March 14th…“DID YOU EVER MEET A GERMAN SOLDIER FROM WORLD WAR II?”
Herman The German once told me, “In Germany, dah veendows are dah meeror of yer house!! Ifn’s yer veendows are dirty, so likely yer house izz dirty inside, too!!” Such were the words of wisdom that came from a very short and gentle man that was loved by hundreds, if not thousands of children over the years in the Battle Ground School District of Battle Ground, Washington. Like cowboys of the Old West, Herman Grocholl had his own type of “gun holster”, only for Herman, his holster was a quart spray bottle cut down (with slits for his belt) so that a pint spray bottle of glass cleaner could fit into the plastic holster and be with him at all times. With his rags and Windex, that tiny German carried on window warfare and made those school panes of glass just sparkle. He had the mindset that he never wanted anyone on the outside of his schools to think the INSIDE was dirty. Clean windows, therefore, were his “seal” that everything was ship shape inside, too.
It may have carried over from his days as a German Naval shipman during World War II, but I can never recall a time that I didn’t see Herman wearing his yachtsman’s cap. Ya know, I wonder if it may have stemmed from when Herman was in the German Navy? I’ll muse that he wanted a connection to that time of his young life, but, it also may have originated from the fact that when that small custodian wasn’t cleaning his school, he and his dear wife were on the water with their kayak.
One day, as this gentle soul of a man and I were cleaning his school, I asked him, “Herman, I just can’t imagine that you were part of Hitler’s Army during the war!” His response was immediate and made a LOT of sense, “Vell, yew vus eeder in dee Army, or yew vas SHOT DEAD………For me???…I vas in dee Army!!”
In the beginning of his military career, Herman was assigned to the German Navy. The ship he was on was sank near Norway, so rather than wait to be assigned to a new warship, my short friend was transferred into the German Army Infantry and sent to the coast of France. These were the days just before the Normandy Invasion in the late Spring of 1944.
My dear little custodian friend relayed how, in France, “Dah Allies vood come over und bomb us daily. Vee’d retreat und set up our artillery again, und day vood bomb us sohm more. Finally, I yust kept on retreatin’!!!!” (he ran Away With Out Leave….also known as AWOL) He deserted his regiment and tried to get to the Allied Lines to surrender, but he and some other soldiers were captured by their fellow countrymen and imprisoned in a “Deserter’s Camp”. He shared how that it was customary for deserters to be executed within a day or so of capture, so he and some buddy prisoners managed to escape that night and finally WERE able to reach the American Lines and offered themselves up for surrender. His war years were finally over.
In the 1950’s, I heard that Herman’s family were able find sponsors in the Battle Ground, Washington area that allowed them to come to America. He was able to secure a custodian job with the local school district and part of his pay was to live in an apartment above the High School Home Economics Department. After his retirement from the school district, this sweet-natured couple were able to find a small cottage on the east side of town to call home for their remaining years here on earth.
It had been almost 30 years since Herman’s wartime experiences, yet they still lingered within him as I was about to find out one day. There were three of us standing in a very acoustically loud hallway. Herman had his back to me while talking to my working buddy. Without any real reason, I made a loud CLAP of my hands right behind that little German man. Within half a blink, Herman spun around and had his fists up, ready to fight me. I’m shocked, of course! Here’s what he said, “Don’t chew DO DAT!!!! I’m schtill shell shocked from dah Var!!” And he meant it to!
Both he, and his plump wife are gone now, but I counted it a joy to know him and the pleasures he gave to this Norwegian Farmer’s Son.