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My Friend Lone Prophet

My Friend Lone Prophet

 
(George Nicklin writes:  I was preparing this short story about Lone Prophet for a book I am writing entitled War Stories.  As I finished writing the story, it struck me that since Prophet was killed during the Battle of the Bulge, it might be of interest for publication…It is unfortunately about one of the gorier parts of the war which do not tend to surface and from which we turn our face.  What especially amazed me was the name -- Lone Prophet…. Unfortunately, he was indeed a "lone prophet" when death came calling.)
 
No one has haunted me more during my lifetime than my friend Lone Prophet.  He is indeed a man with a bizarre name.  When you hear this name, you would assume in our financially-burdened world that the spelling should be "Loan Profit."   Lone Prophet is, however, decidedly the real name of a real man, who lived in the United States and Europe during the 1940s.
 

How did I become to be so haunted by him?  Where has this led me?  It has led me into the unexpectedness of life with which all of us must struggle.  I met Lone Prophet just before New Year's Day in 1944.  It was a very cold late December.  We were in beautiful, picturesque Kalterherberg, a village of about 200 to 300 pastel-painted houses in the German Ardennes Forest.  The houses were amazing in that they had three feet thick concrete walls.  In the middle of the town was a beautiful Catholic church, whose doors stood wide open with the snow streaming in and forming drifts on the floor of the sanctuary.  Hallowedness pervaded me as alone I explored the empty church.

 

I was coming back to a group with whom I had entered combat on October 22, 1944, in the intense fighting centred on Aachen, Germany.  I had been with them until December 18th, a week earlier when I had left for an intense course in emergency first aid treatment.  Previously in the U.S., I had had a term of pre-med education.  I had discovered from experience on the front lines that medics were at a high premium.  They had an amazingly short live expectancy.  When the Army notified me that they wanted to use my medical expertise as a medical corpsman, I was horrified or--perhaps more accurately--mortified.  I realized that the risks were considerably higher than my previous job of being a regular infantryman.

 

I had the good luck to be reassigned as a medic to my former company--"K", 2nd Platoon.  The company had four platoons but only three medics--weapons platoon did not have a medic.  Members of that platoon were taken care of by the three other platoons' medics.

 
Shortly after my return to "K" Company, I ran into Lone Prophet.  When he told me his name, I was astonished.  I asked him about the origins of his name.  Prophet said that his mother liked the name Lone Prophet.  He replied that he viewed the name as indicative of the family he came from.  Prophet revealed that he came from a small village in the hills of Kentucky, near the Tennessee border.  Time has dimmed my memory as to the name of that village.  His family and their neighbours were characterized as hillbillies.  He was very reticent about addressing this but there was a hint of the hillbilly evident in his accent.  The accent was a throwback to spoken English of the 16th or 17th century.
 
As the days and weeks wore on during the winter of 1944-45 in that snow in Kalterherberg, I saw Lone Prophet at least every two or three days.  He was a medic for the 3rd Platoon and me for the 2nd Platoon.  I do not recall the name of the medic for the 1st Platoon though perhaps the shortened life expectancy of medics had left the 1st without one.  When we met we were always very pleased to see one another.  After reassuring each other as to our respective health, we would discuss the state of our platoons' medical supplies.  Usually one, if not both of us, had been to the battalion aide station the previous day to stock up on medical supplies.  We would exchange bandages, adhesive tape, syrettes of morphine, etc., so that our medical kits would be adequately supplied.  Prophet and I developed a strong sense of affection for one another.  We were both very pleased with our continued mutual well being.
 

We were on the northern hinge of the Bulge.  How many wounded did we have to treat?  It did not seem that we had many wounded.  The fighting was very desultory though there were spurts of extreme fighting followed by quiet accentuated by the snow.  The snow was very deep.  Our foxholes, previously occupied by the Germans, were very comfortable.  We emerged from the foxholes several times a day to assess the situation.  Occasionally, we would have combat sorties into the German lines, where we would capture prisoners and kill some Germans.  As we got farther beyond January 1st, the German ability to attack diminished.  By the end of January 1945 we had advanced several miles within the Hurtgen Forest, part of the Ardennes.

 

Toward the end of January my supplies were low and I thought it might be easier to secure them from Prophet, who was in a neighbouring dugout.  I arrived at the dugout within a few minutes.Prophet's dugout had the advantage of being in a well-forested area.  The dugout's undesirable characteristic was that the German built dugout's entrance was open to the German lines.  The entrance was capacious, two door-widths wide, as was the interior of the dugout which included several stoves for heat.  The dugout was reasonably well lit with candles.

 

As I moved through this dugout's entrance, Prophet and I discussed our need for medical supplies.  After separating our pooled bandages and morphine, we exchanged different widths of gauze.  We had iodine and mercurochrome for the wounds, a morphine derivative for diarrhoea, which was quite prevalent among the soldiers.  Many of the soldiers had problems not only with their bowels but with their urinary control.  At times it was said jokingly, "It was quite clear.  We are trickling across Europe."  I had to evacuate some military personnel because their skin was constantly wet from urinary incontinence.  The skin would begin to deteriorate necessitating hospitalization.

 

I then returned to my dugout which I shared with two or three other members of the headquarters staff of my platoon.  Soon after I heard heavy shelling originating on the German side and directed at us.  One of the shells seemed to land in the area of Prophet's dugout. I did not dwell on the proximity of the shelling.  Prophet's dugout appeared capable of withstanding any kind of fire short of a direct shell hit.

 

After the artillery barrage quieted, I decided to check on Prophet, who was located two or three hundred yards away through the forest.I   could smell the artillery explosions as I approached Prophet's dugout.  Two or three men, whom I had seen earlier in the dugout, were standing outside.  Some smoke was emerging through the dugout's entrance.

 
As I walked forward, a soldier cried out, "Don't go in!"I explained that I was the medic from the 2nd Platoon and had come to see their medic.Again the soldier caution me about entering.He told me that I couldn't see Prophet.Surprised by his comment, I said, "Why?"He replied, "Prophet is dead!"I asked if he could share with me what had happened.The soldier responded that he would do so reluctantly.
 
Prophet's dead was described as a terrible experience though the actual death was quick.  Prophet had been standing just inside the doorway when a shell exploded directly upon his waistline and blew him in half.  The soldier was very upset by the recitation of this series of events.  He had seen Prophet while the upper part of his torso was still alive.  Prophet had continued to speak, oblivious to his own separated body.  Within 60 seconds, Prophet was unconscious and dead.It was a terrible experience for the soldier and me.  A terrible way for Prophet to die!  Blessed only in its speed.
 

As I walked away, I was assaulted by many emotions.  I though this death was paradoxic, incredibly brave and concurrently awful.  The memories surrounding this death exist as vividly for me today, year later, as they did immediately after the actual occurrence.  Those memories haunt me.  I thought I should have written a letter to his mother but I don't know her address nor how to find it.  I only knew that he was from the Appalachian area of Kentucky.  As a product of his environment, Prophet had led a hard but an interesting life.  He was a fascinating man with an amazing name.  Such are the fortunes of War!

 

Source:Bulge Bugle, February 2001

George L. NICKLIN

Medic Company "K"

47th Infantry Regiment

9th Infantry Division

Campaigns

Battle of the Bulge,

Belgium