The following is an abridged (shortened) version of Curt Iles’ Christmas short story, “Medic” featured in the new story collection, The Write Before Christmas.
A compilation of nineteen stories by fifteen Southern authors (including two by Curt) it is available at http://www.creekbank.net.
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“The Medic’s Long Walk”
Nazi sniper Unerfeldewebel Franz Schmidt didn’t know any English, but in the case of the nearby wounded American soldier, he didn’t need to. The man’s anguished cries were beyond words. Medic. Help me.
It was somewhere in Belgium on Christmas Eve 1944, and Schmidt had never been colder in his thirty-two years. However, he was in a lot better shape than the wounded American freezing to death twenty yards away.
The German turned his rifle on the American and put the crosshairs on his helmetless head. It’d probably be a kindness to put the poor devil out of his misery.
But for some reason, he didn’t pull the trigger, instead thinking, I’ll wait a little longer.
In the hour or so since the firefight, the man’s cries of “Medic” had become weaker and spaced farther apart. Lying just past the fallen American was a German casualty. Schmidt couldn’t remember the young soldier’s name, as he’d only been in their unit a week or so.
The German soldier was shot in both the chest and leg. Although still alive, he made no sounds.
Franz Schmidt thought of how ironic it was for these two dying soldiers to be lying together on the cold ground on the very day before the birth of the Prince of Peace. It seemed obscene—even barbaric for men who supposedly worshipped the same Savior to be killing each other this near his birthday.
He sadly shook his head. Those two wounded men won’t be celebrating the Savior’s birth—at least not on this earth. They’ll be dead long before dark.
The morning’s sudden battle had resulted when an early morning American patrol walked right into the perimeter of his unit of about one hundred Germans.
The result of this brief firefight was these two soldiers lying close together, blood from their wounds staining the white snow.
As soon as the shooting ended, Franz Schmidt had been called forward to do his job. He was a specialist—that most dreaded of all combat soldiers—a sniper.
Carefully choosing his position, he zipped his hooded white uniform and crawled forward to a log.
The Americans had withdrawn out of range for normal rifles, but Schmidt’s weapon and methods weren’t normal. He was a silent killer, using his keen eyes and untiring patience to do his job.
Using his scope, he’d carefully scanned for any movement in the fog-shrouded woods. Spotting a blur running to crouch behind a tree, he’d taken quick aim, fired, and heard the sound of wood splintering and a man’s cry, followed by silence.
Continuing his vigil, the cries of the nearby wounded American began to get on his nerves.
“Medic. Help, medic.”
Turning his scope back on the American, he studied the man’s contorted face.
“Medic . . . Help.”
It’d be best to end his suffering.
But before he could fire, voices behind him called to him. He turned to look and saw a nearby German soldier in a foxhole gesturing excitedly toward the western end of the American lines.
Schmidt twisted back around and saw a startling sight: An American soldier was walking out of the cover of the trees. His olive uniform against the snow’s background made him impossible to miss. Schmidt adjusted his scope. This is going to be too easy.
However, his scope’s magnification revealed something else: This American was a medic.
Schmidt spoke aloud. “What in the world is that fool doing?”
Slowly, carefully, steadily the Medic left the safety of the trees toward the open field. He was plodding toward the wounded American who laid a stone’s throw from where his concealed position.
Schmidt cursed softly and tried to clear his head.
* * *
Across the open field, another set of eyes looked through the scope of a sniper rifle. Corporal Robert Wilson had been scanning the snow-covered field for the German sniper who’d just wounded one of his men in the shoulder.
“Where are you at, fellow? Make a move and I’ll get you.”
This was Wilson’s chance to take out an opposing sniper, the highest goal of any rifleman.
He repeated the mantra from training school. “A dead enemy sniper means twenty more G.I.’s will live.” Detecting movement behind a log in the snow, he carefully wiped off his scope, and tried not to blink.
There it was—the slight gleam of a metallic object. Wilson took a deep breath and squinted closer. More movement came from that spot, and Wilson detected a rifle barrel’s outline behind the log.
That’ll be the last movement that German sniper ever makes.
Wilson adjusted his scope for the distance of about four hundred yards. Too far for an M-1, but just right for his Remington sniper rifle.
He steadied himself for the shot. However, before he squeezed the trigger, nearby movement and voices behind distracted him. Trained never to take his eye off a confirmed target, he resisted the urge to turn.
As footsteps crunched in the snow, he glanced up to see the company medic walk past him. The guy was new and Wilson tried to think of his name—no longer than medics lasted out here, it was hard to remember their names. It seemed they were all known by “Medic.”
The idiot walked past Wilson’s hidden forward position as if on a holiday stroll. Through clenched teeth, he said. “Medic. Fool, come back here.”
He either didn’t hear, or ignored him.
“Fool. You’re dead.”
Corporal Wilson quickly turned back to his German target. The enemy sniper had shifted his aim, and Wilson knew it was focused now on the American medic.
Wilson thought. I’ll get the Kraut before he gets our medic.
Then he paused. If I kill the German, they’ll kill the medic.
He held his fire. I’ll just wait and see.
* * *
Franz Schmidt, nervously watching the advancing Medic, had no idea he was in the crosshairs of an American sniper across the way.
The German winced. I can kill him before he gets any closer.
Hearing the wounded soldier moan, “Medic. Help,” Schmidt thought. I’ll let the medic get to him, but if he takes one step past him, he’s mine.
Hundreds of German and American eyes watched the Medic’s journey toward the wounded man as he crossed the open snow-covered field.
Schmidt, the German sniper, had the best seat for what happened next. He was shocked as he the Medic walked on past his wounded American comrade.
Slowly and carefully, the Medic continued toward the German lines.
Schmidt, meaning to keep his vow to shoot, leaned against his rifle’s cheek piece and put the crosshairs on the back of the medic’s neck—just below the helmet line.
Unknown to the German sniper, Robe
rt Wilson, United States Army sniper, also adjusted his aim, placing his crosshairs on the forehead just below the German’s white hood.
Each sniper knew from experience what a bullet from his rifle would do. Whether it was the American 30.06 slug or a German 8 mm cartridge, the results would be the same.
But neither fired and it was because of what the Medic did next. He knelt in the snow beside the wounded German. Franz Schmidt, watching from his hidden position, lowered his scope, so he could watch with his own eyes.
From his small bag in his hand, the medic took out a small bottle of some sort, broke it open, inserted a syringe, and stabbed it into the German’s arm. The wounded soldier jerked and then went limp.
The Medic was of medium build and much smaller than the heavily uniformed German. With great effort, he hefted the wounded man on his back and stumbled toward the enemy foxholes.
When the Medic reached the German lines, two soldiers jumped up and took their fellow soldier from him.
The Medic turned back toward the wounded G.I., jogged quickly to him and gave him the same shot of medication. He then lifted his fellow soldier up, and began the long walk back to the American lines.
* * *
Corporal Robert Wilson of Helena, Arkansas had watched plenty of killing in the last six months since the invasion of Europe began. He’d done plenty of killing with the scoped rifle he now re-aimed back at the German hidden in the snow.
He had to kill the German sniper. The Medic was now out of range of all the enemy except the sniper. He couldn’t take a chance.
Focusing in, he clicked the scope for the four hundred yard shot. I can make this shot in my sleep.
Wilson’s eyes watered, evidently from the cold.
He lowered his rifle and thought. It’s Christmas Eve. Tomorrow’s Christmas day. There’ll still be killing today and even tomorrow, but it won’t be from me.
He took his safety off, wiped his face, and whispered toward the distant German sniper, as if the man could hear him.
“Merry Christmas, my friend, Froshes Fest.”
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