My Father’s Medal of Courage

During the somber days of World War II, my father was taken prisoner by German troops. He was part of a group of French prisoners from Alsace (which had once been part of Germany) who lacked everything, even the most essential items. Many of the prisoners, especially those who were ill, died of hunger and exposure to the elements or simply of exhaustion during their long marches from one camp to another.

During one of these long and difficult marches into Germany, a sudden explosion detonated in a house not far from this sad string of prisoners. They could hear cries of panic coming from those caught inside the house. The guards quickly tightened the ranks to better guard the prisoners and prevent their escape. However, my father, listening only to his conscience, bolted from the ranks and ran as fast as his weak legs would permit. Without worrying about his own safety, he outran the guards who were pursuing him and shooting in his direction.

Miraculously, he wasn’t hit, and the guards stopped in surprise when they realized he was running into the flame-engulfed house. He soon emerged, carrying a child about eight years old. He had heard the child screaming for help, had rescued him, and now turned him over to the astonished German soldiers. Almost immediately, an officer addressed him in a severe tone: “Do you know what you did? You just saved a future enemy.”

My father, exhausted and drained of all strength from his heroic gesture and from the many hardships of the preceding months, answered with surprising assurance: “I didn’t see an enemy. I saw a human being, a child who needed my help. I did what had to be done—and if it had to be done over, I would do it again without hesitation.”

He was led back to the prisoners—but with a little more respect. And after this act of heroism, all of the prisoners were treated better than they had been before. The most astonishing part of all was that after this group arrived in the camp, my father, in his French uniform, received a German award of distinction.

My father understood the Savior’s commandment to “love one another, as I have loved you” (John 15:12). He died in 1959 without having had the opportunity to hear the restored gospel. But I believe he will be given that opportunity where he is now and will be able to receive all the teachings and blessings the gospel has to offer.

Emmanuel Fleckinger is a member of the Colmar Branch, Nancy France Stake.