Biology

The Crazy Story of the Finnish Soldier Who O.D.’d on Speed, Stepped On a Mine, Skied 250 Miles, and Outmaneuvered the Soviet Army


Finnish Soldier Aimo Koivunen amphetamines

Aimo Koivunen needed some help. As a soldier and proud citizen of Finland, he was committed to serving his homeland, but when faced with the overwhelming might of the Soviet enemy, there was only so much he could do. What happened next was an accident. It was also heroic, terrifying, and downright crazy.

It was 1944, and World War II held Europe in its grip. Finland had a rather unique position among the nations. It was allied with Germany, but since it had not signed the Tripartite Pact, it was not one of the Axis Powers. Its alliance with Germany did not extend to supporting the Holocaust, and almost all native Jews and refugees were free from persecution. It fought against the Soviet Union, but it was able to hold off the occupation of its capital. Of all the capital cities of the European nations engaged in battle, Helsinki, London, and Moscow were the only ones that were never occupied by enemy forces. It maintained a democratically-elected government throughout the war, thus being one of the very few situations in history where a democracy engaged in a war against another democracy.

All told, Finland found itself simultaneously identifying with and opposed to the Allies, the Axis, and neutrality. That is a good way to describe its northernmost territory, Lapland. This sparsely-populated area borders Sweden, Norway, Russia and the Baltic Sea. It is prime skiing territory, known for its long winter months.

It was in Lapland that Aimo Koivunen found himself on that fateful day on March 18, 1944. The 24-year-old soldier had been assigned to ski patrol and was into his third day of this particular assignment. The temperature was 5 degrees F (-15 C), and he was tired and cold. Aimo had been serving in the military for over two years, and his mind was on his upcoming leave where he could get away from the rigors of war for a few days.

Aimo’s unit took a break for rest and food. He put some snow in a pot to boil so he could make tea. The tea was just about ready when the sound of gunfire drove all thoughts of refreshment and vacation from his mind.

Soviet troops descended upon the Finnish patrol, and the Finns quickly saw they were outnumbered. The men hopped on their skis and fled from the advancing enemy soldiers.

Aimo was a reasonably good skier, but after several hours of grueling cross-country skiing, he began to fall behind his comrades. With the Soviets hot on his tail, that’s when he realized that he needed help.

In The Art of War, Sun Tzu wrote that speed is “the essence of war.” German military commanders agreed, but they had a different concept of “speed” than did the Chinese military strategist. Germany routinely dispensed an amphetamine called Pervitin (desoxyephedrine) to its troops. This extremely powerful stimulant was an early form of crystal meth. Once taken, even the most exhausted soldier would be rejuvenated and be able to fight for several more hours. It was also a very dangerous drug, with all kinds of horrible side effects, including hallucinations and leading to death. Consequently, the drug was to be taken only in extreme situations and only in the amount prescribed.

Aimo was generally opposed to the use of the stimulant and had resisted using it up to this point. Perhaps that is why he was the one entrusted to carry the group’s entire supply of Pervitin. His opposition to its use was now very much at war with his growing exhaustion. He wrote, “I felt ever weaker and I couldn’t keep up the pace. I felt faint.” He heard someone yelling to him to keep moving and not fall asleep. He made his decision. “The pills were still in the front pocket of my jacket. I tried to pick one, but because of the clumsy winter mittens, there were plenty of pills on my hand. Without slowing down I ate them all – I tried to do it unnoticed by others.”

It was 30 pills that Aimo ingested — 30 times the dosage that was prescribed. The effects were immediate. “I didn’t ski long before I felt like a new man! It felt like I was skiing the first kilometers! We progressed hastily and the poison had made its job.” Aimo was elated and felt hopeful for the first time in many hours.

That’s when things took a decidedly different direction. As Aimo later recalled:

“Then, something unexpected happened: the surroundings started to change form and I noticed I was losing consciousness. My last reasonable thought was that I had made my first and, perhaps, last mistake….”

The events of the next few days would have to be pieced together by eye-witnesses. Aimo had only hazy recollections, and for the rest of his life, he had difficulty sorting out real memories from drug-induced hallucinations.

Aimo should have died from such a massive overdose. What is truly remarkable is not only that he survived the drug, but he lived through the incredible next few days.

Aimo set off with renewed energy on his skis. After a while, he got disoriented and ended up skiing right through the camp of the Russians who had been pursuing him. His unexpected appearance so startled the Russians that they only managed to get off a few shots at the rapidly-moving Finn.

Aimo continued to ski, as fast as he could. Along the way, he set off a landmine and took the full force of the blast on his foot. He wrote:

“I began to inspect my foot that looked extremely nasty: bones were pointing out to different directions and muscles looked like they were grated. I blamed myself for being reckless. But I made a decision to crawl into the nearest dugout since the weather felt feisty cold and I feared to freeze to death.

The dugout was about a hundred meters away. I don’t know how long it took to crawl before I was in front of the door. The door opened from the right and I had a ski pole in my left hand. I fiercely pulled the door open with my right hand.

After it had opened about ten centimeters, a huge flash followed – the brightness was beyond description.

The whole world seemed to shatter.

I woke up and found myself about thirty meters away from the dugout, meter deep in the snow. I still had the ski pole in my left hand, in my right hand I had the door handle, attached to one door panel. On the side of me, there was an empty sugar sack.

I can’t tell how long I remained unconscious. I began to assess the situation. My eyes hurt, especially the left one, I felt strange rustle in my head, back of my pants was missing and only some strips were left of my left shoe.

I ripped the front side off my undershirt and banded my foot, on top I put my right sock.

My travel was at the end.”

As it turned out, Aimo was wrong. His travel was not ended; it was just delayed. He rested in the cold ditch, waiting to die. During this time, all he could find by way of nourishment were some pine buds and a Siberian jay, which he caught with his bare hands and ate raw.

After about a week, when neither death nor help came for him, Aimo emerged from the ditch and set off alone, still badly injured. He was unaware of his surroundings and unsure of what direction he was heading. His journey ended when he arrived at a Finnish hospital some 250 miles (402 km) from where he started.

Doctors examined the exhausted man. His heart was pounding away at 200 beats per minute. His weight had dropped to 94 pounds (42.6 kg).

Over the course of the next few days, Koivunen traversed around 400km (250 miles) of rough terrain on his skis. Along the way he once again eluded some more Soviet soldiers, endured freezing winter nights without shelter, got injured by a goddamn landmine, and ate a bird, raw. Against all the odds though, he somehow managed to drag his bleeding and battered body all the way back to Finnish lines where he was rushed to a hospital and treated for everything. Upon admittance he weighed only 43kg (94 pounds) and his heart rate measured an incredible 200 beats per minute (for perspective, the average person’s heart rate is around 60-100bpm).

Aimo survived the ordeal, the war, and lived to be 72 years old, dying in 1989. His experience has been studied by many physicians, psychologists, and researchers since that time, trying to measure the effects of amphetamine use in humans.

Aimo was reluctant to speak about the event throughout his life, but he was persuaded to write his account. Following is an English translation, in which he describes his nightmarish wavering between hallucination and reality.

****

HERE I WRITE ABOUT MY LONG RANGE PATROL, which I conducted in the winter of 1944 to the territory of Kantalahti. It was during the time when the Russians were operating encirclement activities in the Alakurtti sector.

The headquarters had somehow obtained intel that the enemy had something strange going on north of the railroad coming from Kantalahti to Alakurtti. I was in the fourth company of headquarter’s Ranger Battalion, which was assigned to patrol this northernmost area. Our company was also known as the ”Section Paatsalo”. The headquarters gave orders to Captain Paatsalo to send our boys to see what was going on in there.

If I recall correctly, I had joined the Section Paatsalo already in the summer of 1942, and thus I had already took part in many kinds of expeditions. I considered myself as kinda decent cross-country skier, which was the reason I was allowed to be part of this long-range scout group, and we had been training especially for this winter.

I had been on a scout patrol about a week ago and I intended to go for a vacation when Lieutenant Norri asked if I was interested to join them – a feisty expedition was to be expected.

It was the first time Norri asked me to join his group, and as the boys had told me good things about him, I accepted and left my vacation for another time.

WE HAD SKIED NON-STOP for over two days, only short breaks, when we were about to reach our destination. It was 18th of March 1944, about 10 o’clock in the morning, the day was sunny and about -15 Celsius cold.

We arrived to the treeline of Kaita Fjeld. A spectacular view opened in front of us, about two kilometers of treeless hillside. I always enjoyed to be at the fjelds – probably because I came from the flatlands of southwestern Finland.

Lieutenant Norri halted the skiing for a while, gave us a status update and orders:

– The group will stay in the cover of the forest with the lead of Second Lieutenant Rytkönen. In the cover of the spruces, a small fire can be set for tea-making. I will go with Help and Välikangas to scout the area from the top of that fjeld, as there should be a road nearby. –– If you have to make a hasty retreat, we will rendezvous at the western part of the Kaita Fjeld, and the next waypoint is western part of the Koutamo Fjeld where Lieutenant Ilmari Honkanen is located with his patrol.

So said the Lieutenant Heikki Norri and went on to ascend towards the top. The road was in fact found, about 3 kilometers away from the summit.

I set a small fire with the guys and put some snow in my cooking pot. I was worried about this expedition. In the last evening, when we had crossed enemy’s ski track and skied for a while, we heard a shot. And when we were ascending on this fjeld, an airplane flew over us. I was sure that we would have to leave soon.

As I was adding wood to the fire and snow to the pot, I decided it would be wise to apply some grease on my skis.

Just as the tea started to boil, my hunch came true: two of our watchmen, about 400 meters away on the way we came, opened fire. Soon the enemy responded and as they were using explosive rounds it felt like they were everywhere.

Though the Second Lieutenant Rytkönen ordered us to take battle positions, the hastiest of us started to flee towards west and I too thought it would be our only way to rescue ourselves as the way was still open.

I went to take a look on the open hillside – hoping to see Norri and the boys. Instead, there was a full platoon of snowsuited skiers sliding down the hill – the Ivans! They were still too far for me to start shooting.

I went on again to check on Rytkönen and they were already preparing full retreat. I returned to the outskirts of the plain and urged a radioman to come along with me. Now, there was even more crowd as another platoon was skiing to our flank, 200-300 meters west of us, their obvious aim was to encircle us.

The first platoon that was skiing towards us was now about 150 meters away so we opened fire. It sure did calm down the situation – I don’t know if I hit anyone but there was no one coming any more, and we didn’t plan to wait and see.

The guys shouted to retreat, and some hasty-ones were shouting that we are already circled by the enemy. I recall that we fought for about 10 minutes at that camp. After that, we retreated and shot while skiing, but as we were advancing in a line, the Russkies dared to come as close as 20 meters from us.

I had ski track mines in my bag and Rytkönen gave orders to set them. I asked the boys to cover me and shoot accurately so that I would have an opportunity set mines, but to no avail. I had to ski on forward to catch up a boy with a rifle. I took aim and shot empty the whole magazine, and the situation finally quieted down for a while.

The second platoon in the fjeld was skiing towards us but never came as close.

We had traveled couple hundred meters from the camp. We were shooting back-and-forth but none of us was hit. If only we would manage to slip out before they encircle us and if only none of us would be left behind!

Rytkönen still ordered me to set up mines on the track. I set few, but noticed the Ivans would only go around them, I started to ski forwards and suggested that we would just pick up the pace – there was no other option!

However, the boys considered when the snow was knee-deep, no one could open up new track any faster, and thus, couple men should slow the enemy down. I may have become slightly angry then and stated there was at least a platoon of enemies on our tail – couple men can’t stop them!

– Go in the front then! said someone to me.

I went, motivated open up some serious ski track. And we picked up some speed.

After skiing in front for some time, I started to notice I was getting shaky and felt weak. Shooting still continued behind me and the boys demanded me to pick up speed.

I did all I could.

It was already afternoon and we had not eaten at the camp. We had battled for a couple of hours – and only the food I had that day was a small crispbread sandwich in the morning.

I POSSESSED all the Pervitin assigned to our group. At first I thought to take one pill but as I was against the whole substance, I decided not to take.

However, I felt ever weaker and I couldn’t keep up the pace. I felt faint.

Someone was already yelling:

– Aimo, don’t sleep!

Now the decision was made! The pills were still in the front pocket of my jacket. I tried to pick one but because of the clumsy winter mittens, there were plenty of pills on my hand. Without slowing down I ate them all – I tried to do it unnoticed by others.

I didn’t ski long before I felt like a new man! It felt like I was skiing the first kilometers! We progressed hastily and the poison had made its job.

Then, something unexpected happened: the surroundings started to change form and I noticed I was losing consciousness. My last reasonable thought was that I had made my first and, perhaps, last mistake…

Afterwards, I was told that I had became dangerously disorganized and the boys had taken the clips off my sub-machine gun. I have no recollection of this phase of the journey.

The next reasonable remembrance was this: I am staying still on my skis at the border of Finland. At some point I had departed from the boys – or was it the other way around, I never really found out. It looks like it is morning, but I am not sure what day is it – 19th or 20th, or some other day? All I know that the distance to the Kaita Fjeld, from where we retreated on the 18th day, is over 100 kilometers away on the map.

I try to get my head straight on my situation. Questions dart around in my heated brain.

Why am I all alone?

Where are the others?

How did I end up in here?

I got no clear answer – only thing I got was a vague feel of terror creeping up in my mind.

I decided to stay cool and strengthen up by eating – it had helped me before. I took off my skis and sat on them, I took backpack and sub-machine gun off my back. – Have I dropped my clip? So be it – I won’t think about that now, food is more important. Just open the bag!

The bag was empty.

No food, no ammo – nothing. How is this possible?

BEING DEPRESSED ONLY A LITTLE I put on the backpack and gun, got on my feet and checked the course to Finland with the compass on my wrist. There shouldn’t be any worries – Lieutenant Honkanen is waiting with his group at the Koutamo Fjeld! The fjeld cannot be the one just in front of me, but the one over there – it looks just like the Koutamo Fjeld. It is in southwest and about 10 kilometers away.

I set course to the compass and off I go! The boys are probably already there. I wonder if Norri got away – how was I left behind – maybe I slept in the night and the boys didn’t notice…

Then I black out once again – afterwards, I have calculated that I had eaten the whole Pervitin supply of our group – 30 little white pills…

I have this clear remembrance, as if, I am on top of a fjeld with the others and we are arguing on our whereabouts. I insist that we are already on top of the Koutamo Fjeld – I should know, I have been here many times on my missions! And some smoke is emerging over there – I will go there to speak with the boys of Honkanen!

I start skiing down the slope of the fjeld – and I regain consciousness. I had fallen down quite badly and there is no one around.

Now, Aimo, you are seeing things!

I get up and look around.

But – there are some fires over there after all! I pick up some snow and press my eyes with it. It’s probably the Krauts escorting us!

I feel good – it is like I was already home!

It was a good downhill to ski on and I was going down almost full speed. My eyes started to water – be it tears of joy or what ever, it hindered my sight.

Now I start to see a bit clearer – yes, it must be the Krauts as there are so many of them. There, I will ski right in the middle of them.

I started to slow down a little as I made a gruesome discovery. It is the Russians!

Full speed! Through the camp, there is no possibility to turn around.

TO THE RUSSIANS, I was such a surprise that they didn’t know what to do. They sure yelled loudly but I got the impression they were forbidden to shoot as I only heard a couple, maximum five, shots fired. What a situation – the ones in the middle of the camp, the ones I mistook as Krauts, were laying in a lean-to shelter without snowsuits and when I skied by, they would only move their curvy winter boots a little to the side, out of my way! They must have been the same group that chased us on the road – most likely they drove away the men of Lieutenant Honkanen and had some rest.

I wonder if they will chase me, as I am in such bad condition? I have to keep my head straight now! First of all, I must only ski on open areas, so that the snow supports my skis. Only then am I in equal terms with them

Over there, in the right, is a large swamp, let’s ski on that. Although it goes a bit too much to the right, to north, but who cares. Now the main thing is not to get caught as a prisoner – if they even try to catch me in the first place.

What kind of warfare is this, to ski here without ammo – depressing and dangerous!

I have now skied for at least eight kilometers, and there is about two kilometers of treeless swamp left. Once I get there, to the cover of some bushes, I will check if they follow me.

I didn’t have to keep looking for a long time before I saw a group of snow-suited men skiing on the swamp. I realised immediately from their pace that I got some renowned Red Army partisans after me.

It was serious! This will become the most demanding skiing race of my life. Fear is a state of mind when one does not feel hunger or fatigue. I had to race well-rested men – who happened to be some of the best of the Red Army. Even now, at my old age, I still get shivers when thinking about this race – how could I have endured, the pace must have been high! But so we just went on forwards.

THEY WERE APPROACHING – at times, the distance between us was less than hundred meters. We were ascending fjelds and skiing them down. I managed to gain some distance crossing the fjelds. But it was very dangerous, if I had made a mistake and fallen down they would be sure to catch me.

Now there was yet another high fjeld in front, perhaps the Karhu Fjeld. Before it, there was a forest area where the skis sunk and I was slower. While I was ascending the fjeld, the distance between us had reduced – the partisans were some twenty meters behind and I could not get further away no matter how I tried.

The ascent felt endless. At times it felt like the boys were already touching the back of my skis – they were right behind me.

Once I reached the summit, I got away about a hundred meters from them again.

It began to snow spiky ice crystals and it was difficult to keep eyes open. There was light snowing when we reached the ascend of the fjeld and now it became heavier – the snow flew so hard that I couldn’t see more than couple meters away.

I checked my compass and my aim was towards north. Little by little, I made a full turn and started going towards north. It was a terrible weather to ski – the wind blew so hard that it felt like I had no cloths at all. But I had to keep on going forward – this storm was my rescue!

I had skied for an hour in the storm. The fjeld just did not end and it was getting dark. I think I was stumbling down the hill all night as in the morning I had the whole, great fjeld behind me. If it was the Karhu Fjeld, it was over 500 meters high.

I BELIEVED THAT THE PARTISANS had left me in peace. It felt nice – it came to my mind that here we have such a skier that is not easily caught by anyone!

I had skied for the whole day towards west. And now I found myself in thick forest of spruces, I decided to set up a fire. When everything was set, I made some tea. Once I finished my hot tea, I quenched the fire with snow, covered myself with a fur vest and lay down in the hole in the snow like a bird.

Next day was already late when I woke. I was absolutely tired and exhausted but I decided to continue my journey. Skiing felt like drinking tar.

As I was ascending some fjelds I noticed big fat fresh tips of pine. I filled my cooking pot with the tips and picked wood for a fire. After cooking the tips for a couple hours, I must admit I had more than a bowl of soup. It felt good to ski once again. I felt like I could go over a long distance, and so I decided to continue over the whole night, after all the sky was clear and it was so damn cold.

Early in the morning, the Moon decided to hide behind the clouds and I followed the example. There was a nice fallen spruce, and in the cover of it I set a fire. Once the water started boiling I was annoyed that I didn’t pick any more of them pine tips. The only option was to make my last tea.

AFTER I FINISHING MY TEA and adding wood to the fire, I started to sleep. I didn’t have to persuade the sleep to come. – I don’t know what wasp was it that injected into my dream a wolverine, whose tracks I had seen and followed for a while earlier in the day. There it was sneaking and creeping, eyes shining, ever closer to me. I tried to calm myself down, it wouldn’t attack a human, but I was still afraid that it could – and I had no weapon.

Just as the wolverine was about to pound on me from the top of that fallen tree, I took my knife from its sheath and hit it with all my strength! Then I woke up to notice I had hit my hand to the tree so hard that the compass in the same hand was broken down.

I got up angry and continued to ski. I skied for the whole day without making any fires. I tried to go towards west.

Once again I was ascending a fjeld when I was completely out of energy and sat down on the snow. I fell asleep immediately and since it was cold, I started dreaming.

My dear friend Matti Olli stood there and said:

– Listen, Aimo, come here under the spruce, it’s warm in here!

When my gun got stuck in spruce branches, Matti advised me to leave it. It was a typical spruce, some three, four meters tall with couple meters long branches.

After we had rested for a while, Olli was determined we should continue the journey. And so we did.

When I woke up I noticed I was skiing all alone, without the gun, without the backpack. I left those at the spruce. I came to conclusion that I cannot sit down anymore – I lost even my cooking pot! I couldn’t boil water, all I could do is ski on further.

I skied for the whole day and night. In the next morning, skiing down a small slope, I came across a small dwelling. I thought I was dreaming again, I was dead tired and half conscious.

IT TURNED OUT TO BE SOME REMOTE COMPANY OWNED LODGE. The doors were open and I went inside, I found wood in the corner and set fire on the floor, in the middle of the room – I was that disordered. I found a tin can from the shelf and melted some snow in it. I drank the hot water, put the can on my belt and lay down next to the fire.

Gradually, the fire grew larger on the floor and I moved aside along it. Soon the whole cabin was on fire and I was just moving little by little further from the fire. I couldn’t get sleep. Finally the cabin collapsed. When it burned down completely, I went to the sauna next door and set a fire in its furnace. I burned couple sets of wood and probably sobered up a little, as I realised to question how I didn’t burn myself alive yet.

When the sauna was warmed up, I went to sleep on the benches and when it got cold, I moved next to the furnace and stayed there long until the next day. I think I rested for one full day.

Back to skiing. At first it went effortlessly but when it came dark I went completely crazy again. I guess I saw Pole Star, but I thought it was a light coming from a cottage and kept going towards it. I tried to reach the star whole night.

In the morning, I found a ski track, and since it felt the track was going in the right direction, I followed it. At this stage I noticed my fingers were solid hard – completely frozen! I managed to thaw them out by rubbing them with snow.

I could barely continue, I was half conscious – and the biting cold like always.

Then, I saw barbed wire obstacles and dugouts.

It must have been a German guard post! Oh my dear how good I felt! I only needed to go on for a short distance! There was a wide, plowed road in front, with about 5 centimeters of fresh snow on top of it.

I tried to shout to the Germans but no one responded. I took off my skis. It sure felt nice to walk for a change.

There was a small piece of barbed wire fence as a gate. – Just open the gate! I said out loud, I had learned to speak to myself along the journey.

I had taken about ten, twenty steps when a mine set off right under my left foot. Luckily, I fell down away from the road, which was mined, waist-deep to the snow.

I had came across a mined fortification, abandoned by the Germans.

I BEGAN TO INSPECT MY FOOT that looked extremely nasty: bones were pointing out to different directions and muscles looked like they were grated. I blamed myself for being reckless. But I made a decision to crawl into the nearest dugout since the weather felt feisty cold and I feared to freeze to death.

The dugout was about a hundred meters away. I don’t know how long it took to crawl before I was in front of the door. The door opened from the right and I had a ski pole in my left hand. I fiercely pulled the door open with my right hand.

After it had opened about ten centimeters, a huge flash followed – the brightness was beyond description.

The whole world seemed to shatter.

I woke up and found myself about thirty meters away from the dugout, meter deep in the snow. I still had the ski pole in my left hand, in my right hand I had the door handle, attached to one door panel. On the side of me, there was an empty sugar sack.

I can’t tell how long I remained unconscious. I began to assess the situation. My eyes hurt, especially the left one, I felt strange rustle in my head, back of my pants was missing and only some strips were left of my left shoe.

I ripped the front side off my undershirt and banded my foot, on top I put my right sock.

My travel was at the end.

The only option was to make waiting as bearable as possible. I made a fire between my knees, a small kind of fire. I carved small splinters off a detached panel and took some snow from the hole I was in. Otherwise the whole surrounding was stained with gravel and dirt. Later, the Germans told there was a 13.4 kilogram charge in the dugout.

I melted some snow in my can and cursed myself – how stupid had I been! Now there was no chance – here laid Aimo, feast to crows! There wasn’t even the slightest of hope and so did the Finnish long-range ranger cry – cried so loud that an echo from the fjelds responded. But it helped – it broke some barrier that was built inside me.

Slowly I got my water to boil. It was some good water – I doubt never has water tasted this good.

A Siberian jay flew by to have look and wonder. They say that the Siberian jay is the holy bird of Lapland. Others say it’s a guy’s friend.

I felt cold sitting on the ground, so I put the rest of the wooden panels under me. I ripped open the sugar sack and used it as a blanket. I fell asleep immediately.

Now I saw probably the best dream so far: I was flown to the Hospital in Loimaa and the nurses familiar to me brought food. I ate and ate!I woke up to my horribly sore eyes. I could sleep only in short intervals and eyes kept on hurting.

It became dark. I woke up many times during the night and every time I got food in the dreams. It felt ever more like torture to wake up and realise that I am still in the same trench.

The night was long.

Finally it became bright, but it didn’t help me much, I was so weak that I couldn’t keep my eyes open. I lost track of days and nights – I only dreamed of being taken away from this disgusting hole and served food – food –

SUDDENLY, THERE WAS A SHOT – and another! I picked up a German landmine I found, I was determined that the Russkies won’t take me alive…

– Bring a sledge! someone shouted.

– That’s Finnish! I stated. – Who’s there – come help me…

– We can’t do anything for you, replied the Finnish boys of the patrol, who had just hit the minefield like myself. – Our sergeant stepped into a mine and we will transport him first.

I tried to explain I am about to die and they have to help me first.

– When we reach our group, we will send someone to pick you up straightaway, the boys replied – and went away with their sledge…

Everything crumbled once again – I wonder will they even tell anyone, will they just leave me to die in here, to spare their efforts…

Or did they even exist – maybe it was just a dream…

Now I was certain I was going to die. I laid low in the trench and tried to pray – I blessed myself, just like my mother taught when I was young. I pulled the sack over me and slept, slept…

Days and nights went unknowingly, and I didn’t care. I slept and woke to incredible hunger.

At some point I felt slightly better and I could sit up in my hole. In this position, I could see around a little.

A Siberian jay had flown next to me, about a meter away. I reached for the ski pole as careful as I could, lifted centimeter by centimeter, fearing every second the bird would fly away. Then I hit, with the last powers of my miserable being – and there laid the jay, the holy bird of Lapland! A miracle has happened!

I picked the bird with my ski pole, pulled off most of the feathers and started to eat. I couldn’t believe I was able eat it raw, but it was tasty – I was even surprised how tasty it was.

Now I felt good – only tired. Once again I was in the borderland of dreams and reality, and even today I can’t tell them apart. Probably, I was unconscious for days.

Then – a sound of an airplane!

Take off the sack, quickly! I put my fur hat on top of my ski pole and tried to move it around too.

And the pilot saw me – jolted the aircraft, which I identified as a German reconnaissance plane. It started to circle above me, made a turn and flew towards an airstrip. Afterwards, I heard that the plane was ordered by Lieutenant Norri, who managed to get home after many blurry events, who noticed that Hietala and I were missing.

Seeing the airplane was supposed to spike new hope in me. However, it didn’t happen – I was still completely drained out and was too tired to believe in anything. I probably fell asleep as soon as I managed to pull the sack over me, with my last strength.

After quite a while I was awaken once more – by loud noise made by Finnish soldiers!

I shrieked at the top of my lungs.

– Who’s there?! Don’t move anywhere, we will come pick you up right after the German pioneers have cleared the mines. You are right in the middle of a minefield!

A Finnish patrol had came after all!

About an hour later they came to my hole and asked me to stand up.

I couldn’t – so they had to pick up my miserable body and put me to a sledge. – They weren’t short of wonder:

– How long have you been in the hole?

– For a week, at least…

– He’s out of his mind!

But I had no energy to reply. After a short while, I noticed I was in a horse-pulled sledge, on my way to a hospital. I blacked out and can’t remember anything about the rest of the journey.

TWO AM IN THE MORNING, I had reached a field hospital in Salla. Afterwards I have marked down following facts based on official reports and my own recollection.

The place, where I was laying in a hole covered by the sack, was about 50 kilometers north of Salla. We departed from Kaita Fjeld at midday of 18th of March, I arrived at the Salla field hospital at 2 am, 1st of April. My journey took pretty much two weeks.

Arriving to the hospital, my heart rate was still measured 200 beat per minute and I weighted 43 kilograms. Over the last week, when I lied wounded in the trench, air temperature at Salla was measured between minus 20 and 30 Celsius degrees.

The distance I skied from the Kaita Fjeld to the abandoned German field post was about 400 kilometers, when my detour north was considered.


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