I wrote the following story for a Christmas compilation a few years ago. It’s still one of my favorites. I hope you enjoy it. Merry Christmas,
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.
It was somewhere in Belgium on Christmas Eve 1944, and Schmidt had never been colder in his thirty-two years. But he was in a lot better shape than the wounded American freezing to death twenty yards away.
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 soldier’s name. He’d only been in their unit a week or so. When he first saw the young soldier, he was reminded again that the Fatherland was losing the war. When you began sending soldiers this green and inexperienced, you’re desperate. Very desperate—that’s how he would describe the German war effort at this point.
The German soldier had been shot in both the chest and leg. Although he moved from time to time, ensuring he was 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 and short battle had resulted in these two soldiers lying close together, blood from their wounds staining the white snow.
The firefight had happened without warning in the morning fog. An early morning American patrol had walked right into the perimeter of his unit of about one hundred Germans.
Franz Schmidt had been called forward once the firing started. He was a specialist—that most dreaded of all combat soldiers—a sniper.
In his hooded white uniform, he had crawled behind a log and set up for business. The Americans had withdrawn out of range for normal rifles, but Schmidt’s weapon and methods weren’t normal.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. Ten minutes later, he’d spotted a blur running to crouch behind a tree. Taking quick aim, he’d shot and heard the sound of wood splintering and a man’s cry. He wasn’t sure if it was a kill or just a ‘wing,’ but there was no more movement from that area.
Continuing his vigil, the cries of the nearby wounded American began to get on his nerves.
“Medic. Help, medic. Help me.”
He 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. All it would take is one squeeze of the trigger.
For probably a minute, he watched the American’s contorted face. Something seemed familiar about him. He finally realized it was the soldier’s blonde hair and fair complexion. This stranger would have looked perfectly at home in a German uniform.
Probably, that was why he didn’t fire.
Or maybe it was the noise he heard behind him. It caused him to shift his position for a look back. A German soldier in a foxhole was gesturing excitedly toward the western end of the American lines.
Nodding his head, Schmidt twisted back around and saw a startling sight. Walking out of the cover of the trees was an American, whose olive uniform against the white background made him impossible to miss. Schmidt twisted his scope. This is going to be too easy.
However, his scope’s magnification revealed something else: This American was a medic. The red cross on his arm and helmet made it clear.
Schmidt spoke aloud. “What in the world is that fool doing?”
Slowly, carefully, steadily, the Medic was leaving the safety of the trees toward the open field. Schmidt realized that he was plodding toward the wounded American who lay a stone’s throw from where he was concealed.
He 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? Just make a move and I’ll get you.” It was as if Wilson was back in his Arkansas woods watching for an elusive deer to betray its location.
No one was more feared by either army than the enemy sniper. They were the silent killers who struck when things seemed quietest and safest—like right now.
This was Wilson’s chance to take out an opposing sniper. It was the highest goal of any sniper, right up there with taking down an enemy officer.
He repeated the mantra from training school. “A dead enemy sniper means twenty more G.I.’s will live.” With these words in mind, he scanned carefully for even the smallest movement across the field.
He detected movement behind a log in the snow. Carefully, wiping off his scope, he watched carefully, trying not to even blink.
There it was—a slight movement combined with the tiny gleam of a metallic object. He took a deep breath and squinted closer, making sure his eyes weren’t playing tricks on him.
More movement came from that spot, and Wilson detected a rifle barrel’s outline by the log.
It’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—it didn’t matter how many men you’ve shot, it was always difficult to be calm when the time came.
However, before he squeezed the trigger, nearby movement and voices distracted him from behind. Trained not to take his eye off a confirmed target, he resisted the urge to turn.
The nearby sound of footsteps in the crunching snow made him glance up. Walking past him was the new medic in the unit. Corporal Wilson wasn’t even sure of the medic’s name. It seemed like it was Hunter or Harris, something that began with a H. No longer than medics lasted out here, it was hard to remember their names.
The idiot walked past Wilson’s hidden forward position as if on a holiday stroll. Through clenched teeth, he said. “Fool, come back.” The medic either didn’t hear, or ignored him.
“Fool. You’re dead.” Once again, no hesitation from the medic.
Corporal Wilson quickly turned back to his German target. He found the rifle and scoped in where the white-hooded German’s head peered behind the scope.
The German had shifted his aim, and Wilson knew it was now focused on the American medic crossing the open field.
His first thought was, I’ll get the Kraut before he gets our medic. However, that thought was balanced against this. If I kill the German, they’ll kill the medic.
Wilson looked up, watching the medic’s steady progression across the open. So far, no German had shot him.
He held his fire. I’ll just wait and see.
* * *
Franz Schmidt had no idea he was in the crosshairs of an American sniper across the way. He was too deep in thought watching the medic through his scope.
I can kill him before he gets any closer. He’s carrying something in his right hand that looks like a grenade. He’s probably gone crazy and wants to be killed.
However, looking at the medic’s face through his scope gave a different opinion. He didn’t look crazy. He just had the look of a determined man walking as if he was crossing a minefield. Every forward step could mean death, but still he came on.
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, I’ll take him down.
Hundreds of German and American eyes, separated by a quarter mile of open field watched the Medic’s journey toward the two wounded men.
No noise or talking came from either line, as every soldier held his breath, waiting for this drama to play itself out.
Schmidt, the German sniper, had the best seat for what happened next. The medic stopped at the wounded American. Schmidt couldn’t understand what the medic said.
He was further confused by what the medic did next. He walked on past the wounded American without even touching him.
Slowly, carefully the American continued toward the German lines.
Schmidt, meaning to keep his vow to shoot at this point, leaned against his rifle’s cheek piece and put the crosshairs on the back of the medic’s neck—just below the helmet line.
Unknowingly to the German sniper, Robert Wilson, United States Army sniper placed his crosshairs on the head shot of his enemy counterpart across the way.
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.
They both held back because of what was happening in the snowy field where the American medic knelt 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. Schmidt knew American medics carried morphine in tubes called syrettes. He’d collected them off dead Americans in earlier battles.
The medic broke open the tube, 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 German lines.
Repeatedly he fell and each time, groaning he picked the German back up. Each of these places left a bloody indentation in the snow. Nearing the spot where the hidden Germans were dug in, a soldier jumped up to help. A second brave man quickly joined him. The medic let them take their fellow soldier from there.
The American turned back toward the wounded G.I., who had been crying out since being passed by. Jogging to him, he gave him morphine and began examining the gravely wounded soldier.
He then lifted his fellow soldier up. Fortunately, this wounded man was small and the medic was able to make the long walk back unaided 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 seen many men killed, and done his part on it. It was now time to add one more shot to the tally.
Lying behind a tree in the Belgium winter, his attention had been split between the hidden German sniper and the medic. He could now focus it back on his target—he aimed at the German’s head as 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—or maybe not.
He lowered his rifle. 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.
Superb lesson. God that we were all so brave and true to our convictions…
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