Doug's Darkworld

War, Science, and Philosophy in a Fractured World.

Men Behaving Nobly

with 4 comments

A few years back I wrote a series on “Men Behaving Badly.” So it occurs to me I should write a companion series about men behaving nobly. It does happen, not as often as I would like, but it’s a good start. Honestly I think most people’s behaviour is pretty much dependent on their peers and social pressure, so under bad circumstances … normal people do bad things. Some don’t though, and this series is dedicated to people who did the right thing at the wrong time.

And my first example is Friedrich Lengfeld, pictured above. He was a lieutenant in the German army during 1944. This was World War Two, so yes, he was fighting for Hitler and Germany. November 12 of 1944 to be exact. In the Battle of Hurtgen Forest. The Battle of Hurtgen Forest was one of America’s bloodiest and least remembered battles in World War Two. This is because for months the Americans tried to capture this dense forest on the borders of Germany and Belgium. Unit after unit was set in, bloodied, and pulled out, more than 30,000 Americans were killed and wounded. Why is it little remembered? Because it was one of the stupidest battles in history, there was absolutely no reason to take this heavily defended forest from the Germans. I’m not making this up, it was the longest ground battle fought in Germany in World War Two, and the longest battle the US Army has ever fought.

Moving right along, it’s morning in the forest. Lt Lengfeld was a rifle company commander, that’s a hundred guys or more under his command. An American had been injured in a minefield near their position and was calling for help.  Lt Lengfeld ordered his men not to shoot when Americans came to help him, but none did, his unit had pulled back and didn’t hear him. The cries for help went on for hours. Finally Lt Lengfeld could listen no longer. He led a party of volunteers out to save the American soldier. He was that kind of leader, he wouldn’t ask his men to do anything he wouldn’t do. He didn’t make it. Before he even got to the American he stepped on a land mine, and eight hours later had died of his wounds. History does not record the fate of the wounded American.

In fact history almost didn’t record the fate of Lt Lengfeld, but one of his men told the story for posterity some years later. So Lt Lengfeld is mildly famous in Germany, at least they have a wikipedia entry about him. And there’s a minor postscript to this story. In 1994 some American veterans of the battle heard Lt Lengfeld’s story, and arranged to set up a memorial to him in the German military cemetery where he is buried. It is the only war memorial for a German soldier set up by Americans in Germany.

And that’s that. Ha. That’s never that. I can certainly admire Lt Lengfeld for his sacrifice, it was a noble thing to do. It’s too bad it was a part of something so ignoble that it defies imagination. (Trust me, aliens find human wars incomprehensible.) One could be unfair and wonder if he would have done the same for a French … or Russian … soldier. That was a much more bitter war, there actually wasn’t much hatred between Americans and Germans during World War Two. Except for the aforementioned caveat about wars in general. Maybe I’ll see if I can find a similar act of compassion on the Russian front. I’m not optimistic, but people can be surprising. Oh, wait, reviewing my memory … I thought of one. Tomorrow, a German soldier tries to stop the slaughter of Russian Jews! Good enough! Peace out!

(I don’t know the copyright status of images taken by Hitler’s regime, but I am going to assume since I’m not using it for profit, and I’m saying good things about Lt Lengfeld and Germans, I’m good. It’s the only picture of him I can find. He kind of looks like my uncle Leonard, but likely just the German look, it runs in the family.)


Written by unitedcats

April 10, 2012 at 6:07 am

4 Responses

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  1. I’m not sure why, but this story smells. My first thought was, yeah right some guy was injured and calling for help. It was just a trick. Then I thought that if it were a trick then why didn’t the hidden Americans shoot the Hell out of the foolish Germans who approached? So no, probably not a trick, and yet my inner voice still says something is not quite right. So then I ask myself why did the Americans leave their fallen comrade? Sure, happens all the time in war. Dude was passed out and his buddies left, then he came to and started crying for help. Now, if I were a wounded American soldier in the middle of German-occupied territory I might cry for help once or twice but then I’d want to shut up, wait for night, and hope I could crawl to safety. But perhaps he was shell-shocked and delirious. Perhaps he was so injured that he didn’t care what happened as long as something did.
    Nobody has ever pursued this story? Found out who the wounded soldier was, if he lived, if he had a sense of humour? Sometimes people do incredibly brave and unselfish acts of kindness, even during war, but not this time. If this story were fully researched it would be revealed as a story involving the saving of face, for which side I am not sure.
    If I am proven wrong, I apologize profusely to the family of Herr Lengfeld, and to all those who have been involved in combat. I know people, but I know little of battle.


    April 24, 2012 at 9:45 pm

    • You a person of perspicacity and discernment, the story is weak on provenance. The sentiments seemed genuine, so I decided to let that slide. They are blog posts, not scholarly dissertations. Thanks for commenting.


      April 25, 2012 at 6:17 pm

      • I surely hope I didn’t offend, but clearly I irked. Obviously, I’m aware that you are aware the story is weak on provenance. I just thought it would be interesting to discuss something of which I know very little – ie the battlefield. But clearly I failed to spark anything but annoyance. Hopefully, I’ll get better at provoking thought in future comments. Sincerely.


        April 27, 2012 at 7:47 am

  2. Hmm, I was impressed by your comment. I don’t recall being irked. I apologize for coming across that way.


    April 27, 2012 at 12:10 pm

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