Certainly he was the vainest man I’ve ever known: if he had lived I’m sure he would have made many people unhappy but somehow, from the very first, I felt he wouldn’t live. Or so it seems now. At the time I probably didn’t think about it one way or the other, since I wanted to live myself and that took up most of your time, just thinking about it.
But this vanity of his: it really was inexplicable. His face was that of a petty thief: you could hardly remember it for five minutes. His uniform was always sloppy, his stomach bulging over his belt, the belt buckle dull, his leggings not laced tightly enough. The seat of his fatigues bagged, his overseas cap kept the manufacturer’s wrinkle and his shoes were rarely shined. And yet, one of his little sidelines was a business he carried on with the post cleaning and tailoring shop as a commission man. The uniforms never fitted, of course, and to get them fixed you took them to Liebknecht. He could also bring back from town brass insignia and belt buckles for those who couldn’t leave the post for some reason or other, and, since soldiers take delight in these little things, the only means they have of dressing themselves up, Liebknecht did a fat business in crossed cannons, U.S. buttons, battalion insignia and garrison caps with stiff wire grommets in them. The brass objects were always plated: the brass wore off under the Blitz cloth, and the recruits were told that garrison caps were not permitted in armored units, but Liebknecht had his profit. The brass cannon and buttons were thrown away when the tin showed through, and the garrison caps went into barracks bags, to be worn on furloughs which never came. I think Liebknecht even sold Air Force wings to some soldiers for furlough use: an armored artillery battalion did not seem very glamorous at home.