Another chapter in this little series of war stories inspired by my Bible reading and Band of Brothers. This one features Doc Roe from the episode Bastogne.
No disrespect is intended by use of real people in this story. Do not steal this writing, please, but feel free to distribute it with credit or a link. Thank you!
“What you doing here, Donovan?”
I chuckled. “Three’s company, especially when one of them is Toye.” I slid into Doc Roe’s foxhole. He eyed me with those eyes that always seemed to have some thought behind them. I think I’d just caught him in the middle of a short night’s sleep.
“Sorry.” I said, huddling into myself.
“For what?” Roe brought his arms closer around himself and peered over the edge of the foxhole.
“Waking you up?” I suggested.
He looked back at me. “It’s nothing, Donovan.”
“You can go back to sleep,” I said, getting myself relatively comfortable. “I just came to get ‘I’ll Be Seeing You’ out of my head.”
“Toye was singing.”
Roe was certainly a man of few words. We sat there for about ten minutes listening to the snow fall. Though I think the sound of our teeth chattering was more compelling this time. I thought maybe Doc had gone to sleep. I couldn’t see his eyes under the rim of his helmet. His body rose and fell gently with his even breath, his medical bag slung over his shoulder, resting on the white earth below. In his left pocket, a ripped blue handkerchief peeked out. I bit my lip. I’d just come from Bastogne, ferrying supplies – at least, what was left of them after the bombing. Someone had found nurse Reneé’s body in the rubble. Doc Salerny and I carried her to – well, there was no fancy way of saying it. We stacked her atop of a slowly growing pile of corpses.
I’d seen Winters when the colonel was giving the general’s Christmas speech. I could put two-and-two together. I could read people, and I read a bitter sadness in Roe. I think Reneé was just the clincher. I stared at Roe’s small, quiet figure and wished I were a psychologist, or at least a minister. Then I’d know how to go about bringing up the topic. Sure, it was hard going, but he didn’t have to go through it alone. He had a lot of friends here. Sure, maybe the next day those friends won’t be there anymore, but better to have shared your pain, get it off your chest, than never to have shared at all. I sighed, seeing how useless it was to lecture myself on all that.
Roe stirred. So he was asleep.
I looked out at the line of pines in the distance, so he wouldn’t know I was thinking about him.
“Hey, Donovan, you still here.” There was genuine surprise in that.
“Sure, where’d you think I’d go?”
He didn’t answer and we were silent once more. Two or three minutes passed. “Eugene?” I said.
“Yeah?” He peered at me.
“You wanna talk?”
There was a quiet rush of machine gun fire far, far away. Roe turned to look, then huddled himself more.
“I heard about Reneé.”
His head turned up slightly and towards me, his eyes suddenly cold.
“I’m really sorry. You know, you don’t have to keep it inside, Eugene.” I scooted closer to him.
“What’s with you, anyway?” he snapped, jabbing his helmet higher on his head. “Butting in on other folks’ problems? Find a Kraut to rat on.” He pressed his hand against the wall of the foxhole and got on his feet.
“Eugene–” I started after him. He was already creating a path of footprints parallel to the front line.
“Eugene!” I whispered loudly.
He turned around. “Won’t you leave me alone?”
“I just want to help.”
“And how can you do that, huh? Can you end this war? Can you?” He turned, walking on.
“Of course I can’t,” I called, following him. “Eugene. Doc!” I caught up with him. “That’s not the point now.”
“Yeah, what is? You seem to know everything.”
“Don’t bottle yourself up. Talk to us. Don’t be alone.”
“Well, that’s kind of hard when you’re tending to the last breath of the guy next to you.”
We stared at each other, silent. He turned and stomped away into the whiteness. The sound of fire increased suddenly and someone shouted for me to get into a foxhole.
I hesitated, still thinking of Roe and hating to see him like that. I ran forward.
“Donovan!” someone behind me shouted, bewildered.
A mortar crashed into the tree behind me, sending splinters in my wake. I didn’t know what I was doing. Somehow I felt I needed to stay with Roe. To prove he wasn’t alone, was that it? I dodged a blurring whiz then jumped right to avoid getting hit by our own men.
I crashed past Guanere’s foxhole. “What the–”
“Sorry!” I screamed back. I was going in the wrong direction for my foxhole. What was I doing? Ahead of me, a mortar boomed. Then I heard a scream and a loud curse. I recognized it right away. “Eugene!” I shouted, dashed forward, and crashed into his body that lay strewn on the debris-stricken snow.
“Doc–” I gasped. His leg was hit. Blood was stained across the fresh white powder. Jabs of wide wooden splinters jutted out from his leg. I grabbed the fabric of his pants and ripped them.
“Get them out,” Roe panted through clenched teeth. I took hold of one and pulled. He gasped and squeezed his fists into the snow. A mortar shook the trees above, sending more branches around us. A bullet whizzed past my head, snapping into the tree behind me.
“Get down, Donovan,” Roe hissed. I continued madly at the splinters.
Another bullet sped by.
“Down!” Roe shouted, grabbing me and pushing me into the blood-stained snow. I could feel his body quiver rigidly. His hands maneuvered to his medical bag, while on my stomach, I worked at his wounds. He threw me a packet of sulfa and I ripped it open, powdering it on his leg.
“Bandage,” I called.
He grimaced. “I hate this.”
“Hate what? I need the bandage.”
He threw over the white pad. “Hate using this stuff for myself – me, the medic. Some–” He gasped as I wound the bandage around. “Some doctor.”
“You’re just like the rest of us, Roe. Don’t you feel bad about that.” I patted the bandage secure. He grunted sharply.
“Morphine?” I asked. He shook his head stiffly, biting his lip. “Save it.”
“We got to get you to an aid station.”
“We don’t got one, remember?” He peered at me exhaustedly. A spray of gunfire zipped over our heads. We ducked.
Roe turned over on his stomach and looked out over our line, each man firing at the amorphous enemy afar. “I’m supposed to be helping those guys,” he shouted and turned to look at me. “How’d you get to me so fast anyway?”
I shrugged, unable to suppress a smile. “Didn’t want you to be alone!” I shouted above the din.
Roe sighed and laughed with a sort of freedom that had been so lost to him. A mortar crashed somewhere ahead and bullets twanged over us, a little closer this time.
I crawled closer to him. “We got to get out of here.”
Roe turned over to face me. “We can’t do anything til this calms down. Just lie low and keep still…”
I peered back, tempted to shout for a jeep.
“Donovan,” Roe jabbed me lightly, “you know you’re really something else.”
I looked back at him. “Then you see my point?” I asked, the gunfire subsiding around us.
“Yeah … I see your point. Doesn’t mean I’m going forward with it any, though.”
I crawled up close to him. “Hey, all I’m saying is to let it out sometimes. War ain’t something you go at alone.”
“Yeah, okay, I got it. Stick with me, then, won’t you?”
I patted his bandaged leg lightly. “That’s what we’re here for – all of us.”
An engine sound approached us suddenly. “Got an injured man?” the guy driving the jeep shouted. “Hop in!”
“How’d you know we needed you?” I called, helping Roe to the vehicle. The firefight had slowed now.
“Someone gave us a call,” the man said. “ ‘One man down,’ and we’re on our way!” He helped Roe onto a flat board, then with my help hoisted him up on the hood. The driver patted the steering wheel and hit the gas. “That’s what we’re here for,” he grinned.