He crawled towards the hole, dragging the now useless leg behind him. Sliding through the gap in the sandbags surrounding the burned-out pit, he made his way to the bottom and lay there, gasping, as he tried to figure out what he should do next. He needed a medic, but had no way to signal one. Closing his eyes, he did the only thing he knew he could do, and sent up a silent prayer.
A moan to his right snapped his eyes open, and his heart raced to see the enemy soldier barely a few feet away.
The face turned towards him. “Haben sie wasser?”
His rifle was lost, and he grabbed for the knife instead.
The blue eyes strained to focus. “You are American? I cannot fight. Bitte; water.”
The man’s arms were twisted, and his uniform showed ample blood stains. "That could just as easily be me or one of my buddies lyin’ there," he thought. He put the knife back in the scabbard, and unhooked his canteen from his belt.
Pulling himself closer, he brushed the dirt away from the cap and opened the canteen, tipping it towards the man’s lips.
“Danke,” he said, after just a few sips. “I prayed that I would not die alone, und danken sie Gott, you have come.”
“You prayed? You’re a Nazi.”
He managed a weak laugh. “There are still Christians here, though I wonder if Gott has turned from us. Do you know what day it is, American?”
“I’ve lost track; seems like one day is just like any other here.”
“Ist Weihnacthsabend; Christmas Eve.”
“Are you sure?”
He nodded. “Do you know any carols? Bitte; let me hear the music of Gott once more.”
A mortar round hissed overhead, and a song came to mind. With a trembling voice, he started to sing. “I heard the bells on Christmas day…”
The battle had died down, and across the dark field a solitary voice could be heard. “Silent night, holy night, all is calm…”
Soon, more voices joined in; some in English, and others in German.
“Lieutenant, look at this, sir. We got some krauts comin’.”
“An open assault? Are they crazy?”
“No sir; looks like a German officer with a white flag, and a coupla soldiers carryin’ somethin’.”
He took the binoculars. The German colonel walked just ahead of two subordinates, who were carrying a litter. “Pass the word to hold fire, sergeant. Let’s see what he wants.”
“Donaldson; McHenry – you two come with me.” Slinging his carbine over his shoulder, he climbed over the berm with the two corporals right behind him, and trudged through the filthy snow towards the trio of enemy soldiers. When they were ten feet apart, both sides stopped. “What’s on your mind, colonel?”
The officer gestured, and the two soldiers brought the litter forward. “I believe this is one of your men, lieutenant. He is in need of medical attention.” Looking down at the sedated man on the litter, he clasped his hands in front of him. “I could take him prisoner, of course, and send him to a stalag where he would receive treatment, but not this time.”
“While I sure appreciate the return of one of our boys, colonel, I’m a bit confused as to why you would do this.”
“He was the one singing last night, lieutenant. When we found him this morning, he was next to one of my soldiers.” He carefully reached into a pocket and removed a sheet of paper. “He had this letter that he’d written for my soldier, to his family in Hannover. His transcription of the German is poor, but we were able to make it out well enough to understand it. My soldier did not die alone because your soldier stayed with him. He cheered him with the carols we heard, and recorded his final words for him. I have given word to my troops that we have a cease-fire for Christmas, lieutenant. We will be enemies tomorrow, but today, you may safely take this man away from here.”
The corporals took the litter from their German counterparts.
“Thank you, colonel.”
He turned away, and looked back over his shoulder. “Enjoy the holiday, lieutenant,” he said. Walking back, he sang. “Then pealed the bells more loud and deep, God is not dead, nor doth He sleep…”
“…With peace on Earth, good will towards men,” the lieutenant joined in at the right moment.
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