“The chairman of the tribunal brings me a paper:
- Sign up, Ivan Mikhailovich! Tomorrow at 09:00 we want to shoot the recruit here in front of the formation.
- For what, - I ask, - to shoot?
- I fled from the battlefield. All other cowards for the edification.
And I can’t stand these shootings, I’ll tell you. I understand that this sucker was holding onto his mother’s skirt yesterday; he never traveled further than the neighboring village. And then they suddenly grabbed him, brought him to the front, without properly training him, immediately threw him under fire.
I, too (even in my book I write about it) ran from the battlefield in my youth. And more than once, until my uncle (I was under his command) promised to shoot with his own hands - and I was sure that he would shoot. This is awful! Explosions, fire, people around you are being killed, they are screaming: with torn stomachs, with torn legs and arms … It seems that there was no thought in my head about escape, but your legs are carrying you, and farther and farther.
Oh, how difficult it is to deal with your fear! A huge will is needed, self-control, and they only come with experience. People will not be born with them.
And this boy will be killed in front of the formation tomorrow at 09:00 near my command post …
I ask the chairman of the tribunal:
- Have you figured out all the details of his military crime?
The one to me:
- And what is there to understand? Escaping means shooting, what else can you talk about? All clear.
- But it is not clear to me from your paper: where did he run? Did you run to the right, ran to the left? Or maybe he ran to the enemy and wanted to drag others along with him! Well, put your tribunal in the car and follow me - we'll go to this unit to sort it out.
And in order to get to this part, it was necessary to cross the ravine, which was shot by the Germans. Well, we had already adapted and knew that if the speed was changed abruptly, the German artilleryman would not be able to place the projectile correctly: one usually bursts behind you, the other in front, and the third he does not have time - you have already slipped through.
Well, we jumped out from behind the hillock and forward. Bang, bang, - this time, too. We stopped in a copse, we are waiting - but our tribunal is not there, they are not going and are not going. I ask the driver:
- Did you see exactly that the German got past?
- Exactly, - he says, - both breaks were not even on the road!
We waited for them for about half an hour and drove on ourselves. Well, I found out everything there, about the recruit: I ran to the rear, shouted "Mom", sowed panic, etc. Let's go back.
We arrive at the checkpoint.
- What happened to the tribunal? - I ask.
“Nothing happened,” I am told. - They are now drinking tea in the dining room.
I call the commander of the commandant's platoon and order the tribunal to be brought to me immediately. Five minutes later, they bring the trio to me. One more cookie is chewing. I ask:
- Where have you gone? Why didn't they follow me as I ordered?
- Well, the shelling began, Comrade Colonel-General, so we turned back.
I tell them:
- The shelling has begun, which means the battle has begun. And you threw me in this battle, chickened out. How many of you know the laws of martial law? What is due for leaving the commander in battle and fleeing the battlefield?
They turned white. They are silent. I order the commander of the commandant platoon:
“Take the weapons away from these deserters! Under increased security, and tomorrow at 09:00, shoot all these three in front of the line!
- There is! Surrender your weapon! To the exit!
At 3 a.m. Khrushchev calls (a member of the Military Council of our front):
- Ivan Mikhailovich, are you really going to shoot the tribunal tomorrow? Do not do this. They were already going to report to Stalin there. I'll send you others right tomorrow to replace this tribunal.
- Well, no, I say to Khrushchev. - Now I don't need any others! Only these I want.
He laughed, said:
- Okay, keep them with you, if you want.
And right up to the very end of the war, not a single death sentence was brought to me for signature …"