Boots and Saddles The muffled sound of their boots on the cobblestones ahead told me it was a German patrol, not being overly cautious, because they were still behind their own lines. I dropped quietly to the gutter and lay prone with my Thompson submachine gun out in front of me. I knew that my buddy George, only a few yards behind me, followed my example. He had been in my squad for three campaigns. Night patrols weren't new to us, they were our way of life. The night being pitch black, I felt secure in the knowledge that the German patrol would pass by without discovering us. As they came directly abreast of our position, I heard their squad leader whisper a few words in German. The squad halted, and they began talking in low tones, as if they were discussing their plans for infiltrating our lines. Even though my face and hands were blackened and my head was covered with a dark wool knit cap, my outstretched hands clutched the Thompson and eased the safety off. At that moment, I noticed the glow of light on my wrist. I felt lit up like a Christmas tree. During the African campaign, I'd taken a beautiful luminous-dialed wristwatch from a Kraut soldier who had no further use for it. This watch was now exposed on my arm. I cherished the timepiece because it could be read so easily on my night patrols. Ordinarily I positioned it higher up on my wrist, concealed beneath the sleeve of my combat jacket. Now, that watch could be the death of me. I was afraid to move a muscle, for fear the trash and dry leaves under my arm would give my position away. I had two alternatives. I could swing my Thompson up fast and hope to get all the Krauts before they became aware we were in the gutter opposite them (this was doubtful), or lie still and hope none of them investigated the shiny fluorescent object in the ditch. We were not on a combat mission, just a two-man recon patrol. Our main objective was to obtain information about the enemy's movements along the Rapido River in front of our sector of Cassino on the 5th Army front in Italy. We'd crossed the river below the ford leading into Cassino from the south, and worked our way to the outskirts of the town. The thick hard soles of my combat boots, I'd replaced with soft leather. They were as quiet on patrol as the moccasins I wore when roaming the woods as a boy. My clothing of dark wool material helped conceal my position if I brushed against branches or other objects. I decided to take a chance and not move a muscle, even though some inner voice told me it would be better to die facing an enemy than be shot in the back while lying in a gutter. I hoped and prayed the Krauts wouldn't investigate. Never before on any of my missions had I regretted or questioned the reason I always volunteered to lead night patrols. The German patrol continued to whisper. The minutes dragged slowly on. I felt like a condemned man waiting for the hangman to spring the trapdoor. As the tension mounted, a lifetime of memories crossed my mind. I've heard tell, that sometimes when a person is in a life-or-death situation, their whole life flashes before them. On other patrols, I'd experienced many close calls, but never had my past monopolized my thoughts as it did at this moment. Right now I couldn't afford to think of anything but survival. I wondered if this might not be an omen. Maybe the end was near. As I awaited the outcome, my thoughts drifted away from the danger at hand. In that brief moment, when time seemed so precious, I relived my whole life. My parents migrated to Pennsylvania from England and Wales after World War I, when my father received his discharge from the British Royal Air Force. My folks originally intended to continue on to Australia. Instead, my dad found work in America and decided to settle there. The story of my childhood is full of episodes similar to those of Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn. Though these tales add a toucSalter, Fred H. is the author of 'Recon Scout' with ISBN 9780345446930 and ISBN 0345446933.