According to the Geneva Convention, firing at a medic wearing a clear insignia is considered a war crime.
The rule, by no means, rendered medics invulnerable.
Rowe sprinted across the battlefield. Frozen branches snapped under his boots. Snow broke beneath him, artillery fire shook trees, and the rattling of machine guns echoed throughout the forest. Bullets struck the ground beside his feet as he ran.
He held onto his medical kit, slung around his shoulder, light and low on supplies. Rowe ignored the calls to take cover, sprinting. He stopped to kneel behind a tree—the soldier sitting against it looked up and forced a smile.
“What took you so long, doc?” Harris mumbled.
“Better late,” Rowe grabbed a sulfanilamide packet and bit off the end, “than never, huh?” He spat out the tab of paper, then spritzed the chalk-coloured powder onto Harris’ leg. A bullet had torn through his pants. He’d kept pressure on it, but didn’t have the bandages to wrap himself up.
“How bad is it?” Harris asked. He held onto his rifle, bloodied fingers tapping the stock. “‘Cause I need to stay on the line, doc. Those krauts got it coming when I get back up.”
“If you can walk, you’re fine. Bullet went clean through.”
“Alright!” Harris reached out to pat him on the shoulder. A bullet hit the tree above and tore off a piece of bark. “This is why I like you. Always good news. Now, how about some morphine?”
“I got none,” Rowe said. He tightened the bandage—reused, boiled cloth from the supply station. “Try to keep warm. The blood is going to freeze, and the tear in your clothing won’t do you much good. I’ll see to getting you new pants-”
Rowe exhaled, got to his feet, and ran. An artillery shell landed nearby, knocking him off course. Medic! He stumbled, dazed, nearly falling forward. His ears rang, left and right. The gunfire didn’t stop.
“My hand, oh god. I can’t shoot without my fingers. Doc!”
“I’m here,” Rowe slid into the foxhole, dug five-foot deep. He grabbed a bandage from his kit and took Davis’ hand. The soldier’s fingers, from his ring to his index, hung on by bits of skin. Loose snow coated his helmet.
“They shot off my fingers, doc,” Davis said, trembling, “I was manning the machine gun, and a bullet struck my hand, and then I wasn’t shooting no more. I was so numb I didn’t notice. How am I supposed to fight without my fingers?”
“Think of it as a cheap ticket home.” Rowe wrapped a bandage around the disfigured stubs. “Warm showers, full meals, an actual bed. Ain’t so bad.”
Davis sucked in air through gritted teeth, his other hand punching at the dirt. Artillery exploded nearby. “God damn it! Hurts like a bitch. Do you got morphine?”
“I can’t spare any-”
The cry came out broken and wavering. Rowe nodded to himself as he tightened the bandage. He breathed in, out, and stood up. One more. The artillery slowed—the firefight was coming to an end. He ran across the field.
A bullet zipped through the air. It struck his helmet, scraping off the plating. Rowe ducked, running behind the trees, falling to the ground next to the wounded soldier. He reached into his kit for bandages, then froze.
Torn sinew and flesh made for the soldier’s legs. Both were blown off to the hip, shattered bone exposed to cold air. Frazier groaned as he laid in a puddle of blood. Rowe kneeled and grabbed his hand. A light snowfall drifted around them.
“Help me, please, doc. I don’t want to die.”
“I don’t know…are you religious, Frazier? I’ll say a prayer-”
“I don’t want to pray, doc! I have my momma waiting for me back home. I have to go back to her, I’m her only kid.” His breathing picked up, fast and panicked. “Oh, I can’t feel my legs. Please don’t let me die.”
Rowe held onto his hand. With his other, he reached into his pack for a syrette. “Morphine,” he said, “is going to hit you fast. I’ll patch you up, and have you carried to a jeep, got it?” He needled the syrette into Frazier’s neck and pushed down on the tube. His pulse slowed. The breathing relaxed.
“It hurts,” Frazier said. “I’m not going to make it, am I?”
“I’ll do what I can.” Rowe readied a second syrette. He stuck it into Frazier’s neck. “You’ll be right as rain, alright? Just take it easy. I’ll get a letter out to your mom. You don’t need to worry.”
Frazier stared at the sky, his pupils dilated. The twenty-milligrams of morphine sedated him. “I’m cold,” he whispered. His grip weakened. “Goodbye, doc.” Snow rested on his eyes. “Goodbye.”
The firefight had ended minutes ago. Rowe sat back.
Cold, miserable, and alone. But alive.
- - -
Somewhere far off, the Germans bombed the cities of France. The sound echoed for miles on end. Rowe sat awake in his foxhole, listening. If he focused, he could hear the distant thrums of gunfire. Artillery shells. It didn’t take a lot to imagine the humming of planes.
He stared at the trees. Moonlight illuminated the leaves with a silver glow. Would the Germans attack in the dark? He wouldn’t get up if someone called for him. He couldn’t. To see the light leave from another man’s eyes, to hear their breathing pause, then stop, their chest failing to rise, a man helpless to their wounds.
“Hey, doc.” Edward, beside him, nudged his shoulder. “Are you alright?”
Rowe blinked. He took off his helmet and handed it to Edward. “Look at this,” he said. “They finally landed a shot on me—scraped the paint right off.”
“Lucky bastard,” he traced his finger across where the bullet hit. “Go buy a lottery ticket.” Edward handed the helmet back. “You know, they should’ve dropped us all in Germany. I’d parachute down and kill Hitler myself.” He mimicked a stabbing motion. “End the war in time for Christmas. There’d be a whole movie directed after me-”
“Where’s your gloves?” Rowe asked. “Your hands are almost purple.”
“I was…” he looked over his hands, “drying them off when the artillery hit. Then I lost them. I’ll be fine.”
“No, you won’t.” Rowe took off his own. “Take mine, and try to keep your fingers moving, even if it hurts. Get the blood flowing.”
Edward hesitated, then took them. “Thanks,” he said. “You’re a good one to have around. I heard we’re breaking the stalemate tomorrow. Rest for a bit.”
Rowe laid his head back against the dirt, and closed his eyes.
He couldn’t sleep.
- - -
At dawn, the commanding officer ordered them to move forward. Canadian reinforcements arrived by truck—they planned to route the Germans back and then some, securing a small town off the borders of Belgium.
Rowe followed with his med-kit slung over his shoulder. Hardly resupplied. Enough to last the assault in the best-case scenario. He ran as bullets flew, his company pushing into enemy lines. The Germans retreated into the town northeast, and the allied forces followed.
The first man who called had a bullet in his shoulder. Rowe dragged him behind a frozen hay bale and patched him up—tweezers, sulfanilamide, and field dressing. A second man, shot in the chest, called for help, interrupted by a stray bullet. A third soldier suffered a head wound. He struggled to speak the word, medic, slurring the vowels. Rowe bit his tongue and ran past.
He’d been ordered not to waste supplies on those deemed too far gone.
His company charged into the town, all the buildings left in rubble. French signposts cracked to pieces. Bicycles blown in two from the bombings. Rowe breathed in, out, and waited, taking cover behind crumbling walls.
A grenade went off in a nearby store. Debris shot through the windows, followed by cries of pain. Rowe tightened his medic’s armband. He got to his feet and ran.
“Doc!” a soldier called. “Stay with us!”
He kicked open the shop’s door and broke it off the hinges. Rushing in, Rowe dropped to his knees beside a soldier in a field-grey uniform, an imperial eagle pinned to their right side chest. He opened his med-kit for his supplies—the soldier on the ground had an arm hanging on by threads of sinew. Blood stained the wooden floors.
“Nicht schiesen, ich ergebe mich!” he cried, “no make dead! No make dead!”
“You’re not dying on me!”
Footsteps pounded at the back of the shop. Rowe brandished his M1911A1—issued to protect his patients at any cost. A German medic, a red cross on his armband, raised his hands to surrender. Rowe signalled him over.
“Help me with him! He needs amputation. What do you have on you?”
The medic couldn’t understand. He kneeled, looked at the downed man, then brought out a hacksaw from his kit. Rowe injected morphine into the soldier as he thrashed. He secured a tourniquet above the elbow as the German medic sawed back and forth.
He bit off a sulfanilamide tab while the German readied field dressing. Rowe applied the powder and lifted the soldier’s arm—the German wrapped the wound twice over, then fastened the bandage with a pin. He grabbed his ally and dragged him off, looking at the door.
“Danke, amerikanisch,” the medic said. “Danke, ich bringe ihn in Sicherheit. Go!”
Rowe stepped outside. A group of Canadian soldiers beckoned him over, taking cover behind a demolished car. One stood to exchange shots before ducking back down. He sat with them and counted his supplies.
“Good to see you,” another said, patting him on the shoulder. “I saw what you did. I won’t tell a soul. We’re all just following orders—that’s all this is.” He relayed commands in French to his allies, then turned back to Rowe. “Stay put. The jerries are retreating. You’ll have your work cut out for you in a minute.”
Rowe nodded, leaning back, awaiting his call.
As a medic, he’d save lives—regardless of flags.