These are two short stories of young Partisans told by Staff Sgt. Ralph G. Martin of the U.S. Army which appeared in PM on April 23, 1944. They deserve retelling here because they give you an intimate glimpse, a real insight into the personal lives of these indomitable people.
"Every Partisan knows why he fights. Every Partisan includes the old retired engineering professor who now blows up bridges; the woman dentist who brought along her own equipment which she smuggled out of a concentration camp in an overlarge dress; the Macedonian strong man who likes to sneak up on an enemy tank in the dark of night and pry open the turret quietly, kill everyone inside, and then drive away with the tank; the young woman who was a famous dancer before the war but now prefers the machine gun; the eight-year-old kid who still complains bitterly because they took him away from his front-line dispatch messenger job and sent him to liberated Italy.
"The Partisan army is filled with young people who have lost their youth. Peter is typical. Only 14 now, he has been fighting for more than two years and has taken part in four major offensives. Still stuck deep in his body are several different varieties of Nazi bullets and shrapnel.
"Hardly 12 when the Nazis came to his Bosnian town, Peter escaped with his older brother who was killed several months later. The Partisans had no gun to give him, so for four months he loaded himself with hand grenades and attacked German bunkers. Later from dead Germans he got a rifle, machine gun, some boots and a bayonet. He learned how to use the bayonet during one of the Nazi offensives when the Partisans lost 4,000 men while slicing through a tight German encirclement.
When Peter was hit in the leg by a bullet, he wrapped a rag around the wound and kept on fighting. But the second time, when he was hit in the hip, they had to strap him onto a horse and bring him to one of their few hospitals, almost 200 miles away. Twenty days later he was fighting again. 'I was young then. I healed quickly,' explained Peter, his fuzzless face serious.
"After that came a drawn-out battle with some of the 12,000 home-grown fascists in Bosnia; a 15-mile trek down the Dalmatian coast during which he ate grass when his food ration ran out. It was there that a grenade exploded too close to him, filling him with shrapnel. The Nazis added a few machine gun bullets for good measure. But, after three operations, Peter still lives, limping a little but recovering rapidly, impatient to get back to the war.
"As good as any man, Franca is representative of Partisan women fighters. Slightly on the plump side, with a face as weather-beaten as an Indian squaw, Franca was studying agronomy in a technical school in a small Dalmatian village in Croatia when war broke out."
"From the first days of June, 1941, Franca smuggled out badly-needed supplies to the guerrilla fighters until she grew restless and joined them herself. The only woman in a group of 19, she led a raid on a food warehouse in her home town. Before they got very far, they heard that a large force of Germans was coming the other way. so they stopped and waited.
"The Nazis came in, started looting, burning, killing, and left a small group behind to mop up. The 19 decided to try an old trick. During the night they charged in on their horses, each shooting and yelling the names of different outfits. Believing that a considerable force of Partisans were rushing down on them, the Germans retreated in disorder.
"Not only did the 19 Partisans save a lot of civilians but they killed a lot of Germans.
"They brought back a few prisoners for information purposes. One of them was later identified as the Nazi who killed Franca's sister-in-law and niece. Franca had the pleasure of being on the firing squad that killed him the next morning.
"Franca doesn't know how many Germans she's killed; she's lost count.
"'I do not make notches on my gun like your cowboys,' she said, smiling, brushing the hair out of her eyes with her gloved hand. Inside the glove her hand had three twisted fingers where a bullet passed through. She had some more bullets in her back and knee.
"Except for a rare smile, Franca's face was expressionless even when she spoke of blood and death and torture. That's because these people have seen and suffered so much that they've developed a hard callous around their feelings.
"But not when they sing. When they sing, and they always do, they throw their heads back and their faces shine. Because these people seldom sing sad songs of yesterday; they sing proud songs of the free democratic Yugoslavia of tomorrow."