and waited with abated breath as I drifted into the waiting arms of a very angry German patrol. As I tumbled to the ground, they rushed toward me with bayonets drawn and I feared the worse until thy suddenly realized that I was black—probably the first they had ever seen from the look on their faces. I suppose it was this fact that made them back down and spare my life. Instead, I quickly became a prized oddity, something to look at and jabber about.

They took me, then, at gun point to a villa about twenty miles east of Toulon where I was told to sit on the verandah beside a wrought iron table no more than a hundred feet from the water's edge. So I sat, looking out across the azure blue waters of the Mediterranean, wondering about my uncertain future and what would be said once my family and friends found out that I was missing. Some moments later, a German officer strolled out onto the porch, looked at me coldly, then lit a cigarette.
"What is your name" he asked in perfect English.
"Alexander Jefferson, First Lieutenant, US Army Air Corps, Serial Num..."
"Let's forget the formalities for the moment, Lieutenant. Where in the States are you from? Have you ever been to Washington?"
"No excuse, sir," I replied immediately in boot camp fashion as a way of avoiding having to answer his questions.
"I only ask," the officer continued," because I went to school in your country. I went to the University of Michigan. Do you know of it?"
"I know of it," I replied hesitantly. But deep down inside, I wanted to tell this representative of the Master Race that I was a graduate of Clark University in Atlanta with a Master's from Howard University in Washington, D.C.
"Good. Have you ever been to Michigan? It is a wonderful state."

At the mention of Detroit, the German Officer's demeanor changed completely. For the next thirty minutes, I sat listening as the officer excitedly told me about his adventures into "Paradise Valley," about the fun he had while there drinking, carousing, and fraternizing with local girls, mentioning several by name—none of which I knew. He also rattled off the names of most of the night spots and hotels in the Valley, especially the "Three Sixes" which he stated was his favorite. "...Yes some of the best times in my life were spent in Detroit's Valley. Let's hope this war ends soon so we can get back to the things that really matter," he said when he was done. With that, he offered me one of his cigarettes (which I accepted), shook my hand, then stood on the porch in a typical Nazi stance, watching silently and forlornly as they loaded me aboard a truck to be transported to a POW Camp in the interior. It really is a small world, I thought to myself as the beach and the quaint villa faded off into the distance. A first, my feelings had been a little raw, hearing him speak about the "Good" loving he received from our black girls back home. In the end, however, I was truly thankful for their efforts in behalf of the war. Truly thankful, indeed..."

 
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