Here’s the back story. At the time I was on the Boulder County Aging Advisory Council and gave a ride to another council member. She told me about this fascinating man who lived in her senior residence. Later that day she introduced me to Ed, and he told me stories of fighting as an infantryman in Europe, becoming a prisoner of war and being liberated by the Russians. He got to one point and said, “At one time I was the greatest chicken thief in all of Europe.”
Unfortunately, I had to leave at that time for an appointment. Two weeks later I gave a talk for the book group at this senior residence, and Ed was in attendance. Afterwards, I pulled him aside to hear the rest of the story. He recounted this experience of stealing rabbits and chickens to regain the 40% of his body weight lost as a prisoner. Given his impish sense of humor, he had me laughing out loud. Although Ed expressed no interest in writing his life story, he agreed to work with me, and our collaboration began.
We met approximately once a week, and I took notes and recorded the sessions. In writing Ed’s biography, I learned that fiction writing prepared me well. Ed’s life has been full of pathos and humor, attributes I have put into my mysteries. Along the way I learned a tremendous amount about World War II. As an example, Ed mentioned the name of the captain of his company, and through Internet research, I was able to locate a write up describing how Captain Batrus had been awarded a silver star.
Some highlights of Ed’s life: He experienced an unusual early education, attending an anarchist school, and suffered through the depression. As an American of Jewish heritage, he chose to fight Hitler, and in the Vosges Mountains of France faced a number of life or death encounters with the enemy. On New Year’s Eve 1944, he was a forward observer when the Germans’ last initiative on the Western Front, Operation North Wind, overran his position. He survived behind enemy lines for two days before being captured. He spent seven days and nights in a crowded freight car with no food and the only water being from snowflakes caught on his fingers through slats in the side of the railroad car. In Stalag IV-B, he survived by trading cigarettes for food on the black market, tried to escape but was recaptured.
After being freed by the Russians and although he hated Germans, he saved four German refugees. When he returned to American command, he was almost killed in a back alley in Paris, before shipping back to the States where a medical authority informed him he would be lucky to live into his early fifties. Suffering from what we now call post-traumatic stress disorder, he almost killed himself, had a disastrous first marriage, lost custody of his son and struggled to support himself. Pulling himself out of the depths, he found his true wife, who helped him rebound and run a successful business.
An example of Ed’s puckish sense of humor. His second wife was a scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research. One night at a reception, he was introduced to a pompous academician who looked down his nose at Ed and said, “What do you do?” Ed replied, “Oh, I sweep the floors and clean the equipment at a machine shop,” (not mentioning that he owned and ran the business). The man raised an eyebrow. Ed then put his arm around his wife, Sonia, and said, “And this wonderful woman taught me how to read and write.” Afterwards, he got an earful from Sonia.
For me, one of the highlights of this project, was locating the son from his first marriage, whom Ed hadn’t seen in fifty-seven years, and facilitating a reunion that took place in October of 2013.
The working title for the book is For Liberty: A Soldier’s Inspiring Life Story of Courage, Sacrifice, Survival and Resilience, and it will be published this spring. And Ed is the greatest chicken thief in all of Europe.
Mike Befeler has six published books in his Paul Jacobson Geezer-lit Mystery Series, the most recent being Nursing Homes Are Murder. He also has two published paranormal mysteries, The V V Agency and The Back Wing and a theater mystery, Mystery of the Dinner Playhouse. His first historical mystery, Murder on the Switzerland Trail, will be released in October. Mike is past-president of the Rocky Mountain Chapter of Mystery Writers of America.