I think. “I am second in command of the platoon, and the lieutenant of the platoon is now dead. That means I am in charge of the platoon. I am in charge of twenty-nine lives. They could live or die depending on what I order.”
My instincts kick in and I tell my favorite soldier, my old friend from a different time, to take charge of the squad. I tell Squad One to position its ten men outside and guard the entrance of the building. I did not want to risk being surrounded. I lead the other two squads with me into the building. I tell Private Aleksandr to scout the second floor. He comes back and tells me there are ten Germans manning two machine guns: four working each machine gun and two standing guard. The machine guns are on tripods, and are facing out the window towards my fellow Russians below. If the Russians moved, death would rain from above onto them.
I tell Squad Three to charge up the stairs and to try and neutralize the threat. I see them sneak up the stairs. Then there are about ten seconds of deafening gunfire. Some of the guns are those of my own troops. To me, it sounds as if most of them are those of a machine gun, and then the gunfire stops. I see a few Germans run down the stairs. I, and Squad Two, fire at the Germans as they run down the stairs. I walk up the stairs and see Squad Three standing over a few dead bodies.
We had cleared the building of the Germans, but six soldiers that I had been in charge of had died in the process. Those lives could have been saved if I acted differently. I would probably never forgive myself for those deaths
I tell Squad Three to take their dead and injured down to the first floor and deal with them. I tell Squad Two to man the machine guns. I look out one of the windows and see that most of my regiment are hiding in cover. I see the Germans behind their cover and tell Squad Two to open up on the Germans on my word.
I start counting down on my fingers, and at zero I yell, “Give it to ‘em.” Next to me, I hear machine guns open up and start seeing Germans falling. I hear our Colonel yell “charge!” My regiment breaks cover and starts charging towards the enemy.
At first, it seems as if it was not going to work. My Russian comrades are getting mowed down by the enemy. Then, the first members of the regiment get within five hundred meters of the enemy and start firing at the enemy. I see the Germans start to fall faster. The Germans begin to die at an alarming rate, and then I hear a German officer yell retreat. Too late: the Russians were already hopping the barricade and stabbing the Germans with their bayonets.
I feel relief. We had won a small victory for the Red Army, and I feel as if I have played a major part. I order the platoon out of the building. I count eighteen. I let twelve of my comrades die. I felt responsible for their deaths. If I hadn’t ordered them to take the second floor, fewer of them would have died.
I hear someone say, “Who is the leader of this platoon?” I turn around and see Colonel Vadim. I tell him it is me. He says, “You did a great job out there, and without you we would not have won. I am hereby promoting you to Major and you will be leading C Company.”
I see the rest of our division marching to the battle site. Later that day, there was a mass funeral for all those who died. Since many officers were killed, many men had to be promoted, including me. After the ceremony, we had a hot dinner as celebration. It was delicious. I then headed to C company headquarters.
In the headquarters, I see four lieutenants sitting around a table. When I enter they stand and say, “Major”.
“At ease,” I tell them and they sit down. “Introductions.”
One stands up. He is a younger man, about 1.8 meters tall. He has hazel eyes and short brown hair. He has a small cross hanging from his neck. He has a thin build. He says in a deep voice: “Vladimir Vasilev, 2nd rifle platoon, at your service.” He then sits down.
The one sitting next to Vladimir stood. He was a shorter man, only about 1.6 meters, but built like a rock. He was an older man and had a coonskin on his head. He says in a wispy yet firm voice: “Oleg Nikolaev, heavy weapons platoon.” He then sits.
The third lieutenant stands. He seems to be of Mediterranean descent. His left cheek had a large scar. He had dark hair and dark eyes. He had a look of determination in his eye. He says “Andreas Buros, 3rd rifle platoon.”
I look over at the fourth lieutenant. He remains sitting. He has very light skin. He’s probably from Siberia. He is smoking a cigarette. He looks over at me and tells me in a snarky attitude: “Stefan Fedorov, 1st rifle platoon, but you probably already knew that.”
I stare him down, then look away. I say with authority: “I am Major Ivan Kuznetsov, and you will respect me. You are dismissed. I will see you bright and early tomorrow.”