Nazi sniper Unerfeldewebel Franz Schmidt didn’t know 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.
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 that the Fatherland was losing the war. When you began sending soldiers this green and inexperienced, you’re desperate. Desperate—that’s how he would describe the German war effort at this point.
The wounded German soldier was deperately hanging onto life. He’d been shot in 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 their holy day.
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 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 The Americans had withdrawn out of range for normal rifles, but Schmidt’s weapon and methods weren’t normal.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.
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 forehead. 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.
That was why he didn’t fire—at least not now.
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. His 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 and 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.
“Where are you at, fellow? Just make a move and I’ll get you.” It was as if Wilson was back in the Louisiana piney woods waiting 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 remembered the mantra from training school. A dead enemy sniper means twenty more G.I.’s will live.
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 motion combined with the tiny glint of a metallic object. He took a deep breath and squinted closer, making sure his eyes weren’t playing tricks on him.
Corporal Wilson detected a rifle barrel’s outline by the log.
It’ll be the last move 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 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 an H. No longer than medics lasted out here, it was hard to remember their names.
The idiot walked past the sniper’s hidden forward position as if on a holiday stroll. Through clenched teeth, Wilson said, “Stop.”
The medic 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.
Corporal Wilson’s first thought was I’ll get the Kraut before he gets our medic. However, that thought was balanced against 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, studying the medic’s face through his scope changed his mind. He didn’t look crazy, but had the determined look of a man crossing a minefield. Every forward step could mean death, but still he came.
“Medic. Help.” The wounded soldier couldn’t have known the medic was approaching. Schmidt thought. I’ll let the medic get to him, but if he takes one step past, 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 wounded man.
The German sniper had the best seat for what happened next. The medic knelt at the wounded American. Schmidt couldn’t understand what the medic said. He was further confused when the American stood and walked past his wounded comrade.
Hands raised, the medic continued slowly 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 forehead of his enemy counterpart across the way.
Each sniper knew from experience what a bullet from his rifle would do. Whether it was an 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. The American medic stopped at the wounded German.
Franz Schmidt, watching from his hidden position, lowered his rifle. They were so close he needed no scope.
The medic took out a small tube, inserted a syringe and stabbed it in the German’s arm. The wounded soldier jerked, then went limp.
Schmidt knew American medics carried morphine tubes. He’d collected them off dead Americans.
The medic, of medium build and much smaller than the heavily uniformed German, hefted the wounded man on his back and stumbled toward German lines.
The medic fell twice, each time leaving a bloody indentation in the snow. As he neared German lines, two brave soldiers rose to help and took the wounded soldier.
The American medic walked back to the wounded G.I.. He gave him morphine and began examining his wounds. He then lifted his fellow soldier. Fortunately, this wounded man was small and the medic began his long walk back to the American lines.
* * *
Corporal Robert Wilson of Sugartown, Louisiana had watched this drama unfold from his sniper’s spot. His attention had been split between the hidden German sniper and American medic.
Wilson had seen plenty of killing in the last six months since the invasion of Europe. He’d seen many men killed, and done his part to win the war. It was now time to add one more shot to the tally.
Lying behind a tree in the Belgium winter, he focused on his target—the German sniper’s head. 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. “
One of the unique features of Southwestern Louisiana are the two German-American colonies in the Crowley/Eunice rice farming country.
The Roberts Cove Germans are Catholic while their nearby neighbors in Mowata are Baptists. Both enclaves are famous for hard-working farmers who built strong families and communities on the Cajun Prairie.
My daughter-in-law, Sara, hails from the Mowata clan. This is her mother’s famous eggnog recipe. No Christmas is complete without Helen’s hospitality and a cup of eggnog.
German Baptist Egg Nog
Serves 6-8 cups
3 egg yolks
1 ½ cups sugar
3 tsp. almond flavoring (or rum)
Mix 3 egg yolks in ½ cup of milk.
Mix well and add to 7 ½ cups of cold milk in pot.
Add sugar and almond flavoring to milk/egg mixture.
Adjust sugar and flavoring to taste.
Heat thoroughly over medium heat stirring constantly with a wire whisk.
Do not bring to boil or overcook.
Egg nog is ready when metal spoon dipped in milk mixture coats the spoon.
Serve warm with topping of Cool Whip.
Sprinkled with nutmeg.