Sunday, December 28, 2008

STAR SPANGLED WAR STORIES 187: "A Death in the Chapel"

Part One

This was actually the first issue of the Michelinie/Talaoc run I read. I'd picked up most of the run without knowing its quality, simply because I'd always liked the surreal Unknown Soldier "weird war" type character. I was about to get an education, and it didn't take long to figure it.

The Nazi who attacks Aschermann is killed in seconds by the Faceless Commando, and Aschermann proceeds to relocate the bodies to Father Memmoli's church.

Memmoli does indeed discover the bodies, and the ruse of Colonel Weile. Confronting Weile, Father Memmoli vows the villagers will learn of the deception. However, Weile places Memmoli under armed guard...the guard of Father Memmoli's young orphan-turned-soldier, Rico, with orders to kill the priest should he attempt to leave. Memmoli pleads with the young man to understand the wrong the Nazis represent, but Rico wishes to remain a loyal soldier. Father Memmoli will not be deterred from his duty to inform his people, and Rico is unable to shoot the kindly man of God.

Father Memmoli is off to find his people, and Aschermann follows to "insure" Memmoli's passage. However, Memmoli strays too close to the American lines and is accosted by a unit of GIs. Knowing if the Father is detained, the mission will be in jeopardy, Aschermann takes out the GIs barehanded and sends Memmoli on his way. Confused, Memmoli proceeds. Soon, the villagers and their weapons are turned on the Nazis.

Colonel Weile finds Father Memmoli in the church, discovering Memmoli's involvement. Accompanying him is Leutnant Aschermann. Before Aschermann can stop him, Weile kills Father Memmoli. Aschermann executes the Colonel, who manages to tear the Soldier's mask. Father Memmoli's last words are for the Soldier to help young Rico. The Soldier cannot promise to help, and after Memmoli dies, he says "I'm sorry, Father...but I'm afraid that's not part of the job."

Just then, Rico himself arrives, witnessing the Soldier/Aschermann kneeling over Memmoli's body. The young soldier tries to gun him down, and the Soldier blows apart Rico's right arm with his own Luger. Thus, the Soldier has spared Rico, and delivered a wound that will "be a ticket home for the duration."

The Soldier realizes the "kid" will hate him forever, believing him responsible for killing the only family Rico ever had. Rico crawls to Memmoli's body and collapses atop it. The Soldier escapes, accepting (once again) the anguish of the individual lost under the tidal wave of history.

The epilogue shows the Soldier being congratulated by Intelligence, only to learn the Americans are pulling out of the village and abandoning the once-critical mountain pass. The Soldier is enraged and storms out, sickened.

Again, the Soldier's primary drive, to end the War as soon as humanly possible, is betrayed by his own efficiency. His mission succeeds but "when you're playin' a game with thousands of lives, the individuals always tend to get lost in the shuffle..."

The Soldier's "big picture" continues to get smaller as Michelinie shows the "killing machine" having a poignant understanding of tragedy. No matter how "dehumanizing" the Soldier's training, he is still a man and still affected by the details of the War, swept under the bootheels of history.

The last is not seen of the young Rico, as this particular drama, as in life, will have long-reaching effects for the Soldier.

Out of Five for the Two Parter


WinterSun said...

My name is Aschermann... wonder how the author of the story --- Death in the Chapel --- selected this as the name of the soldier. Not a very common name either in America or Germany-Austria-Czech Republic. Cheers

Chad Carter said...

I too found the name interesting. I'd love to actually ask David Michelinie about his memories concerning the series, as a lot of his stories center around events and situations he must have learned about, but from where or whom?