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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Meeting With a General but Not a Gentleman

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"Stop pestering me to tell an amusing story about the war," said our friend Tanya, a World War II veteran. "There was nothing amusing about the war. Just dirt, blood and freezing cold." Then Tanya's face broke into a smile. "Oh, all right." Her story went something like this.

In the winter of 1943, her regiment was moved to the rear to rest before a major offensive. She served as a medical instructor as well as being a reserve gunner.

One day the captain in charge of her howitzer battery summoned Tanya and ordered: "Take a vehicle and drive to the regimental hospital. They'll load you up with medicine. Then you high-tail it back here."

"Where am I supposed to find a vehicle?" Tanya asked.

"Are you blind?" the captain said. "Take the horse and sledge over by that tree. Get going! On the double!"

There's probably no need to mention that this took place in the forest, and that it was brutally cold. Tanya had never dealt with horses before -- she was a city girl, a Muscovite.

After untying the horse, she sat down on the sledge and shouted: "Gee up!" The horse shook its head and lurched forward, pulling the sledge down a one-lane road cut through the dense pine forest. She rode along, looking warily this way and that. She was frightened, after all. The tree limbs hung heavy with snow. And it was 20 kilometers to the regimental hospital.

Down the road, a long column of cars suddenly came into view headed her way. Tanya stopped the sledge; the cars also came to a halt. A man got out of the lead car and walked toward her. By his Caucasian fur hat she knew he was a general, not to mention the two big stars on his coat.

"Comrade General!" Tanya barked in a trembling voice. She informed the general of her name, rank and mission.

At this point another five or so senior officers emerged from the other cars. "Get a load of this!" the general bellowed. "A skirt!"

"That's all I need," the general shouted and gave the order to clear the road. Soldiers jumped out of the cars and took the horse by the reins. They deftly lifted the sledge, with Tanya on it, carried it to the side of the road and deposited it on a snow bank.

For a half-hour after that, Tanya struggled with her horse, trying to get the sledge back on to the road.

When she got back to her unit, the general and his cortege were long gone. The battalion commander said that the general she had met was Vladimir Romanovsky, commander of the First Strike Army. But for a long time, Tanya believed that he was Konstantin Rokossovsky. After the war, she often told the story of the famous marshal who had met her on a snowy road and shouted: "A skirt!"

Vladislav Schnitzer is a pensioner and journalist living in Moscow.