Season 1 Episode 16 – The Volunteer

Directed: Robert Altman
Written: Gene Levitt
Released: 22 Jan 1963

Nazi Flag in a village as the squad liberates it

This episode is one that I would categorize as being one of those “cutesy” episodes. One that doesn’t have a very strong story or script.

It involves a young 13 year old French boy named Gilbert. Pronounced like “Jill-Bear”. Lt. Hanley didn’t even react when Caje told him the boy’s name, considering that’s also Lt. Hanley’s first name as well. The kid who plays this role is Serge Prieur. Surprisingly enough, this is his one and only acting role.

The squad gets greeted with enthusiasm as they enter a French town. The townspeople think that they’re actual liberators and not simply a patrol. Lt. Hanley’s orders are to keep on moving forward until they make contact with the Germans.

Young Gilbert gathers up his meager belongings and goes to the shop where the guys are resting and volunteers to join the U.S. Army.

Lt. Hanley tries his tactful best to convince him Army regulations prevent induction of men in the field. Gilbert is very disappointed but won’t be dissuaded.

Gilbert trying to enlist
Gilbert trying to enlist in the U.S. Army

After the squad moves out, Gilbert follows them. When they take a 10 minute break, Gilbert ends up going to sleep in the grass. He wakes to find the squad gone. He was desperate to find them again and he thinks that he lost them until he hears an artillery explosion pinpointing where they’re located.

Gilbert spots them going up a hillside while taking artillery fire. He waves and yells a greeting to them, and Saunders goes back to fetch Gilbert before he gets hurt.

As the squad goes up the hillside, Lt. Hanley gets hit by an indirect round sending him careening off the hilltop all the way to the bottom.

After Doc treats him, Saunders convinces Hanley to go back to the rear and have Gilbert help him to get back there. They then set off back up the road.

Gilbert spots a German patrol. He hides Lt. Hanley in some brush since Hanley isn’t doing very well and seems to be hurting from the effects of the explosion.

In order to distract the Germans, Gilbert runs in the opposite direction. The Germans nearly fire on him until realizing that he’s only a child and one of them chases him down on foot. Ted Knight is one of the Germans in this patrol.

Gilbert dirty look
Gilbert giving the Germans a dirty look

I wondered about the probability that an adult man could actually catch a 13 year old boy running at full speed but they manage to catch him.

As in a lot of other Combat! episodes, they incorporate a tragic aspect into the story. This tragedy is in the form of the German soldier that befriends Gilbert after he’s captured by one of the other Germans.

It’s obvious that they’re giving Gilbert a hard time but it’s Ted Knight’s German character, Kurt, that comes to his aid. He asks Gilbert his name and age. He then engages him in conversation by showing him a picture of his son who is also 13 years old. Unfortunately, I heard Kurt mention that the son is “mort”, which means dead.

Hanley hides out with the German’s literally only being a few feet away. He’s underneath some brush that Gilbert had stacked on top of him. I didn’t think this scenario was very realistic but from this angle, Hanley is able to observe what’s going on with the Germans.

He sees the Germans leave and also Kurt in a last moment of generosity, throws a piece of chocolate to Gilbert, who accepts it by putting it away in his pocket.

Gilbert then helps Hanley get back to his village riding in a cart that he found someplace. He gets them back to his house. They spot the same German patrol entering the town and setting up 4 different machine gun positions.

Hanley instructs Gilbert to go and find Saunders and use the radio to tell their headquarters about the Germans. He asks Gilbert if he understands and Gilbert agree’s enthusiastically with a salute.

Gilbert comprehends
“Comprenez vous?” “Oui monsieur, je comprends”

He returns with Saunders and the squad. Gilbert points out all the different machine gun positions to Saunders who coordinates a grenade attack on all 4 positions at the same time with Little John, Kirby, Caje and himself.

Saunders getting ready
Saunders getting ready to toss the grenade

Saunders yells and tosses a grenade in the first window which was the signal for the rest of them to throw theirs. They systematically take out each machine gun position one at a time. Saunders uses his Tommy gun to rake some upstairs rooms, killing another German. I only saw the one draped out of the window for the grenade toss so that is all he gets credit for.

Gilbert, in the mean time sees a German coming out and he points his rifle at him and shoots him.

In the last scene, Caje let’s it be known that Gilbert is no longer enthusiastic about being a soldier anymore and that he doesn’t know the reason why. We see Gilbert putting the chocolate back into Kurt’s pocket along with the picture of his son that he showed him earlier.

We see the squad heading out of town with Saunders doing a farewell wave.

Saunders killed 2 Germans





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