A few of my friends grew up reading about superheroes in comic books. I found my superheroes in the pages of World War II history books and Hollywood war pictures.
But, like my friends, I never thought I would actually meet the superheroes I read about. But years after I began writing, I’ve met a few. The latest was Mr. Fred Conrod, whom I interviewed last September for the local paper I work for.
Mr. Conrod, who died last month at age 93, was a superhero right out of central casting.
A member of “The Devil’s Brigade,” the famed commando unit depicted in the 1968 film of the same name, Mr. Conrod fought seemingly everywhere in Europe during World War II – Italy, France, Norway and Germany.
Officially known as the First Special Service Force, they were given their nickname by the Germans. They got it by wreaking havoc behind the German lines and leaving their calling card on the enemy soldiers they dispatched – “Das dicke Ende kommt noch” was German for “The worst is yet to come.”
Mr. Conrod’s experience in the war could make for a pretty good movie with a lot of action, a good bit of humor and some a little luck. There was even some romance. “I had a great time in Southern France. I dated the prettiest girl in Nice,” Mr. Conrod told me last year.
In Norway, when the terror and adrenaline of combat gave way to the boredom in between battles, Mr. Conrod said he amused himself by sneaking into a German camp and stealing a motorcycle.
But, as entertaining as his story is, it’s scary to think of what the world would look like today if Mr. Conrod and others hadn’t won the war.
Thankfully, Hitler was wrong about who the real “super men” were.
They weren’t of Aryan descent. They were American boys whose parents and grandparents came from every corner of the human race. American kids of Italian, Japanese, English, Scottish, African, Russian, Hispanic, French, Irish, even German descent, to name a few, who grew up playing baseball and learning knots in the Boy Scouts.
They were shaped and toughened by the Great Depression, grew into men and answered their country’s call with honor and distinction.
Super heroes save a fictional world.
The men of Mr. Conrod’s generation saved the real one.
We can never fully repay that debt. But we can remember what we owe.