Nash had hoped everyone would just leave the subject alone. They all knew what day it was and where they were and there was no point in talking about it.
“Sarge, it looks like ol’ Santy Claus has forgotten us,” Williams said.
“Yeah, again,” Borgerz agreed.
“Leastwise, there wasn’t a beautiful girl or any discharge papers in my foxhole this morning,” Williams continued. “Not even so much as a drop of holiday cheer.”
Nash cursed to himself, but as the sergeant he felt obliged to do a little something for morale and talk to his men. “Do I have to be the one to break it to you guys about Santa Claus and Christmas miracles?”
“Now, Sarge, don’t talk that way in front of Sheppert,” Borgerz said. “He prob’ly don’t know about that yet. No need to spoil the magic for him.”
Sheppert, the youngest man in the patrol and the most relentlessly cheerful, just smiled. But even Sheppert, Nash noted, couldn’t bring himself to wish anyone a merry Christmas. Those words were too much to choke out when they were patrolling a Nazi-infested forest.
Nash had been slogging his way across Europe one bloodstained acre at a time. He’d seen too many men under his command shriek and bleed and die to have any illusions about peace on Earth and goodwill toward men. As for Christmas miracles…
“Has anyone here seen a genuine, honest Christmas miracle?” he asked, a tone of derision overlaying the question.
There was a moment of silence before Sheppert piped up. “When I was seven, my dog, Helen, had puppies on Christmas.”
“That was a bitch of a Christmas,” Williams joked.
“Of course…” Sheppert was quiet a moment. “We had to give them all away. Including Helen. We couldn’t afford to keep them.” And the youngster said no more.
Borgerz rolled his eyes at Williams, but neither man commented. For his part, Nash thought that was the perfect ending to the subject. And he once more shoved away thoughts of his wife and six-year-old daughter and what they might be doing for Christmas. Such thoughts could be a lethal distraction in this locale.
“Williams, bear right. Borgerz, up the middle. Sheppert, bear left. Go about five hundred paces and keep each other in sight.”
“What’re you going to be doing, Sarge?” Borgerz asked.
“Melting a little patch of snow under this tree.”
The men went ahead and Nash leaned his rifle against the tree trunk and worked his way through the layers so he could relieve himself. When he was finished, he put everything back in place and allowed himself just one moment to see, in his mind’s eye, his wife and daughter by the Christmas tree in their home.
Then he heard a soft crunch of snow where none of his men would be. He turned and there stood a German soldier, his rifle aimed right at Nash. The Nazi’s finger tightened on the trigger.
The soldier cursed and shook his gun and tried to clear the action.
Nash’s training unfroze him and he hauled his pistol from his holster and squeezed off four quick shots.
Seconds later, his men were with him.
“What happened, Sarge?” Williams demanded.
Nash indicated the dead youth on the ground. “His gun jammed.”
They watched as the Nazi’s blood stained the snow.
“You know what, guys?” Nash said at length. “I believe this constitutes a bona fide Christmas miracle.”
And they smiled at each other briefly before getting back to work.