ETO veterans who read their newspapers carefully these days will note that the trials of Colonel James Kilian and other officials of the Tenth Replacement Depot at Lichfield, England, are still in progress, and it is dubious whether enlisted men familiar with the situation in 1944 have been comforted greatly by the courts-martial results thus far.
Any GI recovering from his wounds in an Army hospital anywhere in England in the six months following D-Day knew the words Lichfield and Kilian as well as he knew the location of the nearest pub. Through the far-reaching military grapevine came unbelievable tales about the guardhouse at the Tenth Depot and of the colonel in command. Former pass from the Lichfield base would continually warn their buddies: "Keep your nose clean when you get there." They beat prisoners there, they told you, and some guys died from the beatings. To those who wondered why nothing had been done about it, the answer was as GI as Willie and Joe: "This is the Army, Jack."
Once its medical officers decided a man was fit for further combat duty, every hospital on the island would process its rehabilitated charges through the Tenth Depot, a reconverted British post in the Midlands, on their way back to the Continent. Until March, 1945, there were no furloughs offered between hospital and depot-once you arrived at Lichfield, there was a possibility of a 48-hour pass. If you weren't lucky, you crossed the Channel without a pass.
Some soldiers overstayed their leaves, and in the rickety brick barracks that served as Lichfield's guardhouse, they spent anywhere from two weeks to six months as penalty for various periods of AWOL. Behind barred windows, overcrowded to such an extent that some of the inmates slept on top of wall lockers, they served their time, and other transient GIs could observe their incarcerated friends double timing to chow, sneaking in a verboten smoke (prisoners were allotted three cigarettes a day at Lichfield-one after every meal) or standing at attention, in front of the mess hall, waiting for the rest of the detachment to dump its mess kits and fall in. They shivered slightly in the courtyard, for inmates weren't allowed field jackets above their fatigues in mid-winter.
These things non-prisoners transients saw at Lichfield. What went on behind the barred windows, only the prisoners and the guards knew, and the guards spoke only to one another. The situation, to outsiders, was as full of intrigue as a paper-bound detective novel, and when prisoners left Lichfield, they departed in closely-guarded groups, with no chance to reveal what had happened inside the iron bars.
Such is the background to the current trials at Bad Nauheim, Germany, where Kilian, several lower ranking officers, and enlisted guards are on trial for alleged mistreatment of GI prisoners. Sergeant Judson Smith, chief non-commissioned officer at the guardhouse, received three years at hard labor and a dishonorable discharge. Other enlisted men are serving prison sentences of lesser length. And last week a first lieutenant, first officer to be tried and the man alleged to have ordered the beatings, heard his sentence-admonition and a fine of $250, or approximately one month's pay.
At a time when the Army is valiantly striving to increase its enlistment totals, such an example of army justice can hardly be called a recruiting inducement. With the teen-age draft bill still under debate in Congress, it cannot conceivably strengthen the Army's case. What the courts-martial board decides, in the case of Colonel Kilian, now on trial, is yet to be seen. But those who saw some hope for democratization of the army with the apprehension of the top-ranking officers of the Tenth Depot have since realized their sadness, in observing the inequalities of the punishment meted out thus far, that the military caste system is merely adding cruel insult to a long list of injuries.